Answer to Question #163807 in History for Katherine Velasco

Question #163807

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

From a philosophical perspective, David Thoreau had deeper meaning by his quote, "The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies."

Thoreau gave an example of soldiers who got transformed to embrace shadows of humanity. An illustration used the soldiers, which the government refers to as patriotic loyal citizens, yet they are being used to conduct evil and social injustices. Soldiers are like vessels that can be easily manipulated by extracting out components that are not required and replacing them with useful ones. Soldiers have the sense to express humanity, but the law and authority have undermined their true nature to subject them to action such as brutality to harmless, innocent citizens.

The government's system has the same mechanisms of transforming its citizens into beings that implementing unjust laws can manipulate.


Hendrick, G. (1956). The Influence of Thoreau's" Civil Disobedience" on Gandhi's Satyagraha. New England Quarterly, 462-471.

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