King vs. Thoreau By acting civil but disobedient you are able to protest things you dontthink are fair, non-violently. Henry David Thoreau is one of the most importantliterary figures of the nineteenth century.
Thoreaus essay Civil Disobedience,which was written as a speech, has been used by many great thinkers such asMartin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Ghandi as a map to fight against injustice.Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a pastor that headed the Civil Rights movement.He was a gifted speaker and a powerful writer whose philosophy was non-violentbut direct action. Dr.
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Kings strategy was to have sit-ins, boycotts, and marches.Dr. Kings Letter from Birmingham Jail was based on the principles ofThoreaus Civil Disobedience. Both Martin Luther King Jr. and Henry DavidThoreau are exceptional persuasive writers. Even though both writers are writingon ways to be civil but disobedient, they have opposite ways of convicing you.
Dr.King is religious, gentle and apologetic, focusing on whats good for the group;while Thoreau is very aggressive and assertive for his own personal hate againstthe government. Both Martin Luther King Jr. and Henry David Thoreau have the sameideas, but view them differently.
Dr. King wants to ultimately raise awareness andopen doors for the better of a group. Thoreau wants more individual rights forpeople.
Dr. King is explaining his view of conscience:I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him isunjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse theconscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing thevery highest respect for the law (Martin Luther King, p. 521).
This quote shows Dr. Kings opinion on going to jail. King knows that he wasunjustly put into jail. He accepts going to jail even though he was put in jailwrongly. The community then knows of the injustice and should pressure thegovernment. The other thing that happens is King is respecting the law by obeyingit. He is a peaceful man and wants justice, but believes in following the rulespeacefully to get the job done.
Thoreau feels that conscience plays a morepersonal role.Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decideright and wrong, but conscience?… Must the citizen ever for a moment, orin the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has everyman a conscience, then. I think that we should be men first, and subjectafterward (Henry David Thoreau, p.581).Thoreau is questioning why majorities make the rules.
He is questioningdemocracy. Hes telling us to question anything we do and why we should giveinto the government if we do not agree with a rule. Why should we be individualswith brains and have thoughts of our own if we are not allowed to think forourselves and do what we want? If we believe we are free, why do we have somany rules? Thoreau believes we should be real to ourselves and live forourselves, not the government. King wants to change the laws because they aremorally wrong and Thoreau wants to change the law because he personallydoesnt like it.Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King both agree injustice exists.
Thoreau thinks of injustice as friction or tension that can wear the machine down. King thinks that injustice just exists and tension must be created with directaction to negotiate with the machine. Thoreau explians, If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go: perchance it will wear smooth,-certainly that machine will wear out…, but if it is of such a naturethat it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another , then, Isay, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop themachine. (Henry David Thoreau, p.
587).Injustice is a cause of friction, which is brought on by the government. The government has created something that is working against itself; if thefriction of the injustice is left alone it will continue to grind down the machine. Once again Thoreau questions if you can wait that long and what are youpersonally going to do about the injustice. Thoreau says use your life to stop themachine. Dr. King explains, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment ofdestiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly (King p.516). If weallow injustice to affect any one place the government knows they can get awaywith it.
If people dont fight injustice the government will continue to allow itbecause they know they can get away with it. We are all tied together in a mutualdestiny; we are all in the same boat, what ever affects you affects me. How canyou sit and watch injustice happen, we are all connected; what injustice happensto me happens to you.
Both Thoreau and King are trying to prove the point thatwe are our brothers keeper. We all need to fight injustice to save each other.Thoreau and King have said what role conscience plays for them and thatinjustice exists but you must use your conscience to decide what to do. Now theydiscuss just and unjust laws. Thoreau explains,unjust laws exist: Shall we be content to obey them, or shall weendeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, orshall we transgress them at once. ( Henry David Thoreau, p.
586) Thoreau is acknowledging that unjust laws exist. I think he figured likethe sun rises every morning there will be unjust laws. How you deal with them ifyou do not approve of them is the question. Thoreau asks, will you be happy tojust obey the law for as long as it takes to change the law by the governmentsrules?Do you want immediate acton? If you follow the governments rules it willtake a very long time to appeal the unjust law in court and they still may notchange the law.
Can you wait that long?Or, should you take drastic direct actionto be heard at once. Are you willing to be arrested? Can you handle theresponsibility for your actions, or are you scared. Thoreau is impleying that youshould not wine about something inless you are ready and able to take theconciquinces. Dr. King explains how he justifies breaking some laws andfollowing others; the fact is there are simply two types of laws. Dr. King explainsthere are, just and unjust laws, One has not only a legal, but moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.
A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law ofGod. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aguinas, and unjust law is ahuman law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law thatuplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades humanpersonality is unjust. ( Dr. King p.519-520).
King is saying that just laws should be obeyed because they are the law and theyare morally right. Morally right is being or acting in accordance with establishedstandards of good behavior. So, if a law is legal and good you should fallow it.People should not follow unjust laws because they are wrong; you owe it toyourself morally. A just law is one that God would O.K; God is all loving, blindto any indifference and will forgive. The constitution says that all men are createdequeal; so therefore if the law is not the same to everyone, it is not a just law.
Ifanyone is dehumanized it is an unjust law. Plain and simple, an unjust lawmakes you feel bad about who or what you are . A just law should make you feelequal and proud to be a human being. While Thoreau focuses on what you mightdo about a law, Dr.
King focuses on what makes a law just or unjust. Thoreauknows there are unjust laws; I believe he thinks as long as laws exist there willalways be the possibility of being unjust laws. Thoreau says yes, unjust laws existbut what are you going to do, just sit there or fight. Dr. King is trying to get in tothe heads of his fellow clergyman that unjust laws are morally wrong. But theyboth want to get the point across that you must do something to change unjustlaws because they are wrong and can take your God given freedom away.Even though both writers are writing on ways to be civil but disobedient, they have oppositeways of convincing you.
Their concepts are similar but their approaches are totally opposite. Dr.Kings religious and moderate tone are totally different from Thoreaus intense hatred forauthority, mostly the government. They both want to point a finger at the government. Thoreaubelieves the best government is one which governs the least. Dr.
King believes the principles ofgovernment are necessary to keep order, but need to live up to All men are created equal. Theunderlying meaning that I got from reading both essays was that you should follow your heartand your conscience against injustice and unjust laws, no matter what approach you choose totake.Works Cited:”Letter from Birmingham Jail” – Dr. Martin Luther King”Civil Disobedience”- by ThoreauWords/ Pages : 1,714 / 24