Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Henry David Thoreau: Forgotten Libertarian

Some Thoreau quotes from Walden and Civil Disobedience that I recently assigned to my senior seminar class:

a. "I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.  He will put something behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves within, around, and within him...In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness.  If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them."(Walden, p. 256.)

b. "Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.  Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured and far away.  It is not important that he should mature as soon as an apple tree or an oak. Shall he turn his spring into summer? If the condition of things which we were made for is not yet, what were any reality which we can substitute?" (Walden, p. 258.)

c. "However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names.  It is not so bad as you are.  It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault finder will find faults even in  paradise.  Love your life, poor as it is." (Walden, p. 259.)

d. "I would not be one of those who will foolishly drive a nail into a mere lath and plastering; such a deed would keep me awake nights.  Give me a hammer, and let me feel for the furring.  Do not depend on the putty. Drive a nail home and cinch it so faithfully that you can wake up in the night and think of your work with satisfaction--a work at which you would not be ashamed to invoke the Muse.  So will help you God, and so only. Every nail driven should be as another rivet in the machine of the universe, you carrying on the work." (Walden, p. 261).

e.  "The American has dwindled into an Odd Fellow,--one who may be known by the development of his organ of gregariousness and a manifest lack of intellect and cheerful self-reliance, whose first and chief concern, on coming into the world, is to see that the alms-houses are in good reapair; and before yet he has lawfully donned the virile garb, to collect a fund for the support of widows and orphans that may be; who, in short, ventures to live only by the aid of the mutual insurance company, which has promised to bury him decently...It is not a man's duty, as a matter of course, to devote himself to the eradiction of any, even the most enormous wrong; he may still properly have the other concerns to engage him; but it is his duty, at least, to wash his hands of it, and if he gives it no thought longer, not to give it practically his support..." (Civil Disobedience, p. 7.)

f. "...any man more right than his neighbors, constitutes a majority of one already." (Civil Disobedience, p. 10.)

g. "Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison. (Civil Disobedience, p. 11.)

h. "A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight." (Civil Disobedience, p. 12.)

i. "Know all men by these presents, that I, Henry Thoreau, do not wish to be regarded as a member of any incorporated society which I have not joined."

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