Thoreau's politics of the UPRIGHT man

"IN IMAGINATION I HIE ME TO GREECE as to an enchanted ground," Thoreau declared in his Journal and then proved himself as good as his word in his lecture on "The Rights & Duties of the Individual in relation to Government." There was not a major figure in the classical background of anarchism on whom Thoreau did not draw in some way. Though he may have been unaware of Zeno's strictures against Plato's omnicompetent state, he assuredly honoured the Stoic for his individualism, his use of paradox, perhaps his belief in transcendent universal laws, certainly his serenity — "play high, play low," Thoreau observed with delight, "rain, sleet, or snow — it's all the same with the Stoic." He read Ovid with pleasure, used a quotation from the Metamorphoses as an epigraph for his Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, and must have been well aware of Ovid's nostalgia for a time when there was no state and "everyone of his own will kept faith and did the right." But he found the most dramatic presentation of libertarian views in the Antigone of Sophocles. In this great drama of rebellion the central conflict was between the spirited Antigone and her uncle Creon, a not unkind man who had just ascended the throne of Thebes. Corrupted a little already by his power, blinded more than a little already by bureaucratic definitions of right and wrong, and advancing specious reasons of state as justification for his actions, Creon forbade the burial of the dead traitor Polynices. Driven by love for her slain brother and more by her awareness of the unambiguous commands of the gods to bury the dead, Antigone defied Creon's order. When she was brought before the king, she proudly avowed her defiance:

For it was not Zeus who proclaimed these to me, nor Justice who dwells with the gods below; it was not they who established these laws among men. Nor did I think that your proclamations were so strong, as, being a mortal, to be able to transcend the unwritten and immovable laws of the gods. For not something now and

RICHARD DRINNON, before becoming Bruern Fellow in American Civilisation at the University of Leeds, was an instructor in the social sciences at the University of Minnesota and assistant professor of history at the University of California. His biography of the American anarchist Emma Goldman, Rebel in Paradise was published in 1961.

yesterday, but forever these live, and no one knows from what time they appeared. I was not about to pay the penalty of violating these to the gods, fearing the presumption of any man.1

In his lecture on the individual and the state, which became the essay printed first as "Resistance to Civil Government" and later under the famous title "Civil Disobedience," Thoreau echoed Antigone's magnificent lines in his admission that "it costs me less in every sense to incur the penalty of disobedience to the State than it would to obey" and in his declaration that "they only can force me who obey a higher law than I." Like Sophocles' heroine, Thoreau made quite clear his rejection of the Periclean argument of Creon that the highest responsibility of the individual must be to the state and his rejection of the later Platonic assumption of a pleasing harmony between the laws of man and the laws of the gods. The kernel of Thoreau's politics was his belief in a natural or higher law; for the formulation of his essay on this subject, his indebtedness to the Greek tragedian was considerable.

Yet no single work provided Thoreau with his key concept.2 In his day the doctrine of a fundamental law still covered Massachusetts like a ground fog. It had survived the classical period, had become the eternal law of Aquinas, the anti-papal fundamental law of Wycliffe, and, through Calvin, Milton, and Locke, had flowed across the Atlantic to furnish the colonists with their indispensable "Word of God." The more secular emphasis of the eighteenth century on the "unalienable Rights" possessed by every individual in a state of nature made little difference in end result — little difference at least in doctrine, for all along men had thought it natural for a higher law to be the basis for legislation. In nineteenth-century Massachusetts the existence of a fundamental, higher law was accepted by radicals such as Alcott and Garrison, by liberals such as William Ellery Channing, and by conservatives such as Justice Joseph Story. These older countrymen of Thoreau were joined by Emerson, whose essay on "Politics," published five years before "Civil Disobedience," had a more direct influence on the young rebel. To be sure, Emerson approached the crass Toryism of Chancellor Kent in discussing "higher law" by attaching it to the power of property. But Emerson was usually much better — at his worst he could sound like an early incarnation of Bruce Barton — than his lines on wealth and property would suggest; most of "Politics" was on the higher ground of a radical Jeffersonianism:

Hence the less government we have the better — the fewer laws and the less confided power. The antidote to this abuse of formal government is the influence of private character, the growth of the Individual … the appearance of the wise man; of whom the existing government is, it must be owned, but a shabby imitation … To educate the wise man the State exists, and with the appearance of the wise man the State expires. The appearance of character makes the State unnecessary. The wise man is the State.3
Emerson even averred that "good men must not obey the laws too well."

The similarity of Emerson's point of view and even his language to Thoreau's must be clear to anyone who has carefully read "Civil Disobedience." Living where he did when he did, Thoreau could hardly have escaped the doctrine of a higher law. It was hardly fortuitous that all the most notable American individualist anarchists — Josiah Warren, Ezra Heywood, William B. Greene, Joshua K. Ingalls, Stephen Pearl Andrews, Lysander Spooner, and Benjamin Tucker — came from Thoreau's home state of Massachusetts and were his contemporaries. Tying the development of American anarchism to native traditions and conditions, Tucker uttered only a little white exaggeration when he clamed that he and his fellow anarchists were "simply unterrified Jeffersonian democrats."4

Thus the doctrine of higher law, as Benjamin Wright once remarked, logically leads to philosophical anarchism. True, but this truth can be misleading without the warning note that the logic has to be followed out to the end. Half-way covenants can lead to something very different. John Cotton, for instance, believed in a higher law, yet came down on the side of authority and the Massachusetts estab-lishment; Roger Williams believed no less in a higher law, yet came down on the side of freedom and the individual. Like all ideas, that of a higher law could become a weapon in the hands of groups and institutions. For Thomas Aquinas lex aeterna meant the supremacy of the church, for Thomas Hobbes the "Law of Nature'' meant the supremacy of the state. For Jefferson and Paine, natural law meant revolution and the establishment of a counter state. But for Thoreau it meant no supremacy of church over state or vice versa, or of one state over another, or of one group over another. It meant rather the logical last step of individual action. Belief in higher law plus practice of individual direct action equal anarchism. "I must conclude that Conscience, if that be the name of it," wrote Thoreau in the Week, "was not given us for no purpose, or for a hindrance." From Antigone to Bronson, Alcott, Thoreau, and Benjamin Tucker, the individuals who acted on the imperatives of their consciences, "cost what it may," were anarchists.5

So much for the main sources and the master pillars of Thoreau's political position. I have argued that in those crucial matters in which expediency was not applicable, it added up to anarchism. But the question of whether this made, him a workaday anarchist lands us in the middle of a tangle. Was Thoreau really an individualist, an anarchist, or both, or neither? Emma Goldman defined anarchism as "the philosophy of a new social order based on liberty unrestricted by man-made law" and once spent an evening in Concord vainly trying to persuade Franklin Sanborn that under this definition Thoreau was an anarchist. Joseph Wood Krutch doubts that Thoreau felt a direct responsibility for any social order, old or new, and stresses his "defiant individualism."6 Sherman Paul, on the other hand, laments that "one of the most persistent errors concerning Thoreau that has never been sufficiently dispelled is that Thoreau was an anarchical individualist."7 Still, "Thoreau was not an anarchist but an individualist," argues John Haynes Holmes.8 The tangle becomes impassable with Paul's additional observation that Thoreau "was not objecting to government but to what we now call the State."

There are two main reasons for this muddle. Thoreau was himself partially responsible. His sly satire, his liking for wide margins for his writing, and his fondness for paradox provided ammunition for widely divergent interpretations of "Civil Disobedience." Thus, governments being but experiments, he looks forward to a day when men will be prepared for the motto: "That government is best which governs not at all." The reader proceeds through some lines highly critical of the American government, only to be brought up sharp, in the third paragraph, by the sweet reasonableness of the author: "But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government." Those who discount Thoreau's radicalism snap up this sentence which seems clear on the face of it: Do not think me an extremist like the Garrisonians and anarchists, he seems to be saying, but think of me as one who moderately desires a better government now. But is this all he wants? Might he not favour, a little later, no government? Shattered by this doubt, the reader is thrown forward into another bitter attack on the American government and on the generic state. It becomes increasingly clear that critics who have tried to put together a governmentalist from Thoreau's writings on politics have humourlessly missed the point. He does indeed say that he will take what he can get from the state, but he also twits himself a little for inconsistency: "In fact, I quietly declare war with the State, after my fashion, though I will still make what use and get what advantage of her I can, as is usual in such cases." Compare Thoreau's wry position here with that of Alex Comfort, the English anarchist, written a hundred years later: "We do not refuse to drive on the left hand side of the road or to subscribe to national health insurance. The sphere of our disobedience is limited to the sphere in which society exceeds its powers and its usefulness …"9 But let us back up a bit. What was the nature of the "better government" he wanted at once? Obviously it was one that would stay strictly in its place and ungrow — progressively cease to exist. What was the "best government" he could imagine? He has already told us and the essay as a whole supports his declaration: a government "which governs not at all."

But the main obstacle to any clear cut identification of Thoreau's politics has been the uncertain shifting borders of anarchism, liberalism, and socialism in the nineteenth century and after. No series of definitions has succeeded in decisively marking out their frontiers. Stephen Pearl Andrews, for instance, the erudite contemporary of Thoreau, conceived of himself as at one and the same time a believer in the socialism of Charles Fourier and the anarchism of Josiah Warren. The intermingling of socialism and anarchism is further illustrated by Mikhail Bakunin, the founder of communist anarchism, who thought of himself as a socialist and fought Marx for the control of the First International. Even Marx has been called an ultimate anarchist, in the sense that he presumably favoured anarchism after the state withered away. But perhaps the closest analogue to Thoreau was William Morris. Working closely with Peter Kropotkin for a number of years, Morris rejected the parliamentarians and joined forces with the libertarians in the Socialist League of the 1880's — the League was eventually taken over completely by anarchists! — and wrote News from Nowhere which was anarchist in tone and sentiment. Yet his explanation of why he refused to call himself an anarchist was obviously confused and showed that he was rejecting individualist anarchism and not Kropotkin's communist anarchism.10

A somewhat comparable confusion mars a recent attempt to analyze Thoreau's position. He was not "an anarchical individualist," argues Paul, because he went to Walden not "for himself alone but to serve mankind." It would be easy to quote passages from Walden which seem to call this contention into question. One example: "What good I do, in the common sense of that word, must be aside from my main path, and for the most part wholly unintended." Another: "While my townsmen and women are devoted in so many ways to the good of their fellows, I trust that one at least may be spared to other and less humane pursuits."11 Yet this would be to read Thoreau literally. Unquestionably, as he informed us in "Civil Disobedience," he was "as desirous of being a good neighbour as I am of being a bad subject." The distinction was crucial. Though he served the state by declaring war on it, in his own way, he served society for a lifetime by trying to understand and explain Concord to itself. The manageable unit of society — unlike the vast abstraction in Washington or even Boston — was drawn to the human scale of Concord and other villages. If men lived simply and as neighbours, informal patterns of voluntary agreement would be established, there would be no need for police and military protection, since "thieving and robbery would be unknown,"12 and there would be freedom and leisure to turn to the things that matter. Thoreau's community consciousness was the essential, dialectical other of his individuality. Consider the following from Walden:

It is time that villages were universities, and their elder inhabitants the fellows of universities, with leisure … to pursue liberal studies the rest of their lives. Shall the world be confined to one Paris or one Oxford forever? Cannot students be boarded here and get a liberal education under the skies of Concord? … Why should our life be in any respect provincial? If we will read newspapers, why not skip the gossip of Boston and take the best newspaper in the world at once … As the nobleman of cultivated taste surrounds himself with whatever conduces to his culture — genius — learning — wit — books — paintings — statuary — music — philosophical instruments and the like; so let the village do … To act collectively is according to the spirit of our institutions … Instead of noblemen, let us have noble villages of men.13

One nobleman who also agitated for noble villages was the anarchist Kropotkin. He could have agreed completely with Thoreau's preoccupation with his locality and his readiness to act collectively "in the spirit of our institutions." In Mutual Aid (1902), Kropotkin celebrated the vital growth of society in the ancient Greek and medieval cities; he sadly outlined the consequences of the rise of centralization when the state "took possession, in the interest of minorities, of all the judicial, economical, and administrative functions which the village community already had exercised in the interest of all." Like Thoreau, Kropotkin advocated that the community's power be restored and that local individuality and creativity be left free to develop. The closeness of their views — though Kropotkin must have thought Thoreau too much an individualist like Ibsen! — points up the mistake of Sherman Paul and others in equating the "anti-social" with the "anarchical". Society and the state, as Thoreau and Kropotkin were very much aware, should not be confused or identified.

The definition of Emma Goldman quoted above will have to do for our purposes, then, though we must keep in mind its approximate nature and the greased-pole slipperiness of the political theory from which Thoreau's views are so often confidently said to have differed. Under this definition Thoreau was always an anarchist in matters of conscience, an ultimate anarchist for a time "when men are prepared for it," and in the meanwhile an anarchical decentralist. But enough of this attempt to stuff the poet and mystic in one political slot. Actually Thoreau's writings may yet help to explode all our conventional political categories.

"We scarcely know whether to call him the last of an older race of men, or the first of one that is to come," admitted an English critic in The Times Literary Supplement for 12 July, 1917. "He had the toughness, the stoicism, the unspoilt senses of an Indian, combined with the self-consciousness, the exacting discontent, the susceptibility of the most modern. At times he seems to reach beyond our human powers in what he perceives upon the horizon of humanity." With remarkable insight, the writer had perceived Thoreau's perplexing doubleness and had even touched the edge of his higher, profoundly exciting unity.

Of Thoreau's "unspoilt senses of an Indian" and his passion for the primitive there can be no question. "There is in my nature, methinks," he declared in the Week, "a singular yearning toward all wildness." To the end he was convinced that "life consists with wildness." But this conviction did not rest on a sentimental-romantic view of our "rude forefathers." The crude relics of the North American tribes, their improvident carelessness even in the woods, and their "coarse and imperfect use" of nature repelled him. His unpleasant experience of a moose-hunt in Maine led to the reflection: "No wonder that their race is so soon exterminated. I already, and for weeks afterwards, felt my nature the coarser for this part of my woodland experience, and was reminded that our life should be lived as tenderly and daintily as one would pluck a flower."14 Yet Thoreau never gave up his conviction that, standing so close, Indians had a particularly intimate and vital relationship with nature. "We talk of civilizing the Indian," he wrote in the Week, "but that is not the name for his improvement. By the wary independence and aloofness of his dim forest life he preserves his intercourse with his native gods, and is admitted from time to time to a rare and peculiar society with nature. He has glances of starry recognition to which our saloons are strangers."

By way of contrast, "the white man comes, pale as the dawn, with a load of thought, with a slumbering intelligence as a fire raked up, knowing well what he does, not guessing but calculating; strong in community, yielding obedience to authority; of experienced race; of wonderful, wonderful common sense; dull but capable, slow but persevering, severe but just, of little humour but genuine; a labouring man, despising game and sport; building a house that endures, a framed house. He buys the Indian's moccasins and baskets, then buys his hunting-grounds, and at length forgets where he is buried and ploughs up his bones."15 In this list of the bourgeois virtues, the keen, far-reaching social criticism of "Life Without Principle" — first entitled "Higher Law" — and indeed of Walden itself is anticipated. Calculating for the main chance, this obedient white man had cut his way through thousands of Indians in order to rush to the gold diggings in California, "reflect the greatest disgrace on mankind," and "live by luck, and so get the means of commanding the labour of others less lucky, without contributing any value to society! And that is called enterprise! I know of no more startling development of the immorality of trade … The hog that gets his living by rooting, stirring up the soil so, would be ashamed of such company."16 In this powerful essay on "Life Without Principle," he concluded that "there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself, than this incessant business." An economist of importance, as the first chapter of Walden may yet prove to a skeptical world, Thoreau saw clearly that the accumulation of wealth really leads to the cheapening of life, to the substitution for man of the less-than-hog-like creature who calculates and lays up money and even fails to root up the soil in the process. "What is called politics," he wrote in "Life Without Principle," "is comparatively something so superficial and unhuman, that practically I have never fairly recognized that it concerns me at all." The war against Mexico, the scramble for territory and power, and other debauches in nationalism were, he trusted, a different manifest destiny from his own. In his letter to Parker Pillsbury on the eve of the fighting at Fort Sumter, he reported that he did "not so much regret the present condition of things in this country (provided I regret it at all) as I do that I ever heard of it. I know one or two who have this year, for the first time, read a president's message; but they do not see that this implies a fall in themselves, rather than a rise in the president. Blessed were the days before you read a president's message. Blessed are the young for they do not read the president's message."17 Yet, despite all these devastating shafts aimed at the institutions reared up by the "pale as dawn" white man, Thoreau honoured learning as much or more than any man in America. Far from advocating a return to some preliterate bliss, he advocated, in his chapter on "Reading" in Walden, a study of "the oldest and the best" books, whose "authors are a natural and irresistible aristocracy in every society, and, more than kings or emperors, exert an influence on mankind."

Thus Thoreau's doubleness, of which he was well aware: "I find an instinct in me conducting to a mystic spiritual life, and also another to a primitive savage life." It was one of his great achievements to go beyond the polarities of "Civilization and Barbarism" — alternatively attractive poles which drew most of Thoreau's contemporaries helplessly back and forth like metal particles — to come close to a creative fusion: "We go eastward to realize history and study the works of art and literature, retracing the steps of the race," he wrote in the serene summary of his walks. "We go westward as into the future, with a spirit of enterprise and adventure." Thoreau wanted the best for his countrymen from both nature and civilization, past and present. He perceived clearly the meaning of America. It was an opportunity for new beginnings: "The Atlantic is a Lethean stream, in our passage over which we have bad an opportunity to forget the Old World and its institutions. If we do not succeed this time, there is perhaps one more chance for the race left before it arrives on the banks of the Styx; and that is in the Lethe of the Pacific, which is three times as wide." Had he lived with unflagging powers for another decade or so, he might have used his laboriously accumulated notebooks of "Extracts relating to the Indians" to show why the aborigines enjoyed "a rare and peculiar society with nature."18 It is indisputable that his interest in classical mythology, ancient societies, and contemporary tribes was an anthropological concern for the enduring features of life in groups. His interest in savages was much like that of Claude Levi-Strauss and might have been expressed in the latter's words: "The study of these savages does not reveal a Utopian state in Nature; nor does it make us aware of a perfect society hidden deep in the forests. It helps us to construct a theoretical model of society which corresponds to none that can be observed in reality, but will help us to disentangle 'what in the present nature of Man is original, and what is artificial'."19 Thoreau's theoretical model, which came from all his efforts to drive life into a corner and get its measurements, made it clear that the efforts of his neighbours to live for the superfluous made their lives superfluous. Through careful inspection of his model, he was able to see, years before Lenin, that at bottom the state is a club. To co-operate with it, especially in matters of importance, is to deny life, for the state, like a standing army, is organized power and at the disposal of hate. "You must get your living by loving," confidently declared this supposedly narrow village eccentric. Clearly, he aspired to create for his countrymen a "new heaven and a new earth," just as each of Greece's sons had done for her. The look of this new heaven is suggested by a passage in the Week. On Saturday, after he and John had made the long pull from Ball's Hill to Carlisle Bridge, they saw "men haying far off in the meadow, their heads waving like the grass which they cut. In the distance the wind seemed to bend all alike. As the night stole over, such a freshness was wafted across the meadow that every blade of cut grass seemed to teem with life."

To this feeling of the correspondence of man to nature, "so that he is at home in her," Thoreau added poetic intuitions of an individualism to come. With his common sense, he realized that the notorious common sense of his countrymen was insane. The important questions were buried under daily rounds of trivia. Living was constantly deferred. No joyful exuberance was allowed to slip by prudence. Thoreau could have joined William Blake in his belief that "Prudence is a rich, ugly old maid, courted by Incapacity." The incapacity was partly the result of a split between the head and the heart, thought and feeling, and the absurd belief that the intellect alone enables man to meet life. In his final summing up, in the essay "Walking," he warned that the most we can hope to achieve is "Sympathy with Intelligence … a discovery that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy." But his neighbours not only had an overfaith in abstract reasoning and in the general efficacy of the intellect; they also distrusted the body. William Blake could thrust through the prudishness of his time to rediscover the body; hemmed in by the moral sentimentalism of his family, by Emersonian etherealness, and his own confirmed virginity, Thoreau had more difficulty. His embarrassing admission — "what the essential difference between man and woman is, that they should be thus attracted to one another, no one has satisfactorily answered" — is indeed, as Krutch points out, "a real howler."20 Nevertheless, he took a sensuous delight in his body, claiming in the Week that "we need pray for no higher heaven than the pure senses can furnish, a purely sensuous life. Our present senses are but rudiments of what they are destined to become." Here is a body mysticism which placed Thoreau in the tradition of Jacob Boehme and William Blake. It presupposed, Norman Brown observes, that “the consciousness strong enough to endure full life would be no longer Apollonian but Dionysian-consciousness which does not negate any more.”21 Shocked by phallic forms in nature, the stiff-backed Thoreau yet remarked that he worshipped most constantly at the shrine of Pan — Pan, the upright man of the Arcadian fertility cult, famous for his Dionysiac revels with the mountain nymphs! 22 The vision of indivi-duals with spiritual development and the simple animal strength to affirm their bodies was one of the important contributions of this paradoxical celibate. It was a vision sensed and acted upon, in their own ways, by Isadora Duncan and Emma Goldman and Randolph Bourne and Frank Lloyd Wright. It exerts its appeal to the poetic libertarian strain in radicalism, to men as diverse as e. e. cummings, Karl Shapiro, Henry Miller, Paul Goodman, Kenneth Patchen, Herbert Read, the late Albert Camus and Nicolas Berdyaev. A recent, rather extravagant form is perhaps Allen Ginsberg's notion of "Socialist-Co-op Anarchism." In any form it is revolutionary.

"One thing about Thoreau keeps him very near to me," Walt Whitman remarked. "I refer to his lawlessness — his dissent —his going his absolute own road let hell blaze all it chooses."23 Thousands of young people know exactly what Whitman meant. A few perhaps can see that Thoreau's death was his greatest achievement, for it showed that his philosophy had taught him how to die — and therefore how to live. Some can appreciate and understand his two years at Walden Pond. But many are ready, like the young Indian lawyer in South Africa in 1907, to be impressed that Thoreau "taught nothing he was not prepared to practice in himself."24 Like Gandhi, they are ready to draw on Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience" for "a new way" of handling political conflict. Thoreau thereby made another major contribution to radical politics, for anarchism and socialism have traditionally been strong on ends and weak or worse on means. It is true that Thoreau was himself unclear about violence, as his splendid tribute to John Brown and his occasional callow observations on war show — "it is a pity," he wrote a correspondent in 1855, "that we seem to require war from time to time to assure us that there is any manhood still left in man."25 Yet he went farther than most in thinking his way through this problem. More importantly, like Antigone he left us the powerful, burning, irresistible appeal of his example. It is as timely as the banner "Unjust Law Exists" which marched beside Camus' "Neither Victims Nor Executioners" in the recent Washington youth demonstrations. It is as timely as Bertrand Russell's sit-down in Trafalgar Square.
It may even help us survive the disease called modern history.

1 Thoreau's sturdy prose translations in the Week, Writings (1906), I, 139-40, may be compared with Gilbert Murray's rhyming verse translation of Antigone (London: Allen & Unwin, 1914), 37-38. As Murray remarked in the introduction, Sophocles seemed to have created the ideal virgin martyr of Greek tragedy almost in spite of his intention; it is highly improbable that he set out to create an anarchist heroine. Yet she demonstrated unforgettably a specific instance of the possible gap between justice and state law and the final responsibility the individual owes to those laws which are above and beyond the Creons of this world. In this ultimate sense Antigone was an anarchist heroine — with reason Henry Nevinson pointed this out years ago in an essay on "An Anarchist Play", Essays in Freedom (London: Duckworth, 1911), 209-14.
2 Thanks to the careful researches of Ethel Seybold, Thoreau: The Quest and the Classics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1951), 16, 17, 24, 66, 75, we know that Thoreau read the Antigone at Harvard and probably twice thereafter, once at the time he was working up his lecture on the dangers of civil obedience and once in the 1850's. Unfortunately Miss Seybold overstates her case by making the Antigone "probably responsible for one whole section of Thoreau's thought and public expression. From it must have come his concept of the divine law as superior to the civil law, of human right as greater than legal right." I say "unfortunately," because her overstatement has allowed some students to dismiss her valid points with rather fatuous pronouncements that Thoreau was merely an "involuntary classicist," that he was a "romanticist" by nature-whatever all this means. That Thoreau could find plenty of "romance" in the revels of the great god Pan, the mysticism of Orpheus, and the naturalness of Homer seems clear to me. In any event, one major inspiration for "Civil Disobedience" was Sophocles' work, first presented about 441 B.C., well in advance of Etienne de Boétie's Discourse sur la Servitude Voluntaire, published in 1577 and suggested as the earliest important source by Edward L. Tinker, New York Times Book Review, 29 March 1942.
3 The Complete Essays (New York: Modern Library, 1940), 431.
4 Quoted in Rudolf Rocker, Pioneers of American Freedom (Los Angeles: Rocker Publications Committee, 1949), 150. A more recent and helpful study of early American anarchism is James J. Martin, Men Against the State (DeKalb, Illinois: Adrian Allen Associates, 1953). The native American anarchists shared with Thoreau yet another Yankee characteristic: they were all members of an entrepreneurial professional middle-class which was integral to a relatively simple economy based on farming and trade. Not unnaturally they tended to assume that the interests of all would be best promoted if the individual were left absolutely free to pursue his self-interest. That is to say, just as they developed higher law doctrine to its logical conclusion, so did they take laissez faire theory beyond the liberals to advocate a marketplace literally without political controls. Fortunately Thoreau did not join these anarchists in their preoccupation with currency manipulation, free banking, economic competition. Aside from being more interesting, the trail Thoreau cut for himself promised to lead somewhere.
5 In 1875 Tucker followed Thoreau's example and refused to pay the poll tax of the town of Princeton, Massachusetts; he was imprisoned in Worcester a short while for his refusal — see Martin, Men against the State, pp. 203-04. It had almost become a habit in the area. Three years before Thoreau spent his night in jail, Alcott was arrested for not paying his poll tax. Thoreau was probably influenced by his example and by the civil disobedience agitation of William Lloyd Garrison and his followers — see Wendell Glick, " 'Civil Disobedience': Thoreau's Attack upon Relativism," Western Humanities Review, VII (Winter, 1952-53), 35-42.
6 Krutch, Henry David Thoreau (New York: William Sloane, 1948), 133-35.
7 Paul, The Shores of America: Thoreau's Inward Exploration (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1958), 75/80, 377. Paul emphasizes Thoreau's willingness to have "governmental interference for the general welfare."
8 Hilmes, "Thoreau's 'Civil Disobedience,''' Christian Century, LXVI (January-June 1949), 787-89.
9 Quoted by Nicolas Walter, "Disobedience and the New Pacifism," Anarchy No. 14 (April 1962), 113. It is worth noting that Walter thinks "Thoreau wasn't an anarchist," though he believes that "the implications of his action and his essay are purely anarchist …" I am sure that Thoreau would have chuckled or perhaps laughed in his full free way had he known this question would still be debated a hundred years after his death.
10 George Woodcock and Ivan Avakumovic, The Anarchist Prince (London: T. V. Boardman, 1950), 216-19. Thoreau's great influence on the English left dates back to this period when many were filled with idealism and with admiration for the "sublime doctrine" of anarchism.
11 Since I have marked up my copy of Walden (New York: Modern Library, 1937), all my citations will be to this edition rather than to the appropriate Walden volume (II) of his Works. Here the quotations are from pp. 65,66.
12 Walden, 156.
13 Walden, 98-100. By all means see Lewis Mumford's fine discussion of Thoreau in his chapter on "Renewal of the Landscape," in The Brown Decades (New York: Dover Publications, 1955), 64-72. Mumford credits Thoreau with the achievement of helping "to acclimate the mind of highly sensitive and civilized men to the natural possibilities of the environment" and gives him a major place in the history of regional planning in America. The influence of Thoreau on Paul Goodman, who describes himself as a "community anarchist", is apparent to anyone who has read his and his brother Percival's Communitas (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1947).
14 Quoted in Albert Keiser, The Indian in American Literature (New York: Oxford University Press, 1933), 227.
15 Works, I, 52-53; see also 55.
16 "Life without Principle," in Walden, 717.
17 His reference to "manifest destiny" appeared in his letter to H. G. O. Blake, 27 February, 1853; his letter to Pillsbury was dated 10 April, 1861 — The Correspondence of Henry David Thoreau, eds. Walter Harding and Carl Bode (New York: New York University Press, 1958), 296, 611.
18 Keiser, The Indian in American Literature, 217-18, "cannot but believe that cruel fate robbed the world of a great work dealing in a sanely realistic yet sympathetic … manner with the child of nature on the American continent …" Perhaps, though it is possible that the Civil War might have undone Thoreau along with so many others. It should be noted that Thoreau shows, in many passages, an intuitive sense of the distinction, made by such modern students as Mircea Eliade, between cyclical archaic time and progressive, cumulative modern time. His works were organized around the former. Indeed the Week might be interpreted as an extended defense of Parmenides's thesis of the permanence of the universe against the Heraclitean progressivism of a nation of boosters (see esp. 54-56, 60, 128, 239, 347, 416). His constant return to the problem of time and its obvious importance for his understanding of man in nature invite a careful, systematic inquiry.
19 Levi-Strauss, "Tristes Aropiques," Encounter, XC (April 1961), 40.
20 Krutch, Thoreau, 207.
21 Brown, Life against Death (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1959), 308-11.
22 Works, I, 65. I should not place any great reliance on this passage, which apparently was valued in part for its shock value, if it stood alone. It does not.
23 Quoted by Walter Harding, A Thoreau Handbook (New York: New York University Press, 1959), 201.
24 Quoted by George Hendrick, "The Influence of Thoreau's 'Civil Disobedience' on Gandhi's Satyagraha," New England Quarterly, XXIX (1956), 464.
25 Letter to Thomas Cholmondeley, 7 February 1855 — see Correspondence of Thoreau, 371.

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Oct 30 2017 22:28


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