Some aspects of Transcendentalism can be applied in today’s society, while others have lost their relevance due to the changes of social and economic conditions since the time of Thoreau. The Transcendentalists’ goal was to create a Utopia in America. They believed in a society without rules in which you would be free to do whatever you wanted as long as it did not infringe on the freedom or well-being of others. The concept of what is a Utopia is different for every person. In today’s densely populated countries it appears almost impossible to do anything that does not affect or infringe upon someone else.
The Transcendentalists also believed in the Jeffersonian philosophy that each generation should only be concerned with itself and its own well-being, which would assure a solid foundation for the next generation. I think this would not work in today’s society because there are many things we could do to help our generation but would make later generations pay a price. An example of this would be providing jobs for a strip-mining project to help the current generation’s economy, while it destroys the environment for later generations. Transcendentalist beliefs of adding onto the previous generations’ efforts would not work if each generation, in helping itself, is destroying the Earth.
The Transcendentalists also believed that one should live simply, with few material possessions. To explain this point, we consider how much the sheer volume of material possessions has changed over the years. When cave men roamed the earth, an elaborate material possession might have been a wood club studded with rocks, or an especially beautiful loincloth. In the 1800s, an automobile was a possession of great material value. Thoreau had a small house, 3 chairs, a desk, 2 suits, and a few books. He was able to sustain himself by growing his own food in the surrounding area. The concept of what is considered necessary for a comfortable life has changed vastly since Thoreau’s time.
While all he needed was a roof over his head and a patch of land and a few seeds, most people in today’s society must have a “job” and get paid to buy shelter and food, energy, transportation, and all other modern necessities. In Thoreau’s time there were fewer people, so if someone wanted to, they could go out and live in the wilderness. Today, if someone wanted to live in the wilderness in a negotiable climate, it would be impossible because of the sheer amount of urban sprawl and the laws which are in place to protect the wilderness.
As I examined the multiple points of Transcendentalism, I found that even in Thoreau’s time, it would be possible for someone to practice some of the aspects of Transcendentalism, while putting other aspects into practice would be nearly impossible. I think living in the true Transcendentalist lifestyle is neither feasible nor very beneficial. The true meaning of what Thoreau discovered while living at Walden Pond was to simplify your life and accept your place in the world. Here are some words from the man himself:
“Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth. I sat at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance, and obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away hungry from the inhospitable board.”
“However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The fault-finder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is.”