POLITICAL THEORY Henry David Thoreau – Free Ebook

most of the time successful modern life involves lots of technology, constantly being connected with other people, working very hard for as much money as possible and doing what we’re told. So it may come as a surprise that some of the best advice about modern life comes from an unemployed writer who lived alone in the woods and refused to pay his taxes. Henry David Thoreau reminds us about the importance of simplicity, authenticity and downright disobedience. He was born in 1817 in concord, an unassuming town west of Boston. His father was a pencil maker and his mother took in boarders. He attended Harvard College in 1833, yet he rejected the ordinary career parts like law or medicine or the church. Then Thoreau struck up a remarkable friendship with the American transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. Transcendentalism is a philosophy that emphasizes the importance of the spiritual over the material when it comes to leading a fulfilling life. Emerson and his transcendentalism had a huge influence on Thoreau. Moreover, Emerson help Thoreau find a place where he could focus on his writing. The older man owned a plot of land in the woods surrounding the nearby Walden Pond. And in 1845 he allowed Thoreau to build a small cabin there, three by four and a half meters. In his two years in the cabin Thoreau penned the first draft of his most notable work: “Walden or life in the woods” which was eventually published in 1854. It would become an inspirational text about self-discovery. Thoreau argued that his escape to Walden Pond was not simply a relaxing retreat to the forest. He settled there to live deep and suck out the marrow of life as he put it. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately… …to front only the essential facts of life… …and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die,… … discover that I had not lived.”. After some time in the cabin, Thoreau discovered a different more conscious lifestyle. To begin with, he concluded that we actually need very few things. He suggested that we think about our belongings in terms of how little we can get by with, rather than how much we can get. He managed to sustain himself on only one day of work a week, he pointed out that walking the distance of a 30-mile train journey took a day, but working to earn the money to pay for the same journey will take more than a day. Like his friend Emerson, Thoreau deeply valued what he called: SELF-RELIANCE He distrusted society and a progress it claimed to have made. “The civilized man, has built a coach…” he said, “…but has lost the use of his feet.”. He felt that economic independence from other people and from the government was crucial and while he understood that we need companionship from time to time, he felt that too often we use others company to fill gaps in our inner life that we’re afraid to confront. The task of learning to live alone was for Thoreau not so much about carrying out daily chores as it was about becoming a good companion for oneself. Relying first and foremost on oneself friendship, intimacy and moral guidance. “INSIST ON YOURSELF… …NEVER IMITATE!”, he wrote. Most of all one should change one’s self before seeking to change the world. Thoreau also viewed technology as an often unnecessary distraction. He saw the practical benefits of new inventions, but he also warned that these innovations couldn’t address the real challenges of personal happiness. “Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys… …which distract our attention from serious things. We are… …in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas, but Maine and Texas it may be, have nothing important to communicate.”. Thoreau believed we should instead look to nature which is full of spiritual significance. He thought of animals, forest and waterfalls as inherently valuable but for their beauty and their role in the ecosystem. We can best understand ourselves as a part of nature, we should see ourselves as nature looking into nature, rather than an external force or the master of nature. Most of all nature provides the meaning that money and technology and other people’s opinions cannot, by teaching us to be humble and more aware by fostering introspection and self-discovery. This mental state and not money or technology provides real progress. Thoreau optimistically declared: “Only that day dawns to which we are awake. There is more day to dawn the Sun is but a morning star.”. Perhaps the best testament of the value of Thoreau’s, individual contemplation and personal authenticity, is that his ideas lead him to powerful political conclusions. Thoreau argued that people are morally obliged to challenge a government that uphold hypocritical or flagrantly unfair laws. So Thoreau turned to what he called: CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE. Peacefully resisting immoral laws in protest. In July 1846, he withheld payment of his poll tax duty to avoid paying for the mexican-american war and slavery. “I ask for, not at once no government, …but at once a better government.”, he wrote after spending the night in jail. It was not until he was picked up by subsequent reformers that his essay “Civil disobedience” became one of the most influential pieces of American political philosophy in history, influencing Gandhi, Martin Luther King and the anti-nazi resistance. Despite his time as a hermit, Thoreau teaches us how to approach a frighteningly vast, highly interconnected and morally troubling modern society. He challenges us to be authentic, not just by avoiding material life and its distractions, but by engaging with the world and withdrawing our support for the government when we believe is acting unjustly. His works endure and remind us of just how important it is to remove the distractions of money, technology and other people’s views, in order to live according to our best and truest nature.

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