Alcove Activities: First Level: Paraphrasing a Text, Civil Disobedience (Second Excerpt)
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First Level: Paraphrasing a Text, Civil Disobedience (Second Excerpt)
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 (Second Excerpt)

Background Information:
Here is another paragraph from “Civil Disobedience,” written in 1849 by Henry David Thoreau.

Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide what is right and wrong, but conscience?... Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience, to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right... If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go... If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you can consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil: but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.

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.


Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide what is right and wrong, but conscience?...



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: Is it possible to be governed such that one can decide for oneself what is right or wrong, based on one’s own ethical sense of both, rather than having a government dictate what is right or wrong based on what most people think?




Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: Individual citizens should never, under any circumstances or at any time, give up what they know to be ethically right and instead allow legislators to decide this for them. Why do people have the intellectual ability to figure out what is right and wrong if they are not willing to live in accordance with their sense of what is right? Doing what one deeply judges to be right takes precedence over doing what governments say we should, or must, do.




It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right...



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: It is much more important for people to develop a respect for, and understanding of, what is right than to uncritically adhere to laws (which may be unjust). The only thing that people are really obligated to do is what they think is right, not what the law says is right. (Of course, this assumes that people understand ethics, and can distinguish it from cultural norms and values.)




If the injustice is part of the necessary friction of the machine of government, let it go, let it go... If the injustice has a spring, or a pulley, or a rope, or a crank, exclusively for itself, then perhaps you can consider whether the remedy will not be worse than the evil...



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: Some situations and circumstances are inherently unjust to some people, no matter what is done to reduce injustice within systems. It may be the case, for example, that reducing injustice leads to even greater injustice. If this is likely to happen, don’t try to change the system. Let it keep functioning as it is.




...but if it is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine.



Paraphrase:
Possible Answer: But if the problems within the government are so great that by adhering to laws, you deny someone a fundamental human right, you are ethically obligated to break the law. In that case, stand up against the government. Do whatever you can to stop the government from unjust actions.