Emerson: Self-Reliance – Introduction (On politics)

(these are the words of Richard Whelan)

A person who is wise and virtuous, loving, sincere, honorable, self-reliant, self-disciplined, generous, and nonviolent acts responsibly and reasonably, and does what need to be done. He or she is capable of governing himself or herself, not only morally but also politically.

That conclusion was taken for granted by the Founding Fathers of the United States, and it underlay all of Emerson’s philosophy. Only self-governing (i.e., self-reliant, self-disciplined) people are able to be self-governing in the political sense. A democracy ignores that absolutely basic and eternal truth at peril to its very existence. Now, when so much of American culture is based on greed, self-indulgence, ignorance, and viciously destructive passion, we must understand that a nation in which a majority of the people is enslaved and degraded by such a culture will automatically lose its ability to govern itself democratically.

Yielding to selfish impulses and appetities condemns one to bondage and oppression, for when blind selfishness becomes dominant, chaos results; in reaction to chaos, nations have always resorted to highly authoritarian – indeed, absolutist – governments in the hope that they would impose and maintain law and order. The self-discipline, self-control, reasonableness, and moderation that have their roots in the love of the divine spirit provide the keys to freedom – the only keys to freedom. That is an essential aspect of Emerson’s message.

Now, more than ever, we need to listen to him.

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