Enthymeme in civil disobedience, which is Thoreau

- Thoreau - the founder of "civil disobedience"

Civil disobedience

In the experimental phase of a free life, however, there was a day, more precisely: a night of bondage. In July 1846, on the way to the shoemaker, Thoreau was asked by the local constable to finally pay his poll tax, which had been outstanding for years. Thoreau didn't pay - on principle, for he decided something was wrong in the state of Massachusetts.

Thoreau liked himself angry at the tepid attitude of the North on the slave question, disgusted by the humanitarian lip service of even an important senator like Daniel Webster, to whom the maintenance of protective tariffs and the unity of "states" were ultimately more important than the purity of political morality no longer keep out of the world's strife.

Occasionally he was quite ready to interfere in the bad business of politics, but he never voted; he did not want to "cast" his vote, to bury it in a ballot box. In contrast to his relationship to the all-ruling, warm-hearted Mother Nature, he was always suspicious or indifferent to the state of the father; He considered the government to be the best, "which does not rule at all" and refrains from letting people degenerate into subjects, into machines, into unwilling service providers.

"These people must stop keeping slaves and waging war against Mexico, even if they should cost their existence as a people."

The friendly offer from the constable Sam Staples to advance Henry the tax debt, a small amount, or to apply to the city council for a deferral, fell on deaf ears. The good, conscientious man had no choice but to arrest the renitute and send him to prison.

Why the otherwise so good-natured constable had decided this time to make an example can only be guessed at. Perhaps the current war with Texas had broken away from Mexico and joined the Union. This now wanted to bring California and New Mexico into their possession. An offer to buy was rejected by Mexico. The dispute also arose within the Union, since slavery would inevitably expand in the new areas, where, as in the rest of the south, cotton plantations were operated with negro slaves. Since 1820, with the Missouri Compromise, the 36 ° 30 'north latitude was defined as the limit of slavery: a line of fate for the USA.

Thoreau, who, despite all his contempt for everyday political life, took clear fundamental positions based on natural law and human rights, was not the first to come into conflict with the state authority as a tax refuser; friend Alcott had already had this experience, but had not been put behind bars. Thoreau's extended family was regionally regarded as a point of contact for opponents of slavery, the »abolitions«. She gave shelter to fugitive slaves and helped them on their way to freedom in Canada.

The transcendentalists around Emerson resolutely opposed the Mexico War. The nice dialogue during Emerson's nocturnal visit to Thoreau's cell (but perhaps it also took place later, that is irrelevant) should not be missing here. Emerson: "Henry, why are you here?" Thoreau: "Why are you not here, Waldo?"

Two years later, Thoreau put it this way:

"Under a government that illegally imprisons anyone, the prison is the appropriate place for a righteous person."

Here in prison the escaped slave, the Mexican prisoner of war and the battered Indian - the victims of the political crimes of that time - the solidarity-compassionate, the civil disobedient, those who refused to pay the (war) tax. In his famous essay About the duty to disobey the state Thoreau stylizes the actual occasion, the night in prison, into a violent global criticism of dull masses of people and their arrogance of the majority, of unscrupulous rulers who betrayed Jefferson's ideal of the state, namely to ensure the right of the individual to life, freedom and happiness.

Thoreau's incarceration did not pose any particular impairment to his well-being; on the contrary, Sam Staples' custody was quite comfortable. In addition, the convict was released into his forest early in the morning after the frightened family had paid the tax debt as quickly as possible (probably that night by Aunt Maria). He left the place of honor only under protest; it seems as if he sensed the lack of symbolic strength in demonstration given the all too short-term imprisonment. Perhaps Thoreau, in the Christian depths of his soul, was burning with a longing for martyrdom and passion, which now felt disappointed. Minutes later he crawled into the blueberry bushes, where nothing of the evil state could be seen, a little sheepishly and probably breathing a sigh of relief.

Thoreau in February 1848 at Concord's Lyceum:

"If a thousand people did not pay their taxes this year, it would not be a violent and bloody measure - but what it would be if they paid and thus enabled the state to use violence and shed innocent blood."

At a time when "six million Negro slaves receive an average of sixty million lashes a day on the bare body and three million European weavers are weakly vegetating in dull chambers or desolate factory halls with hunger and grief" (so Schopenhauer in the Small Philosophical Writings), the sensitive Thoreau did not want to be content with relativizations and patient public relations. Just as in his Waldklause, longing for the absolute, he endeavored to experience the illumination of a higher reality in simple, natural things, so he also asserted a "higher law" for himself in the political context; he found himself in possession of the absolute conscience that entitled him not to comply with demands of the state community, for example tax payments.

“Can the citizen leave his conscience to the legislature, even for a moment and in the slightest degree? Why does everyone have a conscience? "

The category of such a conscience, which is radically committed to ethical unconditionality, was and is still difficult to presuppose as a generally binding social virtue. It often takes a Thoreau, a Gandhi, a Martin Luther King first to rouse the ponderous, silent majority by calling for so-called administrative offenses, disobedience and violation of rules so that blatant injustice can be eliminated. The fact that leading resistance fighters are even ready to commit their lives shows how much they see themselves as committed to a moral duty: it is up to these "enlightened ones" to disobey.

But also we simple, normal, critical Western contemporaries (every single word could be in quotation marks), without charisma and genius, without the security of acting out of a moral, supra-legal emergency, endowed with a subjective conscience that can be completely wrong I think - we are all asked not to wait for the so rare Thoreaus, Gandhis, Kings, but, with all due respect for the democratic majority principle, to exercise our republican civil right to insubordination, to defensive measures against the over-father state, against the industrialization of life to make in order to convert the daily new death sentences against thousands upon thousands of people, animals, plants into acquittals for a life worthy of creation, natural life.

Thoreau's essay, which was only posthumously called On The Duty Of dvil Disobedience, turns not only against the suppression of decisions of conscience, but also against the hypocritical half-heartedness that, using the example of Thoreau's fellow citizens in Massachusetts, condemns slavery in the southern states But their own state finances a war of aggression through tax payments, which, among other dire consequences, increases the number of slaves. Thoreau railed against "people for whom the question of freedom ranks behind that of free trade and who quietly read the latest news from Mexico next to the daily prices after dinner and perhaps fall asleep over this reading."

Only in Thoreau's personal environment did this martial arts pamphlet, especially given as a lecture, receive attention; there was no response in the country. Who read the Aesthetic Papers? In this magazine Thoreau's essay hid under the title On Resistance to Civil Government for a long time.

Only many decades later did Thoreau's thoughts on nonviolent denial and passive resistance gain supra-regional, even international, significance. In 1907 Mahatma Gandhi published parts of Civil Disobedience in a magazine and made the essay compulsory reading for his followers. In the prison in South Africa he found moral support time and again in the disobedience pamphlet by Henry David Thoreau and expressed what moved him:

“A minority is powerless as long as it conforms to the majority; it is then not even a minority; but it is irresistible when it is' a burden 'with all its weight'.

In 1944, Martin Luther King read Thoreau's essay while studying. After the bus boycott in Montgomery, the key experience of the civil rights movement in America (1957), he recalls:

"The thought of refusing to cooperate with an evil state fascinated me so much that I read the work several times."

Thoreau has demonstrably influenced the resistance groups against the German occupation in France, Denmark and the Netherlands, and also the labor movement in England; Tolstoy, Proust, Hesse, Buber and many others extolled his writings.

Contemporary forms of protest (such as boycotts against electricity payments or against the census, sit-ins, "wild" strikes, human chains, self-disclosure campaigns, occupying houses, factory chimneys, power station pylons) can be explained from this historical exercise in civil disobedience. Today it is often forgotten that politically motivated, non-criminal, non-violent and yet unlawful refusal to obey, according to Thoreau's classic resistance writing, must be prepared to accept the criminal consequences. Legal peace is too precious for a social community to be violated without personal risk for the prostitute. Anarchist, system-breaking ideas were alien to Thoreau:

“From a low point of view, for all its flaws, the Constitution is very good, the law and the judiciary respectable; even this state and this American government are in many ways admirable and rare circumstances to be grateful for, as so many have said. "

But his "somewhat higher point of view" left Thoreau no alternative in the concrete situation; He understood his action of targeted tax refusal - he expressly emphasized that he always paid the road tax correctly - as an emotional appeal to fellow citizens and sovereigns to correct wrong, unscrupulous decisions.

"If the law is such that it requires you to be the agent of the injustice of another, then, I say, break the law."

So spoke and wrote the citizen of a sovereign, free constitutional state and not (like Gandhi) the representative of an oppressed people. To this day, the public discussion is going on about how much tolerance the democratic state is willing to show in the face of property damage, trespassing and coercion, even in so-called non-violent demonstrations. Doesn't the parliamentary system with its legal opposition, its freedom of the press and its state monopoly on the use of force rule out illegal acts of disobedience? Does Thoreau's individual infallibility authority, the conscience - anchored in Article 4, Paragraph 1 of the Basic Law - also apply to collective manifestations of indignation? But doesn't civil disobedience point directly to crises and problems in a society and therefore not only deserve moral recognition, but possibly even legal acquittal? The lawyer Ralf Dreier offered the following justification formula:

"Everyone has the right, alone or together with others, publicly, non-violently and for political and moral reasons to comply with the offense of a prohibition norm, if by doing so he is protesting against serious injustice and his protest is proportionate."

Whether a Thoreau today would adhere to the narrow limits of this liberal legal conception, which at least allows civil disobedience in exceptional cases, must be doubted in view of the military madness of our time, environmental catastrophes, the uncontrollable nuclear power, the atrocity prospects of genetic engineering. A Thoreau today, expressed in our West German language, would see himself as a total objector. Any so-called civil service, I speculate once in the ungrateful exploitation of my freedom of author, would already be seen as a protective aid for this state, which, "from a somewhat higher point of view," would not be his.

Would Thoreau stay peaceful? Didn't revolutionary impatience seize him in a world that was preparing to pollute the last drop of water, cut down the last tree, exterminate the last songbird, and put the last free human being under "data protection"?

Thoreau was to follow in his own life an insight that Gandhi later expressed:

»Nonviolence is better than violence; Violence is better than cowardice. "