comments on transcendentalism and sustainability

The early 1800’s to the mid-19th century was a flurry with original American works of Literature as well as a concentration on translating the scholarly text from the German and French Languages making them more assessable to a larger population of American scholars.

The two efforts could not be more divergent and in some ways resemble the separation today in American politics between the progressive and the conservative ideologues of our early 21st century.  Transcendental ideas grew out of a frustration very similar to our current day frustration with the “Too-Big-to-Fail” corporate structures.  Where it was conservative theology that was on the chopping block; one-hundred and eighty years later it is the theocracy of corporate supremacy that is spurring the “new” ideas of sustainability.

The original Transcendentalist were a group of like minded people.   Individuals who respected their own minds and felt a great and profound desire to nourish their own souls.  Although no two of them thought alike–they all had a common enemy, or a common dislike.  The were disgusted with the “habits and common banality” of the conservative world around  them.  The all suffered from being repulsed by the materialism that appeared to be derived simply from the data of the senses alone.

Emerson & Fuller’s voice rose high above even the hallowed halls of Harvard Divinity School and over the rising tide of the economically driven society of Boston at  the time. There was a common thread among the Transcendentalist of feeling a need to grow their own  souls and to turn against the establishment of the academic & economic elite of the day.

If there was one voice coming from this group it was a proposed philosophy for the common man–Transcendentalism moved toward a fresh inspiration that affirmed the God within rather than the stale and angry God of the establishment inherited from history. Their claim was not a Deity then and there, but a spiritual awakening in the here and now.  The excitement of the mid 19th century seems similar in flavor to the  minor revolution of the 1960 and the cusp of the next revolution that is being driven by a secular humanism and individual spirituality, as a move away from commerce being the ultimate and almost only cherished value.

The principle of higher powers, of individual dignity and personal integrity of the the soul; and the absolute independence and right mindedness that people are searching for is very similar to the search for those same dimensions 180 years ago.  A progressive agenda not trampled upon by the traditions of simple economic growth are making a transcendental revival today—Something to value above and beyond the almighty dollar and the overshadowing Dow of Wall Street.

We are looking for companionship in our search for values and principles that will not falter in the face of “too-big-to-fail.”  When Emerson spoke in Rhode Island in 1842 he defined transcendentalism as nothing more than individual idealism.

It may well be that our own voice at the beginning of the 21st century echoes many of the same principles felt to be important to the original transcendentalist.  There is no Transcendental Party, no great society to which we aspire, we are small, valued, dignified, individuals who want to aspire to our very own communication with creation.  We are at our best when we are finding our own most eloquent amusement in Life while at the same time not trampling on the amusement of others.

It might be that Transcendentalism is whatever the ideals of the day are promoting.  It would be both a conservative and a progressive agenda that would have us recalling the greatness and the passion and the intellectual stimulation of 180 years ago, and giving a rebirth not to the content of the original Transcendentalist, but to the passions of the human soul that they admired.
Grace and well-being, mindfulness and nature, community and local commerce these were and are the bedrock of the Transcendentalism of the day.  We are again grappling with spiritual idealism and secular spirituality under the banner of humanism.  And in the same way that the movement so associated with the birth of American Literature was given it childhood under Unitarian guidance it might be that the matured Transcendentalism is still on the horizon of spiritual and human growth and could find its revival in the Unitarian Fellowships of the 21st century.
A.L. Dussault
Charlestown, Rhode Island

One comment on “comments on transcendentalism and sustainability

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