Lessons from Walden
Thoreau and the Crisis of American Democracy
240 pages, 6.00 x 9.00
Hardcover | 9780268107338 | March 2020
eBook (EPUB) | 9780268107352 | March 2020
eBook (PDF) | 9780268107369 | March 2020
Throughout this original and passionate book, Bob Pepperman Taylor presents a wide-ranging inquiry into the nature and implications of Henry David Thoreau’s thought in Walden and Civil Disobedience. As Taylor says in his introduction, "Walden is a central American text for addressing two of the central crises of our time: the increasingly alarming threats we now face to democratic norms, practices, and political institutions, and the perhaps even more alarming environmental dangers confronting us." Taylor pursues this inquiry in three chapters, each focusing on a single theme: chapter one examines simplicity and the ethics of "voluntary poverty," chapter two looks at civil disobedience and the role of "conscience" in democratic politics, and chapter three concentrates on what "nature" means to us today and whether we can truly "learn from nature"—and if so, what does it teach? Taylor considers Thoreau’s philosophy, and the philosophical problems he raises, from the perspective of a wide range of thinkers and commentators drawn from history, philosophy, the social sciences, and popular media, breathing new life into Walden and asking how it is alive for us today.
In Lessons from Walden, Taylor lets all sides have their say, even as he persistently steers the discussion back to a nuanced reading of Thoreau's actual position. With its tone of friendly urgency, this interdisciplinary tour de force will interest students and scholars of American literature, environmental ethics, and political theory. It deserves to be read by a more general readership, including environmental activists, concerned citizens, and anyone troubled with the future of democracy.
Bob Pepperman Taylor is the Elliott A. Brown Green and Gold Professor of Law, Politics, and Political Behavior at the University of Vermont. He is the author and editor of a number of books, including The Routledge Guidebook to Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience.”
“Bob Taylor’s Lessons from Walden brings Thoreau’s classic text to bear on the present moment, into Trump’s America, into an age of environmental degradation and the era of the Anthropocene, into a time of cultural self-absorption, instrumental rationality, and neoliberal indifference to what is local, communal, and particular.” ~Shannon Mariotti, Southwestern University
“Lessons from Walden allows Thoreau to enter today’s conversation in a way that seldom happens: Bob Taylor's measured and fair-minded mediation allows the fullness of Thoreau’s stance to appear to the reader with all his contradictions intact. The result is a true conversation in which Thoreau becomes the springboard to further deliberation. Time and again, Taylor returns to Thoreau as to a moral lodestone, bringing the discussion to a reasoned conclusion that still leaves one thinking.” ~Laura Dassow Walls, William P. and Hazel B. White Professor of English, University of Notre Dame