Do you think it is easier for a wealthy person or a poor person to be "self reliant" in the way that Emerson decribes?
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Insofar as Emerson's argument can be considered to be centrally concerned with academic, artistic, intellectual and spiritual issues of self-reliance, it seems that there is no class distinction to be made.
If we could agree that Emerson's essay primarily concerns "the mental life", we will be hard-pressed to argue that independence or conformity would have a direct impact on a person's practical, economic/financial disposition.
It is always easier to be independent when one can afford such independence. As stated prior to this post, when material concerns are not as pressing, a person can better focus on those elements of the spirit which constitute thinking and doing for oneself that counters the "foolish consistency" of society.
I personally think that this is one of the most important elements in reading Emerson's work. There is a discussion of class and economic reality that is not entirely present that must be brought to bear in the modern setting. Certainly, few, if any, would argue that individuals should listen to their own sense of self and should embrace the sense of uniqueness that is within them. However, it should be noted that Emerson, himself, was not poor or destitute. He was able to preach such ideas because he was financially well- off. I think that the capitalist system that envelops America at the time of Emerson's writing offers a condition whereby individuals have to make a choice, on some level, between the purest form of individual expression and material comfort. Certainly, some level of negotiation can be apparent on each side, but in the end, I think that financial security and material comfort have to be included in the calculation of the decision to pursue individual identity. Emerson depicts it as a choice free from social and material conditions. Over time, I think that it has become evident that, on some level, materialism does impact this choice. In this light, it becomes easier to follow Emerson's ideas in the work if material concerns are not as apparent or evident.
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