Friday, October 18, 2019

American Political Thought Essay Example | Topics and Well Written Essays - 1250 words

American Political Thought - Essay Example Ever since Cain killed Abel, it became necessary to protect future Abels, and to restrain the Cains. And after the concept of private property became established, it became crucial to protect that as well. Thus was born the 'state'. The government is the manifest spirit of the state - constituted by a group of people who represent it. The legitimacy of the state and its government is thus based on the interests of the people it serves; and this dictum holds true for even the most autocratic state governed by the most despotic of rulers. Is the role of the government, one of mere maintenance - of peace and security, and private property, or should it concern itself with much more than that Let us examine this question, with reference, primarily, to the views of Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) a naturalist and 'philosopher cum political theorist' (perhaps the term reminds us of the Platonic, 'Philosopher-King Though Thoreau himself would have been quite appalled to have himself be compared to any 'king', despite the addition of the title 'philosopher'!) Thoreau's views on the state, which are set down in his work Civil Disobedience, influenced not only Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, but also those who struggled for the abolition of apartheid in South Africa, and more recently into the '70's and till today - those (especially in America) who have taken an ethical stand against war. Thoreau unequivocally rejected the right of the state to impose taxes, and stated that "that government is best which governs the least" (website The immediate reason for Thoreau's writing, summarily rejecting the authority of the state was on account of his being imprisoned (this was only for a day, as he was bailed out by his family, much to his discomfiture!). He had refused to pay a poll tax, and his refusal was a deliberate act of defiance, as he stated that the government had no right to tax him. He declared that it was against his conscience to pay taxes to a government, which indulged in acts he did not approve of. Although the government, especially in a democracy, represented the voice of the people, Thoreau stated that it also stood for the interests of elite politicians, which he was in no way ready to support. He went to the extent of arguing that even if the government did right, and followed the will of the majority, those who chose to disagree with the majority also had their right to not follow the diktats of this majority as expressed through the government; they (the minority) should be permitted to live on their own, unconnected with the state. (McElroy) He was, in fact, recommending a situation of peaceful and constructive anarchy, where each individual could choose to dwell within or without the 'confines' (in the abstract and not a physical sense) of the state, as he pleased. What did Thoreau find so repugnant with the government of his day He objected to the government's support and continuance of slavery and also the Mexican-American war. Thoreau wrote his Civil Disobedience roughly fifteen years before slavery was abolished in the US, and the debate over its abolition was just gaining momentum. Apart from this, the government had embarked on a policy of expansion, based on a common perception that it was the "Manifest Destiny" (McElroy) of America to expand and bring under control the native populations. In this process, Texas was annexed, and this led to a

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