Henry David Thoreau's status as one of America's most influential
public intellectuals remains unchallenged. Recent scholarship on
Thoreau has highlighted his activism as a committed antislavery
reformer and proto-environmentalist whose life became a seminal model
for the image of the liberal conscience. While modern scholars have
firmly established Thoreau's relevance, their focus on his public
activism has undervalued the complexity and range of his contributions
to American political thought and has neglected crucial facets of his
philosophy regarding democratic citizenship.
|In The Political Thought
of Henry David Thoreau, Jonathan McKenzie analyzes not only
Thoreau's well-known works but also his journals and correspondence to
provide a fresh portrait of the Sage of Walden as a radical
individualist. This new account examines the influence that ancient
philosophers, particularly the Stoics, had on Thoreau and demonstrates
his importance as one of the best modern interpreters of Socrates's
vision of the self. McKenzie also argues that Thoreau's own political
life was shaped by a theory of privatism that encouraged both a radical
simplification of one's commitments and regular engagement in
experiments that plumbed life for its most essential values.
Shunning grand abstractions and cosmopolitanism in
favor of the wonders of daily life, Thoreau's work provides a critique
of political and social life that seeks to restore the wholeness of the
human subject by rescuing it from the clutches of public concerns.
Indeed, McKenzie's nuanced, provocative analysis reveals Thoreau as a
multifaceted philosopher who brilliantly wrestled with the complexities
of ethical participation in modern democracy.