New England Humanism Part 4: Henry David Thoreau

Of all of the figures surveyed in this essay, Henry David Thoreau is perhaps the most radical and is the clearest precursor of 1960s “hippie movement.” Thoreau is probably most famous for his book Walden (1854), which details his experience of living alone in the wilderness on Walden Pond. He uses the narrative of his “back to nature” experience to critique mainstream Christian society, attempting to undermine the Biblical concepts of responsibility and dominion.

Thoreau’s life in the woods aims at simplicity and a minimum of physical possessions. He promotes this simplicity because he views property owners as “enslaved” to the land that they cultivate.

“I see young men, my townsmen, whose misfortune it is to have inherited farms, houses, barns, cattle, and farming tools; for these are more easily acquired than got rid of. Better if they had been born in the open pasture and suckled by a wolf, that they might have seen with clearer eyes what field they were called to labor in. Who made them serfs of the soil? Why should they eat their sixty acres, when man is condemned to eat only his peck of dirt? Why should they begin digging their graves as soon as they are born? They have got to live a man’s life, pushing all these things before them, and get on as well as they can. How many a poor immortal soul have I met well nigh crushed and smothered under its load, creeping down the road of life, pushing before it a barn seventy-five feet by forty, its Augean stables never cleansed, and one hundred acres of land, tillage, mowing, pasture, and wood-lot! The portionless, who struggle with no such unnecessary inherited encumbrances, find it labor enough to subdue and cultivate a few cubic feet of flesh.”
(Walden and Other Writings of Henry David Thoreau, New York, Random House, 1950, pages 4-5)

By contrast the Bible emphasizes that an inheritance from one’s fathers is a great blessing. There are numerous laws in the Old Testament governing how this inheritance is to be passed down. God speaks of Israel as his inheritance, “For the Lord’s portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance” (Deuteronomy 32:9), and the concept of inheritance is used throughout the New Testament to describe the eternal reward of the saints, “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light” (Colossians 1:12). An inheritance is something to be treasured and passed down in love and joy. Thoreau only views an inheritance as a burden because he and other like him seek to avoid the responsibility and continuity that comes along with it. As long as men respect and care for what is passed down to them by their fathers, they will resist the revolutionary remaking of society. Not only does Thoreau view property as a form of enslavement of man, but he even adopts the Marxist view that property is actually the cause of vice and discord, saying that,

“I am convinced, that if all men were to live as simply as I then did, thieving and robbery would be unknown.”
(ibid., pages 155-156)

With these words Thoreau denies the Biblical doctrine of original sin, which teaches that man’s tendency to evil is in his own heart, not in his environment, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). It is also obvious that poor nations are not known for their low crime rates, nor are wealthy nations famous for rampant thieving. The cure for the vice of greed is not a paucity of possessions, but a new heart. This Utopian belief in the perfectibility of man’s moral nature through changing his environment has been the basic foundation of every socialist and communist nightmare that has been seen over the last two centuries.

This disdain for responsible property owners is expressed throughout the book, as Thoreau complains that the legacy of the Christian farmer has even infected the very place names in his idyllic wilderness. He is particularly offended by the name of the nearby Flint’s Pond.

“Flint’s Pond! Such is the poverty of our nomenclature. What right had the unclean and stupid farmer, whose farm abutted on this sky water, whose shores he has ruthlessly laid bare, to give his name to it? Some skin-flint, who loved better the reflecting surface of a dollar, or a bright cent, in which he could see his own brazen face; who regarded even the wild ducks which settled in it as trespassers; his fingers grown into crooked and horny talons from the long habit of grasping harpy-like;—so it is not named for me. I go not there to see him nor to hear of him; who never saw it, who never bathed in it, who never loved it, who never protected it, who never spoke a good word for it, nor thanked God that he had made it. Rather let it be named from the fishes that swim in it, the wild fowl or quadrupeds which frequent it, the wild flowers which grow by its shores, or some wild man or child the thread of whose history is interwoven with its own; not from him who could show no title to it but the deed which a like-minded neighbor or legislature gave him,—him who thought only of its money value; whose presence perchance cursed all the shore; who exhausted the land around it, and would fain have exhausted the waters within it; who regretted only that it was not English hay or cranberry meadow,—there was nothing to redeem it, forsooth, in his eyes,—and would have drained and sold it for the mud at its bottom. It did not turn his mill, and it was no privilege to him to behold it. I respect not his labors, his farm where every thing has its price; who would carry the landscape, who would carry his God, to market, if he could get any thing for him; who goes to market for his god as it is; on whose farm nothing grows free, whose fields bear no crops, whose meadows no flowers, whose trees no fruits, but dollars; who loves not the beauty of his fruits, whose fruits are not ripe for him till they are turned to dollars.”
(ibid., page 177-178)

In Thoreau’s view the man who clears and cultivates the land does so becaue he is a fiendish, grasping “harpy,” who loves money and hates God. He preposterously assumes that the pious Puritan farmers “never thanked God” for the land that they worked, brining the greatest slander against them. The land, in Thoreau’s view, belonged more to the fish and the fowl than to the European colonizer. He also claims that the “wild man,” presumably an Indian savage, has more of a right to the land than the Christian. Here again we see the false and romanticized vision of the savage employed by the New England humanists. Thoreau presumes to know the motives and inner thoughts of the Indian, claiming that this noble savage did not see the land as an item to be exploited for gain or to be bought or sold. The actual history of the American Indian shows that Thoreau’s assumption about them is untrue, but that does not stop Thoreau from using the fabricated image of the “noble savage” to attack his ideological foes.

The author’s deep hatred of the responsible middle-class reaches its highest pitch in a passage that describes his encounter with various insane persons who seem to Thoreau to be wiser than the hated bourgeoisie.

“Far off as I lived, I was not exempted from the annual visitation which occurs, methinks, about the first of April, when every body is on the move; and I had my share of good luck, though there were some curious specimens among my visitors. Half-witted men from the almshouse and elsewhere came to see me; but I endeavored to make them exercise all the wit they had, and make their confessions to me; in such cases making wit the theme of our conversation; and so was compensated. Indeed, I found some of them to be wiser than the so called overseers of the poor and selectmen of the town, and thought it was time that the tables were turned.”
(ibid., pages 136-137)

This idea that “the insane are wiser than those who care for them” was taken up by the 1960’s hippie movement, especially in works like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Here Thoreau also anticipates the Cultural Marxist notion that what is often understood as normal psychological behavior is in fact a social construct enforced by an elite class. Of course no political activists seriously think that the mentally ill should be put in positions of authority, but the romantic idea of “liberating” the poor oppressed half-wits can be used as one more ideological weapon against the hated status quo.

Walden is perhaps best known for its early “environmentalist” attitude. Indeed Thoreau places such great value on undisturbed nature that, if his ideas were carried out consistently, human life would become impossible. When discussing his clearing of the land in order to plant crops, he asks “what right had I” to clear away the plants that were already growing there.

“This was my curious labor all summer,—to make this portion of the earth’s surface, which had yielded only cinquefoil, blackberries, johnswort, and the like, before, sweet wild fruits and pleasant flowers, produce instead this pulse. What shall I learn of beans or beans of me? I cherish them, I hoe them, early and late I have an eye to them; and this is my day’s work. It is a fine broad leaf to look on. My auxiliaries are the dews and rains which water this dry soil, and what fertility is in the soil itself, which for the most part is lean and effete. My enemies are worms, cool days, and most of all woodchucks. The last have nibbled for me a quarter of an acre clean. But what right had I to oust johnswort and the rest, and break up their ancient herb garden?”
(ibid., page 140)

Later on he states that even after all of his work planting crops, if his harvest fails he would not be dismayed, because the weeds that grow in the field will feed the birds!

“How, then, can our harvest fail? Shall I not rejoice also at the abundance of the weeds whose seeds are the granary of the birds? It matters little comparatively whether the fields fill the farmer’s barns.”
(ibid., page 150)

Needless to say, if these attitudes about sowing and harvesting were universally adopted, humanity would face mass starvation. Furthermore, mankind’s right to disturb a field of weeds in order to plant crops was granted to us by God in the beginning, as man’s original purpose on the earth was to tend the garden and to have dominion over the beasts of the earth (Genesis 1:26, 2:15). But Thoreau abandons Biblical teaching as well as the obvious necessities of life in favor of his romantic fantasy about the sanctity of nature.

Thoreau also exhibits an unhealthy emotional attachment to nature, claiming to feel great distress at the death of a tree, making himself quite literally a precursor of the “tree-huggers” of the 20th century. This emotional attachment is also connected with a pagan (or at least mock-pagan) veneration of nature.

if any part [of the forest] was burned, though I burned it myself by accident, I grieved with a grief that lasted longer and was more inconsolable than that of the proprietors; nay, I grieved when it was cut down by the proprietors themselves. I would that our farmers when they cut down a forest felt some of that awe which the old Romans did when they came to thin, or let in the light to, a consecrated grove (lucum conlucare), that is, would believe that it is sacred to some god. The Roman made an expiatory offering, and prayed, Whatever god or goddess thou art to whom this grove is sacred, be propitious to me, my family, and children, &c.”
(ibid., page 225)

Given that Thoreau questions the morality of even clearing a field to plant crops, it is not surprising that he also promotes vegetarianism.

“I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off eating animals, as surely as the savage tribes have left off eating each other when they came in contact with the more civilized.”
(ibid., page 194)

And yet even on this point Thoreau is contradictory, as he cannot seem to decide whether he wants to be a savage killing and eating his prey, or a civilized man protecting his animal brethren.

“As I came home through the woods with my string of fish, trailing my pole, it being now quite dark, I caught a glimpse of a woodchuck stealing across my path, and felt a strange thrill of savage delight, and was strongly tempted to seize and devour him raw; not that I was hungry then, except for that wildness which he represented. Once or twice, however, while I lived at the pond, I found myself ranging the woods, like a half-starved hound, with a strange abandonment, seeking some kind of venison which I might devour, and no morsel could have been too savage for me. The wildest scenes had become unaccountably familiar. I found in myself, and still find, an instinct toward a higher, or, as it is named, spiritual life, as do most men, and another toward a primitive rank and savage one, and I reverence them both. I love the wild not less than the good.”
(ibid., page 189)

This arbitrary, violent vacillation between savagery and civilization is a common feature amongst white liberals to this day. One moment they are singing the praises of the noble savage, the next moment they are talking about the need to become more civilized. One moment they are coddling Muslim refugees who wish to spread Sharia law in the West, the next moment they are demanding that we bomb Iran to free the poor homosexuals from Muslim oppression. This confusion can largely be traced to the fact that the white liberal seeks to base his morality on “nature” or “science” (which is merely fallen man’s interpretation of nature) without relying on an infallible, transcendent lawgiver. “Nature” does not teach any morality, as practically any vice or virtue can be found in “natural” behavior if one searches long enough. New England Humanism swept away the objective, transcendent foundation of Christian faith, and white liberal morality in America has been in constant flux ever since.

The replacement of the God of the Bible with “Nature” is made quite clear as Thoreau speaks of the forest as being his pagan “temple” or “shrine,”

“Sometimes I rambled to pine groves, standing like temples, or like fleets at sea, full-rigged, with wavy boughs, and rippling with light, so soft and green and shady that the Druids would have forsaken their oaks to worship in them; or to the cedar wood beyond Flint’s Pond, where the trees, covered with hoary blue berries, spiring higher and higher, are fit to stand before Valhalla, and the creeping juniper covers the ground with wreaths full of fruit; or to swamps where the usnea lichen hangs in festoons from the white-spruce trees, and toad-stools, round tables of the swamp gods, cover the ground…These were the shrines I visited both summer and winter.”
(ibid., pages 181-182)

This passage includes pagan references, such as “Druids” and “Valhalla,” showing that Thoreau has more of an interest in any spiritual tradition other than Christianity. References to Christianity are, however, found when Thoreau is taking the attributes of the Christian God and giving them to “Nature.” Just as Emerson taught that man is the creator, so Thoreau teaches that “Nature” can forgive men’s sins.

“In a pleasant spring morning all men’s sins are forgiven. Such a day is a truce to vice. While such a sun holds out to burn, the vilest sinner may return. Through our own recovered innocence we discern the innocence of our neighbors. You may have known your neighbor yesterday for a thief, a drunkard, or a sensualist, and merely pitied or despised him, and despaired of the world; but the sun shines bright and warm this first spring morning, re-creating the world, and you meet him at some serene work, and see how his exhausted and debauched veins expand with still joy and bless the new day, feel the spring influence with the innocence of infancy, and all his faults are forgotten. There is not only an atmosphere of good will about him, but even a savor of holiness groping for expression, blindly and ineffectually perhaps, like a new-born instinct, and for a short hour the south hill-side echoes to no vulgar jest. You see some innocent fair shoots preparing to burst from his gnarled rind and try another year’s life, tender and fresh as the youngest plant. Even he has entered into the joy of his Lord. Why the jailer does not leave open his prison doors,—why the judge does not dismis his case,—why the preacher does not dismiss his congregation! It is because they do not obey the hint which God gives them, nor accept the pardon which he freely offers to all.”
(ibid., page 280-281)

For Thoreau pardon and reconciliation come not through the atonement of Christ, but through the light of nature. He twists Scriptural language when he says that the spring morning has caused a sinner to have the “savor of holiness” (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:15) and to have “entered into the joy of his Lord” (cf. Matthew 21:25), both of which phrases are used in the Bible to express the supernatural communion of the believer with Christ. The superiority of the grace of nature to the grace of Christ is shown by saying that the preacher should “dismiss his congregation” in order that they might receive the true forgiveness offered through the natural world. Again we also see the millenarian, Utopian conviction of nature-worshiping progressives who hold that if everyone would simply listen to what “Nature” is saying, there would be perpetual peace and brotherhood.

A final passage from Thoreau again shows his veneration of nature, as well as his supposed detachment from the cares of this world. His indifference in the face of violence and death also indicates that he would be quite comfortable with the creative destruction of revolution.

“I love to see that Nature is so rife with life that myriads can be afforded to be sacrificed and suffered to prey on one another; that tender organizations can be so serenely squashed out of existence like pulp,—tadpoles which herons gobble up, and tortoises and toads run over in the road; and that sometimes it has rained flesh and blood! With the liability to accident, we must see how little account is to be made of it. The impression made on a wise man is that of universal innocence. Poison is not poisonous after all, nor are any wounds fatal.”
(ibid., page 283)

In these sentiments we again see the influence of Hindu thought, perhaps as mediated through Emerson. There are indeed similarities to Emerson’s Hindu-inspired poem “Brahma,” which includes the lines,

“If the red slayer think he slays,
Or if the slain think he is slain,
They know not well the subtle ways
I keep, and pass, and turn again.

Far or forgot to me is near;
Shadow and sunlight are the same;
The vanished gods to me appear;
And one to me are shame and fame.”

Here Emerson adopts the Hindu belief that all of life is ultimately an illusion, that men neither really kill nor really die, since all individual souls are ultimately one with God. He also suggests a kind of moral relativism by saying that “shadow and sunlight are the same” and “one to me are shame and fame.” The above passage from Thoreau echoes these ideas by saying that no wounds are fatal, that is, that even when full of bloodshed, nothing in nature really dies. But once again, this Hindu-esque “detachment” from the vicissitudes of life is completely fake. Like Emerson, Thoreau was an ardent abolitionist, a political position that would certainly find no support in actual Hinduism, which claims that the race-based castes of India were divinely instituted. A genuine Hindu sage who has come to see the material world as illusion would not histrionically bewail the fate of the poor Negroes in the South, but rather instruct the Negroes to seek peace and acceptance in their current situation. For if there is no difference between sunlight and shadow, life and death, then surely there is no difference between being a slave or a master either. For Thoreau there is relativism and mystical oneness only when undermining Christian society, and then rigid dogmatism when it comes to bringing “equality” to the world.

New England humanism has come to dominate white liberal thought in America. For the white liberal, non-whites are superior to the “bad whites” who cling to Christian tradition, and yet these noble savages are helplessly oppressed by the bad whites and can only be saved by the good white liberals. The white liberals admire and appropriate aspects of traditional non-white cultures from around the world, and yet they promote globalist policies that will destroy these very cultures. When exciting revolutionary fervor, they tout their oneness with “Nature” and their pathological hatred of their own ancestors. Their worldview is based on a mass of contradictions, with no attempt at constructing a rational foundation.

Most importantly, this study should reinforce the fact that our current struggle against degeneracy is primarily a theological one. As I have shown, every negative idea introduced by the New England humanists is a direct contradiction of Biblical teaching. Simply resisting specific policies proposed by white liberals on pragmatic grounds is not enough. White liberals are not primarily motivated by a desire to achieve actual results. Rather they are motivated by seeking emotional fulfillment and the satisfaction of their twisted faith. We must attack their worldview at its roots, and this can only be done by relying on the Word of God, which is “the sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17) given to every Christian to assault the evil one.

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