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Emerson And Individualism

June 2024
1min read

Quentin Anderson and I have read two decidedly different Ralph Waldo Emersons. By making a scholarly case against Emerson’s social consciousness in “The Hazards of American Individualism” (September 1995), Mr. Anderson misrepresents a powerful social thinker who advocates strong communal relationships based on strong individuals. I challenge readers to pick up Emerson’s essay “New England Reformers,” or any other Emerson essay for that matter, and conclude otherwise. “Friendship and association are very fine things, and a grand phalanx of the best of the human race, banded for some catholic object; yes, excellent; but remember that no society can ever be so large as one man.” Emerson shifts constantly from the individual to society. His purpose is to illuminate individual responsibility in order to expand the higher consciousness of society. I believe Emerson when he states: “Concert appears the sole specific of strength. I have failed, and you have failed, but perhaps together we shall not fail.” Mr. Anderson’s treatise enters muddy water at the point where Emerson insists on truth. The highest truth for Emerson, and other great thinkers even today, is spiritual truth. “He, in his friendship, in his natural and momentary associations, doubles or multiplies himself, but in the hour in which he mortgages himself to two or ten or twenty, he dwarfs himself below the stature of one.” As to Mr. Anderson’s preoccupation with money as the driving motivator of our society, Emerson did not disagree, as Mr. Anderson infers. Again, Emerson’s own words from “New England Reformers”: “Money, which represents the prose of life, & which is hardly spoken of in parlors without an apology, is, in its effects and laws, as beautiful as roses. Property keeps the accounts of the world, and is always moral.”

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