The Cepia Club Blog

The Cepia Club Blog: The Cepia Club believes individual awareness and activism can lead to a peaceful and prosperous world. This blog contains the pertinent literature, both creative and non-fiction, produced by the Cepiaclub Director and its associates.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Ralph W. Emerson--Review of "The Conduct of Life"

Review of: Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “The Conduct of Life.” Essays & Lectures: Nature; Addresses, and Lectures; Essays : First and Second Series; Representative Men; English Traits; The Conduct of Life; Uncollected Prose. Joel Porte Wrote the Notes and Selected Texts for this Volume. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, Inc. The Library of America, 1983.

Fate. Power. Wealth. Culture. Behavior. Worship. Considerations by the Way. Beauty. Illusions. These essay titles covering 197 pages in this Ralph Waldo Emerson collection combine themselves into a thoughtful psalm book for transcendental living.
Emerson was a product of his times, the first half of the 19th Century, and a heritage commodity grown from the place he lived, the wealthy, attuned “old” New England of seaborne commerce and world travel. He also formulated his own peculiar summaries of the Transcendental philosophy from the people with whom he learned and discoursed; and, finally, from living in the spiritous shadow of “1776 and its debate on Natural laws that defined the century of revolution for popular self-government, rule by the people and not by kings (1688-1789). These essays called “The Conduct of Life” form inner meaning of Transcendentalism.
Transcendentalism, in definition, is a system of beliefs that go beyond “knowable” things. The philosophy encompasses knowledge beyond what we experience, theorize, or know by logical deduction or mathematical/scientific calculation. This knowledge beyond us takes us to the realm of Nature, the place where pure faith resides to determine what is right and what is wrong. By implication, faith in something for no reason, acceptance as a spiritual axiom of healthy living, virtue for its own sake, and humility before the power of Nature and all it contains, “transcends” humanity. We are but a big miracle (perhaps?) on a little rock in space. Ours is not to know why. Ours is to live, enjoy, and love and die. Transcendentalism is, without question, a high order of Optimism. The world and our own individual lives will go according to the way things are meant to go. We are powerless over everything outside our attitude regarding it. This is not a fatal disease, called life. Transcendental philosophy sees us really as spiritual beings having a human experience. The secret is to make the best of it for the good of all.
In this philosophy, evil does not exist. Poor choices, bad manners, lack of caring, the criminally insane, etc., yes These create the chaos from which the good of the Universe flee, leaving the emptiness where things go wrong, but still go according to the Natural laws. In the end, though, Nature refills that temporary void. The basis of transcendence rest on the principle of One. Everything connects somehow, not in relative position, but in direct cause and effect. Right and wrong as expressions of free-will, undoubtably, operate in Nature. In a unification of all, there is only one “god.” He possesses indivisible good. To create evil would be contrary to that One, that unity. If so, then Lucifer would create more power, and become the One. There would be no good, which would contradict the laws of Nature, or everything gets divided into two. Hence, there is only the One, Nature, and Nature’s order. Evil would perpetuate only disorder, which is unnatural, by definition.
In this broader system, Emerson sets out in “The Conduct of Life” nine essays the way we ought to live, if we believe in Nature and Nature’s laws. The first four essays, “Fate,” “Power,” “Wealth” and “Culture” form the “macro-civilization” rules of life. The last five essays, “Behavior,” “Worship,” “Considerations by the Way,” “Beauty” and “Illusions” constitute the “micro-individual” ways we ought to carry ourselves within the Transcendental ideals. All nine essays explain the ideals for good, sound, “pursuit of happiness”-type of living which are wholly and completely the early libertarian creeds of individual-based awareness and actions against tyranny and theft by anyone against the personal property of free people or the collective good of the whole body civic.
One of the most quotable Americans in literature, Emerson’s truisms explain how balance between each person and between each group of different beliefs can be maintained, to keep the One in Natural order. For example, he says in “Fate:” If we must accept Fate, we are not less compelled to affirm liberty, the significance of the individual, the grandeur of duty, the power of character” (p. 943). In character itself, learning from others, and learning to agree to disagree, peacefully, is the foundation of human peace. “Any excess of emphasis, on part, would be corrected,”(p.944) by such an amicable parting of views. Each is allowed to think and live as they desire, so long as they do not impose by force, fraud, theft, or arbitrary power, ending rights of others to do the same.
In “Power,” each individual holds the check and balance against tyranny from any source. Within his or her hands, behold the scales of justice. This form of liberty-based republicanism, so soon after the English, American and French revolutions, requires the knowledge to exercise that right to personal and popular self-government. “A cultivated man, wise to know and bold to perform, is the end to which nature works, and the education of the will is the flowering and result of all this geology and astronomy” [i.e., learning in general] (p. 971).
Emerson’s view of wealth holds insight for his time period and sense of place, New England. “Wealth is in application of mind to nature; and the art of getting rich consists not in industry, much less in saving, but in a better order, in timeliness, in being at the right spot” (p.989).
Yet, in culture, humanity reaches definition in the time, place, people, spirit–their age, community, wisdom, and lessons. Fate limits us, as Emerson said (p.952). It cannot teach more for that is the final end. Culture, on the other hand, allows success next time, by teaching lessons while still alive to apply them. Culture carries the transcendence forward, toward its unlimited potential for the One, the good–all of us. “Whilst all the world is in pursuit of power, and of wealth as a means of power, culture corrects the theory of success” (p. 1015).
For a successful future, we could use a little lesson now and then on the limits we face as people. Emerson gives many wisdoms. He would be okay even if people disagreed.


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