Whoso Would Be A Man Must Be A Nonconformist

What is the deeper meaning of the quote, "Whoso would be a man...the suffrage of the world," in "Self-Reliance"?

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Importantly, in the paragraph just prior to this quotation, Emerson claims that "Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of everyone of its members." Each man, he says, typically agrees to "surrender" his "liberty" to society, as one of its members, in order that everyone should succeed. Society demands...

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Importantly, in the paragraph just prior to this quotation, Emerson claims that "Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of everyone of its members." Each man, he says, typically agrees to "surrender" his "liberty" to society, as one of its members, in order that everyone should succeed. Society demands that we conform so that it can run smoothly; we all grow to depend on one another in this way. However, Emerson declares that whoever "would be a man must be a nonconformist," and he must refuse to surrender his liberty by insisting on denying society its request. Emerson says that the person "who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness."

When Jesus arrived in Jerusalem on the day now referred to as Palm Sunday by Christians, crowds waved palm leaves in welcome. Thus, Emerson seems to be suggesting that someone who wants to truly be and do good in the world must not listen to what society says is good but investigate and decide for themselves what is good. The reason for this is that "Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind." The sacredness of one's own mind and one's ability to discover good for oneself is connected to the religious allusion to palms. The divine is within us, and we deny it when we surrender our liberty; we embrace it when we learn to rely on ourselves.

Finally, Emerson directs us, "Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world." In other words, we disenfranchise ourselves when we conform, and we empower ourselves when we refuse. The religious connotation of the word "absolve" furthers the idea that we honor the divine within ourselves when we conform to our own ideas of goodness and no one else's.

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As the answer below noted, the entire quote is as follows:

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world.

The quote means that to achieve lasting greatness a person has to be willing to be and do what is unconventional. Every person, according to Emerson, has a God-given destiny, a task he was put on this earth to accomplish. This is why a person must not simply accept what society tells him is a good pursuit. Instead, each individual must determine for himself (and Emerson is speaking to young men, though women could be included) if what is labeled good really is good: he must "explore [question] if it be goodness." Being true to oneself––what Emerson calls "integrity"––is the highest good. "Absolve"––determine––to be yourself, he states. 

In the final clause in this passage, Emerson asserts that it you are true to yourself, you will have the "suffrage" of the world. Suffrage most commonly means the vote. That is, in a metaphoric sense, what Emerson means: the world will vote for you or support your cause, if you are following your deepest calling. But suffrage also means prayers or petitions. This definition adheres more closely to the religious vein of this passage: the person who lives with integrity will earn the world's prayers of support.

This is a deeply individualistic passage, which is followed by a daring challenge to young people to break the confines of conventional religion:

 On my saying, What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within? my friend suggested: "But these impulses may be from below, not from above." I replied: "They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil's child, I will live then from the Devil." No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature.

Emerson followed Transcendentalism, a movement that put great emphasis on individualism. This essay expresses how passionately he believed all people should follow their own, individual calling.  

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Here is the full quote:

Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of our own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world.

This quote from Emerson's essay, "Self-Reliance," is saying:

In order to be a man—a grown up—he must be willing to turn his back on the world regardless of what the world expects.

Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.

To be remembered, a man must gather "immortal palms," and must not be held back by the "name of goodness."

He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness.

Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of our own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world.

Integrity is born in a person's mind, and nothing else is sacred unless you absolve yourself to who you are. In this way, you will have the support of the world, of mankind...

Emerson states that to believe your own thoughts, and to know that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men—that is genius.

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