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Literature & Criticism / American Studies / History


Emerson's Liberalism
Neal Dolan

Studies in American Thought and Culture

“Ralph Waldo Emerson was the leading American public intellectual of the nineteenth century. Dolan offers a brilliant and deeply researched revisionist interpretation of his political thought.” —Paul S. Boyer, series editor

Emerson’s Liberalism explains why Ralph Waldo Emerson has been and remains the central literary voice of American culture: he gave ever-fresh and lasting expression to its most fundamental and widely shared liberal values. Liberalism, after all, is more than a political philosophy: it is a form of civilization, a set of values, a culture, a way of representing and living in the world. This book makes explicit what has long been implicit in America’s embrace of Emerson.

Neal Dolan offers the first comprehensive and historically informed exposition of all of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writings as a contribution
to the theory and practice of liberal culture. Rather than projecting twentieth-century viewpoints onto the past, he restores Emerson’s great body of work to the classical liberal contexts that most decisively shaped its general political-cultural outlook—the libertarian-liberalism of John Locke, the Scottish Enlightenment, the American founders, and the American Whigs.
In addition to in-depth consideration of Emerson’s journals and
lectures, Dolan provides original commentary on many of Emerson’s most celebrated published works, including Nature, the “Divinity School Address,” “History,” “Compensation,” “Experience,” the political addresses of the early 1840s, “An Address . . . on . . . The Emancipation of the Negroes in the British West Indies,” Representative Men, English Traits, and The Conduct of Life. He considers Emerson’s distinctive elaborations of foundational liberal values—progress, reason, work, property, limited government, rights, civil society, liberty, commerce, and empiricism. And he argues that Emerson’s ideas are a morally bracing and spiritually inspiring resource for the ongoing sustenance of American culture and civilization, reminding us of the depth, breadth, and strength of our common liberal inheritance.

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A trade imprint of the University of Wisconsin Press

Studies in American Thought and Culture
Paul S. Boyer, Series Editor

Neal Dolan
is associate professor of English at the University of Toronto.

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Of Related Interest
Margaret Fuller
Transatlantic Crossings in a Revolutionary Age

Edited by Charles Capper and Cristina Giorcelli,
Foreword by Lester K. Little

The cover of Dolan's book is illustrated with a green toned drawing of Emerson.


June 2009

LC: 2008038489 PS

360 pp.    6  x  9


Paper $29.95 t
ISBN 978-0-299-22804-0 
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“A reconstruction of Emerson’s emergence from the Enlightenment tradition is long overdue. Dolan certainly shows that he knows this tradition inside-out, and he makes a cogent case for its shaping impact on Emerson.”—David M. Robinson, author of Emerson and the Conduct of Life


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Updated July 7, 2011

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