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Self-Reliance and Other Essays

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❶This new philosophy drew upon old ideas of Romanticism, Unitarianism, and German Idealism.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson
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Thank you for your feedback. The wise man throws himself on the side of his assailants. It is more his interest than it is theirs to find his weak point. The wound cicatrizes and falls off from him like a dead skin, and when they would triumph, lo! Blame is safer than praise" Choose your companions carefully. If you are noble, I will love you; if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions.

If you are true, but not in the same truth with me, cleave to your companions; I will seek my own" We have lost the art of resilience. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of his life.

A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always, like a cat, falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls.

He walks abreast with his days, and feels no shame in not "studying a profession," for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances. Let a Stoic open the resources of man, and tell men they are not leaning willows, but can and must detach themselves; that with the exercise of self-trust, new powers shall appear; that a man is the word made flesh, born to shed healing to the nations, that he should be ashamed of our compassion, and that the moment he acts from himself, tossing the laws, the books, idolatries and customs out of the window, we pity him no more, but thank and revere him,—and that teacher shall restore the life of man to splendor, and make his name dear to all history" There is at this moment for you an utterance brave and grand as that of the colossal chisel of Phidias, or trowel of the Egyptians, or the pen of Moses, or Dante, but different from all these.

Not possibly will the soul all rich, all eloquent, with thousand-cloven tongue, deign to repeat itself; but if you can hear what these patriarchs say, surely you can reply to them in the same pitch of voice; for the ear and the tongue are two organs of one nature.

Abide in the simple and noble regions of thy life, obey thy heart, and thou shalt reproduce the Foreworld again" Nature One idea that Emerson expounds upon at length is the polarity of nature.

To him, everything moves in circles. Seasons come and go in a defined cycle. Fluids and sound undulate predictably.

Every excess causes a defect; every defect an excess" At the same time, every part of nature contains the whole of nature. The value of the universe contrives to throw itself into every point" These ideas remind me of Thoreau and Walden.

I agree, but of course not in the way that Emerson means. He should preserve in a new company the same attitude of mind and reality of relation, which his daily associates draw him to, else he is shorn of his best beams, and will be an orphan in the merriest club" Cleansed by the elemental light and wind, steeped in the sea of beautiful forms which the field offers us, we may chance to cast a right glance back upon biography" Man Emerson then reflects on the nature of man: The ingenuity of man has always been dedicated to the solution of one problem,—how to detach the sensual sweet, the sensual strong, the sensual bright, etc.

But alas, "[t]his dividing and detaching is steadily counteracted. Up to this day, it must be owned, no projector has had the smallest success" Consistency "The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loth to disappoint them.

He may as well concern himself with the shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said to-day" Travel Emerson is not fond of travel.

Friendship Emerson's perception of friendship and authenticity is insightful. Before him, I may think aloud. I am arrived at last in the presence of a man so real and equal that I may drop even those undermost garments of dissimulation, courtesy, and second thought, which men never put off, and may deal with him with the simplicity and wholeness, with which one chemical atom meets another. At the entrance of a second person, hypocrisy begins.

We parry and fend the approach of our fellow-man by compliments, by gossip, by amusements, by affairs. We cover up our thought from him under a hundred folds. I knew a man who,[] under a certain religious frenzy, cast off this drapery, and omitting all compliments and commonplace, spoke to the conscience of every person he encountered, and that with great insight and beauty.

At first he was resisted, and all men agreed he was mad. But persisting, as indeed he could not help doing, for some time in this course, he attained to the advantage of bringing every man of his acquaintance into true relations with him. No man would think of speaking falsely with him, or of putting him off with any chat of markets or reading-rooms" The scholar sits down to write, and all his years of meditation do not furnish him with one good thought or happy expression; but it is necessary to write a letter to a friend, and, forthwith, troops of gentle thoughts invest themselves, on every hand, with chosen words" But we have aimed at a swift and petty benefit, to suck a sudden sweetness.

We snatch at the slowest fruit in the whole garden of God, which many summers and many winters must ripen. We seek our friend not sacredly but with an adulterate passion which would appropriate him to ourselves" It makes no difference how many friends I have, and what content I can find in conversing with each, if there be one to whom I am not equal.

If I have shrunk unequal from one contest instantly, the joy I find in all the rest becomes mean and cowardly. I should hate myself, if then I made my other friends my asylum" Better be a nettle in the side of your friend, than his echo" Our impatience betrays us into rash and foolish alliances which no God attends.

By persisting in your path, though you forfeit the little you gain the great" But whence and when? To-morrow will be like to-day. Life wastes itself whilst we are preparing to live. Our friends and fellow-workers die off from us. Scarcely can we say we see new men, new women, approaching us. We are too old to regard fashion, too old to expect patronage of any greater or more powerful.

Let us suck the sweetness of those affections and consuetudes[] that grow near us. These old shoes are easy to the feet" Heroism "The characteristic of a genuine heroism is its persistency. All men have wandering impulses, fits and starts of generosity. But when you have chosen your part, abide by it, and do not weakly try to reconcile yourself with the world. Manners "The secret of success in society, is a certain heartiness and sympathy.

A man who is not happy in the company, cannot find any word in his memory that will fit the occasion. All his information is a little impertinent. A man who is happy there, finds in every turn of the conversation equally lucky occasions for the introduction of that which he has to say" Appetite shows to the finer souls as a disease, and they find beauty in rites and bounds that resist it" Nov 02, Christian rated it it was ok.

I didn't read this exact edition. Mine had 12 essays in it, including Self-Reliance. I'm not really sure why that particular essay is so popular. I guess people take away the message of: That's great, but Emerson seems more arrogant and extreme than that.

That's one o I didn't read this exact edition. That's one of the things they break you of during freshman year when you realize you're not that wise and the world is a pretty diverse place.

As for extreme, I think he's dangerously individualistic. He argues that we belong to no one and that each person is responsible for charting their own course through life. Sounds fine at first. But then someone asks him to give to the poor. I tell thee, thou foolish philanthropist, that I grudge the dollar, the dime, the cent I give to such men as do not belong to me and to whom I do not belong.

Oct 29, Renee rated it it was amazing Shelves: Most men gamble with her, and gain all, and lose all, as her wheel rolls. But do thou leave as unlawful these winnings, and deal with Cause and Effect, the chancellors of God. In the Will work and acquire, and thou hast chained the wheel of Chance, and shalt sit hereafter "Ne te quaesiveris extra. In the Will work and acquire, and thou hast chained the wheel of Chance, and shalt sit hereafter out of fear from her rotations.

A political victory, a rise of rents, the recovery of your sick, or the return of your absent friend, or some other favorable event, raises your spirits, and you think good days are preparing for you. Do not believe it. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles. Nov 19, Kathryn rated it it was amazing Shelves: I'm a huge Emerson fan and, while many do not consider him the finest in terms of literary merit though I enjoy his prose and he himself felt Thoreau would be more the poetic prophet of Transcendentalism, Emerson's style and philosophy are dear to my heart.

PS I read many other misc. May 18, Justin Tyler rated it it was amazing. The essay "Self-Reliance" has been immensely important to me. If ever you are going through tough times, or feel that you are not being treated as well as you deserve, or fear that you are too dependent on another person for your happiness, or are just wondering about what it really means to have personal identity, read this essay.

Sep 17, Claudia rated it really liked it Shelves: Emerson's essays are best read when: A You're of the thought that the world can transcend its troubles, be changed for the better, and that you, personally, can be the agent of much of the change.

B You've become older and jaded and need to be reminded that at one time you thought the world could be changed for the better and that you could be the agent of much of the change.

Aug 21, Matt rated it really liked it Shelves: So dense yet lucid and poetic and rigorous I've been coming back to this stuff for years in short but deeply felt dives into Emerson's humming catacombs. I do believe what Bloom says when he calls Ralphie-boy "the mind of America" Feb 03, Seth Hanson rated it it was amazing.

My personal philosophy of life is largely grounded in the ideals that are so well articulated and espoused in this short work. It's like scripture to me. Feb 09, Kevin Wooden rated it really liked it. Have I ever really had an original thought? Very inspirational and also very challenging. Jul 10, Sarah Zitwer rated it really liked it. The audiobook route was a little rough for me, otherwise 5 stars. May 30, Danny rated it it was amazing Shelves: These essays are life-changing; they shaped the American mind and imagination in the s and 40s and continue to be at the heart of what it means to be an American.

Our day of dependence, our long apprenticeship to the learning of other lands, draws to a close. The Scholar, in his ideal form, represents Man Thinking.

It is alike your interest, and mine, and all men's, however long we have dwelt in lies, to live in truth. Does this sound harsh today? You will soon love what is dictated by your nature as well as mine, and if we follow the truth it will bring us out safe at last.

Yes, but I cannot sell my liberty and my power, to save their sensibility. Besides, all persons have their moments of reason, when they look out into the region of absolute truth; then will they justify me and do the same thing. The populace think that your rejection of popular standards is a rejection of all standard, and mere antinomianism ; and the bold sensualist will use the name of philosophy to gild his crimes.

But the law of consciousness abides. There are two confessionals, in one or the other of which we must be shriven. You may fulfill your round of duties by clearing yourself in the direct, or in the reflex way.

Consider whether you have satisfied your relations to father, mother, cousin, neighbor, town, cat, and dog; whether any of these can upbraid you. But I may also neglect this reflex standard and absolve me to myself. I have my own stern claims and perfect circle.

It denies the name of duty to many offices that are called duties. But if I can discharge its debts it enables me to dispense with the popular code. If any one imagines that this law is lax, let him keep its commandment one day. And truly it demands something godlike in him who has cast off the common motives of humanity and has ventured to trust himself for a task-master. High be his heart, faithful his will, clear his sight, that he may in good earnest be doctrine, society, law, to himself, that a simple purpose may be to him as strong as iron necessity is to others.

If any man consider the present aspects of what is called by distinction society, he will see the need of these ethics. The sinew and heart of man seem to be drawn out, and we are become timorous desponding whimperers. We are afraid of truth, afraid of fortune, afraid of death, and afraid of each other. Our age yields no great and perfect persons. We want men and women who shall renovate life and our social state, but we see that most natures are insolvent ; cannot satisfy their own wants, have an ambition out of all proportion to their practical force, and so do lean and beg day and night continually.

Our housekeeping is mendicant , our arts, our occupation, our marriages, our religion we have not chosen, but society has chosen for us. We are parlor soldiers. The rugged battle of fate, where strength is born, we shun. If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises they lose all heart.

If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened and in complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always like a cat falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls.

He walks abreast with his days and feels no shame in not "studying a profession," for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances. In what prayers do men allow themselves! That which they call a holy office is not so much as brave and manly.

Prayer looks abroad and asks for some foreign addition to come through some foreign virtue, and loses itself in endless mazes of natural and supernatural, and mediatorial and miraculous.

Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the highest point of view. It is the soliloquy of a beholding and jubilant soul. It is the spirit of God pronouncing his works good. But prayer as a means to effect a private end is theft and meanness. It supposes duality and not unity in nature and consciousness. As soon as the man is at one with God, he will not beg.

He will then see prayer in all action. The prayer of the farmer kneeling in his field to weed it, the prayer of the rower kneeling with the stroke of his oar, are true prayers heard throughout nature, though for cheap ends.

Caratach, in Fletcher's Bonduca, when admonished to inquire the mind of the god Audate, replies,. Another sort of false prayers are our regrets. Discontent is the want of self-reliance; it is infirmity of will. Regret calamities if you can thereby help the sufferer; if not, attend your own work and already the evil begins to be repaired. Our sympathy is just as base. We come to them who weep foolishly and sit down and cry for company, instead of imparting to them truth and health in rough electric shocks, putting them once more in communication with the soul.

The secret of fortune is joy in our hands. Welcome evermore to gods and men is the self-helping man. For him all doors are flung wide. Him all tongues greet, all honors crown all, all eyes follow with desire. Our love goes out to him and embraces him because he did not need it. We solicitously and apologetically caress and celebrate him because he held on his way and scorned our disapprobation. The gods love him because men hated him. As men's prayers are a disease of the will, so are their creeds a disease of the intellect.

They say with those foolish Israelites, 'Let not God speak to us, lest we die. Speak thou, speak any man with us, and we will obey. Every new mind is a new classification. If it prove a mind of uncommon activity and power, a Locke, a Lavoisier, a Hutton, a Bentham, a Spurzheim, it imposes its classification on other men, and lo!

In proportion always to the depth of the thought, and so to the number of objects it touches and brings within reach of the pupil, in his complacency. But chiefly in this apparent in creeds and churches, which are also classifications of some powerful mind acting on the great elemental thought of Duty and man's relation to the Highest. Such is Calvinism, Quakerism, Swedenborgianism. The pupil takes the same delight in subordinating everything to the new terminology that a girl does who has just learned botany in seeing a new earth and new seasons thereby.

This will continue until he has exhausted his master's mind. But in all unbalanced minds the classification is idolized, passes for the end and not for a speedily exhaustible means, so that the walls of the system blend to their eye in the remote horizon with the walls of the universe; the luminaries of heaven seem to them hung on the arch their master built.

Let them chirp awhile and call it their own. If they are honest and do well, presently their neat new pinfold will be too strait and low, will crack, will lean, will rot and vanish, and the immortal light, all young and joyful, million-orbed, million-colored, will beam over the universe as on the first morning. It is for want of self-culture that the idol of Traveling, the idol of Italy, of England, of Egypt, remains for all educated Americans.

They who made England, Italy, or Greece venerable in the imagination, did so not by rambling round creation as a moth round a lamp, but by sticking fast where they were, like an axis of the earth. In manly hours we feel that duty is our place and that the merry men of circumstance should follow as they may. The soul is no traveler: I have no churlish objection to the circumnavigation of the globe for the purposes of art, of study, and benevolence, so that the man is first domesticated, or does not go abroad with the hope of finding somewhat greater than he knows.

He who travels to be amused or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things. In Thebes, in Palmyra, his will and mind have become old and dilapidated as they. He carries ruins to ruins. Traveling is a fool's paradise. We owe to our first journeys the discovery that place is nothing. At home I dream that at Naples, at Rome, I can be intoxicated with beauty and lose my sadness. I pack my trunk, embrace my friends, embark on the sea and at last wake up in Naples, and there beside me is the stern Fact, and sad self, unrelenting, identical, that I fled from.

I seek the Vatican and the palaces. I affect to be intoxicated with sights and suggestions, but I am not intoxicated. My giant goes with me wherever I go. But the rage of traveling is itself only a symptom of a deeper unsoundness affecting the whole intellectual action.

The intellect is vagabond , and the universal system of education fosters restlessness. Our minds travel when our bodies are forced to stay at home. We imitate; and what is imitation but the traveling of the mind? Our houses are built with foreign taste; our shelves are garnished with foreign ornaments; our opinions, our tastes, our whole minds, lean, and follow the Past and the Distant, as the eyes of a maid follow her mistress. The soul created the arts wherever they have flourished.

It was in his own mind that the artist sought the model. It was an application of his own thought to the thing to be done and the conditions to be observed. And why need we copy the Doric or the Gothic model? Beauty, convenience, grandeur of thought and quaint expression are as near to us as to any, and if the American artist will study with hope and love the precise thing to be done by him, considering the climate, the soil, the length of the day, the wants of the people, the habit and form of the government, he will create a house in which all these will find themselves fitted, and taste and sentiment will be satisfied also.

Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another you have only an extemporaneous half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him. No man yet knows what it is, nor can, till that person has exhibited it.

Where is the master who could have taught Shakespeare? Where is the master who could have instructed Franklin, or Washington, or Bacon, or Newton? Every great man is an unique. The Scipionism of Scipio is precisely that part he could not borrow. If anybody will tell me whom the great man imitates in the original crisis when he performs a great act, I will tell him who else than himself can teach him. Shakespeare will never be made by the study of Shakespeare.

Do that which is assigned thee and thou canst not hope too much or dare too much. There is at this moment, there is for me an utterance bare and grand as that of the colossal chisel of Phidias, or trowel of the Egyptians, or the pen of Moses or Dante, but different from all of these.

Not possibly will the soul, all rich, all eloquent, with thousands cloven tongue, deign to repeat itself; but if I can hear what these patriarchs say, surely I can reply to them in the same pitch of voice; for the ear and the tongue are two organs of one nature. Dwell up there in the simple and noble regions of thy life, obey thy heart and thou shalt reproduce the Foreworld again.

As our Religion, our Education, our Art look abroad, so does our spirit of society. All men plume themselves on the improvement of society, and no man improves. It recedes as fast on one side as it gains on the other. Its progress is only apparent like the workers of a treadmill.

It undergoes continual changes; it is barbarous, it is civilized, it is christianized, it is rich, it is scientific; but this change is not amelioration. For every thing that is given something is taken. Society acquires new arts and loses old instincts. What a contrast between the well-clad, reading, writing, thinking American, with a watch, a pencil and a bill of exchange in his pocket, and the naked New Zealander, whose property is a club, a spear, a mat and an undivided twentieth of a shed to sleep under.

But compare the health of the two men and you shall see that his aboriginal strength, the white man has lost. If the traveler tell us truly, strike the savage with a broad ax and in a day or two the flesh shall unite and heal as if you struck the blow into soft pitch, and the same blow shall send the white to his grave. The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. He is supported on crutches, but lacks so much support of the muscle. He has got a fine Geneva watch, but he has lost the skill to tell the hour by the sun.

A Greenwich nautical almanac he has, and so being sure of the information when he wants it, the man in the street does not know a star in the sky.

The solstice he does not observe; the equinox he knows as little; and the whole bright calendar of the year is without a dial in his mind. His notebooks impair his memory; his libraries overload his wit; the insurance-office increases the number of accidents; and it may be a question whether machinery does not encumber; whether we have not lost by refinement some energy, by a Christianity entrenched in establishments and forms some vigor of wild virtue.

For every stoic was a stoic; but in Christendom where is the Christian? There is no more deviation in the moral standard than in the standard of height or bulk. No greater men are now than ever were. A singular equality may be observed between the great men of the first and of the last ages; nor can all the science, art, religion, and philosophy of the nineteenth century avail to educate greater men than Plutarch's heroes, three or four and twenty centuries ago.

Not in time is the race progressive. Phocion, Socrates, Anaxagoras, Diogenes, are great men, but they leave no class. He who is really of their class will not be called by their name, but be wholly his own man, and in his turn a founder of a sect. The arts and inventions of each period are only its costume and do not invigorate men. The harm of the improved machinery may compensate its good. Hudson and Behring accomplished so much in their fishing-boats as to astonish Parry and Franklin, whose equipment exhausted the resources of science and art.

Galileo, with an opera-glass, discovered a more splendid series of facts than any one since. Columbus found the New World in an undecked boat. It is curious to see the periodical disuse and perishing of means and machinery which were introduced with loud laudation a few years or centuries before. The great genius returns to essential man. We reckoned the improvements of the art of war among the triumphs of science, and yet Napoleon conquered Europe by the Bivouac , which consisted of falling back on naked valor and disencumbering it of all aids.

The Emperor held it impossible to make a perfect army, says Las Casas, "without abolishing our arms, magazines, commissaries and carriages, until, in imitation of the Roman custom, the soldier should receive his supply of corn, grind it in his hand-mill and bake his bread himself. Society is a wave. The wave moves onward, but the water of which it is composed does not. The same particle does not rise from the valley to the ridge.

Its unity is only phenomenal. The persons who make up a nation today, die, and their experience with them. And so the reliance on Property, including the reliance on governments which protect it, is the want of self-reliance. Men have looked away from themselves and at things so long that they have come to esteem what they call the soul's progress, namely, the religious, learned and civil institutions as guards of property, and they depreciate assaults on property.

They measure their esteem of each other by what each has, and not by what each is. But a cultivated man becomes ashamed of what he has, out of a new respect for his being.

But that which a man is, does always by necessity acquire, and what the man acquires, is permanent and living property, which does not wait the beck of rulers, or mobs, or revolutions, or fire, or storm, or bankruptcies, but perpetually renews itself wherever the man is put. The political parties meet in numerous conventions; the greater the concourse and with each new uproar of announcement, The delegation from Essex!

The Democrats from New Hampshire! The Whigs of Maine! In like manner the reformers summon conventions and vote and resolve in multitude. But not so, O friends! It is only as a man puts off from himself all external support and stands alone that I see him to be strong and to prevail. He is weaker by every recruit to his banner. Is not a man better than a town?

Ask nothing of men, and, in the endless mutation, thou only firm column must presently appear the upholder of all that surrounds thee. He who knows that power is in the soul, that he is weak only because he has looked for good out of him and elsewhere, and, so perceiving, throws himself unhesitatingly on his thought, instantly rights himself, stands in the erect position, commands his limbs, works miracles; just as a man who stands on his feet is stronger than a man who stands on his head.

So use all that is called Fortune. Most men gamble with her, and gain all, and lose all, as her wheel rolls. But do thou leave as unlawful these winnings, and deal with Cause and Effect, the chancellors of God. In the Will work and acquire, and thou hast chained the wheel of Chance, and shalt always drag her after thee. A political victory, a rise of rents, the recovery of your sick or the return of your absent friend, or some other quite external event raises your spirits, and you think good days are preparing for you.

Do not believe it. It can never be so. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles. Ralph Waldo Emerson Articles and Interviews Learn about sustaining motivation, improving relationships, relieving depression, improving your health, reducing anxiety, becoming more optimistic, enjoying a better mood more often, earning more money, expanding your creativity, making better decisions, resolving conflicts, and much more.

Emerson believes that the scholar's duties are all comprised in what?

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Self-Reliance Ralph Waldo Emerson \Ne te quaesiveris extra." \Man is his own star; and the soul that can Render an honest and a perfect man, Commands all light, all in.

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Published first in in Essays and then in the revised edition of Essays, "Self-Reliance" took shape over a long period of dommonet.tkhout his life, Emerson kept detailed journals of his thoughts and actions, and he returned to them as a source for many of his essays.

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This is the full text of Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay, dommonet.tkn uses several words that are not in common use today. You'll find the definitions . While Emerson does not formally do so, scholars conventionally organize Self-Reliance into three sections: the value of and barriers to self-reliance (paragraph ), self-reliance and the individual (paragraph ), and self-reliance and society (paragraph ).

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The essay "Self-Reliance," from which an excerpt is presented here, is the clearest, most memorable example of Emerson's philosophy of individualism, an idea that is deeply embedded in American culture. "Self-Reliance" is an essay that captures the independent spirit behind many Americans, but it overlooks the sinfulness of people. Emerson calls on each person to listen to his own intuition rather than society, membership organizations, or religious traditions/5.