The Philosophy of NonViolent Protest

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Thoreau’s civil disobedience model has continued to influence political leaders in contemporary history and prime examples include Dr. Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Cesar Chavez, who adopted Thoreau’s philosophy to effect significant social and political change (Powers et al, 1997, p.360). Indeed, academic commentators have suggested that whilst Dr. Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi and Cesar Chavez each signify different points in history. the consistent underlying thread in the approach of these leaders was the principles of Thoreau, which culminated in implementing significant social change. For example, Gandhi argues that Thoreau was a significant influence on the Indian independence movement and arguably the “chief cause for the abolition of Slavery in America” (In Glassman, 2008, p.30).The focus of this paper is to critically evaluate the philosophy of non-violent protest. To this end, I shall undertake a comparative analysis of Chavez, Gandhi and Martin Luther King’s application of non-violent protest and consider to what extent the approach of these leaders can be traced to Thoreau’s civil disobedience model.It is submitted that in considering the contemporary legacy of the non-violent protest philosophy. it is imperative to consider the principal teachings of Thoreau. Firstly, the central premise of Thoreau’s civil disobedience principle was that the system of government was not always conducive to individual interests however acknowledging one’s individual rights as a subject in challenging government through non-violent means was more effective than anti-government violence.Moreover, in considering the government model, Thoreau referred to the government system at the time and highlighted the fact that the government had essentially imposed an infrastructure geared towards self-interest, which in turn was not advantageous to the public and not always full of integrity. As such, Thoreau highlighted that:“Governments show thus how successfully men can be imposed on, even impose on themselves for their own advantage” (Thoreau in Levin, 2005, p.265).