Thoreau, Jefferson, and Tolstoy
from Howard Zinn's Declarations of Independence

The great artists and writers of the world, from Sophocles in the fifth century s.c. to Tolstoy in the modern era, have understood the difference between law and justice. They have known that, just as imagination is necessary to go outside the traditional boundaries to find and to create beauty and to touch human sensibility, so it is necessary to go outside the rules and regulations of the state to achieve happiness for oneself and others.

Henry David Thoreau, in his famous essay "Civil Disobedience," wrote,

A common and natural result of an undue respect for law is, that you may see a file of soldiers, colonels, captains, corporals, privates, powder - monkeys, and all, marching in admirable order over hill and dale to the wars, against their wills, ay, against their common sense and consciences, which makes it very steep marching indeed, and produces a palpitation of the heart."

When farmers rebelled in western Massachusetts in 1786 (Shays' Rebellion), Thomas Jefferson was not sympathetic to their action. But he hoped the government would pardon them. He wrote to Abigail Adams:

"The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere."

What kind of person can we admire, can we ask young people of the next generation to emulate - the strict follower of law or the dissident who struggles, sometimes within, sometimes outside, sometimes against the law, but always for justice? What life is best worth living - the life of the proper, obedient, dutiful follower of law and order or the life of the independent thinker, the rebel? .

Leo Tolstoy, in his story "The Death of Ivan Ilyich," tells of a proper, successful magistrate, who on his deathbed wonders why he suddenly feels that his life has been horrible and senseless. "'Maybe I did not live as I ought to have done. . . . But how can that be, when I did everything properly?' . . . and he remembered all the legality, correctitude and propriety of his life."

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