Emerson's America

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Forget America the Beautiful and the Star Spangled Banner, the real red, white and blue theme song, is “I Did It My Way.” Since the days of the revolutionary soldier and the gun-toting cowboy, Americans have worshipped at the altar of rugged individualism.

Today, the mark of the almighty “I” is everywhere, in Hollywood, where the cult of celebrity reigns supreme, to Washington, where what’s in-it-for-me politics rules Congress, to Wall Street, where greed is still good until the SEC finds out. So who’s to blame for all this self-centered celebration of the American trinity of “me myself and I?” Well, on the occasion of his 200th birthday, we’re pointing the finger at one Ralph Waldo Emerson.


Lawrence Buell, author of Emerson and professor of English at Harvard University.