Ethics "That Government Is Best Which Governs Essay

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"That government is best which governs least," (Thoreau). The opening line of Civil Disobedience testifies to the importance of individual enlightenment over blind conformity. Government should ideally be by the people and for the people. Laws are often arbitrary and reflect outmoded social norms. In Crito, Plato foresees centuries of government oppression of the people via unjust laws. Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela are both figureheads of civil disobedience because they followed the rational and sound examples set by Plato and Thoreau. Like Socrates in Crito, Martin Luther King understands that anarchy is not the solution to overturning unjust laws. No individual should obey an unjust law. The intelligent individual promotes democratic ideals and self-empowerment rather than acting as a martyr. In fact, obeying an unjust law is akin to perpetuating injustice. It is the duty of every conscious citizen, who is intent on promoting the good life, to disobey unjust laws and work towards the evolution of a more perfect society.

In Plato's Crito, the title character boldly persuades Socrates to break from prison. The dynamic between Crito and Socrates illustrates the central argument of whether or not to obey unjust laws. Unjust laws are by definition unworthy of respect. For example, interracial marriage was once a crime in the United States. It was a moral obligation of interracial couples in love to purposely disobey the law to prove that the government was wrong in legislating prejudice. Henry David Thoreau would agree; the government should never pass laws that infringe on the rights of others. Breaking laws that infringe on the rights of others is an act of civil disobedience. Just as Socrates willingly endured a prison term, so too did Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Their personal sacrifice helped pave the way for a more just society.

Henry David Thoreau's anti-governmental stance in Civil Disobedience offers a refreshingly balanced point-of-view. Rather than advocate lawlessness, Thoreau honors…

Sources Used in Document:


Plato. Crito. Retrieved online:

Thoreau, Henry David. Civil Disobedience. Retrieved online:

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