Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What Bourgeois Liberalism Should Be

In contrast to the statist, multiculturalist, interventionist, materialist, globalist, and culturally vapid liberalism of the day lets all take a look at the original American liberalism, the liberalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson and other Transcendentalists. The following is from Emerson and the Progressive Traditon by Daniel Aaron and is featured in a collection of critical essays on Emerson edited by Milton Konvitz and Stephen Whicher:

Emerson's political philosophy-it might be called transcendental democracy-had marked Jeffersonian and Jacksonian overtones. Strongly individualistic, it spoke for equality of opportunity in economic and political affairs, and it lent support to the belief in laissez-faire and the necessity of the minimized state. But it was more spiritual and intellectual than the organized movements for political democracy and less concerned with political and economic considerations, less a matter of economic rationalization...

The men and women who made up this transcendental corps were mostly of New England origin, although a handful were born outside New England. As children of the professional or commercial classes or of the sturdy farming yeomanry, they recieved educational advantages above the average of their day, and for the most part they came from families distinguished neither by great wealth or by poverty. Almost all of them seemed to have been reared in homes where the business of life was taken seriously and idealistically. It was a group that, disgusted by the prevailing materialism of the day, turned to culture and to reform...

Emerson's political ideas emerged quite logically from transcendental principles. He believed in a divine power sometimes referred to as the Over-Soul, and he taught that all men shared in that divinity or at least were capable or establishing a rapport with it. Men's joint participation in this Spirit, their common share of the divine inheritance, made them brothers and gave the lie to artificial distinctions. In the great democracy of spirit that Emerson conjured up as a kind of Platonic archetype of the imperfect American model, all men were potentially great. Men were not great in fact (Emerson had no such leveling ideas, as we have seen), but every man could be great if he harkened to the admonition of the Over-Soul in himself.

Like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, Emerson believed in a natural aristocracy, although his aristoi bore little resemblance to Jefferson's. Society divided itself into the men of understanding and the men of Reason. The former, the most numerous and most ordinary, lived in "a world of pig-lead" and acted as if "rooted and grounded in adamant." Sunk in this profound materialism, they lacked the imaginative penetration of the true aristocrats, the men of Reason, who plumbed the spiritual reality behind the world of fact. The men of Reason-poets, seers, philosophers, scholars-the passive doers, served humanity as the geographers of the "supersensible regions" and inspired "an audacious mental outlook." They formed no inflexible caste, but they wonderfully "liberated" the cramped average afraid to trust itself.

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