chapter  9
46 Pages

Emerson, Individualism, and Liberal Dissent

In this chapter the author focus on two journal passages by Ralph Waldo Emerson, the central philosopher of American individualism, whose major essays have become the locus classicus of American dissent. Pierre Glendinning and Hester Prynne are classic fictional representations, negative and positive, of the 'traditions of American individualism' that link Francis Fukuyama, James Atlas, and Irving Howe. Emerson's reference to 'the vice of the age' plainly shows that he took 'individualism' from the socialists. In 1837 he elaborated his concept of true democracy through a critique of 'Trades and Professions' which concludes that 'Labor and not property is the source of real power'. The radicalism potential in such statements is especially conspicuous by contrast with reformist appeals of the 1830s, ranging from William Ellery Channing's highbrow Self-Cultureto the Locofoco exposes in William Leggett's Plain-Dealer and Theodore Sedgwick's Public and Private Economy.