Henry Adams: Politics Had Always Been the Systematic Organization of Hatreds

Henry Adams: Politics Had Always Been the Systematic Organization of Hatreds

Timothy Taylor 03/11/2020 4
Henry Adams: Politics Had Always Been the Systematic Organization of Hatreds

The great historian Henry Adams had a US President as a grandfather and also as a great-grandfather: John Quincy Adams and John Adams.

His 1907 autobiography, The Education of Henry Adams is written from an outside perspective, as if his older self was a separate person watching his younger self grow up.  Some of Adams's description of the political climate in which he grew up as a boy in the 1840s had some resonance for me as the 2020 election season draws to an end: 

The atmosphere of education in which he lived was colonial, revolutionary, almost Cromwellian, as though he were steeped, from his greatest grandmother's birth, in the odor of political crime. Resistance to something was the law of New England nature; the boy looked out on the world with the instinct of resistance; for numberless generations his predecessors had viewed the world chiefly as a thing to be reformed, filled with evil forces to be abolished, and they saw no reason to suppose that they had wholly succeeded in the abolition; the duty was unchanged. That duty implied not only resistance to evil, but hatred of it. Boys naturally look on all force as an enemy, and generally find it so, but the New Englander, whether boy or man, in his long struggle with a stingy or hostile universe, had learned also to love the pleasure of hating; his joys were few.

Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, had always been the systematic organization of hatreds, and Massachusetts politics had been as harsh as the climate.

Of course, this comment raises the question of whether politics needs to be a systematic organization of hatreds, and if not, how people can help themselves to be both politically active, fervent, and committed while in no way fostering or giving in to hatred of their opponents.

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  • Andrew Davies

    Democrats and republicans are two fangs on the same snake.

  • Sam Welly

    Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

  • Jane Miller

    The answer to change or improve our government depends on our involvement.

  • Dan Hassam

    Simply wow... Well explained...

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Timothy Taylor

Global Economy Expert

Timothy Taylor is an American economist. He is managing editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, a quarterly academic journal produced at Macalester College and published by the American Economic Association. Taylor received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Haverford College and a master's degree in economics from Stanford University. At Stanford, he was winner of the award for excellent teaching in a large class (more than 30 students) given by the Associated Students of Stanford University. At Minnesota, he was named a Distinguished Lecturer by the Department of Economics and voted Teacher of the Year by the master's degree students at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. Taylor has been a guest speaker for groups of teachers of high school economics, visiting diplomats from eastern Europe, talk-radio shows, and community groups. From 1989 to 1997, Professor Taylor wrote an economics opinion column for the San Jose Mercury-News. He has published multiple lectures on economics through The Teaching Company. With Rudolph Penner and Isabel Sawhill, he is co-author of Updating America's Social Contract (2000), whose first chapter provided an early radical centrist perspective, "An Agenda for the Radical Middle". Taylor is also the author of The Instant Economist: Everything You Need to Know About How the Economy Works, published by the Penguin Group in 2012. The fourth edition of Taylor's Principles of Economics textbook was published by Textbook Media in 2017.

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