We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Samizdata quote of the day

“There is no doubting that materialism can be a cause of spiritual emptiness and no doubt there are a lot of people who “starve for want of luxuries.” But it is always easy to regard another man’s things as superficial and another man’s pursuits as greedy, while one’s own belongings have sentimental value and one’s own pursuits are profound (or at least harmless indulgences). It is even easier for self-righteous 30 year olds to regard older men with families as leading lives of desperation, while impressing themselves with the depth of their spiritual access.”

Timothy Sandefur. He subjects Henry Thoreau, darling of the back-to-nature types, to a ferocious take-down. Read the whole thing.

14 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • mike

    Given the anti-statist line here at Samizdata, it should be noted that Henry David Thoreau refused to pay taxes on principle and was sent to jail – he was only released because someone paid them on his behalf and against his will. That is his significance to the cause of liberty, not all that crap about Walden pool.

  • Paul Marks

    Of course there is nothing unlibertarian about living as a austere hermit.

    Nor is there anything unlibertarian about living in egalitarian or semiegalitarian communities.

    Whether it is like some orders of monks and nuns – or nonreligious egalitarian communities (like a tiny minority of the Jewish population of Israel choose to do).

    It only becomes unlibertarian when it is “you should live like this – and if you refuse we will make you live like this”.

  • kentuckyliz

    That and the fact that his quiet life at the pond was earned by the sweat of his brow at the family’s pencil factory. Thoreau rediscovered the Conte process of combining clay with inferior graphite to make a better lead for the pencils. He converted the factory to making ink for typesetting.

    The house at Walden Pond wasn’t in a deserted area. It was on the edge of town only a mile and a half from his wealthy family’s home.

    So yeah, I think everyone should be free to work hard and accumulate wealth and preserve family wealth, and to resist paying poll taxes (which violates the capitation clause in Article I of the US Constitution).

    If his aunt wanted to pay his unconstitutional taxes, so be it.

    His exercise in simple living was 2 years in duration. So was mine–grad school and ramen noodles.

  • Chris H

    I don’t think that there is anything wrong with materialism if that is what floats your boat. Personally I go in for a very moderate form of materialism in that I have everything I need and a few things that I don’t need. I get my pleasures though less from material things than things like reading and filling my head with stuff, making things out of wood and trying to make edible and brightly coloured stuff grow.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Mike, I think that what merit Thoreau may have had as an opponent of the state is somewhat undermined by the opinions he voiced about his fellows as so well ripped up by Sandefur.

  • David Gillies

    The great P. J. O’Rourke (PBUH) also did a corker of a hit-job on Thoreau in one of his books (Eat the Rich?). The prissy insistence on ‘simplicity’ and ‘authenticity’ has always been one of the progressivists’ most repellent attributes.

  • Paul, the kibbutzim can no longer afford to choose living this way, and indeed they no longer do, since most of the vast government subsidies that used to support this lifestyle for many years have been discontinued.

  • mike

    Well you see Jonathan I do not understand that attitude at all. Look – I agree with you about the claptrapperiness of his Walden romanticism, but what is your reason for claiming that such claptrapperiness undermines the principled example of civil disobedience he provided?

    Do you think Ghandi and King read about Thoreau’s civil disobedience and then decided it was ‘undermined’ because of the other things he did and said?

    Of course not – they abstracted Thoreau’s civil disobedience from its’ romantic back-to-nature context and considered its’ relevance to their own purposes and circumstances.

    In what lies this ‘undermining’ of which you speak?

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Mike, he undermines his supposed liberalism because in my experience, there is a short distance between attacking lifestyles you regard as “artificial” and decrying others and actually trying to regulate those things. He may have been a spoiled rich boy who ultimately did no-one much harm, of course.

  • Laird

    There may indeed be a “short distance”, but as far as I know Thoreau never travelled it. Do you have some example of his actually advocating governmental regulation of the “artificial lifestyle” he disdained? The closest I can see is his advocacy of “the village” subsidizing the arts (with which, of course, I disagree), but even that doesn’t really seem to reach the level of “regulation”.

    No, I think Thoreau falls mostly into the realm of the harmless, but with some value in the civil disobedience aspects. (But I agree with you that it was a fine rant by Sandefur; thanks for posting it!)

  • mike

    Oh come off it Jonathan, you’re just being daft now. I know that you know that ‘supposed liberalism’ is not at all the same thing as a ‘principled example of civil disobedience’. And yet here I am pointing it out to you for pete’s sake.

    In any case, the mere fact that figures such as King, Ghandi and Thoreau may have some sort of place in the leftist pantheon doesn’t mean there is no historical value to them from a libertarian point of view.

    I don’t hark back to bygone figures just for the ‘friggin sake of it.

    There will have to be massive cultural changes preceding any political shift toward personal liberty, but when that shift comes my bet is it will be in the form of civil disobedience and not more caterpillar shit draped in wet lettuce from the Tories or Republicans.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Mike, since you seem to have gotten so steamed by my comments – I’d appreciate a bit of civility if you don’t mind – let me point out that of course, the civil disobedience aspect of Thoreau may have been admirable; it would be even more admirable if he had matched his liberal stance in one direction by not then proceeeding to sneer at the supposedly empty lives of his peers. Frankly, the snobbish, arrogant attitudes I read about in Tim S’s piece seriously reduce what admiration one might have had for Thoreau.

  • George Carlin expressed a similar idea, tho more pithily(Link): “Have you ever noticed that [other people’s] stuff is shit, while your shit is “stuff”?

  • Paul Marks


    I knew that egalitarian K’s were massively subsidized, but I did not know that these subsidies had been ended.

    Good news!