Self Reliance and Other Essays

Ideal Individualism and the Benefits of Conformity

In Self-Reliance, Ralph Waldo Emerson describes his vision of the individual, a man dependent on himself and refusing to conform to social standards and expectations. The individual, according to Emerson, stands alone against the wave of society, listening to his own heart and disregarding the thoughts of others. He dismisses any inter-personal connection that holds humanity together in families, friendships, and nations, arguing that man's only true support is himself. The true individual will follow his own path, and not look into the past or to other people for help; he will be a monument to himself and exclude any ideas that are not his own. Emerson envisions this individual as an ideal man, but any man that truly follows his advice will suffer extreme consequences, as would society as a whole. Each of Emerson's most valued qualities in individuals go against human nature, forcing people to leave their comfortable lives and embark on an arduous journey for little or no apparent reward. Although Emerson valiantly argues on behalf of individualism, his arguments instead create a compelling reason to conform to the dictates of society.

According to Emerson, the individual must by definition stand alone against society,...

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