What does Thoreau mean by the statement The government is best which governs not at all

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), a great American philosopher, begins his famous prose writing ‘Civil Disobedience’ by stating a paradoxical statement saying that effective governments allow people to rule themselves. 

More Notes: Henry David Thoreau

The best government doesn’t govern at all and doesn’t intervene with its people’s lives to a certain extent. The government doesn’t function well because people make decisions on behalf of the government, not themselves. People act like robots towards the government as there’s not a lot of room for individual freedom or expression; they conform to what the law dictates. 

More Notes: Suggestions

In a democratic government, the majority is allowed to rule.  This does not mean they are the fairest and correct in their approach and actions towards minorities. An ideal government that does not rule at all should be based on conscience, not the majority. Conscience should prevail over law. The government should bear the responsibility to awaken the conscience in all the people, whether they are the majority, the minority, or the individual. When every state’s individual is imbued with and guided by conscience, he will not harm any other individual. The individual will not need to be interfered with by the state. The government will not need to govern when such a state is created.

Rashedul Islam
Rashedul Islam

Hi, This is Rashedul. Researcher and lecturer of English literature and Linguistics.

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