POLITICAL THEORY – Henry David Thoreau

POLITICAL THEORY – Henry David Thoreau

most of the time successful modern life involves lots of
technology, constantly being connected with other people, working very hard for as much money as possible and doing what we’re told. So it may come as a surprise that some of the best advice about modern life comes from an unemployed writer who lived alone in the woods and refused to pay his taxes. Henry David Thoreau reminds us about the importance of simplicity, authenticity and downright disobedience. He was born in 1817 in concord, an
unassuming town west of Boston. His father was a pencil maker and his
mother took in boarders. He attended Harvard College in 1833, yet he rejected the ordinary career parts like law or medicine or the church. Then Thoreau struck up a remarkable friendship with the American transcendentalist
philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. Transcendentalism is a philosophy that emphasizes the importance of the spiritual over the
material when it comes to leading a fulfilling life. Emerson and his transcendentalism had a huge influence on Thoreau. Moreover, Emerson help Thoreau find a place where he could focus on his writing. The older man owned a plot of land in the woods surrounding the nearby Walden Pond. And in 1845 he allowed Thoreau to build a small cabin there, three by four and a half meters. In his two years in the cabin Thoreau penned the first draft of his most notable work: “Walden or life in the woods” which was eventually published in 1854. It would become an inspirational text about self-discovery. Thoreau argued that his escape to Walden Pond was not simply a relaxing retreat to the forest. He
settled there to live deep and suck out the marrow of life as he put it. “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.”. After some time in the cabin, Thoreau discovered a different more
conscious lifestyle. To begin with, he concluded that we actually need very few things. He suggested that we
think about our belongings in terms of how little we can get by
with, rather than how much we can get. He managed to sustain himself on only one day of work a week, he pointed out that walking the distance of a 30-mile train journey took a day, but working to earn the money to pay for the same journey will take more than a day. Like his friend Emerson, Thoreau
deeply valued what he called: SELF-RELIANCE He distrusted society and a progress it
claimed to have made. “The civilized man, has built a coach…” he said, “…but has lost
the use of his feet.”. He felt that economic independence from other people and from the government was crucial and while he understood that we need
companionship from time to time, he felt that too often we use others company to
fill gaps in our inner life that we’re afraid to confront. The task of learning
to live alone was for Thoreau not so much about carrying out daily
chores as it was about becoming a good companion for oneself. Relying first and
foremost on oneself friendship, intimacy and moral guidance. “INSIST ON YOURSELF… …NEVER IMITATE!”, he wrote. Most of all
one should change one’s self before seeking to change the world. Thoreau also viewed technology as an
often unnecessary distraction. He saw the practical benefits of new
inventions, but he also warned that these innovations couldn’t address the real
challenges of personal happiness. “Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys… …which distract our attention
from serious things. We are… …in great haste to construct a magnetic
telegraph from Maine to Texas, but Maine and Texas it may be, have nothing
important to communicate.”. Thoreau believed we should instead look to
nature which is full of spiritual significance. He thought of animals, forest and
waterfalls as inherently valuable but for their beauty and their role in the
ecosystem. We can best understand ourselves as a part of nature, we should
see ourselves as nature looking into nature, rather than an external force
or the master of nature. Most of all nature provides the meaning
that money and technology and other people’s opinions cannot, by teaching us
to be humble and more aware by fostering introspection and self-discovery. This mental state and not money or
technology provides real progress. Thoreau optimistically declared: “Only that day dawns to which we are
awake. There is more day to dawn the Sun is but a morning star.”. Perhaps the best testament of the value
of Thoreau’s, individual contemplation and
personal authenticity, is that his ideas lead him to powerful political
conclusions. Thoreau argued that people are morally obliged to challenge a
government that uphold hypocritical or flagrantly unfair laws. So Thoreau turned to what he called:
CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE. Peacefully resisting immoral laws in protest. In July 1846, he withheld payment of his poll tax duty to avoid paying for the mexican-american war and slavery. “I ask for, not at once no government, …but at once a better government.”, he wrote after spending the night in
jail. It was not until he was picked up by subsequent reformers that his essay
“Civil disobedience” became one of the most influential pieces of American
political philosophy in history, influencing Gandhi, Martin Luther King
and the anti-nazi resistance. Despite his time as a hermit, Thoreau
teaches us how to approach a frighteningly vast, highly interconnected and
morally troubling modern society. He challenges us to be authentic, not
just by avoiding material life and its distractions, but by engaging with the world and
withdrawing our support for the government when we believe is acting unjustly. His works endure and remind us of just how important it is to remove the
distractions of money, technology and other people’s views, in order to live
according to our best and truest nature.


  1. If Henry David Thoreau ever ends up on an Epic Rap Battle of History, I'd like to hear the other guy have a jab at him preaching self-reliance while living on Ralph Waldo's land.

  2. I would love to show this to my high school students, but there is a clip from The Philosophy of Oral Sex at the end. Any chance you might change it?

  3. This blew my mind. I may have found a new source of inspiration. I need to read his stuff, thank you School of life!

  4. When I read wiki, they put anarcho primitivism in the same category as (the oxymoron) libertarian socialist and other lefties anarcho views – how come?
    I dont see any collectivism in an-prim in any state, frankly I see the opposite!?
    I dont see much right wing either, I was just wondering, how there is any left wing in Thoreau and an-prim..?

  5. If one forgets about what it means to be authentic and true to yourself, being connected to ones true nature, I highly recommend working with individuals with severe disabilities and/or disorders. They are here to remind us to be ourselves without personal agenda that destroys the world. If these individuals were allowed to recreate civilization, redo it all, our cities, towns, countries, nations would co-exist with nature rather than control or overpower it. We would definitely have more plant and animal life, and very few concrete and wires. We would have self-driving cars ages ago. We would have machines and homes that work and function like those from Star Trek. Our systems of agriculture, government and education similar to Jacques Frescos' Venus Project.

    I once visited an ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) convention. I was one of the guests. I sat at the table with various degrees of PDD (Personality Developmental Disorder; aka Autism Not Otherwise Classifiable). I sat between two boys. One was of higher functioning age 16, the other more severe 12 year old. The one on my right was the 16 year old with higher functioning with severe intentions such as rocking back and forth none stop. I looked at him. He stared back. We converse a bit. We talked about what was it like growing up with Autism. He mentioned that we were different than other people and we shouldn't worry about what they say or think. We are who we are, fuck the rest. After the panel, I came across a psychologist who was doing a paper on growing up with Autism. She asked why I was crying. She assumed I was crying, because I felt pity over the boys and girls at my table. I corrected her. I told her that I pitied myself for allowing the system to indoctrinate my mind into what society considers appropriate and acceptable, which 90% of the time society itself doesn't follow the very rules and regulations they told me was ought to be. Those boys are more free and liberated than any one of us, because they see through the hypocrisy and just go with the flow with their own nature, which thankfully is more peaceful than anything society can ever achieve. That is why I cry.

  6. These videos are great but how come there are hardly any African writers or philosophers mentioned anywhere on the channel? As well as so few female philosophers and writers. So far I've found videos on Virgnia Woolf and Marie Curie.

  7. The quote at 1:45 made me laugh because I have watched way too much Family guy. Also, this guy seems rather interesting.

  8. Did Unabomber continued his studies of Thoreau with "Future of Industrial Society"?
    The cabin looks just the same

  9. "Insist on yourself (I agree as far as don't conform blindly to peer pressure of cultural materialism), never imitate"

  10. A true hero; both as an American and a human. I wonder if Thoreau would own an iPhone if he were alive today…:P

  11. Been meaning to read Walden for ages. Am definitely going to get on that now. I love everything about this

  12. Hello, first of all, it is a clearly informative video about Thoreau whose ideas have fascinated me much and I’d like to say that the term “self-reliance” and some quotations such as “insist on yourself, never imitate” and “the civilized man, has builded a coach and lost the use of his feet” belong to the literary text “Self-reliance” written by Ralph Waldo Emerson not Henry David Thoreau.

  13. For a short, inspiring read, check out '48 to Alaska and Back, the journey and the journal.
    It's a fictional story with adventure and soul.

  14. OMG! Of the gazillions of posts on Youtube only two on one of the most important intellects in the history of the U.S., perhaps history. We live in a controlled, sick, society. Guess I'll have to do one.

  15. Thoreau's life style emitted very little CO2. If everyone lived like Thoreau, there would be very little global warming. It is interesting that Christian Saints like St. Francis and Teresa of Avila lived very simply with little CO2 emissions. Buddhist monks try to live as simply as possible. Let us hope we find joy in emitting as little CO2 as possible…

  16. Weird how life has come full circle. Refused to read and fully comprehend his writings in school. Currently reading Walden out of school and actually enjoying it

  17. Interesting philosophy. But I kinda liked it better when Tyler Durden said it. "F#ck off with your stripped pattern sofas. I say NEVER BE COMPLETE, I SAY STOP BEING PERFECT, I SAY LETS EVEOLVE AND LET THE CHIPS FALL WHERE THEY MAY. "

  18. Thoreau's political theory was his spiritual theory: "Every man is the Lord of a realm beside which the earthly empire of the Czar is but a petty state," . . .
    whereby we learn and practice "the economy of living . . . the art of life".

  19. The part about his direction to "be authentic" , there is a big problem with that. Authentic implies "real" or something outside of other influences. However this personality itself is created over years from the interactions with things and mostly people that aren't you. Another problem is what someone realizes that on the inside their "authentic" self is which we call by most objective standards "evil". Maybe someone who fantasizes about murdering people, torturing animals, destroying something, etc. No one should accept that kind of "authenticity". What I mean is that there isn't such a thing as the real "authentic self"

  20. Half the reason I came here was to learn how to pronounce his damn last name. The other half is because I have an APUSH exam coming up

  21. What's new in Thoreau? Not his anti-statism, as that's liberal: a belief that the state can be tyrannical, and so its power should be limited, and the need for disobedience emphasized, is traceable to a Lockean view that citizens have a "right to revolution" to not obey an unjust state. Not his pro-statism, or a belief that the state must regulate and protect that which is subject to a "tragedy of the commons," such as the environment, as that's traceable to chartism. Even his anti-consumerism is not new, as it's traceable to Rousseau, if not Diogenes. Not much, then, is new in Thoreau, but his uniquely romantic packaging.

  22. Thoreau was a Troglodite who did not value the benefits of living in, and functioning within, normal society. He mocked all the comforts, and advantages, enjoyed by every normal person, by technical improvements, and advances made by certain industrious members of society. And this, he claims, made him "happy" ? ? ?

  23. ヘンリー・デイヴィッド・ソロー(Henry David Thoreau、1817年7月12日 – 1862年5月6日)は、アメリカ合衆国の作家・思想家・詩人・博物学者。

  24. 亨利·大衛·梭羅(Henry David Thoreau,1817年7月12日-1862年5月6日),美国作家、詩人、哲学家、廢奴主義者、超验主义者,也曾任職土地勘測員。[2]他最著名的作品有散文集《瓦尔登湖》(又譯為《湖滨散记》)和《公民不服从》(又译为《消极抵抗》、《論公民抗命》、《公民不服從論》)。《瓦尔登湖》記載了他在瓦尔登湖的隱逸生活,而《公民不服从》則討論面對政府和強權的不義,為公民主動拒絕遵守若干法律提出辯護。




  25. When I was 19 I read Toteau's attack on God and Christianity. At the time I knew very little about Christianity and God. But niw I do. In Proverbs it is written, The fool says there is no God. So behold Thoreau a fool!

  26. I want to go back in time to give this guy a book "Keep the Aspidistra flying" by George Orwell.
    It seems to me all Thoreau needed was some loving.

  27. And lastly….LOLOLOL….. 5:14 !!!!!!???? WTF is with the hair on the anti-Nazi guy? It doesn't even make sense.That's some explanation-defying hair.

  28. Concord, an "unassuming town"?? You mean place where the first shots of the American Revolution were fired? Very fitting actually that he was from there.

  29. I don’t think I’ve ever read Civil Disobedience but now I think I will. Thanks for the mini course on Thoreau’s life.

  30. I agree 100% with simplifying your life if your into that. It's very peaceful but there is a fine line here of actually wanting less, and just being lazy. It's actually MUCH harder work to he self reliant. Been at it for 10 yrs and still learning. Gardening, fire wood, etc etc. Its hard but very rewarding.

  31. Thoreau was a complete fraud. He didn't stay isolated for two years. Every day he had dinner at nearby friends' houses, and every weekend his mother and sister brought him fresh baked goods. Several articles and books (e.g. An Underground Education) have noted this fraud.

  32. All makes sense to me..someone said..one day when technology becomes so great we will have a generation of idiots…and look around you here they are..its not bred and curcus any more its..give the masses their bread and broadband.yep my brain hurts soem ties..

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