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I think the best argument of the conservative is this bad one that he is convinced that the angry Democrat who wishes him to divide his park and shuttle with him will on entering into the possession instantly become conservative and hold the property and spend it as selfishly as himself. For a better man I might dare to renounce my estate for a worse man or for as bad a man as I. Why should I. All the history of man with unbroken sequence of examples establishes this inference. Yet it is very low and degrading ground to stand upon. We must never reason from history but plant ourselves on the ideal. Any real changes for the better said Ralph Waldo Emerson must take place in the minds and hearts of men as we plant ourselves on the ideal. So we go for conservatism or innovation. He asks. Past or future memory or hope.
Emerson's own engagement with the forces that operated against his visionary idea Republik seems to be affected very little by practical politics. His concern was less with political stereotypes than with archetypal distinctions. The two parties which divide the state metaphysical antagonists each a good half but an impossible hole. Each exposes the abuses of the other. But in a true society in a true man both must combine. Emerson's lecture the conservative has been called a classic statement of the joint function of conservatism and liberalism. The preceding program in the series between the poles introduced the discussion which continues here. Meet Mr. Emerson a series of radio programs presenting in survey fashion. Excerpts from his lectures journals and essays.
This series was produced by station WAGA a University of Wisconsin for national educational radio under a grant from the National Home Library Foundation. Today the dialogue Emerson's lectures we are told were well attended by earnest thoughtful people seeking answers to the complex riddles of their unsettled time. In the early 1840s America was on the threshold of great changes on all fronts political economic social. The tendency to question institutions and practices was wholesome. Emerson believed if not always salutary. He never got down to the yeses and noes of specific issues but emphasized the ethical aspects of public questions. The influence of character the individual's moral and spiritual attitude toward the historic contradictions inherent in his culture. In describing the two parties in which modern society divides itself the
Democrat and the conservative. I said Bonaparte represents the Democrat or the party of men of business against a stationary or Conservative Party. I omitted then to say what is material to the statement. Namely that these two parties differ only as young and old. The Democrat is a young conservative. The conservative is an old Democrat. They are arrested Pratt is the Democrat. Ripe. And gone to seed because both parties stand on the one ground of the supreme value of property. Which one endeavors to get and the other to keep analyzing Emerson's thesis historian Vernon Parrington says. As a child of the romantic revolution he understood quite clearly how the ways of humanitarian aspiration broke on the reefs of property rights how economic forces were in league against the ideal republic.
There could be no true democracy till this matter of economics was put in subordination to higher values both to political parties. He was convinced were debauch by it. The one served property openly. The other secretly Emerson did not deny the fact of the universal appeal of economics. He could not of course accept the theory of economic determinism but he was convinced that the whole matter must be probed deeply and in his lecture the conservative delivered in the Masonic Temple Boston December 1841. He pro the system of property and law goes back for its origin to barbarous and sacred time. It is the fruit of the same mysterious cause as the mineral or animal world. There is a natural sentiment and prepossession in favor of age of ancestors of barbarous and Aboriginal usages
which is a homage to the element of necessity and divinity which is enduring the respect for the old names of places of mountains and streams is universal. The Indian and barbarous name can never be supplanted without loss. The ancients tell us that the gods love the Ethiopians for their stable customs and the Egyptians and they coude Ians whose origin could not be explored passed among the junior tribes of Greece and Italy for sacred nation. Moreover so deep is the foundation of the existing social system that it leaves no one out of it. We may be partial but fate is not all men have their wrote in it. You who quarrel with the arrangements of society and are willing to embroil all and risk the indisputable good that exists for the chance of better live move and have your being in
this and your deeds contradict your words every day for as you cannot jump from the ground without using the resistance of the ground nor put out a boat to sea without shoving from the shore. Nor attain liberty without rejecting obligation. So you are under the necessity of using the actual order of things in order to disuse it to live by. Whilst you wish to take away its life. The past has baked your love. And in the strength of its prey. You would break up the oven. But you are betrayed by your own nature. You also are conservatives. However man pleased to style themselves I see no other than a conservative party. You are not only identical with us in your needs but also in your methods and aims. You quarrel with my conservatism but it is to build up one of your
own. It will have a new beginning but the same Carson and the same trials the same passion. James Russell alone refers to the listening is what they do not fully understand here. They take on trust and listen to them. What then is his secret. Is it not that he out Yankee's us all like brothers that his range includes us all the classes that he is equally at home with the potato disease and the original sin. I sleep with pegging shoes on the over so you know Victor that as we try all trades so has he tried all cultures in time and above all of his mysticism gives us a counter punch to our search for his practicality comes to practical encounter in his challenge by a young man to whom it is no abstraction. It must needs seem injurious. The youth of course is an innovator by the fact of his birth. There he
stands usually born on the planet. A universal beggar. With all the reason of things one would say on his side. In his first consideration how to feed clothe and warm himself. He is met by warnings on every hand that this thing and that thing have owners and he must go elsewhere. And then he says if I am born in the earth. Where is my part. Have the goodness gentlemen of this world to show me my wood lot. Where I am they fell my wood my fields where to plant my corn. My pleasant ground where to build my cabin. The trannie wood or field or house light on your paralytic cry all the gentlemen of this world but you may come and work in ours for us and we will give you a piece of bread. And what is that pair of. Knives and muskets if we meet
you in the act. Imprisonment if we find you afterwards. And by what authority kind gentlemen by our law and your law. Is it just as just for you as it was for us we wrought for others under this law and got our land so no. I repeat the question is your law just not quite just but necessary. Moreover it is just her now than it was when we were gone. We have made it milder and more equal. I will have none of your law returns the youth it encumbers me I cannot understand or so much as spare time to read that needless library of your laws. Nature has sufficiently provided me with rewards and sharp penalties to bind me not to transgress. Like the Persian noble of old I ask that I may neither command nor obey. I do not wish to enter into your complex social
system. I shall serve those whom I can. And say who can will serve me. I shall seek those whom I love and shun those whom I love not. And what more can all your laws render me. With equal earnestness and good faith replies to this plaintive and up holder of the establishment a man of many virtues. Your opposition is feather brained and over fine young man I have no skill to talk with you. But look at me. I have risen early and sat late and toiled honestly and painfully for very many years. I never dreamed about methods I laid my bones to and drudge for the good I possess. It was not caught by fraud not by luck but by work. You must show me a warrant like these stubborn facts. In your own fidelity
and labored. Before I suffer you on the faith of a few fine words. To ride into my estate and claim to scatter it as your own. Now you touch the heart of the matter replies the reform to that fidelity and labor I pay homage. I am unworthy to arraign your manner of living until I too have been tried. I should be more unworthy if I did not tell you why I cannot walk in your steps. I find this vast network which you call property extended over the whole planet. I cannot occupy the bleakest crag of the white hills or the Alleghany range but some man. Or Corporation steps up to me to show me that it's his. Now though I am very peaceable and on my private account. Could well enough die.
Since it appears there was some mistake in my creation and that I have been mis sent to this earth where all the seeds were already taken. Yet I feel called upon in behalf of rational nature which I represent. To declare to you my opinion that if the earth is yours. So so is it mine. All your aggregate existences are less to me a fact than is my own as I am born to the earth so the earth is given to me. What I want of it. To learn to plant. Nor could I without pusillanimity omit to claim so much. I must not only have a name to live. I must live my genius leads me to build a different manner of life from any of yours. I cannot then spare you the whole world.
I love you again Mr Lao all through. I have heard some great speakers and some accomplished orators but never any of that so moved and persuaded men his words as much as you want. There's a kind of undertow in that rich baritone of his that sweeps our minds from their foothold into the deeper waters with a drift we cannot. Oh you and I would not resist this lie which cheats you your want is a gulf. Which the possession of the broader earth will not fill. Yonder sun in heaven you would pluck down from shining on the universe and make him a property and privacy if you could. And the moon in the north star. You would quickly have occasion for it in your closet and bed chamber. What you do not want for use you crave for ornament and what your convenience could spare your pride cannot. It is trivial and merely superstitious to say that nothing is given. YOUNG MAN No outfit no
exhibition. For in this institution of credit which is as universal as honesty and promise in the human countenance always some neighbors stands ready to be bred on land and tools and stock to the young adventurer. And if in any one respect they have come short see what ample retribution of good they have made. They have lost no time and spared no expense to collect libraries museums galleries colleges palaces. Hospitals. Observatories cities the ages have not been idle nor Kings slack nor the rich niggardly have we not atone for this small offense which we could not help of leaving you no right in the soil by this splendid indemnity of ancestral national wealth. Which you have been borne like a gypsy and a heads and preferred your freedom on the heath and the range of our planet. Which had no Shad to
cover you from sun and wind. To this tower density of the world. Though that was born landless you have to die industry and thrift and small condescension to be established usages scores of servants are swarming in every strange place with Capt. and me and I command scores nay hundreds and thousands. But I wardrobe my table by chamber the library gotta be sure and every whim is anticipated and served by the best ability of the whole population in each country. The king on the throne governs for me and the judge judges the barrister pleads the farmer till the joiner hammers the postman the Rye is it not exaggerating a trifle said Emerson's friend a Bronson Alcott his rhetoric dazzles by circuits contrasts antitheses
imagination as in all sprightly minds being his wand of power and he becomes along his own paths and always in his own fashion. What though he build his peers downwards from the firmament to the tumbling tide and so throw his radiant span across the fissures of his argument and himself passed over the front like arches Ariel wise is the skill less admirable. The masonry less secure for its singularity. It is frivolous to say you have no acre because you have not a mathematically measured piece of land. Providence takes care that you should have a place that you are waited for and come accredited and as soon as you put your gift to use you shall have acre or acres worth according to your exhibition of desert acre if you need land acres worth. If you prefer to draw or carve or make shoes or wheels to the telling of the soil. Besides it might temper your indignation at the supposed wrong
which society has done you to keep the question before your how society got into this predicament. Who put things on this false basis. No single man but all man. No man voluntarily. And knowingly. But it is the result of that degree of culture there is in the planet the order of things is as good as the character of the population permits Emerson's lectures were well covered by newspaper correspondents wrote the Philadelphia Press Mr. Emerson is the most on reportable man in America. I should as soon think of picking up the rain ball that sometimes rests on our eastern hills and bring it home in my pocket to give you his speech as we have already shown that there is no pure reformer. So it has to be considered that there is no pure conservative no man who from the beginning to the end of his life. Maintains the defective
institutions but he who sets his face like a flint against every novelty when approached in the confidence of conversation in the presence of friendly and generous persons has also his gracious and relenting moments and disposes for the time. The cause of man. And even if this be a short lived emotion yet the remembrance of it in private hours mitigates his selfishness and compliance with custom. The reformer concedes that these medications exist and that if he proposed comfort he should take sides with the establishment. Your words are excellent but they do not tell the whole conservatism is affluent and open handed. But there is a cunning juggle in riches. I observe that they take somewhat for everything they give. I look bigger but am less. I have more clothes but I am not so worn.
More armor but less courage. More books but less wit. What you say of your planted gilded and decorated World is true enough and I gladly avail myself of its convenience. You know I have remarked that what holds in particular holds in general John Jay Chapman wrote in The Atlantic Monthly. You cannot always see Emerson clearly he is hidden by a high wall. But you always know exactly on what spot he is standing. You judge it by the flight of the objects he throws over the wall. A bootjack an apple a cry. On a reserve with one or other of these missiles all delivered with a very tolerable aim he is pretty sure to hit you rich and fine. Is your dress conservatism your horses are of the best blood your
roads are well cut and well paved. Your pantry is full of meats and your cellar of wines and a very good state and Constitution are you for gentlemen and ladies to live under. But every one of these goods steals away a drop of my blood. I want the necessity of supplying my own ones. All this costly culture of yours is not necessary. Greatness does not need yonder peasant who sits neglected there in a corner carries a whole revolution of man and nature in his head which shall be a sacred history to some future age for man is the End of Nature. Nothing so easily organizes itself in every part of the universe as he no moss no lichen is so easily born. And he takes along with him and puts out from himself the whole apparatus of society and condition extemporaneous. As an army and camps in a desert. And we're almost just now blowing
sand creates some white city in an hour. A government a market a place for feasting for conversation and for love. These considerations are urged by those whose characters and whose fortunes are yet to be formed must needs command the sympathy again. John Jay Chapman if an inhabitant of another planet should visit Earth Earth he would receive on the whole a truer notion of human life by attending an Italian opera than by following Emerson as he would learn from the Italian opera. But there were two sexes and this is after all. Jory is probably the fact which when the education of such a stranger ought to begin a structure to conservatism when embodied in a party is that in its love of x. It hates principle. It lives in the senses not in truth. It sacrifices to despair. It goes for available mus
in its candidate not for worth. And for expediency in its measure not for the right under pretense of allowing for friction. It makes so many additions and supplements to the machine of society that it will play smoothly and softly but will no longer grind grist. The Conservative Party in the universe concedes that the radical would talk sufficiently to the purpose. If we were still in the Garden of Eden he legislates for man as he ought to be. His theory is right. But he makes no allowance for friction. And this omission makes his whole doctrine falls. The idealist retorts that the conservative falls into a far more noxious error in the other extreme the conservative assumes sickness as a necessity and his social frame is a hospital. His total legislation is for the
present distress at. A university in slippers and flannels with Bip and pap spoon swallowing pills and herbal tea. Sickness gets organized as well as health. The vice. As well as the virtue. Now the divisional system of trade has existed for so long it has stereotyped itself in the human generation and misers are born. And now that sickness has got such a foothold. Leprosy has grown cunning has got into the ballot box. The lepers outvote the clean. Society has resolved itself into one hospital committee and all its laws are quarantine. If any man resistance set up a foolish hope he has entertained as good against the general despair society frowns on him shut him out of her opportunities drainer ears her
refectory. Water and bread. And will serve him a sex tour. Conservatism takes as low a view of every part of human action and passion. Its religion is just as bad a license for the sick. James Russell Lowell commented there is no man living in a closed room as transmitter of thought as so many of us feel and thankfully acknowledge so great and definitions for ennobling imposed hardest for see none whom so many can't abide no self-help. But does he mean ask for his last where is his system after it has not that is the use of it on the front end and whether I will only say that around him a fine grand tour and consolation and I started at night not just caring to ask you wanted me to sink that never save rancher Laurie But you know I'm a crank so like she's a timid cobbler and patcher it degrades whatever he touches the cause of education he surged in this country
with the utmost earnestness on what ground. Why on things that the people have the power and if they are not instructed to sympathize with the intelligent reading trading and governing class. Inspired with a taste for the same competitions and prizes they will upset the fair pageant of Judicature and perhaps lay a hand on the sacred Newnham and serve well for itself. And new distribute the land but not to balance the reasons for and against the establishment any longer. And if it still be asked in the necessity of partial organisation which party on the whole. Has the highest claims on our sympathy. I bring it home to the private heart. Where all such questions must have their final arbitrement.
How will every strong and generous mind choose its ground with the defenders of the old. Or with the seekers of the New Deal which is that state which promises to edify a great brave and beneficence man to throw him on his resources and tax the strength of his character on which part will each of us. Find Himself. In the hour. Of health and aspiration. Again Mr. James Russell Lowell we look upon him as one of the few men of genius whom our age has produced. And there needs no better proof of it than his masculine faculty of the cum dating other minds search for his eloquence. And you will perchance missed it. But meanwhile you will find that it has kindled all your thoughts. Those who are grateful to Mr. Emerson as many of us are for what they feel to be most
valuable in their culture. Well perhaps I should say their impulse are grateful not so much for any direct teachings of his as for that inspiring list which only genius can give and without which all doctrine is chaff. The theory of politics which has possessed the minds of man and which they have expressed the best they could in their laws and in their revolutions considers persons and property as the two objects for whose protection government exists of persons. All have equal rights. In virtue of being identical in nature. This interest of course with its whole power. Demands a democracy whilst the rights of all as persons are equalled in virtue of their access to reason their rights in property are very equal.
Personal Rights universally the same demand the government framed on the ratio of the census property demands a government framed on the ratio of owners and owning. That principle no longer look so self evident. As it appeared in former times. Partly because doubts have arisen whether too much weight had not been allowed in laws to property. And such a structure given to our usages has allowed the rich to encroach upon the poor and keep them poor. But mainly because there is an instinctive sense however obscure and yet inarticulate. That all constitution of property on its present 10 years is in Georgy's. And its influence on persons or aiding and degrading that property will always follow a person. That the highest end of government is the culture of man.
It will never make any difference to where he wrote what the laws are. His greatness will shine and accomplish itself unto the end. Whether they Second him or not if he have earned his bread by drudgery and in the narrow and crooked ways which were all an evil law had left him he will make it at least honorable by expenditure of the past. He will take no heed for its wrongs he will not hold himself responsible. He will say all the meanness of my progenitors shall not be relieved me of the power to make this solemn and company faire and fortune. If there be power in good intention in fidelity and in toil. The north wind shall be purer. The stars in heaven shall glow with a kindlier be that I have lived. I am primarily engaged to myself to be a public servant of all the gods to demonstrate to all men that there is intelligence and
goodwill at the heart of things. And ever higher and yet higher leading these these are my engagements. How can your law further or hinder me in what I shall do to men. On the other hand these just positions establish their relations to me. Wherever there is worth I shall be greedy wherever there are men from Emerson's contemporary Herman Melville. I could readily see in Emerson notwithstanding his merit a gaping flaws. It was the insinuation that had he lived in those days when the world was made I think he might have offered some valuable suggestions. It's my business to make myself revered. I depend on my honor my labor and my dispositions for my place in the affections of mankind and not in any conventions of parchments of yours. But if I allow
myself in dereliction and become idle and dissolute I quickly come to love the protection of a stronger law because I feel no title in myself to my advantage or to the intemperate and covetous person no love flows. To Mankind would pay no rent no dividends if forcible once relaxed. Nay if they could give their verdict they would say that his self-indulgence and his oppression deserved punishment from society and not that rich board and lodging he now enjoys. The law acts then as a screen of his own unworthiness and makes him worse the longer it protects him. To return from this alternation of partial views to the high platform of universal and necessary history it is a happiness for mankind that innovation has got on so far and has so free a field before it.
The bull ness of the hope men entertain transcends all former experience. It calms and cheers them with the picture of a simple and equal life of truth and piety. And this hope flowered. On what tree it was not imported from the stock of some celestial plant. But grew here on the wild crab of conservatism. It is much that this. Oh them vituperative system of things has borne so fair a child. It. Predicts that amidst a planet peopled with conservatives. One reformer. May yet be able are. Said Emerson's contemporary critic Theodore Parker. He is the most Republican of Republicans the most protestant of dissenters. His culture is cosmopolitan. He trusts himself trusts man
trusts God. He has confidence in all the attributes of infinity. Hence he is serene. Nothing disturbs the even poise of his character and he walks erect. Nothing impedes him in his search for the true the lovely and the good. He has not written a line which is not conceived in the interest of mankind. He never talks in the interest of a section of a party how the church of a man but always in the interests of mankind. How does Emerson's dialectic stand up in mid 20th century America according to historian Clinton Rossiter in every society healthy or otherwise. A gap stretches visibly between ideal and reality between what people say and what people do between what they think in public and what they assume in private. In no country in the western world has this gap been so wide as in the United States.
In the short under tween liberalism and conservatism in American political thought liberalism wins out nine times out of 10 in the showdown between liberalism and conservatism in American political practice. Conservatism wins out almost as monotonously. We have a longstanding habit of doing political business and carrying on social relations in a conservative way. This does not mean that our practices are illiberal. It does mean that they fail to match the high ideals to which we are pledged in our tradition. Our tradition makes much of writes our constitutions and laws make almost as much of duties the American myth is the man who will not be fenced in the American reality is the man who is drafted to die in
far places and for Dim purposes all the universe over there is but one thing is old to face creator creature mind and matter. Right or wrong of which any proposition may be affirmed are denied very fitly therefore I assert that every man is a partial list. That nature secures him as an instrument by self-conceit preventing the tendencies to religion and science and no further assert that each man's genius being affectionately explored. He is justified in his individuality. As his nature is found to be immense. And now I add that every man is a universalist also look. At again Clinton Rossiter if it is true that in the minds of most Americans as in their political
struggles the desire to go ahead and the desire to be at rest are constantly at war with sometimes liberalism and sometimes conservatism taken command. Problem it is also true that even in our most conservative moments when we want most to be oppressed we come to rest on a tradition. The famous liberal tradition that speaks out loud and clear in the language of liberty and equality democracy and progress adventure and opportunity. This is the reason that no one neither the foreign observer nor the American himself will ever quite understand what the American says and does. The American like his traditions is deeply liberal deeply conservative. If this is a paradox so too is America. We fantasy men are individuals so our pumpkin is
what every pumpkin in the field goes through every point of pumpkin history. The rabid Democrat as soon as he is a senator and a rich man has ripened beyond possibility of sincere radicalism and unless he can resist the sun he must be conservative. The remainder of his day. Meet Mr Emerson a series of radio programs presenting in survey fashion excerpts from his journals lectures and essays produced by station w AJ the University of Wisconsin a grant from the National Home Library Foundation has made possible the production of this program for national educational radio. This is the national educational radio network.
Meet Mr. Emerson
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Thumbing Through
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Meet Mr. Emerson is a series of programs which introduces the ideas of Ralph Waldo Emerson through excerpts from his journals, lectures, and essays. In addition to dramatic readings, the program provides commentary on Emersons life, reputation, and legacy. The program is produced by station WHA, the University of Wisconsin, and is distributed by the National Educational Radio Network.
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APA: Meet Mr. Emerson; 1; Thumbing Through. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from