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Thoreau's critique of democracy

Jenco, Leigh Kathryn (2003) Thoreau's critique of democracy. Review of Politics, 65 (3). pp. 355-381. ISSN 0034-6705

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Identification Number: 10.1017/S0034670500038286


Most commentators see Henry David Thoreau's political essays as an endorsement of liberal democracy, but this essay holds that Thoreau's critique of majoritarianism and his model of civil disobedience may intend something much more radical: when his criticisms of representative democracy are articulated in more formal terms of political and moral obligation, it becomes clear that the theory and practice of democracy fundamentally conflict with Thoreau's conviction in moral autonomy and conscientious action. His critical examination of the way in which a democratic state threatens the commitments that facilitate and give meaning to the practice of morality intends to reorient the focus of politics, away from institutions and toward the people such institutions were ostensibly in place to serve. His critique stands as a warning that becoming complacent about democracy will inhibit the search for better (perhaps more liberal) ways to organize political life.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2003 Cambridge University Press
Divisions: Government
Subjects: J Political Science > JC Political theory
Date Deposited: 09 Aug 2012 08:39
Last Modified: 20 Jun 2021 01:32

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