Back in the 60s I thoroughly enjoyed reading Walden. I especially liked the way that he talked about marching to the beat of a different drum. I liked the idea about an individual being left alone. Young people love this kind of stuff.
As I grew older I have seen the growth of a fanatic environmental movement and Garry Trudeau cartoon strips about Walden that just seemed wrong to my memory of what Thoreau was all about. Thoreau was not about creating a political movement. Everything that he lived was about the individual instead of the country.
Here are some Henry Thoreau quotes:
There is no odor so bad as that which arises from goodness tainted. It is human, it is divine, carrion. If I knew for a certainty that a man was coming to my house with the conscious design of doing me good, I should run for my life, as from that dry and parching wind of the African deserts called the simoom, which fills the mouth and nose and ears and eyes with dust till you are suffocated, for fear that I should get some of his good done to me some of its virus mingled with my blood. No in this case I would rather suffer evil the natural way. A man is not a good man to me because he will feed me if I should be starving, or warm me if I should be freezing, or pull me out of a ditch if I should ever fall into one. I can find you a Newfoundland dog that will do as much. Philanthropy is not love for one's fellow-man in the broadest sense.
There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve.
The fact which the politician faces is merely that there is less honor among thieves than was supposed, and not the fact that they are thieves.
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.
The necessaries of life for man in this climate may, accurately enough, be distributed under the several heads of Food, Shelter, Clothing, and Fuel; for not till we have secured these are we prepared to entertain the true problems of life with freedom and a prospect of success.
I agree with the conclusions Ken Kifer reached about Henry Thoreau.
The purpose of Walden is to argue for, explain, and demonstrate Thoreau's philosophy of life, a philosophy that is practical and poetic, personal and universal. Thoreau developed his own sense of economics, an understanding that differs greatly from that of Karl Marx (communism) or that of Adam Smith (capitalism), an understanding that can free an individual from a life of toil and worry. But in addition, he developed a purpose for life, something that the communists and capitalists overlooked, a purpose more important than economics. Rather than seeing the acquisition of wealth as the goal for human existence, Thoreau saw the goal of life to be an exploration of the mind and of the magnificent world around us.
Ralph Waldo Emerson could shake his head at Thoreau's funeral and say, "I so much regret the loss of his rare powers of action, that I cannot help counting it a fault in him that he had no ambition. Wanting this [that is, lacking ambition] instead of engineering for all America, he was the captain of a huckleberry party. Pounding beans is good to the end of pounding empires one of these days; but if, at the end of years, it is still only beans!"
Emerson, considered the most brilliant thinker of his day, overestimated Thoreau's natural abilities, greatly underestimated Thoreau's accomplishments, and failed to see Thoreau's purpose. Thoreau was not interested in "engineering for all America." Instead of looking at just the problems of the 1850's, Thoreau based his philosophy on ageless truths from the past and looked into the future.
In today's world Henry Thoreau would not be able to live in a cabin at Walden Pond because he would violate rules and regulations and requirements from a big Federal government Dept. of Agriculture, Housing and Urban Development, and Energy Dept.
Last night I listened to Pat Buchanan rant about how the Toyota Republicans are killing the manufacturing base of the US economy. He said there are only four productive bases in an economy, (manufacturing, mining, agriculture, and factories), and killing off the Big 3 by not bailing them out is akin to destroying a large part of the manufacturing base. I agree with Pat on the four productive bases which closely resemble Thoreau's breakdown of the basic necessaries, but I disagree that heavy intervention by the US Federal Government is the right thing to do. I believe if the Government can get out of interfering so much with these productive bases to appease the powerful environmental lobby, then people are going to find a way to produce the products for an existing market.