13 books that changed history: Civil Disobedience

Approaching the end of our list of 13 Books that changed history, today we propose a referential work (the tenth one) of critical thinking, a text that helps us understand the legitimate freedom to put our own principles above the arbitrary norms imposed from power as a civic gesture, a way of being citizens, and not the unwarranted rebellious outburst that many detractors want to see: Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau.

It is true that civil disobedience is not a philosophical proposal or a tool of resistance born from Thoreau’s mind (its origin, undoubtedlyt, must be sought much earlier, perhaps in philosophies such as Buddhism, or in historical episodes such as the European revolts against feudalism). But it was Thoreau who compiled his theoretical bases in a text (whose germ had been a series of conferences entitled The Rights and Duties of the Individual in Relation to the Government, which was followed by the booklet On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, which would finally take the form of the text to which we refer today) that had a huge impact, and had a decisive influence on the life and work of extraordinarily relevant characters such as Lev Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi or Martin Luther King. In short, a text that presents disobedience as an engine of change and progress.

Thoreau had experimented with civil disobedience (and its punitive consequences) in the first person, as early as 1846, by refusing to pay the taxes claimed by what he considered an immoral government. For him, no reason or argument legitimizes blind obedience to a corrupt, unjust or dishonest government, because “our duty is, first of all, to be free and responsible consciences, and only after that, to be subjects”. True to this principle, Thoreau wrote a large number of works in which he influenced this line of thought, with titles such as Walden, written in 1854; Wild Apples: The History of the Apple Tree, written in 1862; or A life Without Principle, written in 1863.

In more than 50 texts that Thoreau wrote throughout his life, this defense of disobedience as a form of resistance to power was present, to a greater or lesser extent; as a resistance tool that starts from the individual decision of the critical, proactive person, but makes sense and is effective when it is launched in a massive way, since it generates union, teaches and sets an example; and above all, as a symbolic force.

📷 Image by Glenn Halog.

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