Walden and the Minimalism of Thoreau

Philosophy Aug 11, 2021

Walden was written in 1854 by Thoreau David Thoreau. Thoreau was a writer, poet, philosopher, minimalist, and naturalist in Concord, Massachusetts. He was born in the year 1817 and died of bronchitis and tuberculosis in 1862. In Walden, Thoreau covers many interesting topics, one of which is minimalism.  He had an atheistic worldview which ultimately led his philosophy to be based on a foundation of sand.

“Most of the luxuries and many of the so-called comforts of life are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.”— Thoreau, Walden

Thoreau was an extreme minimalist, meaning he believed we should only own what we need to survive. But it turns out that if humanity had followed his advice, we would still be wandering nomads roaming the plains of Mesopotamia. That doesn't sound like taking dominion to me. One of Thoreau's main arguments for minimalism was that property is a responsibility. Good point, Thoreau. Property is a huge responsibility, but that does not mean you should avoid them. If you spend your life avoiding responsibility, you might live a life of "happiness" (whatever that is), but not a life of fulfillment.

The parable of the talents teaches us to embrace responsibility, not to squander it. Everything that God gives us is a responsibility. A job is a blessing, but it is also a responsibility. Our lives are a blessing because we are called to make the most of them. Children are a blessing, but they are also a responsibility. But that does not mean you should avoid it. That is the dominion mandate, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it.” Every belonging you own, every blessing and curse, every second of your life, you are responsible for. Thoreau led a life of escape. He did not want any responsibility. Our lives are lives of responsibility. The only way to be completely free of responsibility is to not only get rid of everything you own but also get rid of yourself. But then we are practically flunking our life, and we will have to face the consequences for eternity.

Ultimately it's Thoreau's atheistic worldview that is the downfall of his philosophy. He didn't seek to glorify God. He sought an “easy” life of escape. Because we live in a fallen world, no life will ever be "easy." A certain life may be "easier" or "happier," but these feelings are subjective. This temporary life is not what the human race has to look forward to. We look forward to the afterlife. Another of Thoreau's points is that wealth, fame, and personal belongings don't bring people joy. This is a core principle of not only Walden but minimalism in general. Thoreau is right. Our happiness and fulfillment in life do not swing on the pendulum of property. It swings on God alone. The thought that money and personal belongings bring happiness is a common cause of materialism.

Thoreau's atheistic worldview messed up his philosophy. He sought to escape responsibility, not embrace it. Not only is his philosophy wrong, but it is in direct contradiction with the holy word of God. You can listen to Thoreau and attempt to escape from something you never can, or listen to the Bible and find the truth. The bible is the only source of truth in this broken and fallen world, so by all means, heed what it says.


Great! You've successfully subscribed.
Great! Next, complete checkout for full access.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
Success! Your account is fully activated, you now have access to all content.