Transcendentalism is a philosophical movement that developed in the late 1820s and 1830s in the eastern United States. It arose as a reaction to protest against the general state of intellectualism and spirituality at the time.

Major figures in the transcendentalist movement were Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, and Amos Bronson Alcott.

It was arguably in these circles that anarchist ideas got their first real foothold in the United States.

Henry David Thoreau is often seen as the transcendentalist most useful to anarchists. In 'Civil Disobedience', He said:

"'That government is best which governs not at all;' and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have."

Transcendentalists beliefs about individualism and self-reliance, ecology, civil disobedience, and innate human goodness are closely tied to other schools of Anarchism, especially the Green Anti-Civ ones.

Historically, transcendentalism was one of the earliest rejections of statism, federalism, imperialism, and the Transcendentalists were leading abolitionists of slavery in the United States of America.

Transcendentalism emerged from "English and German Romanticism, the Biblical criticism of Johann Gottfried Herder and Friedrich Schleiermacher, the skepticism of David Hume", and the transcendental philosophy of Immanuel Kant and German Idealism. Miller and Versluis regard Emanuel Swedenborg as a pervasive influence on transcendentalism. It was also strongly influenced by Hindu texts on philosophy of the mind and spirituality, especially the Upanishads.

A core belief of transcendentalism is in the inherent goodness of people and nature. Adherents believe that society and its institutions have corrupted the purity of the individual, and they have faith that people are at their best when truly "self-reliant" and independent.

Transcendentalism emphasizes subjective intuition over objective empiricism. Adherents believe that individuals are capable of generating completely original insights with little attention and deference to past masters.

Transcendentalists are strong believers in the power of the individual. It focuses primarily on personal freedom. Their beliefs are closely linked with those of the Romantics, but differ by an attempt to embrace or, at least, to not oppose the empiricism of science.

Transcendentalists believe that society and its institutions—particularly organized religion and political parties—corrupt the purity of the individual. They have faith that people are at their best when truly "self-reliant" and independent. It is only from such real individuals that true community can form. Even with this necessary individuality, transcendentalists also believe that all people are outlets for the "Over-soul." Because the Over-soul is one, this unites all people as one being. Emerson alludes to this concept in the introduction of the American Scholar address, "that there is One Man, - present to all particular men only partially, or through one faculty; and that you must take the whole society to find the whole man." Such an ideal is in harmony with Transcendentalist individualism, as each person is empowered to behold within him or herself a piece of the divine Over-soul.

Henry David Thoreau spoke of his Transcendentalist individualism in Walden, a book that has been treasured by millions of people that yearn for a simpler life:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.

Transcendentalism has been directly influenced by Indian religions. Thoreau in Walden spoke of the Transcendentalists' debt to Indian religions directly:

In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavat Geeta, since whose composition years of the gods have elapsed, and in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seem puny and trivial; and I doubt if that philosophy is not to be referred to a previous state of existence, so remote is its sublimity from our conceptions. I lay down the book and go to my well for water, and lo! there I meet the servant of the Brahmin, priest of Brahma, and Vishnu and Indra, who still sits in his temple on the Ganges reading the Vedas, or dwells at the root of a tree with his crust and water-jug. I meet his servant come to draw water for his master, and our buckets as it were grate together in the same well. The pure Walden water is mingled with the sacred water of the Ganges.

Transcendentalism is, in many aspects, the first notable USA intellectual movement. It has inspired succeeding generations of USA intellectuals, as well as some literary movements.

Clarence Ghodes' The Periodical of American Transcendentalism had numerous anarchist connections. The Spirit of the Age includes contributions from many of the earliest figures associated with anarchism in the US, together with some early Proudhon translations. The Radical was published by Sidney H. Morse, who was, among other things, a popularizer of Josiah Warren's work. William Henry Channing, who edited both The Western Messenger and The Present, embraced a kind of near-anarchist mutualism. And The Index was one of the first places that Benjamin R. Tucker published, alongside Stephen Pearl Andrews, William Batchelder Greene, Dyer D. Lum and others who were either already anarchists or were well on their way. Tucker's Radical Review shared a number of contributors with The Index. And there is hardly more than one or two degrees of separation between the rest of the contributors to most of those periodicals and folks who would contribute to explicitly anarchist periodicals later, where there isn't simple overlap.

Brook Farm

Brook Farm, also called the Brook Farm Institute of Agriculture and Education or the Brook Farm Association for Industry and Education, was a utopian experiment in communal living in the United States in the 1840s. It was founded by former Unitarian minister George Ripley and his wife Sophia Ripley at the Ellis Farm in West Roxbury, Massachusetts (9 miles outside of downtown Boston) in 1841 and was inspired in part by the ideals of Transcendentalism, a religious and cultural philosophy based in New England. Founded as a joint stock company, it promised its participants a portion of the profits from the farm in exchange for performing an equal share of the work. Brook Farmers believed that by sharing the workload, ample time would be available for leisure activities and intellectual pursuits.

Life on Brook Farm was based on balancing labor and leisure while working together for the benefit of the greater community. Each member could choose to do whatever work they found most appealing and all were paid equally, including women. Revenue for the community came from farming and from selling handmade products like clothing as well as through fees paid by the many visitors to Brook Farm. The main source of income was the school, which was overseen by Mrs. Ripley. A pre-school, primary school, and a college preparatory school attracted children internationally and each child was charged for his or her education. Adult education was also offered.

The community was never financially stable and had difficulty profiting from its agricultural pursuits. By 1844, the Brook Farmers adopted a societal model based on the socialist concepts of Charles Fourier and began publishing The Harbinger as an unofficial journal promoting Fourierism. Following his vision, the community members began building an ambitious structure called the Phalanstery. When the uninsured building was destroyed in a fire, the community was financially devastated and never recovered. It was fully closed by 1847. Despite the experimental commune's failure, many Brook Farmers looked back on their experience positively.

It is notable for being one of the earliest intentional anarchist communities in the USA.


Content adapted from various message board posts and other wikis.