Crispin Sartwell Reviews a New Thoreau Collection

I’ve admired Crispin Sartwell’s writing here before: notably, a reality check he gave to a conference of young Democrats after the presidential election, and a review of his thought-provoking book Extreme Virtue: Truth and Leadership in Five Great American Lives.

So I was thrilled to find that Sartwell has read and enjoyed my book The Price of Freedom: Political Philosophy from Thoreau’s Journals. Here’s what he has to say about it:

For many years, I’ve been hoping to get time to comb Thoreau’s massive journals for expressions of his political views. David Gross has done it for me, and done it in an extremely clear and thorough way, with excellent notes and references.

Of course, Thoreau’s reputation as a pre-eminent American (and anarchist) political thinker depends on his great essay “Civil Disobedience.” Here, we see many sources of that essay, and developments out of it. Here too, you see the connections that Thoreau himself made between his political positions — his advocacy of freedom, especially in opposition to slavery in every sense — and his naturalism, or indeed, his whole understanding a reality, truth, and humanity. And one sees, as well, the very essence of American individualism, formulated centrally by Emerson (more or less Thoreau’s mentor and best friend), but expressed as profoundly by Thoreau as by anyone in history.

Thoreau is among the best political thinkers — and certainly among the best writers — in our language. David Gross has done us all a service in truly displaying the depth and clarity of this thought.

I thought I was pretty clever, brewing my own beer to beat the federal excise tax on alcoholic beverages. But Don Carey is the first pioneer I know of in the tax resisting tobacco growing field:

When the federal tax on tobacco went up earlier this year, one man from Portage County decided “enough is enough”. He then decided to grow his own tobacco.

Don Carey says the decision was part protest and part economics.

He bought 33 variet[ies] of seeds to determine which ones grew the best in northeast Ohio.

His tobacco field was planted with the help of 15 volunteers.

The planting was the easy part.

Tobacco is a labor intensive crop that requires constant attention to keep pests from destroying it.

Carey, a pack a day smoker, needs about 17 pounds of tobacco a year for himself. The yield from his tobacco field could bring 200 pounds.

He says he’s willing to share his experience to help others. “Planning on selling plants and seeds and instruction manuals. I want to help anyone that wants to grow tobacco,” said Carey.

His daughter, a non-smoker, is helping her father because of the principle involved. “I think he’s doing a good thing showing people there are other options besides spending so much money,” said Lisa Carey.

At $5.56 a pack, smokers are spending about $120 per pound of tobacco.

It will take a big investment in time before Carey finds out if his plan worked out. It takes about a year to dry and cure the tobacco leaf.