From Self-Reform to Social Reform: A Study of Thoreau's Social and Political Thoughts/DE LA RÉFORME DU SOI À LA RÉFORME SOCIALE: UNE ÉTUDE SUR LA PENSÉES SOCIALE ET POLITIQUE DE THOREAU

By Ding, Zhaoguo | Canadian Social Science, July 1, 2008 | Go to article overview
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From Self-Reform to Social Reform: A Study of Thoreau's Social and Political Thoughts/DE LA RÉFORME DU SOI À LA RÉFORME SOCIALE: UNE ÉTUDE SUR LA PENSÉES SOCIALE ET POLITIQUE DE THOREAU


Ding, Zhaoguo, Canadian Social Science


Abstract:

Despite the importance of his social and political thoughts, Henry David Thoreau is mostly studied as a writer of Transcendentalism and nature writings. Actually, Thoreau expresses many important ideas on social and political problems in his works. Through reading Thoreau's main political writings, this essay attempts to comment on his social and political thoughts from its four constitutive aspects, i.e., self-reform as the basis of social reform, strategies and forms of passive resistance, critique of the division of labor and emphasis on the importance of action. It argues that the significance of Thoreau's social and political thoughts lies in his insight in seeing the consistent relationship between the individual self -reform and social justice and political democracy. In other words, both individual and social reforms are important means in correcting social injustice and nourishing political democracy.

Key words: Thoreau, self-reform, social reform, passive resistance, division of labor

Résumé: Malgré l'importance de sa pensée sociale et politique, Henry David Thoreau est surtout étudié comme un écrivain de Transcendantalisme et de Littérature naturelle. Effectivement, Thoreau exprime beaucoupe d'idées importantes sur des problèmes sociaux et politiques dans ses oeuvres. Par la lecture des principales oeuvres politiques de Thoreau, cet essai tente de commenter sur les 4 aspects constitutifs, c'est-à-dire la réforme du soi comme la base de la réforme sociale, stratégies et formes de la résistance passive, critiques sur la division du travail et accentuation sur l'importance de l'action. Il démontre que la signification de sa penée socoale et politique existe dans sa perspicacité de voir la relation consistante entre la réforme du soi de l'individu, la justice sociale et la démocratie politique. Autrement dit, les réformes individuelles et sociales sont toutes importantes dans la correction de l'injustice sociale et dans la formation de la démocratie politique.

Mots-Clés: Thoreau, reforme du soir, réforme sociale, résistance passive, division du travail

INTRODUCTION

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) has mostly been approached as a literary artist, a naturalist, a transcendentalist, whose scholarly interpretation runs like this: as a man celebrating natural beauty and transcendental individualism; as the initiator of the genre of nature writing; as a literary artist in the American Renaissance; the formal and stylistic studies of his individual texts and so on. Relatively speaking, Thoreau's social and political thoughts have received less critical attention. Nancy L. Rosenblum has mentioned this point, "Except for a surge of interest in the 1960s in Thoreau as a social critic and advocate of civil disobedience, cultural studies have eclipsed his political thought." ( Rosenblum xiii )

Thoreau mentions in Walden "moral reform is the effort to throw off sleep." Actually, his whole life and all of his works deal with reform of all kinds - personal, social, political and religious. Scholars have argued about his thoughts of social reform. Some maintained that his first concern was not for society but for the individual and his strong emphasis upon self-reform unavoidably ignored the larger and collective dimension of social reform. (Meltzer xi) Others even concluded that Thoreau was no social reformer because he was occasionally pressed by public events and was drawn forth to "deliver jeremiads on the evil of his times; insisting that he had other more important affairs to attend to." (Gougeon 194) The above arguments look plausible because Thoreau seems to be more intent on individual self-reform rather than aiming directly at the social reforms. However, reading of Thoreau's main political texts reveals that his social and political thoughts are more concerned with the relationship between the individual and the State, and the social reform is mainly realized through the individual self-reform.

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From Self-Reform to Social Reform: A Study of Thoreau's Social and Political Thoughts/DE LA RÉFORME DU SOI À LA RÉFORME SOCIALE: UNE ÉTUDE SUR LA PENSÉES SOCIALE ET POLITIQUE DE THOREAU
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