Just Finished Reading “The Vanishing American Adult”

Ben Sasse’s book The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-Of-Age Crisis—And How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance recently came out and I just finished reading it yesterday. Because my reading list isn’t huge (50+ books a year), I try to pick good, impactful books to read. This isn’t always easy so I’m constantly looking for sources to help me populate my reading list.

That’s one reason I wanted to read this book but it unexpectedly delivered more than a source for great literature. He went into the mechanics and techniques of making great readers. Whereas I did have some moments of pause and reflection (I’ll need to read other books to weigh his points), reading this book didn’t cause me to outright disagree at any point; that’s very rare for me.

Something I found very reassuring was that I’d read so many of the books he refers to or suggests. The shear number of books he referred to impressed me so much that I collected them in a rough bibliography. Here it is:

Bibliography for The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse

  • Excellent Sheep by William Deresiewicz (retired Yale professor)
  • Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood by Christian Smith (a Notre Dame sociologist)
  • The Great Disruption by Francis Fukuyama
  • The Lonely Crowd by David Riesman
  • The Affluent Society by C. Wright Mills
  • Growing Up Absurd by Paul Goodman
  • The Waste Makers by Vance Packard
  • Outside Lies Magic by John R. Stilgoe
  • Cultural Literacy by E. D. Hirsch
  • The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom (philosopher and classicist)
  • Agamemnon by Aeschylus
  • Letters and Papers from Prison by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  • Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
  • On Old Age by Marcus Tullius Cicero
  • Shop Class for Soulcraft by Matthew Crawford
  • Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
  • Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
  • John Dewey (Sasse disagrees with atheist Dewey and mentions these books, in particular, as to why he disagrees with him):
    • Democracy in Education
    • Self-Realization as the Moral Ideal
    • The Primary Education Fetich [sic]
    • The School and Society
    • My Pedagogic Creed
    • The Humanist Manifesto
  • Dumbing us Down by John Taylor Gatto
  • Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
  • The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon
  • Escape from Camp Fourteen by Blaine Harden
  • Children of Dictators by Jay Nordlinger
  • White Collar by C. Wright Mills
  • Common Sense by Thomas Paine
  • Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman
  • Disappearance of Childhood by Neil Postman
  • Autobiography by Theodore Roosevelt
  • Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck
  • Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
  • Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain
  • The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen
  • Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte
  • Moneyball by Michael Lewis
  • Religion
    • Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis
    • Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton
    • Christianity and Liberalism by J. Gresham Machen (Sasse disagrees with this book but it’s a great book to read)
    • Book of Genesis in The Bible
    • Book of Matthew in The Bible (especially Sermon on the Mount)
    • Commentary on Galatians by Martin Luther
    • The Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin
  • Greek Roots
    • Ethics by Aristotle (starter book)
    • Crito by Plato (starter book)
    • Odyssey by Homer
    • History of the Peloponnesian War by Thucydides
    • Three Theban Plays by Sophocles
  • Homesick Souls (or, Fundamental Anthropology)
    • Confessions by Augustine
    • Why God Became Man by Anselm of Canterbury
    • Bondage of Will by Martin Luther
    • Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas
    • Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
    • Emile by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Sasse has a long struggle with this book; he ultimately sees Rousseau as wrong)
  • Shakespeare
    • Romeo and Juliet
    • Hamlet
    • King Lear
    • Julius Caesar
    • Macbeth
    • Sonnets
  • The American Idea
    • Declaration of Independence
    • U. S. Constitution
    • The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay
    • Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville
    • Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an America Slave by Frederick Douglass
  • Markets
    • Politics by Aristotle
    • Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith
    • The Market Revolution: Jacksonian America, 1815–1846 by Charles Sellers
    • Free to Choose by Milton and Rose Friedman
    • Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
  • Tyrants
    • Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels (laid the intellectual foundation for communism and, hence, the murder of more than 100 million people)
    • Origins of Totalitarianism by Hannah Arendt (the best analysis of the rise of scientific racism and anti-Semitism in nineteenth-century Europe, which led directly to the Holocaust)
    • The Road to Serfdom by F. A. Hayek (explains the close relationship between fascism and communism)
    • Animal Farm by George Orwell
    • 1984 by George Orwell
    • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  • The Nature of Things (or, a Humanistic Perspective on Science)
    • On the Nature of Things by Lucretius
    • Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn
    • Elements of Geometry by Euclid
  • American Fiction
    • Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
    • Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
    • O, Pioneers by Willa Cather (a Cornhusker substitute for Death Comes for the Archbishop)
    • Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
    • Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin (about his alienation as a black and gay man growing up in Harlem with an abusive Baptist minister as his stepfather. This is a disturbing book in many aspects. It illustrates the ways in which religious life can turn hypocritical and repressive.)
    • Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

This a great list to dig through and start reading which, in itself, is an exciting prospect.

Ammo Can Storage Rack

Ammo Can Storage Rack

I’ve needed a way to store ammo cans. They pile up, they don’t stack very neatly. You’d think the military design would accommodate stacking and storage a little better. Furthermore, it’d be reasonable to expect there would be a rack on the market to hold them. Nope, and nope.

So, I had to design my own (here are the drawings and Sketchup 3D model). I don’t think wood will be strong and compact so I need to go with metal. I’m not a welder so I’m going to have to have the rack fabricated. I’ve got a good welder so that’s not such a big deal. Hopefully he can make sense of my design and this project goes well.

Once my welder does his part I’m going to use UHMW tape to make durable, slick sliding rails for the cans. Also, I’ll mount the rack into the Man Cave on finished wood rails to distribute the weight and I’ll trim it out with finished wood (especially on top) that will match my Man Cave Shelving. Above that, eventually, I’ll take shelving up the wall to the ceiling.

The rack holds (20) 50-cal cans so there’ll be quite a bit of storage in them. I’m confident it’ll look pretty cool and fit into the Man Cave well.

The Traitor Within from “Wild at Heart”

While reading—and deeply enjoying—the book Mansfield’s Book of Manly Men: An Utterly Invigorating Guide to Being Your Most Masculine Self by Stephen Mansfield, the author mentioned another book: Wild at Heart (Revised and Updated: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul) by John Eldredge. I bought Wild at Heart and, after skimming through it, began to read it as well. It’s rare for me to be reading two books I enjoy so much at the same time. They compliment each other well and have a message that I think has been missing in the Church: men are supposed to be manly. What, to me, makes the message work is that it’s in the context of scripture. This book will be one I go back to reference often. Below is a short clipping from the book:

To put it bluntly, your flesh is a weasel, a poser, and a selfish pig. And your flesh is not you. Did you know that? Your flesh is not the real you. When Paul gives us his famous passage on what it’s like to struggle with sin (Rom. 7), he tells a story we are all too familiar with:

I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. (The Message)

Okay, we’ve all been there many times. But what Paul concludes is just astounding: “I am not really the one doing it; the sin within me is doing it” (Rom. 7:20 NLT). Did you notice the distinction he makes? Paul says, “Hey, I know I struggle with sin. But I also know that my sin is not me—this is not my true heart.” You are not your sin; sin is no longer the truest thing about the man who has come into union with Jesus. Your heart is good. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you . . .” (Ezek. 36:26). The Big Lie in the church today is that you are nothing more than “a sinner saved by grace.” You are a lot more than that. You are a new creation in Christ. The New Testament calls you a saint, a holy one, a son of God. In the core of your being you are a good man. Yes, there is a war within us, but it is a civil war. The battle is not between us and God; no, there is a traitor within who wars against our true heart fighting alongside the Spirit of God in us:

A new power is in operation. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air, freeing you from a fated lifetime of brutal tyranny at the hands of sin and death . . . Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells . . . if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus . . . When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. (Rom. 8:2–3, 9–11 The Message)

The real you is on the side of God against the false self. Knowing this makes all the difference in the world. The man who wants to live valiantly will lose heart quickly if he believes that his heart is nothing but sin. Why fight? The battle feels lost before it even begins. No, your flesh is your false self—the poser, manifest in cowardice and self-preservation—and the only way to deal with it is to crucify it. Now follow me very closely here: We are never, ever told to crucify our heart. We are never told to kill the true man within us, never told to get rid of those deep desires for battle and adventure and beauty. We are told to shoot the traitor. How? Choose against him every time you see him raise his ugly head. Walk right into those situations you normally run from. Speak right to the issues you normally remain silent over. If you want to grow in true masculine strength, then you must stop sabotaging yours.

Buy the book. Read it. You won’t regret it.

Learning by Doing

I’m not entirely sure of the source for my compulsion to “do something productive, don’t just sit around” personality. It’s probably my father; he is always “doing something.” If I don’t have work at the office or a project at home to do over the weekend I don’t know what to do with myself. It causes me to get into a fidgety, anxious, moody state. I’m not claiming this is healthy—very likely it’s not.

I like to be with my family…working. It’s traditional. The real value of working with my family is that it allows them, and me, to learn together.  In the past, as in early American History, fathers and mothers did things—worked—and the children learned skills from them.

Children are more likely to be mollycoddled than taught nowadays. Few people develop real mechanical skills and even fewer know how to design a project from concept to completion. Most people think they can contract these skills but the pool of truly qualified individuals to do that work is diminishing quickly. Besides, if we don’t have any understanding of the job being performed, how can you know it’s being done correctly or even merely adequately?

We don’t do all the work around the house but we do major projects—the real important ones—together. We’ve done quite a few projects as the kids have grown, here are a few of the more recent:

The Crowd Renders the Individual Wholly Unrepentant

A crowd — not this or that, one now living or long dead, a crowd of the lowly or of nobles, of rich or poor, etc., but in its very concept — is untruth, since a crowd either renders the single individual wholly unrepentant and irresponsible, or weakens his responsibility by making it a fraction of his decision.

— Søren Kierkegaard, The Crowd is Untruth

Step No. 1 to Learning

LXXII

If a man would pursue Philosophy [learning], his first task is to throw away conceit. For it is impossible for a man to begin to learn what he has a conceit [preconception] that he already knows.

— Epictetus, Harvard Classics, Vol. 2, Part 2 – The Golden Sayings of Epictetus

The Crowd is Untruth

In groups of people (committees) there tends to be an inclination, for the sake of consensus, to demand compromise from all the participants rather than evaluating (debating) whether certain points of view are wrong and should be changed and whether they are right and to remain unchanged. This is why Kierkegaard makes the claim “the crowd is untruth“; the introduction of a single untruth will corrupt the truth and, therefore, make the consensus untruth. Here’s Kierkegaard on the subject:

There is a view of life which holds that where the crowd is, the truth is also, that it is a need in truth itself, that it must have the crowd on its side. There is another view of life; which holds that wherever the crowd is, there is untruth, so that, for a moment to carry the matter out to its farthest conclusion, even if every individual possessed the truth in private, yet if they came together into a crowd (so that ‘the crowd’ received any decisive, voting, noisy, audible importance), untruth would at once be let in.

For ‘the crowd’ is untruth. Eternally, godly, christianly what Paul says is valid: “only one receives the prize,” [I Cor. 9:24]

— Søren Kierkegaard. The Crowd is Untruth

Here’s the whole scripture to which he referred:

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.

— Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 9:24 (NIV1984)

Notes from “The Strenuous Life”

Notes from The Strenuous Life

by Theodore Roosevelt

After reading Theodore Roosevelt’s autobiography, I was hungry to devour more of his writing so I picked up this book and I wasn’t displeased. As a matter of fact, now I intend to jump into The Rough Riders. I admire the type of man he was and it’s fascinating to read his documentation of manhood.

That manliness is now lost or, at least, blurred so badly by bad machismo and the antics of jackasses that, unless we seek out and read the clear words of great men like Roosevelt and begin to put original meaning back in place. Strength with tenderness, protection of the weak are lost at present. I want it back so I’m learning and teaching. Here are some quotes from the book:

Work is essential whether it’s physical or mental. If, what we do is for mere enjoyment is not satisfactory.

A man can be freed from the necessity of work only by the fact that he or his fathers before him have worked to good purpose. If the freedom thus purchased is used aright, and the man still does actual work, though of a different kind, whether as a writer or a general, whether in the field of politics or in the field of exploration and adventure, he shows he deserves his good fortune. But if he treats this period of freedom from the need of actual labor as a period, not of preparation, but of mere enjoyment, even though perhaps not of vicious enjoyment, he shows that he is simply a cumberer of the earth’s surface, and he surely unfits himself to hold his own with his fellows if the need to do so should again arise. A mere life of ease is not in the end a very satisfactory life, and, above all, it is a life which ultimately unfits those who follow it for serious work in the world.

I don’t think this next quote would float well at many social events. One thing is sure, it would start a conversation.

When men fear work or fear righteous war, when women fear motherhood, they tremble on the brink of doom; and well it is that they should vanish from the earth, where they are fit subjects for the scorn of all men and women who are themselves strong and brave and high-minded.

After all the reading of Roosevelt’s books I’ve done lately, it’s clear to me that he is still a major influence over our foreign policy.

The guns that thundered off Manila and Santiago left us echoes of glory, but they also left us a legacy of duty. If we drove out a medieval tyranny only to make room for savage anarchy, we had better not have begun the task at all. It is worse than idle to say that we have no duty to perform, and can leave to their fates the islands we have conquered.

I see this in the two factions of Progressivism (Republicans & Democrats) these days.

In every community there are little knots of fantastic extremists who loudly proclaim that they are striving for righteousness, and who, in reality, do their feeble best for unrighteousness.

We’re there:

When a partisan political organization becomes merely an association for purposes of plunder and patronage, it may be a menace instead of a help to a community; and when a non-partisan political organization falls under the control of the fantastic extremists always attracted to such movements, in its turn it becomes either useless or noxious.

This quote is particularly interesting in light of the conservative, anti-higher education movement going on at present. Interestingly, the advocates for avoiding higher education are not taking their own advice concerning their own children. A particularly interesting point made by T.R. in this quote is his comment on “boys of weak fiber…may be seriously damaged” in college. Agreed, college can be indoctrination of the weak-minded if you are not prepared for it.

There are any number of men, however, priding themselves upon being “hard-headed” and “practical,” who sneer at book-learning and at every form of higher education, under the impression that the additional mental culture is at best useless, and is ordinarily harmful in practical life. Not long ago two of the wealthiest men in the United States publicly committed themselves to the proposition that to go to college was a positive disadvantage for a young man who strove for success. Now, of course, the very most successful men we have ever had, men like Lincoln, had no chance to go to college, but did have such indomitable tenacity and such keen appreciation of the value of wisdom that they set to work and learned for themselves far more than they could have been taught in any academy. On the other hand, boys of weak fiber, who go to high school or college instead of going to work after getting through the primary schools, may be seriously damaged instead of benefited. But, as a rule, if the boy has in him the right stuff, it is a great advantage to him should his circumstances be so fortunate as to enable him to get the years of additional mental training. The trouble with the two rich men whose views are above quoted was that, owing largely perhaps to their own defects in early training, they did not know what success really was. Their speeches merely betrayed their own limitations, and did not furnish any argument against education.

T.R. shows how having a good character requires one to live up to the duty to do good, not simply abstain from doing bad things.

If we say of a boy or a man, “He is of good character,” we mean that he does not do a great many things that are wrong, and we also mean that he does do a great many things which imply much effort of will and readiness to face what is disagreeable. He must not steal, he must not be intemperate, he must not be vicious in any way; he must not be mean or brutal; he must not bully the weak. In fact, he must refrain from whatever is evil. But besides refraining from evil, he must do good. He must be brave and energetic; he must be resolute and persevering. The Bible always inculcates the need of the positive no less than the negative virtues, although certain people who profess to teach Christianity are apt to dwell wholly on the negative. We are bidden not merely to be harmless as doves, but also as wise as serpents. It is very much easier to carry out the former part of the order than the latter; while, on the other hand, it is of much more importance for the good of mankind that our goodness should be accompanied by wisdom than that we should merely be harmless. If with the serpent wisdom we unite the serpent guile, terrible will be the damage we do; and if, with the best of intentions, we can only manage to deserve the epithet of “harmless,” it is hardly worth while to have lived in the world at all.

Honesty is the prerequisite of any politician.

No community is healthy where it is ever necessary to distinguish one politician among his fellows because “he is honest.” Honesty is not so much a credit as an absolute prerequisite to efficient service to the public.

Somebody tell Rush Limbaugh!

It is a great mistake to think that the extremist is a better man than the moderate. Usually the difference is not that he is morally stronger, but that he is intellectually weaker. He is not more virtuous. He is simply more foolish. This is notably true in our American life of many of those who are most pessimistic in denouncing the condition of our politics. Certainly there is infinite room for improvement, infinite need of fearless and trenchant criticism; but the improvement can only come through intelligent and straightforward effort. It is set back by those extremists who by their action always invite reaction, and, above all, by those worst enemies of our public honesty who by their incessant attacks upon good men give the utmost possible assistance to the bad.

The necessity of a virtuous citizenry.

“Who shuns the dust and sweat of the contest, on his brow falls not the cool shade of the olive,” and “A free State exists only in the virtue of the citizen.” We all accept these statements in theory; but if we do not live up to them in practice, then there is no health in us. Take the two together always.

What’s most interesting to me in this quote is the contrast he paints with the references to the weaknesses of the Greek and the Roman forms of government. The Greeks are extreme local government and the Romans are extreme national, both failed. Maybe because of their extreme approaches.

Under any governmental system which was known to Europe, the problem offered by the westward thrust, across a continent, of so masterful and liberty-loving a race as ours would have been insoluble. The great civilized and colonizing races of antiquity, the Greeks and the Romans, had been utterly unable to devise a scheme under which when their race spread it might be possible to preserve both national unity and local and individual freedom. When a Hellenic or Latin city sent off a colony, one of two things happened. Either the colony was kept in political subjection to the city or state of which it was an offshoot, or else it became a wholly independent and alien, and often a hostile, nation. Both systems were fraught with disaster. With the Greeks race unity was sacrificed to local independence, and as a result the Greek world became the easy prey of foreign conquerors. The Romans kept national unity, but only by means of a crushing centralized despotism.

Our form of government reflects the virtues of the citizenry.

Woe to all of us if ever as a people we grow to condone evil because it is successful. We can no more afford to lose social and civic decency and honesty than we can afford to lose the qualities of courage and strength. It is the merest truism to say that the nation rests upon the individual, upon the family—upon individual manliness and womanliness, using the words in their widest and fullest meaning.

It seems our honor has been lost in international policy. We will as readily make treaties with tyrannical dictators as we will with legitimate governments for the sake of expediency.

For the sake not only of ourselves but of our children and our children’s children we must see that this nation stands for strength and honesty both at home and abroad. In our internal policy we can not afford to rest satisfied until all that the government can do has been done to secure fair dealing and equal justice as between man and man. In the great part which hereafter, whether we will or not, we must play in the world at large, let us see to it that we neither do wrong nor shrink from doing right because the right is difficult; that on the one hand we inflict no injury, and that on the other we have a due regard for the honor and the interest of our mighty nation; and that we keep unsullied the renown of the flag which beyond all others of the present time or of the ages of the past stands for confident faith in the future welfare and greatness of mankind.

Do not envy the willfully idle.

Sometimes we hear those who do not work spoken of with envy. Surely the wilfully idle need arouse in the breast of a healthy man no emotion stronger than that of contempt—at the outside no emotion stronger than angry contempt. The feeling of envy would have in it an admission of inferiority on our part, to which the men who know not the sterner joys of life are not entitled.

It’s sad how common this is these days. People are completely, voluntarily ignorant of too many important issues. They don’t even know how their government is supposed to be structured and operate. Pitiful.

Poverty is a bitter thing; but it is not as bitter as the existence of restless vacuity and physical, moral, and intellectual flabbiness, to which those doom themselves who elect to spend all their years in that vainest of all vain pursuits—the pursuit of mere pleasure as a sufficient end in itself.

Our duty to our family (children) is to teach them to work and to live up to their own duties.

Every father and mother here, if they are wise, will bring up their children not to shirk difficulties, but to meet them and overcome them; not to strive after a life of ignoble ease, but to strive to do their duty, first to themselves and their families, and then to the whole State; and this duty must inevitably take the shape of work in some form or other.

The world is not ruled by the intelligent or the benevolent but the cunning. It is time to shackle cunning.

No hard-and-fast rule can be laid down as to where our legislation shall stop in interfering between man and man, between interest and interest. All that can be said is that it is highly undesirable, on the one hand, to weaken individual initiative, and, on the other hand, that in a constantly increasing number of cases we shall find it necessary in the future to shackle cunning as in the past we have shackled force.

Hey, Boston, you need to know this:

[T]here are few beings more obnoxious than the man who is always loudly boasting; and if the boaster is not prepared to back up his words his position becomes absolutely contemptible.

Does anyone these days think of the trade unions and get a sense of wholesomeness? Or, does it bring thoughts of corruption and brutality?

[I]f managed unwisely, the very power of such a union or organization makes it capable of doing much harm; but, on the whole, it would be hard to over-estimate the good these organizations have done in the past, and still harder to estimate the good they can do in the future if handled with resolution, forethought, honesty, and sanity.

It’s so heartwarming to see these words of encouragement concerning working and service to family and community. It’s what I believe in spite of anything taught by our society in this age.

Every good citizen, whatever his condition, owes his first service to those who are nearest to him, who are dependent upon him, to his wife, and his children; next he owes his duty to his fellow-citizens, and this duty he must perform both to his individual neighbor and to the State, which is simply a form of expression for all his neighbors combined. He must keep his self-respect and exact the respect of others. It is eminently wise and proper to strive for such leisure in our lives as will give a chance for self-improvement; but woe to the man who seeks, or trains up his children to seek, idleness instead of the chance to do good work.

The vice of envy. It seems to be the driving force in most people nowadays. Understand that envy is a “confession of inferiority.”

To break the Tenth Commandment is no more moral now than it has been for the past thirty centuries. The vice of envy is not only a dangerous but also a mean vice, for it is always a confession of inferiority.

Sigh…what else is there anymore?

Woe to us as a nation if we ever follow the lead of men who seek not to smother but to inflame the wild-beast qualities of the human heart!

I like the comment, “must be hunted out of it.” I agree.

Craft unaccompanied by conscience makes the crafty man a social wild beast who preys on the community and must be hunted out of it. Gentleness and sweetness unbacked by strength and high resolve are almost impotent for good.

Honesty is Prerequisite for a Politician

No community is healthy where it is ever necessary to distinguish one politician among his fellows because “he is honest.” Honesty is not so much a credit as an absolute prerequisite to efficient service to the public.

— Theodore Roosevelt, The Strenuous Life

Notes from “Theodore Roosevelt: An Autobiography”

Notes from Theodore Roosevelt: An Autobiography

NOTE: Yes, this is a very long book and reading it raised my testosterone level considerably. I recommend it for all the Low-T guys out there.

Recently I finished reading Theodore Roosevelt’s autobiography and it is immediately in the top ten favorite books I’ve read in my life. Teddy Roosevelt was an awesome example of Manliness. I admire his personal accomplishments and think there are tremendous lessons modern males can, and should, learn from him.

That being said, I am not onboard with him on Progressivism; I am a Jefferson-Republican. Don’t get too excited or riled up, Republicans and Democrats, that means I’m likely not on your side either. Also, I’m much less aggressive in the use of war and I struggle with the use of the Death Penalty where he is resolute.

But I cannot deny that he has a firm grasp on what it means to be manly. He understands justice and empathy and protecting the weak. His views look paradoxical and, as I’ve usually found, the truth is usually found in paradox.

So, here are some (a large quantity) of the excerpts I clipped from the book.

Theodore Roosevelt (T.R.) did not see any value in empathizing with those things that are clearly wrong or immoral. Truly, what’s the point of learning to argue a lie?

Personally I have not the slightest sympathy with debating contests in which each side is arbitrarily assigned a given proposition and told to maintain it without the least reference to whether those maintaining it believe in it or not. I know that under our system this is necessary for lawyers, but I emphatically disbelieve in it as regards general discussion of political, social, and industrial matters. What we need is to turn out of our colleges young men with ardent convictions on the side of the right; not young men who can make a good argument for either right or wrong as their interest bids them.

T.R. was interested in scientific work as a career but his father was clear that he should not have any illusions of an income from the parents. Fatherly advice:

[I]n my freshman year (he [T.R.’s father] died when I was a sophomore) he told me that if I wished to become a scientific man I could do so. He explained that I must be sure that I really intensely desired to do scientific work, because if I went into it I must make it a serious career; that he had made enough money to enable me to take up such a career and do non-remunerative work of value if I intended to do the very best work there was in me; but that I must not dream of taking it up as a dilettante. He also gave me a piece of advice that I have always remembered, namely, that, if I was not going to earn money, I must even things up by not spending it. As he expressed it, I had to keep the fraction constant, and if I was not able to increase the numerator, then I must reduce the denominator. In other words, if I went into a scientific career, I must definitely abandon all thought of the enjoyment that could accompany a money-making career, and must find my pleasures elsewhere.

T.R. emphasizes the integrity of the man / citizen throughout the entire book. It’s something that is even more rare today than it was when he wrote the book:

I now believe as sincerely as ever, for all the laws that the wit of man can devise will never make a man a worthy citizen unless he has within himself the right stuff, unless he has self-reliance, energy, courage, the power of insisting on his own rights and the sympathy that makes him regardful of the rights of others.

My point of view and T.R.’s differ concering individualism. He believed in collective action which I find to be contradictory to self-reliance.

[I]ndividual morality I was taught by the books I read at home and the books I studied at Harvard. But there was almost no teaching of the need for collective action, and of the fact that in addition to, not as a substitute for, individual responsibility, there is a collective responsibility. Books such as Herbert Croly’s “Promise of American Life” and Walter E. Weyl’s “New Democracy” would generally at that time have been treated either as unintelligible or else as pure heresy.

It seems most of the books I read are, relatively, aged. This seemed that way when I first began to read it. What struck me was how many phrases and words I read in this book that I hear in modern articles and news broadcasts. The term “buck fever” in the quote below was interesting to me because I’ve never heard it outside my family and close friends; T.R. even defines it.

Any beginner is apt to have “buck fever,” and therefore no beginner should go at dangerous game.

Buck fever means a state of intense nervous excitement which may be entirely divorced from timidity. It may affect a man the first time he has to speak to a large audience just as it affects him the first time he sees a buck or goes into battle. What such a man needs is not courage but nerve control, cool-headedness. This he can get only by actual practice. He must, by custom and repeated exercise of self-mastery, get his nerves thoroughly under control. This is largely a matter of habit, in the sense of repeated effort and repeated exercise of will power. If the man has the right stuff in him, his will grows stronger and stronger with each exercise of it—and if he has not the right stuff in him he had better keep clear of dangerous game hunting, or indeed of any other form of sport or work in which there is bodily peril.

Growing up in the East Texas Piney Woods, I heard strange superstitions as well as judgmental statements based on conditions that, to me, seemed clearly beyond the control of the person being judged. The quote below is and example of one I heard and that T.R. experienced firsthand.

[F]or the only time in all my experience, I had a difficulty with my guide. He was a crippled old mountain man, with a profound contempt for “tenderfeet,” a contempt that in my case was accentuated by the fact that I wore spectacles—which at that day and in that region were usually held to indicate a defective moral character in the wearer.

Manliness has a Code of Honor which has been lost due to the diminution of the necessity of fathers in families. Manliness always requires a certain restraint to avoid becoming brutish.

I regard boxing, whether professional or amateur, as a first-class sport, and I do not regard it as brutalizing. Of course matches can be conducted under conditions that make them brutalizing. But this is true of football games and of most other rough and vigorous sports. Most certainly prize-fighting is not half as brutalizing or demoralizing as many forms of big business and of the legal work carried on in connection with big business. Powerful, vigorous men of strong animal development must have some way in which their animal spirits can find vent.

T.R. was willing to end a thing that had degraded to an irreparable state, even something he loved.

I was reluctantly obliged to come to the conclusion that the prize ring had become hopelessly debased and demoralized, and as Governor I aided in the passage of and signed the bill putting a stop to professional boxing for money. This was because some of the prize-fighters themselves were crooked, while the crowd of hangers-on who attended and made up and profited by the matches had placed the whole business on a basis of commercialism and brutality that was intolerable.

Sportsmanship was preeminent and extended even to the animals involved in sports like hunting.

Any sport in which the death and torture of animals is made to furnish pleasure to the spectators is debasing. There should always be the opportunity provided in a glove fight or bare-fist fight to stop it when one competitor is hopelessly outclassed or too badly hammered.

Okay, I admit it, I put this next quote in because so many my boys have enjoyed playing musical instruments. I’m not so good at it so this is my jab at them.

Then a look of pathos [pity] came into his eyes, and he explained: “That boy I just cannot understand. He was my sister’s favorite son, and I always took a special interest in him myself. I did my best to bring him up the way he ought to go. But there was just nothing to be done with him. His tastes were naturally low. He took to music!”

We cannot all be the top of our field or profession, but there’s reward and virtue in the effort to perform and improve ourselves in the endeavor.

[T]he commoner type of success in every walk of life and in every species of effort is that which comes to the man who differs from his fellows not by the kind of quality which he possesses but by the degree of development which he has given that quality. This kind of success is open to a large number of persons, if only they seriously determine to achieve it. It is the kind of success which is open to the average man of sound body and fair mind, who has no remarkable mental or physical attributes, but who gets just as much as possible in the way of work out of the aptitudes that he does possess. It is the only kind of success that is open to most of us.

Marriage…

[T]he greatest privilege and greatest duty for any man is to be happily married, and that no other form of success or service, for either man or woman, can be wisely accepted as a substitute or alternative.

T.R. stressed empathy for fellow Americans.

I do not think that a man is fit to do good work in our American democracy unless he is able to have a genuine fellow-feeling for, understanding of, and sympathy with his fellow-Americans, whatever their creed or their birthplace, the section in which they live, or the work which they do, provided they possess the only kind of Americanism that really counts, the Americanism of the spirit.

Politicians no longer restrain themselves from demagoguery. Party lines are more important to politicians at the national level than even to the state from which they are elected. Even in T.R.’s time it angered “the machine” when he crossed party lines for a competent person to serve a particular purpose. I think the only commonality in politicians today is that they are all vipers.

My friendships were made, not with regard to party lines, but because I found, and my friends found, that we had the same convictions on questions of principle and questions of policy.

One of the most unique things about T.R. is that, when he sees corruption or some other flaw in the system, he doesn’t get disheartened. He just goes about working around it or fixing it. Interestingly, the issues he was dealing with in his time are the same ones we are dealing with today. I wonder if the legislators these days are just more secretive and cunning to avoid being exposed.

[T]hree years’ experience convinced me, in the first place, that there were a great many thoroughly corrupt men in the Legislature, perhaps a third of the whole number; and, in the next place, that the honest men outnumbered the corrupt men, and that, if it were ever possible to get an issue of right and wrong put vividly and unmistakably before them in a way that would arrest their attention and that would arrest the attention of their constituents, we could count on the triumph of the right. The trouble was that in most cases the issue was confused.

To read some kinds of literature one would come to the conclusion that the only corruption in legislative circles was in the form of bribery by corporations, and that the line was sharp between the honest man who was always voting against corporations and the dishonest man who was always bribed to vote for them. My experience was the direct contrary of this. For every one bill introduced (not passed) corruptly to favor a corporation, there were at least ten introduced (not passed, and in this case not intended to be passed) to blackmail corporations.

The blackmailing, or, as they were always called, the “strike” bills, could themselves be roughly divided into two categories: bills which it would have been proper to pass, and those that it would not have been proper to pass. Some of the bills aimed at corporations were utterly wild and improper; and of these a proportion might be introduced by honest and foolish zealots, whereas most of them were introduced by men who had not the slightest intention of passing them, but who wished to be paid not to pass them. The most profitable type of bill to the accomplished blackmailer, however, was a bill aimed at a real corporate abuse which the corporation, either from wickedness or folly, was unwilling to remedy.

The corrupt legislators, the “black horse cavalry,” as they were termed, would demand payment to vote as the corporations wished, no matter whether the bill was proper or improper.

It was very early borne in upon me that almost equal harm was done by indiscriminate defense of, and indiscriminate attack on, corporations. It was hard to say whether the man who prided himself upon always antagonizing the corporations, or the man who, on the plea that he was a good conservative, always stood up for them, was the more mischievous agent of corruption and demoralization.

This quote is interesting to me in that the book The Promise of American Life inspired T.R. in his New Nationalism political philosophy. As a Jefferson-Republican I’d be at the opposite end of the scale politically but I need to read this book to understand the points of the progressive philosophy.

In the America of that day, and especially among the people whom I knew, the successful business man was regarded by everybody as preeminently the good citizen. The orthodox books on political economy, not only in America but in England, were written for his especial glorification. The tangible rewards came to him, the admiration of his fellow-citizens of the respectable type was apt to be his, and the severe newspaper moralists who were never tired of denouncing politicians and political methods were wont to hold up “business methods” as the ideal which we were to strive to introduce into political life. Herbert Croly, in “The Promise of American Life,” has set forth the reasons why our individualistic democracy—which taught that each man was to rely exclusively on himself, was in no way to be interfered with by others, and was to devote himself to his own personal welfare—necessarily produced the type of business man who sincerely believed, as did the rest of the community, that the individual who amassed a big fortune was the man who was the best and most typical American.

T.R. disliked hypocrisy in any form which makes me think it would be enjoyable to discuss issues with him even when he disagreed. And, I think you’d better have your wits about you if you did.

The only kinds of courage and honesty which are permanently useful to good institutions anywhere are those shown by men who decide all cases with impartial justice on grounds of conduct and not on grounds of class. We found that in the long run the men who in public blatantly insisted that labor was never wrong were the very men who in private could not be trusted to stand for labor when it was right. We grew heartily to distrust the reformer who never denounced wickedness unless it was embodied in a rich man. Human nature does not change; and that type of “reformer” is as noxious now as he ever was. The loud-mouthed upholder of popular rights who attacks wickedness only when it is allied with wealth, and who never publicly assails any misdeed, no matter how flagrant, if committed nominally in the interest of labor, has either a warped mind or a tainted soul, and should be trusted by no honest man.

Morals are not relative, they are objective and not tied to geography or occassion.

On one of the investigating committees on which I served there was a countryman, a very able man, who, when he reached New York City, felt as certain Americans do when they go to Paris—that the moral restraints of his native place no longer applied. With all his ability, he was not shrewd enough to realize that the Police Department was having him as well as the rest of us carefully shadowed. He was caught red-handed by a plain-clothes man doing what he had no business to do; and from that time on he dared not act save as those who held his secret permitted him to act. Thenceforth those officials who stood behind the Police Department had one man on the committee on whom they could count. I never saw terror more ghastly on a strong man’s face than on the face of this man on one or two occasions when he feared that events in the committee might take such a course as to force him into a position where his colleagues would expose him even if the city officials did not.

Civility is sometimes used as an excuse for wimpish behavior. One can be civil and forceful at the same time. Civility often requires forcefulness.

I have always been fond of Josh Billings’s remark that “it is much easier to be a harmless dove than a wise serpent.” There are plenty of decent legislators, and plenty of able legislators; but the blamelessness and the fighting edge are not always combined. Both qualities are necessary for the man who is to wage active battle against the powers that prey. He must be clean of life, so that he can laugh when his public or his private record is searched; and yet being clean of life will not avail him if he is either foolish or timid. He must walk warily and fearlessly, and while he should never brawl if he can avoid it, he must be ready to hit hard if the need arises. Let him remember, by the way, that the unforgivable crime is soft hitting. Do not hit at all if it can be avoided; but never hit softly.

Successful negotiation requires compromise.

Like most young men in politics, I went through various oscillations of feeling before I “found myself.” At one period I became so impressed with the virtue of complete independence that I proceeded to act on each case purely as I personally viewed it, without paying any heed to the principles and prejudices of others. The result was that I speedily and deservedly lost all power of accomplishing anything at all; and I thereby learned the invaluable lesson that in the practical activities of life no man can render the highest service unless he can act in combination with his fellows, which means a certain amount of give-and-take between him and them.

Parlor reformers.

The Speakership contest enlightened me as regards more things than the attitude of the bosses. I had already had some exasperating experiences with the “silk stocking” reformer type, as Abraham Lincoln called it, the gentlemen who were very nice, very refined, who shook their heads over political corruption and discussed it in drawing-rooms and parlors, but who were wholly unable to grapple with real men in real life. They were apt vociferously to demand “reform” as if it were some concrete substance, like cake, which could be handed out at will, in tangible masses, if only the demand were urgent enough. These parlor reformers made up for inefficiency in action by zeal in criticising; and they delighted in criticising the men who really were doing the things which they said ought to be done, but which they lacked the sinewy power to do. They often upheld ideals which were not merely impossible but highly undesirable, and thereby played into the hands of the very politicians to whom they professed to be most hostile. Moreover, if they believed that their own interests, individually or as a class, were jeoparded, they were apt to show no higher standards than did the men they usually denounced.

Clearly T.R. was not a strict constructionist but even he found some politicians fairly repulsive when they had no regard for the U.S. Constitution.

One of these was a thoroughly good-hearted, happy-go-lucky person who was afterwards for several years in Congress. He had been a local magistrate and was called Judge. Generally he and I were friendly, but occasionally I did something that irritated him. He was always willing to vote for any other member’s bill himself, and he regarded it as narrow-minded for any one to oppose one of his bills, especially if the opposition was upon the ground that it was unconstitutional—for his views of the Constitution were so excessively liberal as to make even me feel as if I belonged to the straitest sect of strict constructionists. On one occasion he had a bill to appropriate money, with obvious impropriety, for the relief of some miscreant whom he styled “one of the honest yeomanry of the State.” When I explained to him that it was clearly unconstitutional, he answered, “Me friend, the Constitution don’t touch little things like that,” and then added, with an ingratiating smile, “Anyhow, I’d never allow the Constitution to come between friends.”

How one fights the fight is often as important as if one wins or not.

We had made up our minds that we must not fight fire with fire, that on the contrary the way to win out was to equal our foes in practical efficiency and yet to stand at the opposite plane from them in applied morality.

Choosing the lesser of two evils is still a vote for evil.

It was not always easy to keep the just middle, especially when it happened that on one side there were corrupt and unscrupulous demagogues, and on the other side corrupt and unscrupulous reactionaries. Our effort was to hold the scales even between both. We tried to stand with the cause of righteousness even though its advocates were anything but righteous. We endeavored to cut out the abuses of property, even though good men of property were misled into upholding those abuses. We refused to be frightened into sanctioning improper assaults upon property, although we knew that the champions of property themselves did things that were wicked and corrupt. We were as yet by no means as thoroughly awake as we ought to have been to the need of controlling big business and to the damage done by the combination of politics with big business.

T.R.’s evolving idea of Progressivism. One one hand the issues of which he speaks must be addressed and solved. He may even be correct that the Federal Government was the only means to correct the issues. The problem is, over time, the Federal Government becomes as oppressive as the people it replaced.

By the time that I was ending my career as Civil Service Commissioner I was already growing to understand that mere improvement in political conditions by itself was not enough. I dimly realized that an even greater fight must be waged to improve economic conditions, and to secure social and industrial justice, justice as between individuals and justice as between classes. I began to see that political effort was largely valuable as it found expression and resulted in such social and industrial betterment. I was gradually puzzling out, or trying to puzzle out, the answers to various questions—some as yet unsolvable to any of us, but for the solution of which it is the bounden duty of all of us to work. I had grown to realize very keenly that the duty of the Government to protect women and children must be extended to include the protection of all the crushable elements of labor. I saw that it was the affair of all our people to see that justice obtained between the big corporation and its employees, and between the big corporation and its smaller rivals, as well as its customers and the general public. I saw that it was the affair of all of us, and not only of the employer, if dividends went up and wages went down; that it was to the interest of all of us that a full share of the benefit of improved machinery should go to the workman who used the machinery; and also that it was to the interest of all of us that each man, whether brain worker or hand worker, should do the best work of which he was capable, and that there should be some correspondence between the value of the work and the value of the reward. It is these and many similar questions which in their sum make up the great social and industrial problems of to-day, the most interesting and important of the problems with which our public life must deal.

In handling these problems I believe that much can be done by the Government.

I’m not sure spoils politics was ever really gotten rid of and I know with all certainty that the efficiency of the government is not better; it’s The Great Waster.

Civil Service Reform had two sides. There was, first, the effort to secure a more efficient administration of the public service, and, second, the even more important effort to withdraw the administrative offices of the Government from the domain of spoils politics, and thereby cut out of American political life a fruitful source of corruption and degradation.

I wonder what could break this kind of thinking in our current political system.

[I]t would seem at first sight extraordinary that it should be so difficult to uproot the system. Unfortunately, it was permitted to become habitual and traditional in American life, so that the conception of public office as something to be used primarily for the good of the dominant political party became ingrained in the mind of the average American, and he grew so accustomed to the whole process that it seemed part of the order of nature.

The Spoils System.

Under the spoils system a man is appointed to an ordinary clerical or ministerial position in the municipal, Federal, or State government, not primarily because he is expected to be a good servant, but because he has rendered help to some big boss or to the henchman of some big boss. His stay in office depends not upon how he performs service, but upon how he retains his influence in the party. This necessarily means that his attention to the interests of the public at large, even though real, is secondary to his devotion to his organization, or to the interest of the ward leader who put him in his place. So he and his fellows attend to politics, not once a year, not two or three times a year, like the average citizen, but every day in the year. It is the one thing that they talk of, for it is their bread and butter. They plan about it and they scheme about it. They do it because it is their business. I do not blame them in the least. I blame us, the people, for we ought to make it clear as a bell that the business of serving the people in one of the ordinary ministerial Government positions, which have nothing to do with deciding the policy of the Government, should have no necessary connection with the management of primaries, of caucuses, and of nominating conventions. As a result of our wrong thinking and supineness, we American citizens tend to breed a mass of men whose interests in governmental matters are often adverse to ours, who are thoroughly drilled, thoroughly organized, who make their livelihood out of politics, and who frequently make their livelihood out of bad politics.

Now I’m going to read Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain.

It would be well for writers and speakers to bear in mind the remark of Pudd’nhead Wilson to the effect that while there are nine hundred and ninety-nine kinds of falsehood, the only kind specifically condemned in Scripture, just as murder, theft, and adultery are condemned, is bearing false witness against one’s neighbor.

This quote caused me to look up the term snob on Wikipedia. The article is worth the read.

Their editors were refined men of cultivated tastes, whose pet temptations were backbiting, mean slander, and the snobbish worship of anything clothed in wealth and the outward appearances of conventional respectability.

Yeah, well, I would apply the following statement to the Progressivism of the New Nationalism.

[W]hen Dr. Johnson defined patriotism as the last refuge of a scoundrel he was ignorant of the infinite possibilities contained in the word reform.

The liberty of the individual is orthodox for me. I cannot agree with any politician who wants to limit or abolish it. Here, again, T.R. suggests balance. I understand his point, but I also understand that the government is made up of people. People are inherently flawed. His faith in government seems almost naive to me.

Unrestricted individualism spells ruin to the individual himself. But so does the elimination of individualism, whether by law or custom. It is a capital error to fail to recognize the vital need of good laws. It is also a capital error to believe that good laws will accomplish anything unless the average man has the right stuff in him.

I can’t emphasize enough how much I agree with T.R. on this point. It’s a lesson that is learned too late, if at all, these days.

A man must think well before he marries. He must be a tender and considerate husband and realize that there is no other human being to whom he owes so much of love and regard and consideration as he does to the woman who with pain bears and with labor rears the children that are his. No words can paint the scorn and contempt which must be felt by all right-thinking men, not only for the brutal husband, but for the husband who fails to show full loyalty and consideration to his wife.

More wisdom we’ve lost in the 21st century.

[T]he woman must realize that she has no more right to shirk the business of wifehood and motherhood than the man has to shirk his business as breadwinner for the household.

Agreed, but only with the caveat included.

Women should have free access to every field of labor which they care to enter, and when their work is as valuable as that of a man it should be paid as highly.

Family, raising children to be successful (not mammonistic) is the most important work a husband and wife can do. The marriage is a covenant, not a contract.

No other work is as valuable or as exacting for either man or woman; it must always, in every healthy society, be for both man and woman the prime work, the most important work; normally all other work is of secondary importance, and must come as an addition to, not a substitute for, this primary work. The partnership should be one of equal rights, one of love, of self-respect, and unselfishness, above all a partnership for the performance of the most vitally important of all duties. The performance of duty, and not an indulgence in vapid ease and vapid pleasure, is all that makes life worth while.

Agreed, the right to vote is a duty. Too many folks these days don’t take this seriously enough.

Personally I feel that it is exactly as much a “right” of women as of men to vote. But the important point with both men and women is to treat the exercise of the suffrage as a duty[…]

Oh man, this one would light up the Inter-tubes if a politician these days used it. I like the analogy nonetheless; I like it a lot.

A vote is like a rifle: its usefulness depends upon the character of the user.

Great wisdom! Again, marriage is a covenant, not a contract.

[L]et me remark that whenever a man thinks that he has outgrown the woman who is his mate, he will do well carefully to consider whether his growth has not been downward instead of upward, whether the facts are not merely that he has fallen away from his wife’s standard of refinement and of duty.

Talk without action is less than nothing.

I have always had a horror of words that are not translated into deeds, of speech that does not result in action—in other words, I believe in realizable ideals and in realizing them, in preaching what can be practiced and then in practicing it.

The majority of United States is made up of the leisure class. It’s very popular now. It’s not scoffed at like it once was. And I don’t think it’s just girls in danger. He’s talking of the danger of prostitution in the quote below, but I think there’s just as much danger for boys these days. If nothing else, getting caught in a criminal / drug culture.

A girl who is lazy and hates hard work, a girl whose mind is rather feeble, and who is of “subnormal intelligence,” as the phrase now goes, or a girl who craves cheap finery and vapid pleasure, is always in danger.

I really like the understanding that T.R. has about the partnership there is between and man and a woman where each sex has a duty to the other to make the couple stronger, more morally sound.

[W]e must not, in foolish sentimentality, excuse the girl from her duty to keep herself pure. Our duty to achieve the same moral level for the two sexes must be performed by raising the level for the man, not by lowering it for the woman[…]

When you’re young and idealistic you think, “If we only could do this, then so-and-so would be fixed.” You may even be entirely correct in you solution. Then you realize you can’t get consensus from enough people to actually implement the idea. The following quote sums up the truth of it.

Americans learn only from catastrophes and not from experience.

I agree with T.R. on this point but my concern is how deep the United States embeds itself in the matters of other countries to the point of near, perhaps real, slavery of those people. With our economic and military strength, I’m doubtful we are making the world better, rather, we are making it more beneficial and profitable for Americans. I would like to see a more equitably, mutually beneficial relationship with the rest of the world.

[A] proper armament is the surest guarantee of peace—and is the only guarantee that war, if it does come, will not mean irreparable and overwhelming disaster.

I absolutely agree with this. Too often I talk to people who think this isn’t the case but history shows otherwise.

In the reaction after the colossal struggle of the Civil War our strongest and most capable men had thrown their whole energy into business, into money-making, into the development, and above all the exploitation and exhaustion at the most rapid rate possible, of our natural resources—mines, forests, soil, and rivers.

Pleasing foolish people in general has become a fine art for politicians these days. The practice spread from “foolish peace people” to all foolish people as long as they vote.

But to address directly what T.R. is talking about in the quote below, I believe it’s dangerous to be too willing to go to war unless you understand justice. When George W. Bush, who is an avid fan of Theodore Roosevelt, went to war, he didn’t understand the difference between the just and unjust war. He listened, I think, only to advisers who were quite wrapped up in big business special interests which Roosevelt would abhor.

[T]oo many of our politicians, especially in Congress, found that the cheap and easy thing to do was to please the foolish peace people by keeping us weak, and to please the foolish violent people by passing denunciatory resolutions about international matters—resolutions which would have been improper even if we had been strong. Their idea was to please both the mollycoddle vote and the vote of the international tail-twisters by upholding, with pretended ardor and mean intelligence, a National policy of peace[…]

Not every war George W. Bush got us into was unjust. The Iraq War was silly and unjust. The United States too often bullies other countries and peoples. I think Ronald Reagan understood this better.

I abhor unjust war. I abhor injustice and bullying by the strong at the expense of the weak, whether among nations or individuals. I abhor violence and bloodshed. I believe that war should never be resorted to when, or so long as, it is honorably possible to avoid it. I respect all men and women who from high motives and with sanity and self-respect do all they can to avert war. I advocate preparation for war in order to avert war; and I should never advocate war unless it were the only alternative to dishonor. I describe the folly of which so many of our people were formerly guilty, in order that we may in our own day be on our guard against similar folly.

I think I’m Jeffersonian on this as well. But I don’t think Roosevelt liked the way Jefferson approached the First Barbary War.

[T]here still remained a public opinion, as old as the time of Jefferson, which thought that in the event of war all our problem ought to be one of coast defense, that we should do nothing except repel attack; an attitude about as sensible as that of a prize-fighter who expected to win by merely parrying instead of hitting.

Here Roosevelt comments on the death penalty. His comment has made me begin to reanalyze my position on it. Life is precious and sometimes death is earned. We should not be accepting of immoral behavior on the grounds that life is more precious than morality.

The life even of the most useful man, of the best citizen, is not to be hoarded if there be need to spend it. I felt, and feel, this about others; and of course also about myself. This is one reason why I have always felt impatient contempt for the effort to abolish the death penalty on account of sympathy with criminals. I am willing to listen to arguments in favor of abolishing the death penalty so far as they are based purely on grounds of public expediency, although these arguments have never convinced me. But inasmuch as, without hesitation, in the performance of duty, I have again and again sent good and gallant and upright men to die, it seems to me the height of a folly both mischievous and mawkish to contend that criminals who have deserved death should nevertheless be allowed to shirk it. No brave and good man can properly shirk death; and no criminal who has earned death should be allowed to shirk it.

The following statement went into my personal man code.

The true preachers of peace, who strive earnestly to bring nearer the day when peace shall obtain among all peoples, and who really do help forward the cause, are men who never hesitate to choose righteous war when it is the only alternative to unrighteous peace.

Another manly activity that is going away in modern America.

Hardy outdoor sports, like hunting, are in themselves of no small value to the National character and should be encouraged in every way. Men who go into the wilderness, indeed, men who take part in any field sports with horse or rifle, receive a benefit which can hardly be given by even the most vigorous athletic games.

This is one of my favorite passages in the book. The love of books and the outdoors go hand-in-hand! This quote has thriftiness, love of reading, love of the outdoors, simple pleasures, hardy pastimes…all good stuff!

There are men who love out-of-doors who yet never open a book; and other men who love books but to whom the great book of nature is a sealed volume, and the lines written therein blurred and illegible. Nevertheless among those men whom I have known the love of books and the love of outdoors, in their highest expressions, have usually gone hand in hand. It is an affectation for the man who is praising outdoors to sneer at books. Usually the keenest appreciation of what is seen in nature is to be found in those who have also profited by the hoarded and recorded wisdom of their fellow-men. Love of outdoor life, love of simple and hardy pastimes, can be gratified by men and women who do not possess large means, and who work hard; and so can love of good books—not of good bindings and of first editions, excellent enough in their way but sheer luxuries—I mean love of reading books, owning them if possible of course, but, if that is not possible, getting them from a circulating library.

A man who knows books.

Books are almost as individual as friends. There is no earthly use in laying down general laws about them. Some meet the needs of one person, and some of another; and each person should beware of the booklover’s besetting sin, of what Mr. Edgar Allan Poe calls “the mad pride of intellectuality,” taking the shape of arrogant pity for the man who does not like the same kind of books.

Just flat disagree. This becomes socialistic. Why does he have faith in the men in government but not the men in the private sector?

The principles thus formulated and applied may be summed up in the statement that the rights of the public to the natural resources outweigh private rights, and must be given its first consideration.

Perseverance for right, moral action whatever the cost.

We are striving for the right in the spirit of Abraham Lincoln when he said:

“Fondly do we hope—fervently do we pray—that this mighty scourge may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsmen’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, ‘The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’

“With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in.”

Roosevelt always comes at things with the idea of federal, rather than state superiority. I wonder why they didn’t try to repeal the 10th amendment?

The courts, not unnaturally, but most regrettably, and to the grave detriment of the people and of their own standing, had for a quarter of a century been on the whole the agents of reaction, and by conflicting decisions which, however, in their sum were hostile to the interests of the people, had left both the nation and the several States well-nigh impotent to deal with the great business combinations. Sometimes they forbade the Nation to interfere, because such interference trespassed on the rights of the States; sometimes they forbade the States to interfere (and often they were wise in this), because to do so would trespass on the rights of the Nation; but always, or well-nigh always, their action was negative action against the interests of the people, ingeniously devised to limit their power against wrong, instead of affirmative action giving to the people power to right wrong. They had rendered these decisions sometimes as upholders of property rights against human rights, being especially zealous in securing the rights of the very men who were most competent to take care of themselves; and sometimes in the name of liberty, in the name of the so-called “new freedom,” in reality the old, old “freedom,” which secured to the powerful the freedom to prey on the poor and the helpless.

Roosevelt differs greatly from Ron Paul on this. Ron Paul seems, to me, to be a Jefferson-Republican. I’m not sure how to reconcile those two viewpoints. On one hand big business did, in effect, enslave people and eliminate competition (laissez faire). On the other hand, the government interfering in the economy will manifest in either a socialist or fascist government. Neither are good (moral) or acceptable. Where’s the compromise?

[A] few men recognized that corporations and combinations had become indispensable in the business world, that it was folly to try to prohibit them, but that it was also folly to leave them without thoroughgoing control. These men realized that the doctrines of the old laissez faire economists, of the believers in unlimited competition, unlimited individualism, were in the actual state of affairs false and mischievous. They realized that the Government must now interfere to protect labor, to subordinate the big corporation to the public welfare, and to shackle cunning and fraud exactly as centuries before it had interfered to shackle the physical force which does wrong by violence.

It seems naive for Roosevelt to think that the same aristocracy (oligarchy?) in big business wouldn’t or couldn’t achieve the same control of the economy through the federal government. The centralized nature of the federal government likely makes it easier for the oligarchy.

There have been aristocracies which have played a great and beneficent part at stages in the growth of mankind; but we had come to the stage where for our people what was needed was a real democracy; and of all forms of tyranny the least attractive and the most vulgar is the tyranny of mere wealth, the tyranny of a plutocracy.

Middle ground compromise is common to Roosevelt’s solutions. Unfortunately he puts too much faith in the benevolence of the federal bureaucracy. Or, at least, he puts too much faith in the voter to supervise it.

I was opposed both by the foolish radicals who desired to break up all big business, with the impossible ideal of returning to mid-nineteenth century industrial conditions; and also by the great privileged interests themselves, who used these ordinarily—but sometimes not entirely—well-meaning “stool pigeon progressives” to further their own cause. The worst representatives of big business encouraged the outcry for the total abolition of big business, because they knew that they could not be hurt in this way, and that such an outcry distracted the attention of the public from the really efficient method of controlling and supervising them, in just but masterly fashion, which was advocated by the sane representatives of reform.

Roosevelt had a unique ability to empathize with and opponent. It was a matter of manly honor and I think it’s a good trait. Unfortunately, there are way too many simpleminded people in the world who will misunderstand. Even though some of his ideas and solutions seemed to have socialistic qualities, I do not think Roosevelt was a Socialist. I think he was pragmatic and wanted efficient results. Sometimes that meant “do it and we’ll see if it works.”

Because of things I have done on behalf of justice to the workingman, I have often been called a Socialist. Usually I have not taken the trouble even to notice the epithet. I am not afraid of names, and I am not one of those who fear to do what is right because some one else will confound me with partisans with whose principles I am not in accord. Moreover, I know that many American Socialists are high-minded and honorable citizens, who in reality are merely radical social reformers. They are oppressed by the brutalities and industrial injustices which we see everywhere about us. When I recall how often I have seen Socialists and ardent non-Socialists working side by side for some specific measure of social or industrial reform, and how I have found opposed to them on the side of privilege many shrill reactionaries who insist on calling all reformers Socialists, I refuse to be panic-stricken by having this title mistakenly applied to me.

None the less, without impugning their motives, I do disagree most emphatically with both the fundamental philosophy and the proposed remedies of the Marxian Socialists.

It ought to be possible to eliminate any part of any government that isn’t of explicit necessity and for the benefit of the customer (tax payer citizen).

By the time I became President I had grown to feel with deep intensity of conviction that governmental agencies must find their justification largely in the way in which they are used for the practical betterment of living and working conditions among the mass of the people. I felt that the fight was really for the abolition of privilege; and one of the first stages in the battle was necessarily to fight for the rights of the workingman.

BOOM » Love it. “Mercy to the coward is cruelty to the brave man.” Manly, just manly.

Any man who shirked his work, who dawdled and idled, received no mercy; slackness is even worse than harshness; for exactly as in battle mercy to the coward is cruelty to the brave man, so in civil life slackness towards the vicious and idle is harshness towards the honest and hardworking.

The courts system is often twisted to achieve results that are counter to the true spirit of the law.

[S]ome of the Federal judges, but some of the State courts invoked the Constitution in a spirit of the narrowest legalistic obstruction to prevent the Government from acting in defense of labor on inter-State railways. In effect, these judges took the view that while Congress had complete power as regards the goods transported by the railways, and could protect wealthy or well-to-do owners of these goods, yet that it had no power to protect the lives of the men engaged in transporting the goods. Such judges freely issued injunctions to prevent the obstruction of traffic in the interest of the property owners, but declared unconstitutional the action of the Government in seeking to safeguard the men, and the families of the men, without whose labor the traffic could not take place. It was an instance of the largely unconscious way in which the courts had been twisted into the exaltation of property rights over human rights, and the subordination of the welfare of the laborer when compared with the profit of the man for whom he labored.

This must be an anomaly of the emotional realm. I’ve seen this quite often. The interesting thing here is that Roosevelt, initially, is subject to the anomaly as well. Once he steps back and disengages, he’s able to analyze the situation in a more objective, less emotional way. That shows Roosevelt has a rare trait.

Then, suddenly, after about two hours’ argument, it dawned on me that they were not objecting to the thing, but to the name. I found that they did not mind my appointing any man, whether he was a labor man or not, so long as he was not appointed as a labor man, or as a representative of labor; they did not object to my exercising any latitude I chose in the appointments so long as they were made under the headings they had given. I shall never forget the mixture of relief and amusement I felt when I thoroughly grasped the fact that while they would heroically submit to anarchy rather than have Tweedledum, yet if I would call it Tweedledee they would accept it with rapture; it gave me an illuminating glimpse into one corner of the mighty brains of these “captains of industry.” In order to carry the great and vital point and secure agreement by both parties, all that was necessary for me to do was to commit a technical and nominal absurdity with a solemn face. This I gladly did. I announced at once that I accepted the terms laid down.

Yep, Roosevelt is a through-and-through Hamilton Federalist. He does have good points, though. This is the difficulty I keep coming across. How do we increase the freedom of the individual without losing the negotiating power of the group?

A democracy can be such in fact only if there is some rough approximation in similarity in stature among the men composing it. One of us can deal in our private lives with the grocer or the butcher or the carpenter or the chicken raiser, or if we are the grocer or carpenter or butcher or farmer, we can deal with our customers, because we are all of about the same size. Therefore a simple and poor society can exist as a democracy on a basis of sheer individualism. But a rich and complex industrial society cannot so exist; for some individuals, and especially those artificial individuals called corporations, become so very big that the ordinary individual is utterly dwarfed beside them, and cannot deal with them on terms of equality. It therefore becomes necessary for these ordinary individuals to combine in their turn, first in order to act in their collective capacity through that biggest of all combinations called the Government, and second, to act, also in their own self-defense, through private combinations, such as farmers’ associations and trade unions.

Modern politicians, primarily Democrats, practice this immoral policy. The ends justify the means to them and the end is enhancing their power.

That man is an unworthy public servant who by speech or silence, by direct statement or cowardly evasion, invariably throws the weight of his influence on the side of the trade union, whether it is right or wrong. It has occasionally been my duty to give utterance to the feelings of all right thinking men by expressing the most emphatic disapproval of unwise or even immoral notions by representatives of labor. The man is no true democrat, and if an American, is unworthy of the traditions of his country who, in problems calling for the exercise of a moral judgment, fails to take his stand on conduct and not on class.

The dirty underbelly of the laissez faire economy. Interestingly, even today, it’s very common for big business to speed up work to a point which is fatal to the health of the workman. Ask any MEP subcontractor on most construction sites these days. It’s all about faster and cheaper; seven days a week, ten hours a day. General Contractors are the pit bulls of big business.

[T]he same critic of the trade union might find equal causes of complaint against individual employers of labor, or even against great associations of manufacturers. He might find many instances of an unwarranted cutting of wages, of flagrant violations of factory laws and tenement house laws, of the deliberate and systematic cheating of employees by means of truck stores, of the speeding up of work to a point which is fatal to the health of the workman, of the sweating of foreign-born workers, of the drafting of feeble little children into dusty workshops, of black-listing, of putting spies into union meetings and of the employment in strike times of vicious and desperate ruffians, who are neither better nor worse than are the thugs who are occasionally employed by unions under the sinister name, “entertainment committees.”

I like, demand, a right to work economy. It keeps things competitive. Shouldn’t trade unions have to compete, on a level field, to retain workers? Shouldn’t they have to serve their customer or lose them?

Nevertheless, irrespective of whether a man should or should not, and does or does not, join the union of his trade, all the rights, privileges and immunities of that man as an American and as a citizen should be safeguarded and upheld by the law. We dare not make an outlaw of any individual or any group, whatever his or its opinions or professions. The non-unionist, like the unionist, must be protected in all his legal rights by the full weight and power of the law.

It cannot be well argued that Progressivism didn’t bring positive changes to America. When will is it going to be time to review some of these changes to evaluate their efficacy? Now we have Progressive conservatives.

I have always maintained that our worst revolutionaries to-day are those reactionaries who do not see and will not admit that there is any need for change. Such men seem to believe that the four and a half million Progressive voters, who in 1912 registered their solemn protest against our social and industrial injustices, are “anarchists,” who are not willing to let ill enough alone. If these reactionaries had lived at an earlier time in our history, they would have advocated Sedition Laws, opposed free speech and free assembly, and voted against free schools, free access by settlers to the public lands, mechanics’ lien laws, the prohibition of truck stores and the abolition of imprisonment for debt; and they are the men who to-day oppose minimum wage laws, insurance of workmen against the ills of industrial life and the reform of our legislators and our courts, which can alone render such measures possible. Some of these reactionaries are not bad men, but merely shortsighted and belated. It is these reactionaries, however, who, by “standing pat” on industrial injustice, incite inevitably to industrial revolt, and it is only we who advocate political and industrial democracy who render possible the progress of our American industry on large constructive lines with a minimum of friction because with a maximum of justice.

A reciprocal relationship. What a novelty, how rare.

The wage-worker should not only receive fair treatment; he should give fair treatment. In order that prosperity may be passed around it is necessary that the prosperity exist. In order that labor shall receive its fair share in the division of reward it is necessary that there be a reward to divide. Any proposal to reduce efficiency by insisting that the most efficient shall be limited in their output to what the least efficient can do, is a proposal to limit by so much production, and therefore to impoverish by so much the public, and specifically to reduce the amount that can be divided among the producers. This is all wrong. Our protest must be against unfair division of the reward for production. Every encouragement should be given the business man, the employer, to make his business prosperous, and therefore to earn more money for himself; and in like fashion every encouragement should be given the efficient workman.

Absolute, unequivocal agreement here. Yes, I do include suicide bombers in this group of anarchists.

I treated anarchists and the bomb-throwing and dynamiting gentry precisely as I treated other criminals. Murder is murder. It is not rendered one whit better by the allegation that it is committed on behalf of “a cause.”

Unfortunately, our government is very distant. Face to face conversations do not occur as they did in Roosevelt’s time. I don’t think he saw that coming. he might have changed some of his approaches if he had.

While I am President I wish the labor man to feel that he has the same right of access to me that the capitalist has; that the doors swing open as easily to the wage-worker as to the head of a big corporation—and no easier.

Justification for imperialism. It really is hard to argue against imperialism when the countries in question won’t let well enough alone. It’s tragic that they would stifle freedom of religion within their own borders, but they want to project it beyond their borders. It’s tragic when they commit immoral acts upon their fellow human beings within their borders, but, yet again, they wish to project that brutality outward. This is a good case for imperialism as long as it is a type of stewardship of the underdeveloped country. The stewardship cannot be halfhearted or soft, but it must be thoroughly just.

It’s interesting to see Roosevelt having to deal with the peace at any cost crowd over 100 years ago. Of all the people I’ve read and talked to, Theodore Roosevelt seems to be the only one that really understands the subtle nuances involved when decided whether to go to war or not. George W. Bush did not understand that.

I remember one representative of their number, who used to write little sonnets on behalf of the Mahdi and the Sudanese, these sonnets setting forth the need that the Sudan should be both independent and peaceful. As a matter of fact, the Sudan valued independence only because it desired to war against all Christians and to carry on an unlimited slave trade. It was “independent” under the Mahdi for a dozen years, and during those dozen years the bigotry, tyranny, and cruel religious intolerance were such as flourished in the seventh century, and in spite of systematic slave raids the population decreased by nearly two-thirds, and practically all the children died. Peace came, well-being came, freedom from rape and murder and torture and highway robbery, and every brutal gratification of lust and greed came, only when the Sudan lost its independence and passed under English rule. Yet this well-meaning little sonneteer sincerely felt that his verses were issued in the cause of humanity. Looking back from the vantage point of a score of years, probably every one will agree that he was an absurd person. But he was not one whit more absurd than most of the more prominent persons who advocate disarmament by the United States, the cessation of up-building the navy, and the promise to agree to arbitrate all matters, including those affecting our national interests and honor, with all foreign nations.

These persons would do no harm if they affected only themselves. Many of them are, in the ordinary relations of life, good citizens. They are exactly like the other good citizens who believe that enforced universal vegetarianism or anti-vaccination is the panacea for all ills. But in their particular case they are able to do harm because they affect our relations with foreign powers, so that other men pay the debt which they themselves have really incurred. It is the foolish, peace-at-any-price persons who try to persuade our people to make unwise and improper treaties, or to stop building up the navy. But if trouble comes and the treaties are repudiated, or there is a demand for armed intervention, it is not these people who will pay anything; they will stay at home in safety, and leave brave men to pay in blood, and honest men to pay in shame, for their folly.

Disarmament of moral, upright citizenry is immoral. There is not justification for it. The greatest, most heinous acts of cruelty have been committed on the unarmed, defenseless people of the world.

Be it remembered that the peoples who suffered by these hideous massacres, who saw their women violated and their children tortured, were actually enjoying all the benefits of “disarmament.” Otherwise they would not have been massacred; for if the Jews in Russia and the Armenians in Turkey had been armed, and had been efficient in the use of their arms, no mob would have meddled with them.

I cannot support a person or group that, in what it perceives to be the moral high ground, demands others to suffer atrocities for the sake of peace.

Yet amiable but fatuous persons, with all these facts before their eyes, pass resolutions demanding universal arbitration for everything, and the disarmament of the free civilized powers and their abandonment of their armed forces; or else they write well-meaning, solemn little books, or pamphlets or editorials, and articles in magazines or newspapers, to show that it is “an illusion” to believe that war ever pays, because it is expensive. This is precisely like arguing that we should disband the police and devote our sole attention to persuading criminals that it is “an illusion” to suppose that burglary, highway robbery and white slavery are profitable. It is almost useless to attempt to argue with these well-intentioned persons, because they are suffering under an obsession and are not open to reason. They go wrong at the outset, for they lay all the emphasis on peace and none at all on righteousness. They are not all of them physically timid men; but they are usually men of soft life; and they rarely possess a high sense of honor or a keen patriotism.

This is the quote of quotes from the book! Speak softly and carry a big stick. It’s not just a little soundbite, it’s a philosophy.

One class of our citizens indulges in gushing promises to do everything for foreigners, another class offensively and improperly reviles them; and it is hard to say which class more thoroughly misrepresents the sober, self-respecting judgment of the American people as a whole. The only safe rule is to promise little, and faithfully to keep every promise; to “speak softly and carry a big stick.”

Don’t bluff it if you can’t deliver it.

Neither in national nor in private affairs is it ordinarily advisable to make a bluff which cannot be put through—personally, I never believe in doing it under any circumstances.

Yikes! I wonder if he would still agree with this? I hope not.

[W]e must abandon definitely the laissez-faire theory of political economy, and fearlessly champion a system of increased Governmental control, paying no heed to the cries of the worthy people who denounce this as Socialistic.

I don’t know, maybe I don’t have well developed sense of humor. It’s possible. But, the following quote just hit my funny bone somehow. I guess it’s just the wording; it’s crafty.

It is easy for a politician detected in a misstatement to take refuge in evasive rhetorical hyperbole.

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