Alcove Activities: First Level: Paraphrasing a Text, Civil Disobedience
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First Level: Paraphrasing a Text, Civil Disobedience
In this set of activities you will be both paraphrasing and explicating the thesis of several classic texts. You will paraphrase each excerpt section by section, followed by explicating the texts by stating your understanding of each one in your own words, then elaborating, exemplifying and illustrating them. In other words, for each of the texts in this section, you will begin by articulating them in your own words, sentence by sentence, or in parts, as we have presented them. Then you will explicate each one at level two.

After writing out your paraphrases in your own words, and explicating them, click on the thinker icon to see our specimen answers. You will first read the text as a whole at the beginning of each section, along with its background information, and then you will find the same text divided into parts for your practice.

Civil Disobedience

Background Information:
This is the opening paragraph of an essay on “Civil Disobedience,” originally written in 1849 by Henry David Thoreau, a well-known figure in nineteenth century American cultural and literary thought.

I heartily accept the motto, — “That government is best which governs least;” 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. The standing army is only an army of the standing government. The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it.

Now that you have read the full text above, you will find the same text in sections below. Write out your paraphrase of each section in the box provided. Then see our specimen answers by clicking on the thinker icon.


I heartily accept the motto, — “That government is best which governs least;” and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: The most effective form of government is one that establishes the least number of rules, regulations, and laws, so that people are as free as possible to make their own decisions and live in the ways they see fit. The U.S. government is not yet living up to this ideal and I, Thoreau, would like to see the government moving toward that ideal more quickly and more methodically.




Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe, — “That government is best which governs not at all”...



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: The ideal form of government is one that places no rules and regulations on people whatsoever.




...and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: When people can live rationally—respecting the rights and needs of others as a matter of course, making reasonable decisions in thinking through issues and problems, and rising above the need to be restrained—they will then demand a government that doesn’t interfere with their ability to live life as they so choose




Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: Government, at best, is a necessary evil—a contrivance that is useful in the short run. But most governments typically are not useful and beneficial to people, and all governments sometimes fail to serve the people usefully.




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. The standing army is only an army of the standing government. The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: The problems inherent in established governments are similar to the problems that typically emerge where you have established armies within countries. And the two sets of problems are interrelated, because fixed armies are controlled by fixed governments. When governments are established, they presumably are established to carry out the desires of the people they represent. But they often become dysfunctional, failing to achieve their original purposes and intentions, and are used by the “powers that be” to serve the interests of those who are governing rather than those they should be representing. This often happens before the people even have an opportunity to take advantage of the expressed purposes and goals of the government. In other words, this problem seems almost a natural implication of an established government (given historical examples).