I’m a reader but not yet what I would call well-read. Reading regularly is something I starter doing many years ago (to cure my lack of education) and one of the first books I read was Age of Reason by Thomas Paine. The book was interesting to me because it helped me cleanse some of the cultish ideas in which I was raised. Even so, I never delved into his other works.
Recently, I looked at his pamphlet The America Crisis and my jaw dropped. Its opening was amazing:
THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated.
These are beautifully poetic words for a work of political science. Wow! I have to read it thoroughly. I’m hooked. Where are these types of writers/thinkers today? Have we “advanced” beyond this beautiful wordsmithery?
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
- 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)
- Romeo and Juliet
- King Lear
- Julius Caesar
- 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
- 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
- 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.
In March of 2014 I finished reading Theodore Roosevelt: An Autobiography by Theodore Roosevelt and I started going through my notes on the book and I came across a quote Roosevelt used from The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain. In skimming Twain’s book recently I came across this piece that reminds me of how factions believe consensus in the group is truth with no consideration that they may not understand the facts or nuances of a situation. Factions rarely—without tragedy—change their collective mind.
In [the] month of February, Dawson’s Landing gained a new citizen. This was Mr. David Wilson, a young fellow of Scotch parentage. He had wandered to this remote region from his birthplace in the interior of the State of New York, to seek his fortune. He was twenty-five years old, college bred, and had finished a post-college course in an Eastern law school a couple of years before.
He was a homely, freckled, sandy-haired young fellow, with an intelligent blue eye that had frankness and comradeship in it and a covert twinkle of a pleasant sort. But for an unfortunate remark of his, he would no doubt have entered at once upon a successful career at Dawson’s Landing. But he made his fatal remark the first day he spent in the village, and it “gaged” him. He had just made the acquaintance of a group of citizens when an invisible [out of eyesight] dog began to yelp and snarl and howl and make himself very comprehensively disagreeable, whereupon young Wilson said, much as one who is thinking aloud:
“I wish I owned half of that dog.”
“Why?” somebody asked.
“Because I would kill my half.”
The group searched his face with curiosity, with anxiety even, but found no light there, no expression that they could read. They fell away from him as from something uncanny, and went into privacy to discuss him. One said:
“‘Pears to be a fool.”
“‘Pears?” said another. “Is, I reckon you better say.”
“Said he wished he owned half of the dog, the idiot,” said a third. “What did he reckon would become of the other half if he killed his half? Do you reckon he thought it would live?”
“Why, he must have thought it, unless he IS the downrightest fool in the world; because if he hadn’t thought it, he would have wanted to own the whole dog, knowing that if he killed his half and the other half died, he would be responsible for that half just the same as if he had killed that half instead of his own. Don’t it look that way to you, gents?”
“Yes, it does. If he owned one half of the general dog, it would be so; if he owned one end of the dog and another person owned the other end, it would be so, just the same; particularly in the first case, because if you kill one half of a general dog, there ain’t any man that can tell whose half it was; but if he owned one end of the dog, maybe he could kill his end of it and—”
“No, he couldn’t either; he couldn’t and not be responsible if the other end died, which it would. In my opinion that man ain’t in his right mind.”
“In my opinion he hain’t got any mind.”
No. 3 said: “Well, he’s a lummox, anyway.”
“That’s what he is;” said No. 4. “He’s a labrick—just a Simon-pure labrick, if there was one.”
“Yes, sir, he’s a dam fool. That’s the way I put him up,” said No. 5. “Anybody can think different that wants to, but those are my sentiments.”
“I’m with you, gentlemen,” said No. 6. “Perfect jackass—yes, and it ain’t going too far to say he is a pudd’nhead. If he ain’t a pudd’nhead, I ain’t no judge, that’s all.”
Mr. Wilson stood elected. The incident was told all over the town, and gravely discussed by everybody. Within a week he had lost his first name; Pudd’nhead took its place. In time he came to be liked, and well liked too; but by that time the nickname had got well stuck on, and it stayed. That first day’s verdict made him a fool, and he was not able to get it set aside, or even modified. The nickname soon ceased to carry any harsh or unfriendly feeling with it, but it held its place, and was to continue to hold its place for twenty long years.
AMONG the numerous advantages promised by a well constructed Union, none deserves to be more accurately developed than its tendency to break and control the violence of faction.
By a faction, I understand a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adversed to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.
…the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties, and that measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority.
— James Madison. Federalist #10, The Federalist Papers
Read here: Federalist Paper #10 (Full Text) or download the free eBook of the entire collection of The Federalist Papers from Project Gutenberg.
This book stays on my list of books to suggest to others. Below are some of the clippings I made while reading it. If they sound interesting, go buy the book, I think you’ll enjoy it.
The college student interviews for a job as a knowledge worker, and finds that the corporate recruiter never asks him about his grades and doesn’t care what he majored in. He senses that what is demanded of him is not knowledge but rather that he project a certain kind of personality, an affable complaisance. Is all his hard work in school somehow just for show—his ticket to a Potemkin meritocracy? There seems to be a mismatch between form and content, and a growing sense that the official story we’ve been telling ourselves about work is somehow false.
Chapter 1 – A Brief Case for the Useful Arts
The satisfactions of manifesting oneself concretely in the world through manual competence have been known to make a man quiet and easy. They seem to relieve him of the felt need to offer chattering interpretations of himself to vindicate his worth. He can simply point: the building stands, the car now runs, the lights are on. Boasting is what a boy does, because he has no real effect in the world. But the tradesman must reckon with the infallible judgment of reality, where one’s failures or shortcomings cannot be interpreted away. His well-founded pride is far from the gratuitous “self-esteem” that educators would impart to students, as though by magic.
Today, in our schools, the manual trades are given little honor. The egalitarian worry that has always attended tracking students into “college prep” and “vocational ed” is overlaid with another: the fear that acquiring a specific skill set means that one’s life is determined. In college, by contrast, many students don’t learn anything of particular application; college is the ticket to an open future. Craftsmanship entails learning to do one thing really well, while the ideal of the new economy is to be able to learn new things, celebrating potential rather than achievement.
…most people take pride in being good at something specific, which happens through the accumulation of experience. Yet the flitting disposition is pressed upon workers from above by the current generation of management revolutionaries, for whom the ethic of craftsmanship is actually something to be rooted out from the workforce. Craftsmanship means dwelling on a task for a long time and going deeply into it, because you want to get it right. In managementspeak, this is called being “ingrown.” The preferred role model is the management consultant, who swoops in and out and whose very pride lies in his lack of particular expertise. Like the ideal consumer, the management consultant presents an image of soaring freedom, in light of which the manual trades appear cramped and paltry: the plumber with his butt crack, peering under the sink.
With such images in their heads, parents don’t want their children to become plumbers. Yet that filthy plumber under the sink might be charging somebody eighty dollars an hour. This fact ought, at least, to induce an experience of cognitive dissonance in the parent who regards his child as smart and wants him to become a knowledge worker.
The nascent two-track educational scheme mirrored the assembly line’s severing of the cognitive aspects of manual work from its physical execution. Such a partition of thinking from doing has bequeathed us the dichotomy of white collar versus blue collar, corresponding to mental versus manual.
These seem to be the categories that inform the educational landscape even now, and this entails two big errors. First, it assumes that all blue-collar work is as mindless as assembly line work, and second, that white-collar work is still recognizably mental in character. Yet there is evidence to suggest that the new frontier of capitalism lies in doing to office work what was previously done to factory work: draining it of its cognitive elements. Paradoxically, educators who would steer students toward cognitively rich work might do this best by rehabilitating the manual trades, based on a firmer grasp of what such work is really like.
Any high school principal who doesn’t claim as his goal “one hundred percent college attendance” is likely to be accused of harboring “low expectations” and run out of town by indignant parents. This indignation is hard to stand against, since it carries all the moral weight of egalitarianism. Yet it is also snobbish, since it evidently regards the trades as something “low.” The best sort of democratic education is neither snobbish nor egalitarian. Rather, it accords a place of honor in our common life to whatever is best. At this weird moment of growing passivity and dependence, let us publicly recognize a yeoman aristocracy: those who gain real knowledge of real things, the sort we all depend on every day.
Writing in Foreign Affairs, the Princeton economist Alan Blinder considers the question of job security and falling wages for U.S. workers in light of global competition:
Many people blithely assume that the critical labor-market distinction is, and will remain, between highly educated (or highly skilled) people and less-educated (or less-skilled) people—doctors versus call-center operators, for example. The supposed remedy for the rich countries, accordingly, is more education and a general “upskilling” of the work force. But this view may be mistaken. . . . The critical divide in the future may instead be between those types of work that are easily deliverable through a wire (or via wireless connections) with little or no diminution in quality and those that are not. And this unconventional divide does not correspond well to traditional distinctions between jobs that require high levels of education and jobs that do not.
Physicians who treat patients don’t need to worry that their jobs will be sent offshore, but radiologists who examine images have already seen this happen, just as accountants and computer programmers have. He goes on to point out that “you can’t hammer a nail over the Internet.”
[Alan] Blinder predicts a massive economic disruption that is only just beginning, affecting people who went to college and assumed their education prepared them for high-paying careers with lots of opportunity. Now their bosses are looking to India, or the Philippines, and finding well-qualified people who speak good English and will work for a fraction of what Americans have been earning. Architects face this threat, but builders don’t.
Chapter 2 – The Separation of Thinking from Doing
The dichotomy of mental versus manual didn’t arise spontaneously. Rather, the twentieth century saw concerted efforts to separate thinking from doing. Those efforts achieved a good deal of success in ordering our economic life, and it is this success that perhaps explains the plausibility the distinction now enjoys. Yet to call this “success” is deeply perverse, for wherever the separation of thinking from doing has been achieved, it has been responsible for the degradation of work.
In the 1950s, sociologists started pointing out a basic resemblance between Soviet and Western societies: in both there seemed to be an increasing number of jobs that were radically simplified. Both societies were industrial, and had in common a growing separation of planning from execution. This was sometimes attributed to automation, but more penetrating observers noted that it proceeded from the imperatives of rational administration—a sort of social technology, rooted in the division of labor. The “machine” in question was the social body, made up of increasingly standardized parts. In the Soviet bloc, this machine was subject to central control by the state; in the West, by corporations.
In 1974, Harry Braverman published his masterpiece of economic reflection, Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century. Braverman was an avowed Marxist. With the cold war now safely decided, we may consider anew, without a sense of mortal political threat, the Marxian account of alienated labor. As Braverman acknowledged, this critique applied to the Soviet Union no less than to capitalist societies. He gives a richly descriptive account of the degradation of many different kinds of work. In doing so, he offers nothing less than an explanation of why we are getting more stupid with every passing year—which is to say, the degradation of work is ultimately a cognitive matter, rooted in the separation of thinking from doing.
Scientific management introduced the use of “time and motion analysis” to describe the physiological capabilities of the human body in machine terms. As Braverman writes, “the more labor is governed by classified motions which extend across the boundaries of trades and occupations, the more it dissolves its concrete forms into the general types of work motions. This mechanical exercise of human faculties according to motion types which are studied independently of the particular kind of work being done, brings to life the Marxist conception of ‘abstract labor.’”5 The clearest example of abstract labor is thus the assembly line. The activity of self-directed labor, conducted by the worker, is dissolved or abstracted into parts and then reconstituted as a process controlled by management—a labor sausage.
In The Electronic Sweatshop: How Computers Are Transforming the Office of the Future into the Factory of the Past, Barbara Garson details how “extraordinary human ingenuity has been used to eliminate the need for human ingenuity.” She finds that, like Taylor’s rationalization of the shop floor, the intention of expert systems is “to transfer knowledge, skill, and decision making from employee to employer.” While Taylor’s time and motion studies broke every concrete work motion into minute parts,
the modern knowledge engineer performs similar detailed studies, only he anatomizes decision making rather than bricklaying. So the time-and-motion study has become a time-and-thought study. . . To build an expert system, a living expert is debriefed and then cloned by a knowledge engineer. That is to say, an expert is interviewed, typically for weeks or months. The knowledge engineer watches the expert work on sample problems and asks exactly what factors the expert considered in making his apparently intuitive decisions. Eventually hundreds or thousands of rules of thumb are fed into the computer. The result is a program that can “make decisions” or “draw conclusions” heuristically instead of merely calculating with equations. Like a real expert, a sophisticated expert system should be able to draw inferences from “iffy” or incomplete data that seems to suggest or tends to rule out. In other words it uses (or replaces) judgment.
Chapter 3 – Be the Master of One’s Own Stuff
It used to be that, in addition to a dipstick, you had also a very crude interface, simpler but no different conceptually from the sophisticated interface of the new Mercedes. It was called an “idiot light.” One can be sure that the current system is not referred to in the Mercedes owner’s manual as the “idiot system,” as the harsh judgment carried by that term no longer makes any sense to us. By some inscrutable cultural logic, idiocy gets recast as something desirable.
Chapter 4 – The Education of a Gearhead
The truth does not reveal itself to idle spectators.
Iris Murdoch writes that to respond to the world justly, you first have to perceive it clearly, and this requires a kind of “unselfing.” “[A]nything which alters consciousness in the direction of unselfishness, objectivity and realism is to be connected with virtue.”13 “[V]irtue is the attempt to pierce the veil of selfish consciousness and join the world as it really is.”14 This attempt is never fully successful, because we are preoccupied with our own concerns. But getting outside her own head is the task the artist sets herself, and this is the mechanic’s task, too.
If occasions for the exercise of judgment are diminished, the moral-cognitive virtue of attentiveness will atrophy.
Chapter 5 – The Further Education of a Gearhead: From Amateur to Professional
…in the spring I got a call from a former teacher, now in Washington, D.C., asking if I was interested in a job as director of a certain think tank. The salary was huge. Hell, yes, I was interested. I interviewed, and ended up getting the job. But I would quickly discover it was not to my taste. It was concerned more with the forms of inquiry than with the substance; the trappings of scholarship were used to put a scientific cover on positions arrived at otherwise.
…in an effort to save time in assembling and disassembling things with an inscrutable Oriental fit to them, I used to try to hypnotize myself into a Zen-like state of resignation at the outset. It doesn’t work, not for this Grasshopper. I have my own process, as they say. I call it the motherfucker process.
Chapter 6 – The Contradictions of the Cubicle
Recurring purchases, after all, may continue even when the alignment of interests between producer and consumer is only partial, or even accompanied by a felt antagonism. Frequently we come to hate things that we nonetheless continue to depend on (like Windows).
The characteristic form of address on a job site is command. In the office, Jackall writes,
managers’ acute sense of organizational contingency makes them speak gingerly to one another since the person one criticizes or argues with today could be one’s boss tomorrow. . . . Moreover, the crucial premium in the corporation on style includes an expectation of a certain finesse in handling people, a “sensitivity to others,” as it is called. As one manager says: “You can’t just push people around anymore.” Discreet suggestions, hints, and coded messages take the place of command; this, of course, places a premium on subordinates’ abilities to read their bosses’ vaguely articulated or completely unstated wishes.35
This sounds to me like being part of a clique of girls, where one can commit a serious misstep without knowing it; where one’s place in the hierarchy is made difficult to know because of the forms and manners of sisterhood. Under such proprieties, even one’s sense of being on probation may be difficult to bring to full awareness, taking instead the form of a dull and confusing anxiety.
The educational goal of self-esteem seems to habituate young people to work that lacks objective standards and revolves instead around group dynamics. When self-esteem is artificially generated, it becomes more easily manipulable, a product of social technique rather than a secure possession of one’s own based on accomplishments. Psychologists find a positive correlation between repeated praise and “shorter task persistence, more eye-checking with the teacher, and inflected speech such that answers have the intonation of questions.”36 The more children are praised, the more they have a stake in maintaining the resulting image they have of themselves; children who are praised for being smart choose the easier alternative when given a new task.37 They become risk-averse and dependent on others. The credential loving of college students is a natural response to such an education, and prepares them well for the absence of objective standards in the job markets they will enter; the validity of your self-assessment is known to you by the fact it has been dispensed by gatekeeping institutions. Prestigious fellowships, internships, and degrees become the standard of self-esteem. This is hardly an education for independence, intellectual adventurousness, or strong character.
“If you don’t vent the drain pipe like this, sewage gases will seep up through the water in the toilet, and the house will stink of shit.” In the trades, a master offers his apprentice good reasons for acting in one way rather than another, the better to realize ends the goodness of which is readily apparent. The master has no need for a psychology of persuasion that will make the apprentice compliant to whatever purposes the master might dream up; those purposes are given and determinate. He does the same work as the apprentice, only better. He is able to explain what he does to the apprentice, because there are rational principles that govern it. Or he may explain little, and the learning proceeds by example and imitation. For the apprentice there is a progressive revelation of the reasonableness of the master’s actions. He may not know why things have to be done a certain way at first, and have to take it on faith, but the rationale becomes apparent as he gains experience. Teamwork doesn’t have this progressive character. It depends on group dynamics, which are inherently unstable and subject to manipulation.
Chapter 7 – Thinking as Doing
The current educational regime is based on a certain view about what kind of knowledge is important: “knowing that,” as opposed to “knowing how.” This corresponds roughly to universal knowledge versus the kind that comes from individual experience. If you know that something is the case, then this proposition can be stated from anywhere. In fact, such knowledge aspires to a view from nowhere. That is, it aspires to a view that gets at the true nature of things because it isn’t conditioned by the circumstances of the viewer. It can be transmitted through speech or writing without loss of meaning, and expounded by a generic self that need not have any prerequisite experiences. Occupations based on universal, propositional knowledge are more prestigious, but they are also the kind that face competition from the whole world as book learning becomes more widely disseminated in the global economy. Practical know-how, on the other hand, is always tied to the experience of a particular person. It can’t be downloaded, it can only be lived.
Chapter 8 – Work, Leisure, and Full Engagement
…consider the reality of the mortgage broker circa 2005, whose work takes on a very different character under absentee capitalism. Knowing the mortgage he secures will be sold by the originating bank (a branch of a nationwide bank) to some other entity, he needn’t concern himself with the creditworthiness of the applicant. The bank has no interest in the ongoing viability of the loan; its interest is limited to the fees it gets from originating the loan. The mortgages will be bundled on Wall Street, then these bundles will themselves be transformed through securitization into quantized particles of something more general, “housing debt,” and sold to the Chinese government and other investors. The original encounter between mortgage broker and borrower as they sit across from one another is fraught with moral content—questions of trust—and both of the original parties no doubt experience it this way, in 2005 as ever. The mortgage broker gets a feeling in his gut. But this information is discarded through a process of depersonalization. The discarding is purposeful.5 Indeed, the originating banks get frequent phone calls from Wall Street investment houses, urging them to invent new kinds of loans in which the borrower doesn’t even need to claim income or assets, much less prove their existence.6 This makes a certain kind of psychic demand on the mortgage broker who actually writes the loans: he must silence the voice of prudence, and suspend the action of his own judgment and perception.
There is a classic psychology experiment that seems to confirm Brewer’s point. Children who enjoy drawing were given marker pens and allowed to go at it. Some were rewarded for drawing (they were given a certificate with a gold seal and a ribbon, and told ahead of time about this arrangement), whereas for others the issue of rewards was never raised. Weeks later, those who had been rewarded took less interest in drawing, and their drawings were judged to be lower in quality, whereas those who had not been rewarded continued to enjoy the activity and produced higher-quality drawings. The hypothesis is that the child begins to attribute his interest, which previously needed no justification, to the external reward, and this has the effect of reducing his intrinsic interest in it.8 That is, an external reward can affect one’s interpretation of one’s own motivation, an interpretation that comes to be self-fulfilling. A similar effect may account for the familiar fact that when someone turns his hobby into a business, he often loses pleasure in it. Likewise, the intellectual who pursues an academic career gets professionalized, and this may lead him to stop thinking.
Concluding Remarks on Solidarity and Self-Reliance
The practitioner of a stochastic art, such as motorcycle repair, experiences failure on a daily basis. Just today, for example, before sitting down to write, I was faced with a mangled screw frozen in a cylinder head. I had to cut the head of the screw off with a pneumatic chisel (easy enough), center punch the remaining stud (ditto), then drill it out with a cobalt drill bit. This last step is always dicey, and in fact the drill bit broke off inside the hole I was drilling. As far as I know there is no drill bit harder than cobalt that I can use to drill out the broken-off drill bit. (Apologies to Bob Gorman, the owner of this particular cylinder head—I’ll make it right somehow.) Everything is going along swimmingly, then I find myself with no way forward. Such failures get internalized, and give rise to both pessimism and self-reproach. Not only do things tend to go to hell, but your own actions contribute inevitably to that process.
Those who belong to a certain order of society—people who make big decisions that affect all of us—don’t seem to have much sense of their own fallibility. Being unacquainted with failure, the kind that can’t be interpreted away, may have something to do with the lack of caution that business and political leaders often display in the actions they undertake on behalf of other people.
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
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.
[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.
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.