Sometimes throughout modern Western culture, if not elsewhere, important published essays begin their literary life as important speeches. This is the case with many essays written by Ralph Waldo Emerson. The particular essay we will look at today is The American Scholar.
This was an intellectual shot heard around the world as Emerson, on behalf of American thinkers, declared our independence from the dominance of European thought. No longer willing to be a continuation of Europe so much as our own distinct cultural identity We, as Americans, asserted that we were no longer willing to be mere parrots but ready to carve our own name in intellectual history.
This unique American voice was to center on three prongs:
- That nature was to be the dominant influence on our minds
- That the past was to be learned from in books and spoken word
- and that from these would spring action in relation to our experience.
From these it was the duty of American scholars to diligently become known for their intellectual capacities as free and independent from European culture as the independent American nation was. Maybe this is part of why I’ve always been bothered by Americans who believe that simply because Europeans do something, we should as well? 😉 Good to know it isn’t just because I’m a natural born rebel….
This essay may be read here:
Or, alternatively, listened to in an audiobook format here: