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Emerson and the Communitarian and Classical Liberal Viewpoints

1 May 2011


Ralph Waldo Emerson valued individuality and expressed that view strongly in his essay “Self-Reliance”. More recently there have been movements in political philosophy that focus upon the individual in terms not just of society but in government. The Classical Liberals view the individual as something almost sacred, and argue for minimal government so that individuals maybe more free within society. Under the Communitarian viewpoint people are valued for their individual talents and connected with one another through communities in ways that bring out their strongest personal traits. Communitarians feel that to push for minimal government will only act to further separate and alienate individuals from society and their communities. Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance” suits the Classical Liberal view almost to a tee, but there is a subtle yet powerful undercurrent in Emerson’s writing that speaks to the Communitarian viewpoint. Though on the surface his view of the individual may seem to coincided with that of the Classical Liberals (and indeed in many ways it does) his persistent opinion of the individual as being creative and close to nature opens up the gates and lets the Communitarian views take hold.


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