• Wallows
    6.2k
    What happened to American Transcendentalism?

    It seems to me that the movement turned into a version of rugged individualism. Was that what it all meant in the end?
  • Bitter Crank
    6.8k
    Well "Self Reliance" was an article of faith among the Transcendentalists, wasn't it? So, rugged individualism, I guess. I just don't see most rugged cowboys reading Emerson or Thoreau, these days.

    In some ways it didn't disappear; it just became part of the cultural wallpaper. The transcendentalists were part of Unitarianism, and spawned Unity Church, Divine Science, and Religious Science. People read Transcendentalist authors in English Literature classes (it's part of American Romanticism). Thoreau's Essay on Civil Disobedience continues to be relevant.

    Emerson thought the transcendental movement was pretty much over by 1850.

    A core belief of transcendentalism is in the inherent goodness of people and nature. Adherents believe that society and its institutions have corrupted the purity of the individual, and they have faith that people are at their best when truly "self-reliant" and independent. WIKI

    Transcendentalism emphasizes subjective intuition over objective empiricism. Adherents believe that individuals are capable of generating completely original insights with little attention and deference to past masters. WIKI

    Some of the social issues which most agitated Transcendentalists, like the Mexican American War, the removal of American Indians from their lands (east of the Mississippi), and the Civil War were eventually rendered moot. Slavery ended, the Indians were removed, and we went on to fight other wars.
  • Wallows
    6.2k
    Well "Self Reliance" was an article of faith among the Transcendentalists, wasn't it?Bitter Crank

    Yeah, I remember reading Walden with a sense of reverence during my younger years. It was a rather boring book; but, in many respects a great self-report on living on the far end of society. I remember reading that there were some great fire and Thoreau just sitting and watching it ablaze, which he later had to go to prison or court for the amount of ignorance for the welfare of others that act bestowed.

    And, that's perhaps what went wrong with American Transcendentalism. It is too individualistic to entertain, at least nowadays. Most of the communes that were inspired by the book and Transcendentalism have failed or languished, although "success" is such a relative term according to the philosophy, that nobody but one's self can entertain the qualifications to that word.

    No man builds the house he was born in nor can live as if on an island. I still have fond memories of reading Walden Two by B.F Skinner also.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    4.7k
    Most philosophers start with theories, searching for ways in which to practice what they preach only if they are serious about their philosophies. The transcendentalists reversed this procedure. They began with practices and then attempted to establish them on solid theoretical foundations. Yet these practices all involved spurning certain facts in favor of ideas, leading them invariably to theories that are inconsistent and vague. Their honesty would not allow them to spurn all facts, so they were ever at work reshaping intractable facts to fit their theories or stretching the fabric of their views to cover uncooperative facts. Unwitting victims of their own scruples, they found themselves hating facts that did not fit the mold and being frustrated with theories they knew failed to capture all the facts.

    The final victim was transcendentalism itself. Critics, eager to wield the sword of criticism, overlooked the life-enhancing practices at the core of transcendentalism, concentrating their efforts on the many chinks and thin plates in its theoretical armor. Their blades penetrated easily, and they quickly pronounced their victim hopelessly baffling. Even friendly critics felt obliged to begin their articles with the proviso that transcendentalism is not easily articulated.
    — Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

    I think transcendentalism was so ridiculed that even transcendentalists started to deny being transcendentalists.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    4.7k
    Yeah, I remember reading Walden with a sense of reverence during my younger years. It was a rather boring book; but, in many respects a great self-report on living on the far end of society.Posty McPostface

    I found it an entertaining read. Have you read Emerson's "The Over-Soul"? I haven't and I don't think it's studied at all.
  • Wallows
    6.2k
    I found it an entertaining read. Have you read Emerson's "The Over-Soul"? I haven't and I don't think it's studied at all.Metaphysician Undercover

    I have not; but, I do see parallels with the singular thought that inspired my philosophic endeavor many years ago on the old PF. The thought was centered around the self and its relation to itself. Namely, that if a human being can have the powers of g/God, within a dream, to shape and form "reality" as s/he desires it to be so (a lucid dream), then there's no reason to think that there is no g/God in apparent reality. I was heavily drawn to Transcendentalism after the contemplation of this thought and its implications.

    Upon reading the wiki entry about the book, it seems that the ego has subjugated the soul of the Transcendentalists. Emerson and Thoreau would be wallowing in their graves if they saw how individualism has been twisted to mean the gratification of one's ego in this day and age. Among the religious, this isn't as pervasive, fortunately(?)
  • Wallows
    6.2k
    Does anyone else see parallels between Schopenhauer and Transcendentalism? It's like Schopenhauer's philosophy with a positive twist to it.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    4.7k


    https://emersoncentral.com/texts/essays-first-series/the-over-soul/

    Something to note. This was a time after Lamarck had published his evolutionary theory, and before Darwin had published his. So there was a revolution in the way that human beings related themselves to other living beings going on, a break from church doctrine. I believe Schopenhaur published around this same time as well. Acceptance of Darwinian evolution put an end to the developing notion, initiated by Lamarck, that the will of the individual is an evolutionary force.
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    What BC said.

    It formed an important part of American culture, or rather, the counter-culture. By its very nature it was never going to be a mass movement. Rather it influenced many individual and classic seeker types. It was one of the tributaries that would feed into the growth of Eastern spirituality in America. (There’s a good survey in a book called American Veda by Philip Goldberg). Also check out this rather quirky article.)
  • Bitter Crank
    6.8k
    Emerson and Thoreau would be wallowing in their gravesPosty McPostface

    These days, even native English speakers seem to be losing the knack of using clichés properly. I find it very distressing. Posty McPostface, dead people either turn over in their graves (if something is just slightly appalling) or spin in their graves (if it's really bad). They don't "wallow in their graves". "Wallowing" is what irresolute people do when they can't make a decision. People who "wallow in the mire" loll about in the mud.

    My sister referred to a federal employee who delivers mail to addresses in the country as a "rural deliverer". Said federal employee was the decreased husband of the woman who's funeral she attended today. I said, "you mean 'rural carrier'." She said, "Yes, but you don't have to be so fussy."

    Yes, dear, I do. Somebody has to maintain standards.
  • Bitter Crank
    6.8k
    When I was in the 11th grade (English class was focused on American literature) I wrote a very enthusiastic essay about Thoreau's piece, Civil Disobedience. The teacher told me it was all right to read stuff like that, but we ought not take it seriously.
  • Wallows
    6.2k
    "Wallowing" is what irresolute people do when they can't make a decision.Bitter Crank

    Wallowing is what I do best. Thank you for defining my whole life.
  • Banno
    3.7k
    A core belief of transcendentalism is in the inherent goodness of people and nature. Adherents believe that society and its institutions have corrupted the purity of the individual, and they have faith that people are at their best when truly "self-reliant" and independent. WIKIBitter Crank

    There's your problem, right there.

    Morality does not start until you interact with other people. As part of the cultural wallpaper, this is why the USA cannot get its head around education, health and guns.

    American Transcendentalism was romantic fluff that lead to the acceptance of bullshit over fact.
  • Wallows
    6.2k
    American Transcendentalism was romantic fluff that lead to the acceptance of bullshit over fact.Banno

    I wouldn't equate Transcendentalism with the arch-typical American anti-intellectualism right off the bat. It can be used to that end though.
  • Banno
    3.7k
    I'm just trying to explain the blatant insanity I see over there. There can be few things as frightening as watching a great nation crumble.
  • Wallows
    6.2k


    It's been going on for a while already. I don't see why this has become an issue as of recent.

    See:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-intellectualism#United_States
  • Wallows
    6.2k
    I'll start a new thread on the matter...
  • Bitter Crank
    6.8k
    There can be few things as frightening as watching a great nation crumble.Banno

    James Howard Kunstler has written movingly about what things like "peak oil" and our dependence on and faith in high-tech solutions to solve all the enormous problems really mean. The future is not good, and what he has to say applies not just to the United States but the rest of the industrialized world as well. Passing peak oil means a long-term economic contraction resulting from the gradual failure of the tremendous driver that cheap plentiful oil has provided. Coupled with declining oil production is rising population, probably unabated global warming, problems in food production, fresh water supply, and so on and on. Grim.

    Rather than reducing the output of CO2, some of our technocrats want huge investments to find ways of canning CO2 and putting it back into the ground. Instead of reducing the number of high powered rifles available to angry, lonely young men, let's arm the school teachers. Rather than face up to a long term contracting economy, let's act as if we are facing an unprecedented economic boom. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

    Yes, indeed: Watching a great nation crumble is frightening, whether one has a ring side seat or is looking on from a considerable distance.
  • Banno
    3.7k
    Yeah. Makes me wonder if Australia should just throw it's lot in with China.

    Or India?
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    India- chaos. China - knock on the door at midnight.

    The Yanks are going through a bad patch but they’re still Yanks.
  • Banno
    3.7k
    Fair enough. Chaos before midnight visits, for me.
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    Well, me too. (Although I have plenty of time for Chinese culture, and Chinese people, but the Chinese Communist Party is another matter.)
  • Banno
    3.7k
    But the food? I much prefer a curry.

    One Belt One Road seems to be going down well in the Pacific. And the Chinese already own the South China Sea.

    Hard choices.
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    I know, sickening, isn’t it (the post above your last).

    My grand-child, only an infant, lives in the US, so I now have family there. My family there is profoundly disappointed (too weak a word) with Drumpf and his idiot henchmen. They wanly say, at least their new son-in-law has ties to Australia, which hasn’t quite gone to shit yet.

    Anyway - back to the theme. I did my postgrad hons thesis on the American Transcendentalists. The chapter on Emerson was called ‘re-inventing religion’. That’s what he was about - retrieving the elements of the perennial philosophy from the parochialism of ecclesiastical dogma. I think ultimately Emerson doesn’t offer anything much in terms of a systematic philosophy, but he was (as someone once said about me!), a great writer of sentences.
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    And also, there is a real absence of anyone corresponding to the American Transcendentalists in what passes for ‘culture’ here in the Antipodes.
  • Banno
    3.7k
    I did my postgrad hons thesis on the American Transcendentalists.Wayfarer
    Respect. Excellent topic.

    So i've read a bit of Emerson and thrown it away in frustration. Lawson is better. IS that just my Irish ancestry?
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    You mean, Henry Lawson? I don’t know how he’s even comparable, let alone ‘better’.

    I felt about Emerson that he wrote the kinds of essay which are best read at a single sitting, and not pored over in an analytical way. He wrote in an impressionistic, improvisational style - a meditation on themes and ideas. Actually I suppose it’s not too great a stretch to say that his essays were examples of the kinds of sermons that would have kept him in Church had they been given.; so he had to leave the Church to find those ideas, and express them, even though they were religious, in their own way. He’s very much the fore-runner of the kind of ‘religion-less religion’ which characterises the counter-culture and so-called ‘new age’: find your own compass! But don’t take yourself too seriously while you’re at it.
  • Banno
    3.7k
    Henry Lawson? I don’t know how he’s even comparable, let alone ‘better’Wayfarer

    What!

    Australian anti-establishment writing perhaps had a more direct foundation in class. Religion does not have the same place here as in the united states.
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    Well, the topic is ‘American Transcendentalism’. As much as I admire Lawson - out of a kind of patriotic duty as much as anything - I fail to detect the least scintilla of the recognition of the transcendent in his writing. But, of course, I’m willing to be corrected.
  • Banno
    3.7k
    I was in the city last week. Wandered around the Rocks, the Domain and Macquarie Street. It put me in mind of the Faces in the Street. But I couldn't see them. A homeless bloke watching the office folk do their lunchtime exercises was as close as it came.
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