ABSTRACT

American Transcendentalism, as a nineteenth-century intellectual and social movement, can inform both the academic debate surrounding post-liberalism and the social, political, and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Global capitalism, and globalization more generally, defined the era subsequent to World War II until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The manifestation of global capitalism/globalization took place as a function of the rejection, whether conscious or unconscious, of the values embodied in American Transcendentalism as a modern reincarnation of immaterial and idealist Platonism. For example, American Transcendentalism valued renunciation (of economic consumption, dogmatic theology, and political participation), nature, and spirituality as the means for attaining an ideal personal life while also providing the building blocks for the attainment of a higher form of government and politics at the collective level. As a climactic global modern development, the COVID-19 pandemic provides empirical evidence for the diminishing returns that are inherent to the hegemonic commitment to materialist economy at the expense of corresponding devaluation of commitments to the ideals of transcendentalism. Ralph Waldo Emerson forecast the realization of such diminishing returns, in which he asserted the longevity of the impact of transcendentalism would be greater than that of the materialism in his era. Immediately prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, American youth as a generation exhibited “transcendentalist” attributes such as decreasing commitments to religious and partisan affiliations and a trajectory of disillusionment with political participation. American Transcendentalism can be considered and applied as a source of inspiration to inform nascent deliberations on post-liberalism that invoke Platonism and the “transcendental.” In the context of the confluence of demographic changes, calls for post-liberalism, and the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, transcendentalism and its prospective popular reincarnation in the twenty-first century can be applied to generate a new and heretofore hidden transcendental “end of history” narrative as an alternative to the bipolarity of the “end of history” debate (between materialist liberalism and materialist communism).

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