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by Ralph Waldo Emerson

edited and updated by Richard Brodie

©1997-1999 Richard Brodie. All Rights Reserved.


Ralph Waldo Emerson entered Harvard in 1817 at the age of 14, 160 years earlier and three years younger than I did. In 1841, he published his first volume of essays, including this one on Self-Reliance.

This essay deals with an essential paradox of life: that to live at peace in society we must in fact break with society. To be approved of, we must act without regard to others' approval. To win the support of others, we must act alone.

The power and inspiration present in Emerson's work are such that I wanted it to be available to the modern reader. Yet the flowery 19th-Century prose Emerson wrote backfires in modern times: the precision and connotation that many of his words carried in 1841 is today lost in obscurity.

Risking cries of "sacrilege," then, I have updated Emerson's great work with the sole aim of making his ideas accessible to a new generation of readers. As I worked on this project, I had firsthand experience with the danger Emerson warns us of: worrying about other people's reactions. Would they say I was colorizing Citizen Kane? Would this be like the "updated" bible in which the 23rd Psalm's "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil" became "Even though it's really dark, I'm not scared"? Did I really want people to categorize me as one of those cultural terrorists?

No, I didn't, but my intuition kept telling me to go on with the project. Here, then, is my expression of my impression of Emerson. Read it, then throw it away, and go out and have a great life!

Richard Brodie
Seattle, Washington


Genius | Speak Your Own Mind | Originality
Trust Yourself
| The Lessons of Children
The Power of Teenagers
| The Jail of Consciousness
The Conspiracy of Society | Be a Nonconformist
The Devil's Child?
| Good and Bad | Love and Hate
| Philanthropy | Good Deeds
| Dead Causes | Conformity
| Disapproval | Contradiction
| Your Nature | Greatness
Nonconformity | Character | Know Your Value
Hypnotized by Kings | Intuition
Perceptions | Soul | Past-Worship | Timid Man
Charismatic Leaders
| Living Truly
The Highest Truth | Living | Obedience to Nature
Self-Sufficiency | Going It Alone | Isolation
Declare War | Standards | Society
| The Power of Self-Trust
Wishes and Prayers | Regrets | Help Yourself
Religious Doctrine | The Blinded Student
Traveling | Imitation | Insist on Yourself
The Spirit of Society
| Modern Man
Great Men | Technology | The Wave of Society
Property | Numbers | Triumph

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Last Edited: May 03, 2000
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© 1996-1999 Richard Brodie. All rights reserved.