Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-75dct Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-05-22T00:32:25.404Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

7 - Ecology/Radical Politics: Thoreau’s Science of Civil Disobedience, 1849

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 November 2022

Edward Sugden
Affiliation:
King's College London
Get access

Summary

‘Climate disorders are a vice inherent to civilized culture.’

Charles Fourier, De la deterioration materielle de la planete

‘I am concerned to trace the effects of my allegiance.’

Thoreau, ‘Resistance to Civil Government’

‘The dissident … witnesses to the impossibility of continuing to obey.’

Frederic Gros, Disobey! (2020: 142–3)

INTRODUCTION

The radical politics of ‘civil disobedience’ which Henry David Thoreau advocates in his essay ‘Resistance to Civil Government’ (1849), and the ecological philosophy of Walden and his natural historical writings have each energised generations of scholars and activists. Yet, while often taken as separate aspects of Thoreau's work, the time is propitious to reconsider how Thoreau's calls to individual action in his anti-war and antislavery writings might be understood in tandem with the onto-ethics of relation, materialism and agency in his ecological work. What is at stake here is how such a ‘crossing’ between Thoreau's radical politics and ecology might afford new possibilities for individual and collective resistance, new modes of informed conducts of living, and a new concept of interactive responsibility past the constraints of liberal theorisations of justice.

The time is now! Environmental activists from Greenpeace to Extinction Rebellion understand civil disobedience as a necessary tactic both to disrupt the hegemonic forces of corporate capitalism that drive ecological degradation, and to fight for environmental justice for humans and nonhumans alike. The banner of civil disobedience has been raised over nonviolent acts of blocking access to fracking sites and forest protection, mass climate dissidence, as well as more openly combative acts of ecotage, property destruction and outright violent struggle. According to the Guardian, violent reprisals against ecological civil disobedience have reached a tragically high number in 2019, with 212 environmental activists murdered for defending the land against the degradations caused by agribusiness and resource extraction. At the same time, although the Thoreau-inspired modes of resistance made famous by Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr were oriented against colonialist and racist oppression, recent invocations of ecological civil disobedience have less often allied themselves with the cause of ending modern slavery.

Type
Chapter
Information
Crossings in Nineteenth-Century American Culture
Junctures of Time, Space, Self and Politics
, pp. 101 - 120
Publisher: Edinburgh University Press
Print publication year: 2022

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Save book to Kindle

To save this book to your Kindle, first ensure coreplatform@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about saving to your Kindle.

Note you can select to save to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be saved to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Available formats
×

Save book to Dropbox

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Dropbox.

Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

Available formats
×