I’m guilty. I am a thief. I stole this title from Ralph W. Emerson. I am going to dwell on what his main theme in the essay “Self-reliance” means in today’s American culture. I read the essay as part of a seven-year plan to read the Gateway to the Great Books (of the Western World) and The Great Books of Western World. I’m following the plan laid out here, by Dr. J of Faulkner University. I’m about 2.5 years behind, so I just read Self-reliance this past week. The theme, as I understand the essay, is that a person should rely on his/her own judgment and inner instinct or gut-feeling when speaking or thinking. What a self-reliant person doesn’t do is follow the crowd, or tradition, or expected behavior of any institution.

Dr. J’s observation is that the essay was more prescient in Emerson’s time than now. I’m not sure if that’s correct though. Note that I’m not disagreeing with Dr. J, per se, but I’m saying I can see that most people, at any given time, will follow the crowd, or tradition, or what some respected institution (like religion) says. To my way of thinking, we libertarian/anarchists/minarchists are those who have gone our own way and created a community of self-reliant people. But except for those in this community, and many economists, people in general think the same about things – either they are liberals or conservatives. Convenient titles, but it seems true nonetheless.

So I have two questions for any readers.

1) In your view, are we more/less/same in terms of people thinking for themselves, relative to the past?

2) If we fit with a community of like-thinkers, does that make us less self-reliant?