Conflict between Aristotle and Thoreau`s Views on the Relative

Conflictbetween Aristotle and Thoreau`s Views on the Relative Importance ofthe Individual and the State

Accordingto David Thoreau, individual conscience should always have higherpriority than the established government laws. Thoreau’s majordisagreement with the state laws emanated from his stand on theMexican-American War and Slavery. Besides, he also opposed payingtaxes to the government, which was a civil duty. Thoreau refuses topay taxes to the state, which in turn leads the government to arresthim. On the other hand, Aristotle argues that a democracy is the bestform of administration when applied with limitation in theestablishment of a government. Nonetheless, he notes that successfuloligarchies and democracies cannot be entirely developed based on theconcepts of democracies. Such administration is likely to underminethe democracy concepts it was created to accomplish. Instead, thegovernment is supposed to revise the democratic principles such thatthey can suit the requirements of the people they serve. He reasonsthat people can abuse the benefits of extreme democracy, not becausethey want to be resistant, but since human beings are naturallydifferent. The things one person like may be abhorrent to anotherindividual. Thoreau’sand Aristotle’sdifferentviewsabout humannatureandroleof government cause the central conflictbetween theiropinions about civil obedience:bea law abiding citizen,orbean unchained individual.

In“Democracyand Oligarchy, “Aristotlebelieves humankind bynature is agregarious political animal,andstate is a creationof natureas well hence, it is their nature to obey the regulationsestablishedby their state.However,Aristotle restricts the aggregarious principles within liberty.Liberty means that both the rulers and the ruled are supposed toobserve defined regulations that would in turn ensure that everyoneis equal before the law regardless of his or her wealth or otherforms of merit. On the contrary, liberty can imply absolute freedomfor an individual to do whatever he or she likes. In the lattersetting, liberty comes in the form of mutual interchange between theleaders and the subjects who are composed of freeborn citizens. Theequality of all before the law implies that the both the rulers andthe ruled have similar power, such that the dispute is solved througheven discussion between the persons involved (Aristotle 66).Furthermore,Aristotle argues that humankind,bynature, are agregarious political animals thus they should have noproblems obeying political regulations developed through mutualunderstanding. He recommends that governments can attain equalitythrough finding a balance between the oligarchy and democracy. Hisargument creates an oligarchic society as it proposes giving merit tothe side supported by most of the wealthy individuals. Oligarchy isdifferent from democracy since the latter gives merit to the sidewith the largest number of supporters irrespective of their wealthlimit (Aristotle 67).

Inthe “Civil Disobedience,”Thoreaubelieves human nature is conscientiousand unchained,soindividualsshould not complywith thelaws excessivelybut complywith their naturalconscience.Heemphasizes that the government wields power over people because ithas the support of the majority, but not because its perception isconscientious (Thoreau 306). Thus, he recommends best societiesshould have unchained individuals with freedom for accomplishing thethings they believe are right instead of blindly obeying policiesthat are passed by the majority. He further argues that a governmentis not necessary for raising a society of law-abiding citizens, ashumannature is conscientious.In fact, he suggests that people should decline following thegovernment laws excessively. Instead, they should obey their naturalconscience that will enable them to make an appropriate choice unlikethe government regulations that are based on unjust policies (Thoreau307). He further asserts that people are not obliged to dedicatetheir lives in combating evil, but they have an obligation forrefraining from participating in the vice. Thoreau gives an exampleof avoiding acquiring membership of unjust establishments such as thegovernment. He asserts, “Mustthe citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign hisconscience to the legislator? (Thoreau306).” The author was convinced that the United States was asuitable example of unjust governance since it supported aggressivewar and slavery. To prove his argument, Thoreau was incarcerated fora whole night because he declined to pay poll taxes in 1846. He wassupposed to remain in the prison until he paid the money, which hestill declined. His relatives were forced to bail him out secretlybecause he was adamant that the government was not supposed to chargehim tax (Thoreau 312). His motivation for boycotting the governmentregulations was proving that humankind should be unchainedindividuals.

Additionally,in Aristotle’sviews, agovernment exists in order to provide a good life for its citizensbecause thecivilization,morality,andethicsof humankind can only be found in statecraft.Theauthor notes that the level of compliance with the regulationscreated by the state does vary across the society. He identifiesfarmers as the best agregariouspolitical animalsfor promoting democracy and civilization because they are scatteredin different regions, and they dedicate most of their time to farmwork. They prefer choosing some people to represent their interest,as they believe ethicsof humankind can only be found in statecraft.In normal cases, the farmers often choose the rich as theirrepresentatives. Nonetheless, the representatives are accountable tothe farmers, as they require consulting them prior to making criticaldecisions (Aristotle 68). On the other hand, Aristotle claims thatlaborers, mechanics, and shopkeepers make the worst kind ofpopulation since they are clustered within a city where they canactively participate in the leadership matters. Since everyone wantshis or her suggestions to be implemented, he or she tends toencourage a mob rule. Reaching a sound decision in such a case isoften challenging, as people’s decisions are as different as theirsuggestions can be (Aristotle 69).Similarly,Aristotle claims that the oligarchy administrations can also work aslong as it is confined within the moralityboundaries. Besides, itshould be implemented moderately. The administrators can moderatepower distribution through allowing the wealthiest persons to holdthe senior most positions while the poor persons should be allowed tooccupy the lower offices. Furthermore, the wealthy individuals shouldbe obliged to perform defined obligations for the poor in order toprove their commitment in serving them (Aristotle 70).

Thoreaufurtheremphasizes thatthe foundation of a government is the great power of the majoritytherefore, theregulations that government often implementsare not suitable for everyone because they are based on thepreference of the majority instead of individual values.After one night in jail, Thoreau’s significance on individualgovernance even became stronger. He wrote, “TheState never intentionally confronts a man’s sense, intellectual ormoral, but only his body, his senses (Thoreau306).” He swore that he would followhisnaturalconscience, instead of complying with the unjust government policies.True to his word, he openly criticized slavery and taxes. He alsobecame a hermit. He remained a bachelor throughout, he never voted,never went to church, drunk wine, or ate any flesh. On the same note,he never took tobacco, or used guns and traps despite the fact thathe identified himself as a naturalist (Thoreau 308). The reason fordoing all these things was communicating to the government that itcould not make him follow an unjust course that was against his humanconscience. He claimed that many people were unable to see theinjustices the government was doing since they were a part of it. Hechallenged people who wanted to become the pioneers of change to stopcomplying with government policies excessively as they could not seethe evil that was taking place (Thoreau 309). In summary, he assertsthat government regulations are often unjust, and based on thepreferences of a few persons. Thoreau describes himself as a simpleperson whose life is guided by conscience that every human beingpossesses. However, he notes that he was different because he wasguided by basic truths generated by the inner voice instead of thegreat power of the majority.He asserts that it is unfortunate that several people fail to obeytheir internal conscience, which in turn prevents humans frompracticing virtues that would deliver better practical solutions totheir problems that the collective majority influences that are notdeveloped with the best interest of everyone in mind.


Aristotle.Aristotle`sPolitics.New York: Modern library, 1943. Print.

Thoreau,Henry D. CivilDisobedience.Westwood, N.J: F.H. Revell Co, 1964. Print