Ralph Waldo Emerson is arguably one of the greatest American philosophers of the 19th century. His theories on self-reliance and independence have contributed greatly to the formation of the American culture. Some scholars have termed him as the father of the American religion. His theories have promoted individualism and self-reliance, which are key components of capitalism. He encouraged the people to believe in themselves and pursue their dreams without depending on what their neighbors think about them. He discouraged the tendency of copying what other people in the society are doing and encouraged independence and self-belief. His policies promoted the rise of the industrial revolution as people learnt to become self-reliant and entrepreneurial.
Cornel West, on the other hand is a philosopher who contradicted the views of Emerson. Cornel supported the views of self-reliance but was opposed to the view that humans can live without one another. He argued that the society had lost its humanity in the quest to promote Americanism. In his essay The Moral Obligation of Living in a Democratic Society, Cornel emphasizes the importance of individualism in a societal context. He argues that despite the fact that people in a society should be independent, it is important for them to consider the interests of the rest of the community (Batstone, 7). Emerson emphasized on the importance of self-reliance while Cornel emphasized on the need for the people to remain united in the community as the sought to support each other on the community. For one to understand the spirit of Americanism, he has to combine their ideologies and understand how self-reliance is intertwined with communal living to promote the holistic success of a society.
One of the major principles of Cornell west was the principle of the moral obligation to support the interests of the community. Cornell cited the works of the political leaders of the black societies such as W.E.B Dubois and others who used their individual privileges for the benefit of the entire society. He argued that the leaders oppressed the people by taking the ideologies of one of them and making them a representative of the whole community. He argued that the wil of the people was submerged as the leaders used their opinions as a general representative of the whole society. Poverty and race were a major concern in the country and there would be no democracy unless people learnt to address these issues. He asserted that there would be no democracy as long as the majority of the people in the middle class were ready to trade their opinions for any authoritarian option that provided a sense of security and normalcy. He argued that many people in the society settled for leader that provided a sense of normalcy even though their policies did not match their ideologies. He argued that individualism without a sense of communal responsibility forced people to settle for things did not reflect their true beliefs. According to him the decisions of an individual in choosing a leader should be considerate of the interests of their neighbor and members of the society. Individualism had robed the poor communities their bargaining power in the fight against poverty and racism. Americans lived in a hypocritical state settling for ideologies that did not reflect their beliefs.
This opinion was contrary to the ideology of his predecessor Ralph Waldo Emerson, who argued that individualism was a key to the success of the American society. He urged the society to follow their own opinions instead of conforming to the societal expectations. His opinions contradicted Cornells opinion in the sense that the actions of a person should be based on the intent to please the other members of the society. The tendency of people acting as a society has contributed to the failure of many communities.
In order to please the members of a society people have compromised their true beliefs and opted to get in line with the society and promote a communal standpoint. This tendency has robed the country of great leaders and promoted a bunch of conformers. True democracy would be promoted when all the people could express their opinions freely without caring of the thoughts and perceptions of the people in a society (Field, 203). He was against the tendency of people acting according to the dictates of a society or grouping instead of their own opinions. Emerson was opposed to the control the church had on the American society and encouraged the braking out from such societal constraints and promoting individualism. Emersons view does not undermine the importance of the societal living but opposes the hypocritical living in which most Americans adopt. Many people in the country lie about their true feelings so as not to hurt the feelings of their friends and neighbors in the society. Emerson urges the truthfulness in the relationship between people. If a community expressed their true feelings about one another, then it is possible to find ways to cure the vices in society. His opinions would help curb the hypocrisy that has eaten up the society in the modern day.
Cornell points out that one of the main sources of the problems facing the modern society is the erosion of cultures and a sense of communal responsibility. With the increasing sense of individualism, people are slowly losing their humanity, which is embodied in their culture. Most of the problems facing the people in a society are led because of their lack of communal responsibility. Vices such as wage stagnation and political lethargy are promoted by the fading away of the communal culture in the society. As long as every person is able to meet their needs, he does nothing to improve the lives of their neighbor. This sense of individualism has proved harmful to the society, as the people no longer had a bargaining power owing to their individualism. Cornell argues that the erosion of the traditional values in the society threatened democracy as the powerful had extreme power over the poor with no one to mediate or help the poor fight for their rights (Batstone 10). Increasing greed in the highly capitalistic nation was continually robbing the interests of the society as a whole. The erosion of the traditional culture that was developed by the societal responsibility had contributed to an increase in the growth of vices such as corruption and greed in the society. No one could question the promoters of such vices and therefore they thrive causing harm to the poor and the middle class. As much as the traditional cultures robed people of their free will, it acted as an important measure in promoting the interests of the community.
In his essay, Emerson discusses the importance of one realizing his self-worth in the promotion of human activities. He argues that the cultures of a society limit the reorganization of self-worth, as people feel apologetic of their individuality and differences from the community. In an attempt to conform to the community people lose their self-worth and view their ideologies as useless (Field, 200). The cultures and social constraints limit the expression of ones true self. It limits the utilization of ones potential as the societal expectations limit ones individual growth. The ability of a person to break away from such ideologies would help them recognize their self-worth and improve their lives in the society. It would promote the fighting of vices that limit the economic, cultural and social growth of an individual.
Emerson encouraged individualism as a way of fighting poverty and demeaning cultures. During his time, the religious and cultural traditions of the people acted as a great barrier to the progress and development of the poor and the middle class. The cultures were oppressive and demeaning to the people and promoted the growth of classes and high differences between the rich and the poor. His ideologies on promoting individualism were an eye opener to the people to break the chains of these cultures and attain their freedom. His individualism ideologies prompted the people to fight for their rights and increase their independence and the promotion of equal opportunities to development. However, this individualism was robing the society of its important cultures that protected the rights and interests of the people. With the increase of individualism, the poor and middle class communities lost their bargaining power. The wealth of the country remained controlled by the few powerful people as the rest languished in poverty. Cornell West advocates for the restoration of some of these positive cultures. He does not undermine the role of individualism in promoting equality but advocates for the instillation of positive cultures that protect the interest of individuals in a society. Both Emerson and Cornell have workable ideologies that promote the development of a society. Individualism should not cause the complete erosion of cultures but instead should promote the development of new cultures that allow for the expression of true feelings and accommodate the differences of people in a society. Individualism should strengthen the fabric of the community by promoting positive cultures.
Batstone, David B, and Eduardo Mendieta. "The Moral obligation of living in a democratic socaiety." The Good Citizen. New York: Routledge, 2014. 5-15. Print.
Field, Peter S. Ralph Waldo Emerson: The Making of a Democratic Intellectual. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. Print.
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