Reading Room Archives
Morris would say emphatically no: a consistent theme in his writings is that a constitution must be suited to the people it governs. As noted in the last post, he understood human nature, and the conflicting interests that agitate society.
The Beggar's Opera took London by storm in 1728, when it was staged 62 times in succession. It remains a classic for many reasons, starting with its humor. In the first act, Mrs. Peachum, upon hearing that her daughter has married the dashing highwayman "Captain" Macheath, exclaims, "Away, hussy! Hang your husband, and be dutiful."
A Gallop poll shows a worrisome decline in patriotism among younger Americans. A mere half of Americans 35 and younger report being proud of their country. A generational shift is occurring that will have far-reaching consequences for the future of America if young Americans aren’t sure that their country has worth and esteem. How can America have a future if young Americans aren’t proud?
Alexander Hamilton?” “Is that what we should remember about her?” “Would we remember her without Alexander?”
Queen Artemesia, for instance, was known as an effective and intelligent leader and naval commander. One suspects that although there were commonly-known examples of women displaying the qualities they were purported not to have, their subordinate status was nevertheless the rule regardless of the absence of good reasons.
Mercy Otis Warren’s political writings today? Just because she’s a woman? No, but then again, maybe yes. Even if we keep sex and gender out of it, Warren was impressive in her own right. At an early age, she studied the classics—history, literature, political theory, and philosophy—with her brother, James Otis. During the War of Independence and the debates over the Constitution, she drew upon this rich education while writing political poems, plays, and tracts for general consumption. Perhaps most impressively, in her three-volume History of the Rise, Progress, and Termination of the American Revolution, she imparts the wisdom she gained through study and experience by commenting on human nature in general and the character of the American people in particular.
Harriet Martineau (born June 12, 1802). Often described as the first female sociologist, Martineau wrote on a wide variety of subjects such as religion, economics, and travel. She also wrote novels and was a translator of Auguste Comte. Unusually for a woman of her time, she was able to support herself solely through her writing.
Thomas Jefferson neared his death—which came on July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the adoption of the Declaration of Independence—he composed some of the most famous and optimistic lines ever to emerge from his pen. He had been invited to attend celebrations of the Golden Jubilee far and wide, but at age eighty-three he was far too frail to do so. He instead sat down on June 24 to write a self-consciously eloquent message about the significance of the anniversary to Roger Weightman, the mayor of Washington, DC, who was overseeing the festivities in the nation’s capital.
Mozart wanted to make his name known to Vienna’s opera-going public, he made a daring choice. He had Lorenzo Da Ponte write a libretto based on a controversial play by Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais. Like the play, the opera was called The Marriage of Figaro.
James Madison was the George Harrison of his day, certainly Alexander Hamilton was a lead vocalist of the caliber of John Lennon, and there are very good reasons why he resonates so well today that he is the subject of an all-time leading musical! Madison may well be one of the most important writers of our “constitutional notes,” but it is to Hamilton that we owe the most creative and even original expressions of those passages into legislative and political “music.”
Burkean conservative but as a classical liberal and ardent defender of individualism. People should be free to live and interact by their own conscience and reasons as long as in so doing they don’t impose on others. However, a society that permits freedom of conscience will almost certainly contain individuals and groups who are manifestly not liberal in their everyday lives. They may respect others’ basic rights but also value solidarity over personal autonomy, hierarchy over role equality, tradition over experimentation. So long as nobody is locked into these ways of living who wishes to exit them, an open society should tolerate, and in some cases even welcome, their presence.
American Founding Fathers as the Beatles, then Jefferson, Washington and Hamilton have gotten most of the attention from folks, much like Paul McCartney, John Lennon and Ringo Starr. They were the fan favorites and most prominent. But what about James Madison? I think he is much like George Harrison. Moreover, putting aside Harrison’s prodigious song writing abilities with the Beatles and afterwards, it is his sublime guitar work and his ability to fit musically with the other three that mirror the role Madison should play in our understanding of the American political system today.
George Orwell's 1984 His concepts of the "Ministry of Truth" and "Newspeak" permeate discussions about political rhetoric, while "the Hate" is a ritual that viewers of news programs might feel tempted to replicate. Who has not felt the urge to yell, if not hurl books, at the bleating heads on our screens?
Fidelio, which dates from 1805, addresses issues which are just as important today. Its plot concerns a whistleblower whom a corrupt prison governor has “disappeared.” His wife, Leonore, disguises herself as a young man named Fidelio and gets a job in the prison to find out if he is still alive.
Envy, sociologist Helmut Schoeck explores the ramifications of what he claims is our indelible human tendency to compare ourselves with others. He makes several distinctions. Malicious envy is the most pernicious form - a desire not to raise oneself but see others brought down. By contrast, emulation is the desire to raise oneself without bringing others down. Finally, indignation is the desire to punish those who have (are perceived to have) done wilful injustice to oneself or others.
Karl Marx. Marx’s many contributions in these areas are so profound that it is scarcely possible to understand the history of the modern world without reference to his ideas and work.