Satyagraha

Cultural Psychology

Thoreau and Occupy Wall Street: Life Without Principle

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Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862), American Transcendentalist philospher and writer.

Could American Transcendentalism serve as a philosophical foundation for the Occupy Wall Street movement? While this is perhaps worth exploring in some detail, here we shall be content to tread lightly – quoting from one of Henry David Thoreau’s (1817–1862) best works, his essay, Life Without Principle.

Reference: Thoreau, Henry D. ‘Life Without Principle’. In: The Writings of Henry David Thoreau (11 Volumes), Vol. 10 (Miscellanies), pp. 263-287. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1894.

The following extracts are presented in the order as they appear in the work.

Part 1

This world is a place of business. What an infinite bustle! I am awaked almost every night by the panting of the locomotive. It interrupts my dreams. There is no sabbath. It would be glorious to see mankind at leisure for once.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

I think that there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, ay, to life itself, than this incessant business.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

If a man walk in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer; but if he spends his whole day as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making earth bald before her time, he is esteemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

Most men would feel insulted if it were proposed to employ them in throwing stones over a wall, and then in throwing them back, merely that they might earn their wages. But many are no more worthily employed now.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

Do not hire a man who does your work for money, but him who does it for love of it.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

You may raise money enough to tunnel a mountain, but you cannot raise money enough to hire a man who is minding his own business.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

If my wants should be much increased, the labor required to supply them would become a drudgery. If I should sell both my forenoons and afternoons to society, as most appear to do, I am sure that for me there would be nothing left worth living for.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of his life getting his living. All great enterprises are self-supporting.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

You must get your living by loving.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

To be supported by the charity of friends, or a government pension, — provided you continue to breathe, — by whatever fine synonyms you describe these relations, is to go into the almshouse.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

Cold and hunger seem more friendly to my nature than those methods which men have adopted and advise to ward them off.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

The ways in which most men get their living, that is, live, are mere makeshifts, and a shirking of the real business of life, — chiefly because they do not know, but partly because they do not mean, any better.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

God gave the righteous man a certificate entitling him to food and raiment, but the unrighteous man found a facsimile of the same in God’s coffers, and appropriated it, and obtained food and raiment like the former. It is one of the most extensive systems of counterfeiting that the world has seen. I did not know that mankind were suffering for want of gold. I have seen a little of it. I know that it is very malleable, but not so malleable as wit. A grain of gold will gild a great surface, but not so much as a grain of wisdom.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

I asked myself why I might not be washing some gold daily, though it were only the finest particles, — why I might not sink a shaft down to the gold within me, and work that mine.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

Part 2

A man had better starve at once than lose his innocence in the process of getting his bread.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

It requires more than a day’s devotion to know and to possess the wealth of a day.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

The news we hear, for the most part, is not news to our genius.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

We do not live for idle amusement. I would not run round a corner to see the world blow up.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

Shall the mind be a public arena, where the affairs of the street and the gossip of the tea-table chiefly are discussed? Or shall it be a quarter of heaven itself,
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

I find it so difficult to dispose of the few facts which to me are significant, that I hesitate to burden my attention with those which are insignificant,
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

If we have thus desecrated ourselves, — as who has not? — the remedy will be by wariness and devotion to reconsecrate ourselves, and make once more a fane of the mind. We should treat our minds, that is, ourselves, as innocent and ingenuous children, whose guardians we are, and be careful what objects and what subjects we thrust on their attention. Read not the Times. Read the Eternities.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

Read not the Times. Read the Eternities.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

Knowledge does not come to us by details, but in flashes of light from heaven.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

America is said to be the arena on which the battle of freedom is to be fought; but surely it cannot be freedom in a merely political sense that is meant. Even if we grant that the American has freed himself from a political tyrant, he is still the slave of an economical and moral tyrant.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

Do we call this the land of the free? What is it to be free from King George and continue the slaves of King Prejudice?
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

What is the value of any political freedom, but as a means to moral freedom?
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

We are warped and narrowed by an exclusive devotion to trade and commerce and manufactures and agriculture and the like, which are but means, and not the end.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

The chief want [i.e., what is missing] , in every State that I have been into, was a high and earnest purpose in its inhabitants.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

When we want culture more than potatoes, and illumination more than sugar-plums, then the great resources of a world are taxed and drawn out, and the result, or staple production, is, not slaves, nor operatives, but men, — those rare fruits called heroes, saints, poets, philosophers, and redeemers.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

I have not got to answer for having read a single President’s Message.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

Politics is, as it were, the gizzard of society, full of grit and gravel, and the two political parties are its two opposite halves, — sometimes split into quarters, it may be, which grind on each other.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)

Not only individuals, but states, have thus a confirmed dyspepsia…. Why should we not meet, not always as dyspeptics, to tell our bad dreams, but sometimes as eupeptics, to congratulate each other on the ever-glorious morning? I do not make an exorbitant demand, surely.
~ Henry David Thoreau (Life Without Principle, 1863)


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