Henry David Thoreau said "The best government is that which governs least"....?

The best government is that which governs least. No human depositories can, with safety, be trusted with the power of legislation upon the general interests of society so as to operate directly or indirectly on the industry and property of the community. Such power must be perpetually liable to the most pernicious abuse, from the natural imperfection, both in wisdom of judgment and purity of purpose, of all human legislation, exposed constantly to the pressure of partial interests; interests which, at the same time that they are essentially selfish and tyrannical, are ever vigilant, persevering, and subtle in all the arts of deception and corruption.


Do you agree with Mr. Thoreau?

Update 2:

The main point of the quote is the idea that government should not intervene in the lives of its citizens any more than is absolutely necessary.

Update 3:


That's a fair point, even if it's not the main point.

Update 4:


I use to believe that we could return to a smaller form of government. But I must accept the reality that that will never happen...

4 Answers

  • kswck2
    Lv 7
    1 month ago

    Which is a statement, not a question,. 

  • Foofa
    Lv 7
    1 month ago

    Thoreau is often heralded as the first "out" libertarian. But he also lived at a time when the very nature of man was different. During Thoreau's early life the government provided very little and for the most part people had to succeed or fail based solely on their own efforts or lack thereof. He was also in favor of minority rule and a pushback against expanded voting rights, believing some star chamber would do better than the duly elected. In this some believe Thoreau was kind of an elitist. But others say he was watching the nation lurch in slow motion toward the Civil War and that this phrase was a warning of a sort to the masses to refuse to take up arms to fight for either side. Either way, Thoreau would be astonished at the size the US federal government has grown to be. Just the sheer number of Executive Orders Presidents now use to circumvent Congress would be shocking to most antebellum intellectuals. 

  • 1 month ago

    Absolutely. As President Reagan said, government is the problem, not the answer. 

  • Anonymous
    1 month ago

    Seems to me that Mr. Thoreau is making a case for oversight and accountability rather than for stripping government of the authority necessary to govern. How are We The People to act as The United States of America if not via our government?

    Added later: I strongly support the principle that government's just authority to restrict our PERSONAL choices is derived from compelling interest. Compel means FORCE. Government MUST act to protect your personal rights and liberties. Government MUST act to address threats to national security. Where there is no compelling interest, government has no just authority and should BUTT OUT.

    I specify PERSONAL choices because the standard for restricting commercial activity is much less narrow. It is necessary that commercial regulation be in the best interest of our nation, of our people rather than capricious, arbitrary, whimsical. But the standard of "compelling interest" needn't be met.  

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