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[1] ... Visit the Navy Yard, and behold a marine, such a man as an American government can make, or such as it can make a man with its black arts — a mere shadow and reminiscence of humanity, a man laid out alive and standing, and already, as one may say, buried under arms with funeral accompaniments, though it may be

“Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note, As his corse to the rampart we hurried; Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot O’er the grave where our hero we buried.”

[2] The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones; and wooden men can perhaps be manufactured that will serve the purpose as well.

The quote is from On the Duty of Civil Disobedience by Thoreau, I have several questions:

  1. In the first paragraph, if "Visit the Navy Yard..." is a imperative sentence, does "such a man as an American government can make" modify "a marine"? There're two "such ... as ..." but they are asymmetric, what's the structure and how to understand this paragraph?

  2. Does "thus" in the second paragraph mean "therefore" or "in this way, in the way that"?

  3. In most cases there is no free exercise whatever of the judgment or of the moral sense; but they put themselves on a level with wood and earth and stones;

    Does it mean "the state doesn't allow them to exert free exercise of ..." OR "they don't exert free exercise in the state"? How can I determine the subject in a general way?

    What's the meaning of "but" here? Can I associate it with "no"?

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  1. The two comparative constructions are parallel (with a touch of anaphora and ellipsis ) and conjoined by or; the conjunction stands in apposition to the noun phrase a marine as a supplement (an entity lying outside the syntax of the clause) defining what a marine is:

    a marine, such  a man   as an American government can make, 
              or 
              such [a man] as            it           can make [into] a man with its black arts
    

    Paraphrase: ... a marine is the sort of man which an American government can make or make into a man ...

  2. Thus means both in consequence and in this manner

  3. In the first clause the subject is the dummy pronoun there. Thoreau thus refrains from specifying precisely where it is that judgment and the moral sense are not exercised, but we may infer with some confidence that it is among these men, or in the service which they perform. Their conscious agency is implied in the second-clause statement that the marines "put themselves on a level with wood, &c": the marines are the subject, and we are I think constrained to infer that they freely forego their own freedom. But since the absence of freewill likewise implies an absence of agency, the marines abrogate their agentive humanity and become effectively equivalent to the wooden men by which they may be readily replaced.

    But all this inference is LitCrit and not really on topic here.

  • Is it right "a mere shadow and reminiscence of humanity" belongs to the former sentence and "a man laid out ..." forms a new sentence? What can "but" in the second paragraph be placed with? Can I understand that it isn't an adversative conjunction here and isn't associated with "no" in the first clause? – Leon Zero May 24 '17 at 6:13
  • And I was so looking forward to a bit of naughty LitCrit! I could see Swedenborg looming like a wraith, roused from his slumber by the mention of freewill... – P. E. Dant May 24 '17 at 7:00

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