90.9 WBUR - Boston's NPR news station
Top Stories:
PLEDGE NOW
Too Much Self-Reliance?

“Self-Reliance.” Did the great Ralph Waldo Emerson get it wrong? Have we? Have we turned self-reliance into self-centeredness?

Ralph Waldo Emerson, circa 1857. (George Eastman House Collection)

Ralph Waldo Emerson, circa 1857. (George Eastman House Collection)

Early in the heart of the 19th Century, young America was in trouble. A brutal economic bust. Banks collapsing all over. Confidence, wavering. And here came the brilliant transcendentalist philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, like a blazing star.

Trust yourselves, he said. Look inside. Speak what you think in hard words. Above all, embrace self-reliance. And boy did that go deep. It’s American bedrock. Maybe too deep, says my guest today. It’s become self-centeredness. Polarizing rigidity.

This hour, On Point: Emerson, and the most American debate – can you have too much self-reliance?

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Benjamin Anastas, novelist, journalist, and literary critic. His recent New York Times Magazine piece, “The Foul Reign of Emerson’s ‘Self-Reliance’” can be found here.

Alex Zakaras, professor of political philosophy and the history of political thought at the University of Vermont. He’s the author of “Individuality and Mass Democracy: Mill, Emerson, and the Burdens of Citizenship.”

From Tom’s Reading List

Benjamin Anastas on “Self-Reliance” in the New York Times “For years I blamed Mr. Sideways — and the money fever of the 1980s — for this weird episode of hucksterism in English class. But that was being unfair. Our teacher had merely fallen under the spell, like countless others before and after, of the most pernicious piece of literature in the American canon.”

Literary critic Harold Bloom takes a look at “Self Reliance” also from the New York Times “In the spring of 1837, a great depression afflicted the northeastern United States. All the banks in New York City, Philadelphia and Baltimore suspended cash payments, as did many in Boston. Of the 850 banks in the United States, nearly half closed or partly failed. If the crisis of 2008 was caused by poor lending, the Panic of 1837, too, featured speculation and inflation.”

Here’s a link to the original Emerson essay, Self-Reliance.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
ONPOINT
TODAY
Sep 19, 2014
No campaigners celebrate as results come in at the Scottish independence referendum count at the Royal Highland Centre in Edinburgh,Scotland,Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. Scottish voters have rejected independence and decided that Scotland will remain part of the United Kingdom. The result announced early Friday was the one favored by Britain's political leaders, who had campaigned hard in recent weeks to convince Scottish voters to stay. It dashed many Scots' hopes of breaking free and building their own nation. (AP Photo/David Cheskin)

ISIS and arming Syrian fighters. Scotland rejects independence. NFL turmoil. US troops and Ebola. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

Sep 19, 2014
Joseph O'Neill (courtesy of the author)

Author of “Netherland,” novelist Joseph O’Neill is back, with “The Dog,” on globalization, capitalism, and self-discovery in Dubai.

RECENT
SHOWS
Sep 19, 2014
Joseph O'Neill (courtesy of the author)

Author of “Netherland,” novelist Joseph O’Neill is back, with “The Dog,” on globalization, capitalism, and self-discovery in Dubai.

 
Sep 19, 2014
No campaigners celebrate as results come in at the Scottish independence referendum count at the Royal Highland Centre in Edinburgh,Scotland,Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. Scottish voters have rejected independence and decided that Scotland will remain part of the United Kingdom. The result announced early Friday was the one favored by Britain's political leaders, who had campaigned hard in recent weeks to convince Scottish voters to stay. It dashed many Scots' hopes of breaking free and building their own nation. (AP Photo/David Cheskin)

ISIS and arming Syrian fighters. Scotland rejects independence. NFL turmoil. US troops and Ebola. Our weekly news roundtable goes behind the headlines.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
Our Week In The Web: September 19, 2014
Friday, Sep 19, 2014

Lots of big, contentious topics on the show this week — from Zionism to early education, corporal punishment to development in the Grand Canyon.

More »
Comment
 
Talking Through The Issue Of Corporal Punishment For Kids
Wednesday, Sep 17, 2014

On Point dove into the debate over corporal punishment on Wednesday — as Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson faces charges in Texas after he allegedly hit his four-year-old son with a switch.

More »
2 Comments
 
Our Week In The Web: September 12, 2014
Friday, Sep 12, 2014

In which you had varied reactions to the prospect of a robotic spouse.

More »
Comment