Civilization "Hitch Your Wagon To A Star"
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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"Hitch Your Wagon To A Star"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Emerson begins by saying that civilization cannot be defined; it is "a certain degree of progress" from barbarism. "Each nation grows after its own genius, and has a civilization of its own." Civilization implies progress, "the learning the secret of cumulative power, of advancing on one's self." A nation is jolted into progress by "some superior foreigner importing new and wonderful arts, and teaching them." Then "manners and social beauty" are developed. "The division of labor," the development of agriculture, wise rulers, the "influence of good women," and the "diffusion of knowledge" are all necessary ingredients of a civilization, which is always "the result of highly complex organization." "But one condition is essential to the social education of man, namely, morality. . . . Civilization depends on morality. Everything good in man leans on what is higher." Just as a skillful man will "hitch his wagon to a star" by utilizing the eternal laws of nature, we must uphold eternal moral principles as we try to build a civilization:

". . . It was a great instruction," said a saint in Cromwell's war, "that the best courages are but beams of the Almighty." Hitch your wagon to a star. Let us not fag in paltry works which serve our pot and bag alone. Let us not lie and steal. No god will help. We shall find all their teams going the other way,–Charles's Wain, Great Bear, Orion, Leo, Hercules: every god will leave us. Work rather for those interests which the divinities honor and promote,–justice, love, freedom, knowledge, utility.