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Gandhi, ‘Satyagraha’ and Thoreau’s ‘Civil Disobedience’ Essay

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Updated: Oct 18th, 2021

Gandhi, the great humanitarian world has ever seen, had his ideologies and principles regarding freedom and war. His teachings, based on truth, non-violence, and Satyagraha are relevant even in the present world. Satyagraha was the most effective weapon used by Gandhi during his lifetime to fight morally against the British and the whites of South Africa to attain freedom. Gandhi has proved before the world that Satyagraha is the noblest form of revolution that could win even great battles without bloodshed. His concept of Satyagraha was focused on the different concepts like love, truth, non-violence, non-stealing, chastity or Brahmacharya, poverty or non-possession, bread labor, fearlessness, control of the palate (asvada), tolerance, Swadeshi, and removal of untouchability, and never did he like to call it as only a “passive resistance”. Gandhi proposed some principles for the members of the Satyagraha and insisted that these principles must be followed to achieve the desired effect.

The principles of Satyagraha never supported any form of violence and it was a war without violence. It never encouraged anger and insisted that the volunteer should not retaliate against the opponent but should pardon him. The main feature of the Satyagraha volunteer was that he learns to control his natural passions which often lead him to all the calamities. When Gandhi anticipated the principle of Satyagraha, he thought that its main object should be to wipe out the evil or to reform the opponent.

Henry David Thoreau’s concept of civil disobedience is somewhat similar to Gandhi’s principles of Satyagraha. Both Gandhi and Thoreau were united in the case of slavery and they strongly opposed it by tooth and nail. Thoreau, like Gandhi, believed in the principles of self-reliance, personal integrity, and spontaneous intuition. He also promoted the spiritual energy that lies within every human being. Thoreau advocated simplicity, interdependence, magnanimity, and trust in his principle. The main goal of civil disobedience was to call attention to an unjust public law that tries to suppress the people physically and mentally. The volunteers of the civil disobedience protested against injustice within the framework of obedience. Thoreau, like Gandhi, encouraged people to love each other. Through this civil disobedience, the followers tried to appeal to the majority’s sense of injustice and forced them to reconsider and change their public policy. Thoreau began his civil disobedience by refusing to pay the poll tax as a protest against slavery. It was like the Satyagraha movement of Gandhi, based on non-violence. Thoreau strongly opposed the unjust laws and thought that they require their action to work properly. The followers of civil disobedience had the belief that if the abolitionists withdrew support of the government, then there will be a peaceful victory for the revolutionaries.

Gandhi exhorted his people to be courageous and insisted that only through strength and discipline they can achieve the aim. If there is no unity in living things, things will be topsy-turvy. His concept of Satyagraha was deep-rooted in the soil of truth and the word “Satyagraha” itself means “clinging to the truth”.

To conclude, one can see a lot of similarities between the concepts of Gandhi and Thoreau. Both of them had worked and suffered much in their attempts to abolish slavery and finally, they won in their endeavor. Gandhi used the weapon Satyagraha to protest against injustice and Thoreau also did the same with his civil disobedience. Satyagraha was the weapon of the weak. Civil disobedience never preached anarchy like criminal disobedience and always followed the way of peace. The volunteers of Satyagraha and Civil Disobedience obeyed the laws and regarded it as their duty to do so. But they violated it whenever they felt that they are unjust. Anyhow it is evident that Gandhi’s concept of Satyagraha has a wide application. But the Thoreau’s concept of Civil Disobedience is applied mostly at the political level.

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1. IvyPanda. "Gandhi, ‘Satyagraha’ and Thoreau’s ‘Civil Disobedience’." October 18, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/gandhi-satyagraha-and-thoreaus-civil-disobedience/.


IvyPanda. "Gandhi, ‘Satyagraha’ and Thoreau’s ‘Civil Disobedience’." October 18, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/gandhi-satyagraha-and-thoreaus-civil-disobedience/.


IvyPanda. 2021. "Gandhi, ‘Satyagraha’ and Thoreau’s ‘Civil Disobedience’." October 18, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/gandhi-satyagraha-and-thoreaus-civil-disobedience/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'Gandhi, ‘Satyagraha’ and Thoreau’s ‘Civil Disobedience’'. 18 October.

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