Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Winthrop’s Utopian Visions

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A utopian state or location is one that is envisioned as being prosperous, good, and free from all social ills and potential disasters. Therefore, the utopian world may suggest a universe free from all physical, economic, and social constraints that cause chaos, poverty, starvation, and social unrest. Despite the efforts of many different people to make the world a pleasant place to live in, not everyone is joyful and content with their lives. There are many problems that cause people to suffer for instance diseases, an absence of resources, lack of skills and disharmony and un-cooperation when utilizing resources present. Utopian ideology is created with the intent of having a perfect society free from sufferings and evil and society that encourages harmonious coexistence, richness. Authors John Winthrop and Ralph Emerson have established different work on the ideals of Utopia. This paper, therefore, shall compare the Utopian views of John Winthrop and Ralph Emerson.

The two thinkers Ralph Waldo Emerson and John Winthrop established compelling visions of their new colony. They promulgated Utopian principles and encouraged their audience to create a romanticized society. Both Emerson and Winthrop were profoundly saturated with a sense of America’s missionary destiny, of the new colony’s emancipatory significance to the rest of the world. Nonetheless, both held two different visions of what a Utopian nation ought to be and how to establish societal, political, economic and spiritual changes. Winthrop was an American Colonial chief and Puritan in Massachusetts Bay colony nurtured an unabashedly Christian vision of a Utopian nation. Even though Emerson was was a by-product of Puritanism and was very religious, his Utopian dream was not as Christian as Winthrop’s. Also, Emerson lobbied for a form of self-dependence that the Transcendentalist movement was known for, while Winthrop’s Utopian vision was based on communication.

While Emerson willingly shunned politics, Winthrop did not try to use the power positions to advance his Utopian ideals and Christian principles. Winthrop started his political career in the church before relocating from England as a forthright Puritan reformer of the Anglicans. Together with like-minded thinkers, he decided that creating a new society in the new country would aid Christians like him to achieve their vision for a Utopic society focused on deep spirituality and deliberation and which is more frugal and profound in its approach to worldly culture than the Anglican Community.

John Winthrop in his sermon “Model of Christian Charity” shows the effort of Puritan and their role in the wilderness. In his sermon, he outlines numerous habits in the society that results in problems and poor correlations. He believes that leadership plays a key role in advancing societal wellbeing. It is the responsibility of the leadership to eliminate corruption and encourage harmony for it to realize a strong society. John Winthrop was a government of Massachusetts Bay colony, which is a team of businessmen who migrated from Europe in a quest for investment and better opportunities in the new world. Winthrop was a Puritan just like the other members of the community (Winthrop 1933). This community thought that the Church of England was corrupt and the leaders were self-centered. However in the new Puritan community, they sought to establish a society where Christian principles are observed, and there were no evilness or corruption.

Winthrop in his sermon offers a striking outlook into the Puritan state of mind even for those who would strongly disagree with some of its spirituality. Chain of command, treaties and divine rule all are seen in this sermon. Winthrop starts by tackling the disparities existent among humans and giving reasons why God may have established those differences. There are people who are prosperous while others are poor. Some are powerful whereas others are in humble situations. Since God has allowed all these disparities, humans at the top level have no cause for boasting over their own achievements and talents, and those struggling should not grumble (Winthrop 1936). Additionally, due to such dissimilarities, each man may have a need for others, and henceforth they may be brought together in bond of brotherly love. Winthrop specifies the kinds of cooperation, urging on the upcoming settlers of Massachusetts have mercy as they give, lend and forgive.

Winthrop characterizes love as a bond that unites people together and humans to Jesus Christ. Humans, unfortunately, do not like y-uniting themselves. The issue has its root in sin. Due to Adam’s fall, each man is has this guideline that he is to love and satisfy himself only. Even worse humans cannot do anything about those selfish tendencies that they have. Rather they continue with self-centeredness, even though the biblical teachings require them to love and look after their brothers and neighbors (Bercovitch 8). The life amongst the Christians is divine, spiritual, free, courageous, strong, endless, it undervalues all things beneath the appropriate object, and of all the graces, this makes them look like the virtues from Jesus Christ. Christian love relies on the love and the well-being of its beloved. Winthrop’s Utopian visions are that of creating a colony where people love one another, they are empowered, leaders are responsible, and all people in that nation observe biblical teachings since God is love.

After outlining these principles, Winthrop discusses its application in real life. He talks about the people, i.e., a group claiming to be followers of Christ, here he is not addressing the evil people but rather restored, and their work. He hopes to eliminate cohabitation and Consortship under a due form of Government both civil and clerical. He also seeks to increase the body of Christ and safeguard it from the frauds of the world and that the church maintains its integrity and honesty in its dealings (Bercovitch 8). He asserts that people ought to constantly practice the responsibility of love, respect, and selflessness. People ought to love their brothers without expecting anything in return. The final passages of the sermon talk about entering into a covenant with God. If they safely arrive in Massachusetts, God shall have approved the treaty. It that takes place, the pressure is on. According to Winthrop, if they fail to embrace this Utopian world they are dreaming of, God shall be angry at them and may punish them. The only way this would work is to be closely united and leave the colonialists (Winthrop 1945). If they honor the covenant, God shall bless them, and they shall experience abundance in everything they do. Simply put, John Winthrop wanted a world free from evil, suffering. The Utopian vision was a world full of abundance, love, unity, and observance of God’s teachings.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, on the other hand, had a different vision of Utopian life. He rejected the Puritan lifestyle and believed in Transcendentalism. Transcendentalists of the 1840s thought that the ideal path depended on the perfection of the individual rather than reform of the entire society as John Winthrop in his Utopian vision stipulates. The personal feature of Transcendentalism offered a more divine than societal quality, one that also had an influence later on many Utopian movements (Emerson 7). Numerous people in the Transcendentalism adopted the freeing characteristics of individualism, causing a man to be free of the societal, religious and familial constrains of the past.

Emerson believed that the Puritan way of life was rotten and he favored the romantic world. To Transcendentalists, a bigger reality lies in the aspect that people can comprehend the truth and eternity. To reach that world, humanity had to rise above the physical world of the senses in favor of a more supernatural description of nature. To break out of the modern world, Emerson ran into the Utopian communities. The main focus of American Transcendentalism is transcendence which entails going beyond what can be communicated in words or comprehend in a plausible deliberation top seek the root of human existence (Emerson 9). By having new knowledge, humans obtain an increased understanding of the world around them as well as their rightful place in it. Emerson calls this all-encompassing force that he does credit for the obscurity of human existence by numerous phrases: God, the Supreme Being and the over-soul. He connects nature with this force, to the degree that, his beliefs are thought to be pantheistic instead of theistic. That is God does the coexisting with nature, having same power instead of being an authority beyond it.

Emerson believes that an individual who follows instinct and is loyal to personal vision shall be a more ethical, idealistic human being. Looking at some of Emerson’s fellow Transcendentalists such as Henry David Thoreau and Amos Bronson Alcott, such action led to an idealism that established the basis for their acts particularly acts that embarked on criticizing and changing what was viewed as evil in the society. Transcendentalism also offered one huge philosophical basis for the eradication of slavery (Emerson 12). Nonetheless, whereas people such as Emerson put together Transcendentalism with mysticism, the fundamentally pantheistic nature of the hypothesis created the pathway for more worldly and manipulative expression. The canon of self-dependence transformed from an expression of ethical honesty to a straightforward affirmation of self-promotion and self-centeredness.

To a large degree, Transcendentalism was a local occurrence based in Concord Massachusetts. Emerson Utopian visions are in the form of Transcendentalism is divided into different facets. The first is the nature which is nature which is an experience of privacy; he asserts that when a person needs to be alone, they can view the stars since they motivate a feeling of respect since they are not accessible (Gonnaud 5). He believes that man is strongly linked with nature. Emerald tends to have a tranquil vision of nature as soothing lively and surrounding men. The second facet is beauty which can be seen as beautiful in an enjoyment in embracing natural forms and as a relief for humans.


Both John Winthrop and Ralph Waldo Emerson have very fascination thoughts on the Utopian visions; however, they seem to differ in many aspects. In as much as Emerson acknowledges God, he does not focus so much on it but rather emphasizes on understanding a human being at a personal level. Emerson really hated conformity, maybe, that is why he vehemently rejects the Puritans’ way of life which calls for harmony and together. He advocated for self-dependence. He is quite focused on romantic individualism. More essential and more spiritual than Enlightenment thoughts about individualism, Emerson contends that each person is reason and instinct that permits them to receive and interpret things. People, therefore, have the ability to throw off burdens of traditions and generational conventions to live creatively in regards to their own perspective on life. Emerson’s thoughts on the power of individual captivated a lot of people which led to the rise of Transcendentalism. Many thinkers began to delve into Transcendentalism.

John Winthrop advocated for brotherhood, unity, and Christianity. Winthrop believed that God is the central part of human life and if people disobey him, He can pour out his wrath on them. Biblical teachings command human beings to love one another and care for others. Winthrop perspective may have differed with Emerson since he focused on a society where Emerson emphasize on an individual, however, he was an influential figure in the shaping of Puritan social, religious and political guidelines and his publication is the most widely read modern documentation of the first twenty years of Bay’s colony history.


Bercovitch, Sacvan. "The Winthrop Variation: A Model of American Identity." Proceedings-British Academy. Vol. 97. Oxford University Press Inc., 1998.

Bremer, Francis J. John Winthrop: America's forgotten founding father. Oxford University Press, USA, 2005.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The Transcendentalist. Alex Catalogue, 2001.

Gonnaud, Maurice. An uneasy solitude: Individual and society in the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Princeton University Press, 2014.

Winthrop, John. "A model of Christian charity." Winthrop Papers 2 (1838): 1929-47.

June 26, 2023

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