Answer to Question #161312 in History for Wilson Huang

Question #161312

200-300 words

What does Henry David Thoreau mean when he writes, "The mass of men serve the State thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies."?

Expert's answer

Thoreau establishes his arguments against the government by calling out all of its wrongs. This sets a tone of aggression towards the federal government as read, “Governments show thus how successfully man can be imposed on, even impose on themselves, for their own advantage”. This quote allows for readers to understand Thoreau’s point of view, as he sees the government as users of the people for their own benefits. It can be easily seen why he disagrees with the government, as he continuously bashes the Union.  In the quote, “any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already,” Thoreau is saying that the fact that you believe something is right for you, that you are the majority no matter if it is just you who believes it. This is a great reference back to his thesis as what he states, “[the government] is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it”. To explain, Thoreau is saying that the government is bound to be so corrupt that the people would not be able to do something. This ties in with the first quote as well as he is trying to convey that no matter whether you feel inferior or not, that you have the right to speak about it as you are “a majority.” 

5 Ethics Thoreau explains that men who serve the state with their bodies or minds, but not their consciences, serve the state “as machines” who “rarely make any moral distinctions.” Those who do not serve the state with their conscience do not make their own ethical decisions, but rather, allow the state to dictate

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