The Impractical Philosophies Of Self Reliance And Civil Disobedience

1094 words - 4 pages

The Impractical Philosophies of Self-reliance and Civil Disobedience


The philosophies of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson would work well in a society comprised only of highly intellectual, healthy individuals who were willing put forth the effort needed to thoroughly examine themselves and formulate their own opinions about every issue pertaining to them. Emerson said that all members of society should think for themselves and formulate their own opinions rather than conforming to a popular belief. Thoreau said that the best government was no government, and that people should always do what was just. A society that functioned under the ideals of Emerson and Thoreau would have no problems. No money would be needed, because all members of society would do what was right and help each other out. A farmer would give away his grain and in return would receive everything he needed from other members of society. No crimes would be committed because people would think through what they were about to do and realize that a better option existed. Realistically, such a society is not possible because humans constantly make mistakes, and since these ideals rest on the notion that all members of society will adhere to them, the philosophies are not practical. Because humans could never fully adhere to them, the philosophies of Emerson and Thoreau will never be adopted in society.


The philosophy of Thoreau hinges on the acceptance and truth of the philosophy of Emerson, and the philosophy of Emerson is ruined if the philosophy of Thoreau cannot be followed. Emerson preached that all men should trust their own hearts, and that what they thought was good and true. "To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men- that is genius" (Emerson 19). He felt that members of society too often conformed to others' beliefs without deeply examining themselves.


Thoreau said, "Government is best which governs not at all." For society to be able to survive without government, all members of society must be willing and able to do what is right. They must always do what is good for the community rather than for themselves and they mustn't be tempted by greed, lust, or hate. If all members of society cannot meet these requirements, then a government is needed to resolve problems that arise. Emerson's philosophy is based on the idea that people are inherently good, and will eventually make each decision based on their good nature. According to him, every person knows in their soul the difference between right and wrong, and wants to do right. However, if one member of society strays from his good nature and acts in a way that is detrimental to the community, all of society can no longer follow the advice of Emerson or Thoreau.


A person who lives under a government cannot be self-reliant. A republican government, by nature, takes self-reliance away from its...

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