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Research Paper-1 - Dr Wyman Honors English Henry David...

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Dr. Wyman Honors English 12/13/2006 Henry David Thoreau: Defining Patriotism Upon first read of Resistance to Civil Government by Henry David Thoreau, the last notion that comes to mind is patriotism. Throughout it’s analysis of American life, and snubbing of the emerging American value system, Resistance to Civil Government from start to finish is full of scorn for the American government. Yet this disdain is the exact type of personality of which the founding fathers had. When Jefferson and others penned the Declaration of Independence, their overall attitude toward government was negative. In the Declaration, the overall message contained within the document can essentially be boiled down to “government sucks.” Having been under the thumb if imperial British rule, it is easy to see why those founding fathers felt that way. Having built this country under the ideal of “never trust government,” Thoreau in fact defines Patriotism as the founding fathers laid forth: to always question government’s actions, and to never be complacent when fighting for one’s rights. Seeing the blatant hypocrisy, and growing laziness of American people to defend their rights, Thoreau set forth to pen his ideas. In Resistance to Civil Government , he challenges the current and past administrations. Opening within the introduction paragraph with his famous line “I heartily accept the motto,—“That government is best which governs least”; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe—"That government is best which governs not at all," (Thoreau 1792) sets the tone for the rest of
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his essay on the topic. This attitude could be considered classical liberalism, that is, “stressing the importance of human rationality, individual property rights, natural rights, constitutional limitations of government, and the protection of civil liberties, laissez-faire economic policy, and individual freedom” (Classical Liberalism). This liberal attitude mirrors the founding fathers sentiments perfectly. For the Declaration--and eventually the Constitution of the United States--reflect this liberal standpoint and goes through great lengths to describe the Natural Rights of which government cannot infringe upon. But Thoreau was also aware of the danger of becoming too idealistic. Government is a needed institution of safety to protect a population; it just needs to be kept in check. “I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government” (Thoreau 1793). Keeping his feet firmly on the ground, and not letting himself get too distracted by philosophical musings of a perfect society, Thoreau manages to be pragmatic in his notions regarding government. One of the problems Thoreau sees with America, is the inherent issues with a
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