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June 17, 2014

Did Ralph Waldo Emerson and Hunter Thompson both view modern humans as uber-Weenies?

Writing in 1841, Emerson, essayist, poet and deeply spiritual Transcendentalist, is almost derisive about our progress. Hamstrung by tradition, routine and yearnings for safety, we (non-Emersonian mere mortals) cannot or will not grow:

To us, in our lapsed estate, resting, not advancing, resisting, not cooperating with the divine expansion, this growth comes by shocks. We cannot part with our friends. We cannot let our angels go. We do not see that they only go out that archangels may come in.

We are idolaters of the Old. We do not believe in the riches of the soul, in its proper eternity and omnipresence. We do not believe there is any force in to-day to rival or recreate that beautiful yesterday. We linger in the ruins of the old tent

--Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882): Essays, First Series, "Compensation" (1841)

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Emerson in 1857

Thompson, writing about 130 years later, while covering the turbulent, exhausting contest for the Democratic presidential nomination, including George McGovern's star-crossed campaign against Richard Nixon for the White House, is far more charitable, struggling to be emphatic with 20th century Everyman, and funny, as always--but he seems to reach the same conclusion:

Once they let you get away with running around for ten years like a king hoodlum, you tend to forget now and then that about half the people you meet live from one day to the next in a state of such fear and uncertainty that about half the time they honestly doubt their own sanity. These are not the kind of people who really need to get hung up in depressing political trips. They are not ready for it. Their boats are rocking so badly that all they want to do is get level long enough to think straight and avoid the next nightmare.

--Thompson in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72

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Thompson circa 2003. He died in 2005.

And what would each of them, Yankee mystic Emerson and unruly, feral Thompson, stepping into 2014, think about our progress now? Have we learned to "let our angels go"?

Posted by JD Hull at June 17, 2014 05:52 PM

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