Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) is an American idealist in political thought, and his idealism is expressed in the present statement that conscience rather than majority should rule the state. He has also shown the form of ideal democracy based on conscience. When the conscience of the citizens is wounded, he calls for a revolution.
More Notes: Civil Disobedience
Thoreau claims that a perfect government should be ruled by conscience, not by the majority. Conscience should prevail over law. The mass of men that serve the state as machines—the militia, jailers, and constables. Though they do not exercise judgment or moral sense, they are considered good citizens. But, unfortunately, heroes and patriots who conscientiously serve the state are generally treated as enemies. Thoreau thinks that the majority in a so-called democracy is permitted to rule for long, not because they possess a conscience, but because they have night Conscience.
As a State consists of men, and men possess a conscience, conscience should be the ruling principle, not the majority. In a democratic State, the majority should not decide what is right or wrong. It is man’s God-gifted quality, a conscience that should decide right and wrong. A citizen should not resign his conscience to the legislator. The Creator gives conscience to man to enable him to distinguish between right and wrong. A man is a man first and, secondly, a citizen of a state. This is a revolutionary idea about the form of government that a state should have.
More Notes: Suggestions
Thoreau was an idealist thinker, and it is only natural that his ideal of democracy should be contrasted with the materialist view of democracy which is the most widely accepted conception of it. Instead of following the traditional, materialistic view of democracy, Thoreau offered a novel idea of democracy that should be based not on materialism but on spirituality. He thinks it is a man’s spiritual quality, his conscience, distinguishing between right and wrong, moral and immoral, and justice and injustice. If conscience becomes the guide of democracy, then no harm or injustice will be done to anyone, and only when such democracy is established man can be completely free.
If the conscience is wounded, it should be considered bleeding. A man’s true manhood and immortality flow through such a wound, and he bleeds to eternal death. Therefore it should be a man’s duty to prevent such injuries of conscience so that he may not die eternally; He should wage a peaceful revolution against any government that hurts his conscience. For example, the state bruises the people’s conscience by imposing specific unjust laws on them.
To sum up, Conscience should be the basis of all undertakings. The benevolent interference of the other should remove the faults of one. The benevolent intervention of another should remove the fault of one. Conscience should not be hurt; rather everything should be decided based on conscience through cooperation and understanding between the state and the people.