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Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862)

  • The Libertarian Tradition
07/08/2010Jeff Riggenbach

What Thoreau was defending here, in 1849, was essentially the same concept the English philosopher Herbert Spencer defended two years later, in his book Social Statics , as "the right to ignore the State."... "Thoreau's condemnation of the state was more thorough, and in many other ways he fits more closely into the anarchist pattern than Emerson could ever do."

"I heartily accept the motto, 'That government is best which governs least,'" Thoreau wrote,

and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe — "That government is best which governs not at all"; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.

Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient. The objections which have been brought against a standing army, and they are many and weighty, and deserve to prevail, may also at last be brought against a standing government.

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