Here There Is No State By Henry David Thoreau


What is life like away from the powers of the State? Only a handful of people have sought to answer this question as fully as Henry David Thoreau.

Thoreau strove to see liberty in action in his life. Thinking and theorizing about liberty was not enough for this man.

Here There Is No State is a collection of the best of Thoreau’s works on living a life devoted to freedom. has brought these works together with the ideas of three contemporary scholars to show how essential Thoreau’s works are to our tradition.

Wendy McElroy writes the introduction to Civil Disobedience and explains its importance to those devoted to individualism. Sarah Skwire sets the record straight on what Thoreau’s work Walden is and is not, and where it fits in our tradition. Finally, Jeff Riggenbach argues why we can consider Thoreau as “one of the founding fathers of American libertarian thought.”

Thoreau focused his energy on investigating what it meant to live, rather than merely exist. His ideas in these works show us the essential difference between the two — the necessity of individual freedom from the State.

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  • B.K. Marcus

    Here There Is No State by Henry David Thoreau

    “THE HIPPIES CAN’T HAVE THOREAU,” wrote former Freeman editor John Chamberlain in July of 1967. It had been 150 years since Thoreau’s birth (July 12, 1817), and the US Postal Service had caused some controversy by issuing a commemorative stamp. What was the issue? Conservatives complained that Thoreau looked like a hippie. Chamberlain called their complaints “well-meaning but stupid.… They wore [beards] in the Nineteenth Century, you know.” The conservatives of the late 1960s were not alone in seeing the similarity. The bearded counterculturalists wanted to claim Thoreau as one of their own. “Indeed,” proclaimed one underground newspaper of the time, “Thoreau was one of America’s first hippies.” But Chamberlain objected on behalf of conservatives, classical liberals, and libertarians: “Thoreau belongs to a lot of us who are bored to death by the new psychedelic mindlessness.” Who had the better claim? Was Thoreau a forebear of the Left or the Right? Was he a hippie or a classical liberal? For or against liberty, commerce, and private property? As Ken Kifer writes in Analysis and Notes on Walden (2002), “Today, Thoreau’s words are quoted with feeling by liberals, socialists, anarchists, libertarians, and conservatives alike.” This collection, Here There Is No State (the title is taken from Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”), shows us that Henry David Thoreau belongs more to the advocates of liberty than he does to our illiberal opposition. [Read the rest of this editorial preface.]

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  • Cameron M. Belt

    Henry David Thoreau "Here There Is No State"

    Hey guys.  Our next Book of the Week meeting (6/4) is going to be on the first part of’s collection of Henry David Thoerau’s works Here There Is No State. The first section covers his classic work, Civil Disobedience.  Looking forward to the discussion!  Post ideas, questions, etc. here throughout the week so our session is focused and the best we can make it!

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