eBook di filosofia: H. D. Thoreau, Disobbedienza civile


Henry David Thoreau, Disobbedienza civile

Il saggio “Resistance to Civil Government” viene letto da Thoreau come conferenza al Concord Lyceum nel gennaio 1848 e pubblicato, il 14 maggio 1849, in “Aesthetic Papers”, a cura di Elizabeth Peabody. Sarà poi pubblicato postumo nel 1866 con il diverso titolo di “Civil Disobedience

“Thoreau was an activist involved in the abolitionist movement on many fronts: he participated in the Underground Railroad, protested against the Fugitive Slave Law, and gave support to John Brown and his party. Most importantly, he provides a justification for principled revolt and a method of nonviolent resistance, both of which would have a considerable influence on revolutionary movements in the twentieth century. In his essay on “Civil Disobedience,” originally published as “Resistance to Civil Government,” he defends the validity of conscientious objection to unjust laws, which ought to be transgressed at once. Although at times it sounds as if Thoreau is advocating anarchy, what he demands is a better government, and what he refuses to acknowledge is the authority of one that has become so morally corrupt as to lose the consent of those governed. “There will never be a really free and enlightened State,” he argues, “until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly” (“Civil Disobedience”). There are simply more sacred laws to obey than the laws of society, and a just government—should there ever be such a thing, he adds—could not be in conflict with the conscience of the ethically upright individual.

Political institutions as such are regarded by Thoreau with distrust, and although he probably overestimates the extent to which it is possible to disassociate oneself from them, he convincingly insists that social consensus is not a guarantee of rectitude or truth. One of the most valuable points he makes against the critics of John Brown is that a person should not be dismissed as “insane” by virtue of dissenting from the majority: his anger is grounded upon an awareness of the fact that slavery is a violation of human rights, and the law-abiding citizens of Massachusetts are not excused for turning away from this reality (“A Plea for Captain John Brown”). Passively allowing an unjust practice to go on is tantamount to collaborating with evil. Unfortunately, Thoreau seems to assume that all of Brown’s actions were justified because he was an inspired reformer with a sacred vocation. But he does succeed at pointing out the stupidity of certain knee-jerk responses to Brown’s raid, and in this respect his essay has a more general pertinence to debates about the individual’s relation to community norms. It also raises the issue of whether political violence can be justified as the lesser of evils, or in cases where it may be the only way of instigating reform.” (tratto dalla Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)


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