From Self-Reform to Social Reform: a Study of Thoreau’s Social and Political Thoughts

Zhao-guo DING


Despite the importance of his social and political thoughts, Henry David Thoreau is mostly studied as a writer of Transcendentalism and nature writings. Actually, Thoreau expresses many important ideas on social and political problems in his works. Through reading Thoreau’s main political writings, this essay attempts to comment on his social and political thoughts from its four constitutive aspects, i.e., self-reform as the basis of social reform, strategies and forms of passive resistance, critique of the division of labor and emphasis on the importance of action. It argues that the significance of Thoreau’s social and political thoughts lies in his insight in seeing the consistent relationship between the individual self-reform and social justice and political democracy. In other words, both individual and social reforms are important means in correcting social injustice and nourishing political democracy.
Key words: Thoreau, self-reform, social reform, passive resistance, division of labor
Résumé: Malgré l’importance de sa pensée sociale et politique, Henry David Thoreau est surtout étudié comme un écrivain de Transcendantalisme et de Littérature naturelle. Effectivement, Thoreau exprime beaucoupe d’idées importantes sur des problèmes sociaux et politiques dans ses oeuvres. Par la lecture des principales oeuvres politiques de Thoreau, cet essai tente de commenter sur les 4 aspects constitutifs, c’est-à-dire la réforme du soi comme la base de la réforme sociale, stratégies et formes de la résistance passive, critiques sur la division du travail et accentuation sur l’importance de l’action. Il démontre que la signification de sa penée socoale et politique existe dans sa perspicacité de voir la relation consistante entre la réforme du soi de l’individu, la justice sociale et la démocratie politique. Autrement dit, les réformes individuelles et sociales sont toutes importantes dans la correction de l’injustice sociale et dans la formation de la démocratie politique.
Mots-Clés: Thoreau, reforme du soir, réforme sociale, résistance passive, division du travail

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