This post is by blogonwithnichelle.
Ralph Waldo Emerson is praised for his acknowledgment of the importance of the self in his book titled Self-Reliance. Born and raised in Massachusetts, Emerson grew up to become deeply rooted in the Transcendentalist movement that advocated the act of freewill, intuition, and awareness of nature as being the primary milestones by which a person can enter into a place of much deeper spirituality (American National Biography). He argues that self-reliance and connectivity with nature are the precursors of one’s ability to progress. Emerson draws upon this theory of thought especially within his more popular book Self-Reliance, which, in the title alone, emphasizes the importance of being self-involved and unemotional to the thoughts or judgements of those around us. However, to what extent is his writing based upon wisdom or self-indulgence?
In his argument to defend himself from being categorized as selfish or arrogant, he explains why he does not willingly concord with all people, but instead only with those he deems noble. In judging the nobility of other people, however, he is drawing upon what acts or character traits he defines to be noble. He does, to some extent, address the definition of nobility as being one that is subject to change from one person to the next. However, on the other hand, he dismisses altogether the idea that something truthful for one person may not necessarily be the truth that stands for all people. He states, “I do this not selfishly, but humbly and truly.” However, he arrogantly contradicts himself by only addressing the idea of there being one truth while acknowledging that someone can also truthfully believe something to be noble, but nobility itself, as he depicts, is very much a self-constructed phenomenon, leaving it impossible for one to be truthful about his nobility if it does not follow the same fundamentals by which Emerson bases his definition of nobility on. By such dismissal of logic, consequentially his arrogance shines through and arguably in itself displays the lack of truthfulness he has for himself and for his reasoning behind his intentions to put thyself above all others.
The idea of self-reliance and self-interest, as depicted in Emerson’s writing, strips us down to our very core, leaving behind any shape of morality and humanity that makes us human. We are a species greatly known for our relations and dependence on each other, and yet, Emerson does not address this. Where would the United States, for example, be today if not for the comradery and compromise the people of this nation have given to be able to secure the liberties of the people? He never once mentions the origination of the basic rights of people, and therefore dismisses the fact that they were ingrained and secured by the coming together and sacrifice of people. Should people behave in such a way as Emerson promotes, the world would turn into utter chaos, as people would have no reason to help another person so as long as it did not help and fulfill himself first. It is under this understanding of Emerson’s Self-Reliance, that I cannot condone it for being a work of wisdom, but instead, a work used to justify one’s ability and assumed freedom to be self-absorbed and self-empowering at the expense of all else.
I have provided in a link below an article written by New York Time’s Benjamin Anastas that further in depth outlines Emerson’s written works, as well as emphasizing, in particular, the issues that surround his piece, Self-Reliance.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, and Stanley Appelbaum. Self-reliance, and Other Essays. New York: Dover Publications, 1993. Print.