July 4, 1845: Henry David Thoreau moves into his cabin on Walden Pond, and begins the great experiment that would culminate nine years later in the publication of “Walden,” one of the classics of American literature: “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.” This pragmatic, scientific, and skeptical approach to existence is the best expression of our national character, and in a time when so many Americans are in thrall to debased ideologies and dangerous superstitions, it might behoove us to emulate Thoreau’s intellectual independence and ethical resolve.
Whether or not one builds a cabin in the woods, quiet and solitude are requisites for all important activities, and Americans desperately need to find ways to give themselves the creative space in which to find innovative solutions to the many complex problems that currently vex them at home and abroad – solutions that must transcend the hackneyed counsel of partisan “think tanks” and “professional pundits.” In this quest they will find no more inspiring guide than Henry David Thoreau, who refused to accept received opinion and went to Walden Pond to find out the truth of things for himself. His great book is both an admonition and an invitation to join him in this investigation. And what did Thoreau discover?: “I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” That seems like a worthy enterprise for any serious human being – or for any truly great nation.