“No Law Can Be Sacred To Me But That Of My Nature”

Ralph Waldo Emerson was one of the more famous American philosophers of the 19th century. He strongly influenced Henry David Thoreau, whose Walden took the idea of self-reliance to the literal while making it more accessible for the mainstream.

In the essay Self Reliance, Emerson argues that happiness only comes from laboring on your own projects, not from consuming another man’s creation. Not only do you have to work on your own projects but you have to be in tune to your nature to find out which satisfying projects you should embark upon in the first place. The ultimate goal is to live in a society of one—yourself—by pursuing your own interests and no one else’s.

Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life’s cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession. That which each can do best, none but his Maker can teach him.

The language of this essay was rather dense, more so than Seneca’s essay. However I understood enough to know that this was important wisdom of its day, helping many men discover their purpose in life. It’s a relatively short read: download the PDF here.

He who travels to be amused, or to get somewhat which he does not carry, travels away from himself, and grows old even in youth among old things.

Read More: “Self Reliance” on Amazon (free Kindle edition)

10 thoughts on ““No Law Can Be Sacred To Me But That Of My Nature””

  1. in the last quote is he denigrating hedonistic travel or supporting it? I feel he’s saying that touristy contiki tour holidays are empty and perhaps traveling like roosh and many of us do is a more honest and unique experience.

      1. I agree the languaging Emerson used is either a bit esoteric or simply the style at the time, But it’s an interesting read. Perhaps it is similar to the more contemporary expression “Wherever you go, there you are”.

      2. “you can’t find abroad what you can’t find as you are”
        I strongly disagree. Going outside your comfort zone, seeing how people live, what they have and what they value and meeting people from all walks of life allows you to grow, develop and gain a greater appreciation of who you are and what you want.

      3. You’re both right, 3MM.
        If as Roosh and Emerson point out a man is simply traveling for empty hedonism, he is not going to get the sorts of enriching/growth experiences that you list. Roosh gathering material for his next “Bang” book is a far deeper experience (in terms of ethnography and sociology, for example) than your typical Cancun spring break trip.
        I think Grandpaw’s generation called the latter “dissipation”.

  2. “The ultimate goal is to live in a society of one—yourself—by pursuing your own interests and no one else’s.”
    That is the problem, right there. We don’t live in a “society of one”. We live in a society of many. “No man is an island”, as Donne wrote.
    Man is a social animal. We are born into a group and derive our identity from it. Particularism is what allows man to live according to his true nature, not universalism.
    For young men trying to make sense of the world and live a manly life, the American Transcendentalists are a dead-end.

    1. We’re asked to figure out everything about how to live rightly on our own nowadays, it seems. This is made all the harder because there are so many hucksters and self-promoters. I feel like very few are really equipped to parse all the information for themselves. I know it’s beyond me. My talents and role in society lie elsewhere.
      A lot of extreme individualists are pretty good at figuring out what works for them and articulating that philosophy. But very few people are by nature individualists, so their advice falls short.
      From my reading I get the sense the old catholic church had a lot of things figured out and did a decent job steering people well. Too bad it’s so decrepit now.

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