Ralph Waldo EmersonRalph Waldo Emerson, (1803-1882) American essayist, lecturer, and poet

Ralph Waldo Emerson Quote

“Good men must not obey the laws too well.”

Ralph Waldo EmersonRalph Waldo Emerson
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Essays XV. Politics, 1844

Ratings and Comments

Walter Clark, Fullerton CA

Anyone wanna have a go at what the hell that means?

cal, lewisville, tx

There is always a time and place for this.

Mike, Norwalk

In a de facto jurisprudence of legal positivism (man as god has ability to create law - law and rights derive from the mind of man) despotism and tyranny result. The reference here to "good men" would be a corporeal being abiding natural law (that which exists (fiscal law, science, gravity, physics, inalienable rights, etc.) which is mostly antithetical to legal positivism (on occasion, the two become similar). A very terse and skin-deep example would be the court legislating farmers to acquiesce to growing GMO food while the farmer continued to use organic heritage seeds, outside the realm of genetic engineering.

Mike, Norwalk

A more complete list of "good men" not obeying the laws too well would start under topic headings such as compelled compliance, license, victimless crimes, larceny with impunity and inalienable right non-acceptance. Good men will not register or turn in their arms, de facto slaves will.

Mike, Norwalk

Walter, what comes to mind by way of support: It is not always the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen. (Aristotle) "If a law is unjust, a man is not only right to disobey it, he is obligated to do so. (Thomas Jefferson) An unjust law is itself a species of violence. Arrest for its breach is more so. (Mahatma Gandhi) One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. (Martin Luther King Jr.)

watchman 13, USA

As our United States Constitution authorizes. It is our duty ! Passive resistance is practiced, through prudence.

jim k, Austin, Tx

A good example of this quote was when FDR had a law passed requiring people to turn in their gold to the bank for paper money. This was the greatest con job in history and folks fell for it.

Walter Clark, Fullerton CA

All good answers to my question. But I still don't like the quote. It is no where near as good as the ones Mike found for us on the same subject. Thanks Mike.

E Archer, NYC

Don't forget Thoreau's classic 'On the Duty of Civil Disobedience' [1849]. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/71/71-h/71-h.htm

And John Locke's Second Treatise of Civil Government [1690] says it well:
"Whenever the Legislators endeavor to take away, and destroy the Property of the People, or to reduce them to Slavery under Arbitrary Power, they put themselves into a state of War with the People, who are thereupon absolved from any farther Obedience, and are left to the common Refuge, which God hath provided for all Men, against Force and Violence. Whensoever therefore the Legislative shall transgress this fundamental Rule of Society, and either by Ambition, Fear, Folly or Corruption, endeavor to grasp themselves, or put into the hands of any other an Absolute Power over the Lives, Liberties, and Estates of the People; By this breach of Trust they forfeit the Power the People had put into their hands, for quite contrary ends, and it devolves to the People, who have a Right to resume their original Liberty." http://www.gutenberg.org/files/7370/7370-h/7370-h.htm


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