Within my own life, some vital aspects of Romanticism help me find fulfillment. Witnessing the simple joys of changing weather and seasons makes me feel inspired and appreciative of where I live; observing and participating in people's actions to promote a more inclusive world makes me hopeful for future generations. In these ways, I find that the Romantic philosophy of honoring emotion and passion continues to have a positive effect on my personal growth, promoting the development of my own identity.
As Romanticism becomes entangled with a larger 'American' identity as opposed to an individual one, the situation becomes more complex. When I first read segments of Walt Whitman's preface to Leaves of Grass, I could not understand how the renowned poet could both argue for the self-actualization of the common people while also stating that English is the 'dialect of common sense.' How can someone who fights for the liberation of 'all' simultaneously emphasize the superiority of some (in this case, English speakers)? Within the context of American history, it makes perfect sense. As an American, I'm realizing it's all too easy to fall into the Romantic trap that characterizes this nation. Nothing is more traditionally American than utilizing the 'radical' rhetoric of individual freedom in order to justify exclusion and superiority.
Is the Romantic voice that seeks to abandon society and go back to a simpler, more natural life not the same voice arguing for stripping back modern protections for marginalized groups in order to return to 'traditional values' in 2018? After all, each of these concepts centers on the notion of leaving modern changes in favor for 'better times.' This nostalgic past proves to be elusive and difficult to define. For whom did the past grant a greater sense of 'freedom?'
Ultimately, I feel as though the beautiful, salvageable aspects of Romanticism --the deep love for oneself and others, the appreciation of an environment--are too often overshadowed by the frame of American exceptionalism. In 2018, it's more crucial than ever to understand and question how Romanticism exists in the mouths of those in power and the minds of every citizen in order to promote the better aspects of this movement for a less prejudiced future.