As a result of having the ability to carry several hundred books in my ‘smart phone”… a Palm Treo, I now find myself catching up with a number of the classics, mostly because they were the easiest to obtain in a format that could be converted to my phone… but more because I’ve begun to feel the need once again to re-read them, wondering among other things if the little wisdoms that 50  -plus -years brings with it, will aid me to a better understanding of them than I had when I read them at age 17. 

 The most recent of them to cross my list is “The Education of Henry Adams”, which is available free, on line, here.  I’m only up to the second chapter as this post goes online.

Some background is required. Adams was the descendant of the Adams family of Revolutionary and presidential fame, and the book goes to some length to so describe him, for the environment he is steeped in is the point of the entire first chapter, and in many ways the entire work:

UNDER the shadow of Boston State House, turning its back on the house of John Hancock, the little passage called Hancock Avenue runs, or ran, from Beacon Street, skirting the State House grounds, to Mount Vernon Street, on the summit of Beacon Hill; and there, in the third house below Mount Vernon Place, February 16, 1838, a child was born, and christened later by his uncle, the minister of the First Church after the tenets of Boston Unitarianism, as Henry Brooks Adams.

Had he been born in Jerusalem under the shadow of the Temple and circumcised in the Synagogue by his uncle the high priest, under the name of Israel Cohen, he would scarcely have been more distinctly branded, and not much more heavily handicapped in the races of the coming century, in running for such stakes as the century was to offer; but, on the other hand, the ordinary traveller, who does not enter the field of racing, finds advantage in being, so to speak, ticketed through life, with the safeguards of an old, established traffic. Safeguards are often irksome, but sometimes convenient, and if one need s them at all, one is apt to need them badly. A hundred years earlier, such safeguards as his would have secured any young man’s success; and although in 1838 their value was not very great compared with what they would have had in 1738, yet the mere accident of starting a twentieth century career from a nest of associations so colonial,—so trogloditic,—as the First Church, the Boston State House, Beacon Hill, John Hancock and John Adams, Mount Vernon Street and Quincy, all crowding on ten pounds of unconscious babyhood, was so queer as to offer a subject of curious speculation to the baby long after he had witnessed the solution. What could become of such a child of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when he should wake up to find himself required to play the game of the twentieth?

With this then in mind, we pan down a bit to a passage I found strikingly apt in describing the environmental roots of northeastern liberalism: (Emph is my own, of course)


Henry Adams

The atmosphere of education in which he lived was colonial, revolutionary, almost Cromwellian, as though he were steeped, from his greatest grandmother’s birth, in the odor of political crime. Resistance to something was the law of New England nature; the boy looked out on the world with the instinct of resistance; for numberless generations his predecessors had viewed the world chiefly as a thing to be reformed, filled with evil forces to be abolished, and they saw no reason to suppose that they had wholly succeeded in the abolition; the duty was unchanged. That duty implied not only resistance to evil, but hatred of it. Boys naturally look on all force as an enemy, and generally find it so, but the New Englander, whether boy or man, in his long struggle with a stingy or hostile universe, had learned also to love the pleasure of hating; his joys were few. 9
Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, had always been the systematic organization of hatreds, and Massachusetts politics had been as harsh as the climate. The chief charm of New England was harshness of contrasts and extremes of sensibility,—a cold that froze the blood, and a heat that boiled it,—so that the pleasure of hating—one’s self if no better victim offered,—was not its rarest amusement; but the charm was a true and natural child of the soil, not a cultivated weed of the ancients. The violence of the contrast was real and made the strongest motive of education. The double exterior nature gave life its relative values. Winter and summer, cold and heat, town and country, force and freedom, marked two modes of life and thought, balanced like lobes of the brain.

 Perhaps the above passages, even the parts I’ve highlighted, won’t mean much to some of you, but this one struck a chord with me. I’ve often enough regarded the subject of hate and self-loathing as revealed in the modern liberal. I am reading comments to my post over at Pajamas Media, just now, and there’s a fine example of those thoughts, there:

I warned long before the election that Barack Obama is a self-hating American who primarily blames America for most of the evils in the world

  The concept of having such hatreds regarded as a matter of  upbringing and education and a societal environment in a text written over 100 years gone, now, is a remarkable “Aha!” moment, to me. It’s particularly enlightening when one understands it’s Adams himself doing the writing in a strange third person sort of way; he’s describing his own upbringing.

Notice again, also, the passage in the second quote;

…for numberless generations his predecessors had viewed the world chiefly as a thing to be reformed, filled with evil forces to be abolished, and they saw no reason to suppose that they had wholly succeeded in the abolition; the duty was unchanged

The Union movement of today is unabashedly liberal in it’s leanings.  I’ve said often enough that Unions when they were first formed had in fact a purpose; there was abuse to be certain and Unions were an effective front against such abuse.  Yet the days of such abuses as they fought back then have long since ended, as we have discussed in this blog on many occasions.  Yet, like their Northeastern liberal roots, the see no reason to suppose they’d succeeded in the abolition of such abuses, and so go merrily on, demanding more and more from employers until such time as the employers go under from the financial strain of knuckling under to the demands of the unions… which in our case, have had the government helping them to that end, however unconsciously.

Clearly, these qualities are not new to the world, if Adams made these observations at the beginning of the industrial age. 

I don’t intend to review the book, here.. it’s outside the scope of the direction this blog has always taken. (I don’t think I”ve ever written a book review for this blog, though I’ve writen them on occasions for other pubications.) But I was struck with the historical perspective being so close to the positions I’ve taken as a matter of course here at BitsBlog. I see it as part vindication, part reaffirmation.

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