Henry David Thoreau
|Henry David Thoreau|
A sketch of Thoreau on the cover of his essay, 'Civil Disobedience'
|Birth:||July 12, 1817 |
|Death:||May 6, 1862 (aged 44) |
Henry David Thoreau was an American Philosopher, naturalist, essayist, and poet. A leading thinker in the Transcendentalist School, he is best known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay "Civil Disobedience". Thoreau is also known for his advancements in thought surrounding Abolitionism, Tax Resistance, Development Criticism, Civil Disobedience, Conscientious Objection, Direct Action, Environmentalism, Anarchism, and Simple Living.
Thoreau, along with thinkers like Lysander Spooner, Benjamin Tucker, Samuel Edward Konkin III, is a secondary influence on much thought within American Libertarianism, behind, of course, the primary influence of Murray Rothbard, who conceived of the core tenets of the Libertarian Party such as Self-Ownership and the Non-Aggression Principle. The Libertarian Party Wild Caucus explicitly espouses many of the beliefs of Thoreau.
Thoreau's books, articles, essays, journals, and poetry amount to more than 20 volumes. Among his lasting contributions are his writings on natural history and philosophy, in which he anticipated the methods and findings of ecology and environmental history, two sources of modern-day environmentalism. He was also deeply interested in the idea of survival in the face of hostile elements, historical change, and natural decay; at the same time he advocated abandoning waste and illusion in order to discover life's true essential needs.
Thoreau was a lifelong abolitionist, delivering lectures that attacked the fugitive slave law while praising the writings of Wendell Phillips and defending the abolitionist John Brown. Thoreau's philosophy of civil disobedience later influenced the political thoughts and actions of such notable figures as Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King Jr.
Thoreau was a proponent of Transcendentalism, which is a philosophical position which bears both spiritual and political components. Thoreau advocated for limited Government (While idealizing Anarchism), market economies, and respect for the individual while criticizing complex division of labor, system-dependence, industrial growth, and separation from nature. Thoreau held that men are fundamentally good, but are corrupted by Collectivism and social institutions like the State, as well as the material decadence offered by, and the subservience demanded by modern living.
Idealizing self-reliant life close to nature, Thoreau researched the lives of more primitive peoples across the globe and found that they, while often lacking the sciences and philosophies as advanced as that of the western world, lived more free and more satiating lives than westerners corrupted by the aforementioned ills.
As previously stated, Thoreau idealized Anarchism. In "Civil Disobedience", Thoreau wrote: "I heartily accept the motto,—'That government is best which governs least;' and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe,—'That government is best which governs not at all;' and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. ... But, to speak practically and as a citizen, unlike those who call themselves no-government men, I ask for, not at once no government, but at once a better government."
Thoreau deemed the evolution from absolute monarchy to limited monarchy to democracy as "a progress toward true respect for the individual" and theorized about further improvements "towards recognizing and organizing the rights of man". Echoing this belief, he went on to write: "There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly."
The most notable era in the life of Henry David Thoreau was his time spent living in a cabin which he built on the shores of Walden Pond in Massachusetts.
"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. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion." - Walden, Henry David Thoreau