Sue Ellen Webb
English III Honors-5
20 January 2000
The Role of a Government
Henry David Thoreau often took extreme positions on the issue of government and its role in society. To this somewhat rebellious transcendentalist, government should not govern people at all and law was often meant to be broken. Thoreau’s belief in individualism was so strong in fact that it seems he often took sides on an in issue simply to be in favor of the minority, whether the majority was right or wrong. Certainly, it is important for one to be himself and stand up for what he believes in. However, to Thoreau’s statement that that government is best which governs not at all is a bit extreme.
Some form of government is necessary first and foremost to prevent chaos and widespread disorder. Without laws and consequences for breaking those laws, people will do exactly what pleases them without regard to how it affects others. Theft and murder will become everyday occurrences because men without ethics will see no reason not to commit these crimes. In fact, the entire population may ending killing themselves off. In addition to an increase of crime, a significant increase in poverty is likely to occur without government leadership. Without government funding, public schools, hospitals, and transportation would be nonexistent. This in conjunction with the lack of welfare funds would obviously lead to a society of poor, uneducated,
and sickly people. Without a doubt, a society must be under the rule of a strong government power in order to function properly.
Thoreau’s statement is also too harsh because it has no regard for the fact that in a democratic society, the people essentially are the government. The whole purpose of a democracy is to ensure that the people govern themselves. Rather than being ruled by a dictator or monarch, members of a democratic society are able to have an input on how the government runs. Ideally, any law that is formed in this country is formed because the majority of the population want it to be formed. Rather than complaining about the existence of a government, Thoreau should have rejoiced at having the rights people in America have. It is doubtful that the laws of any other country would have allowed Thoreau more freedom or independence than the laws of the United States. If he felt otherwise or disagreed with the majority of the population, he should not have chosen to live in the United States. Certainly, one can see that Thoreau’s complaints about the censorship placed upon individuals by the government were unjustified.
Obviously, Thoreau went too far in stating that the government should not govern at all. Without a government that does its job in governing the people, disaster will occur. While it is not the government’s place to suppress the ideas or expressions of its people, it is vital to maintaining organization. As a society, people should strive to find a medium between total lack of government and total control by the government.