David McCollough's book and HBO miniseries are likely to remain the strongest portraits in my mind of the context of the times and the personalities of the Founders at the beginning of our republic. I happen to be immersed in them thanks to a combination of technologies I have heretofore not exploited, video on demand and podcasted books.
Having come to the podcast at its maturity beginning in January of this year, I am gradually replacing Right Radio on my lunch hours and during my commutes. And so now I tend to select from the podcasted recordings rather than test my patience after more than 15 mintues of listening. Only Bill Handel and Dennis Miller work better live than podcasted. As for the video on demand, this great thing has saved me from waiting several months for a DVD boxed set of something I would only watch once, and then as a 60 dollar boat anchor I would prod my kids to watch. In fact Boy and I have sat through a couple disjointed hours of the first and third episodes - he has only barfback recall of lectures in school but the docu-drama serves well to fill in his mind's blanks and mine as well.
Adams is a compelling figure and I am very apt to judge myself against him, for I see more of my own character in him than in any other historical figure in America I have studied yet. It is a very odd sensation that I have reconciled but never fully put to rest - this continuing mini-existential drama. Who might I become, as old as I am, given a model that never was settled for us black men as Baldwin relates? VDH asserts, rather unequivocally, that in the US, liberal arts education is a failure.
7. Colleges. We need more transparency in our universities. Why do tax-exempt private institutions use their funds largely to enrich an elite rather than to subsidize student tuitions? Universities avoid taxes, but as non-profits don’t use that saving to help those for whom they exist, but rather spend their fortunes more often subsidizing faculty and administrators. They are no different than those scandalous charities who exist for their apparat. How universities have been able to up their tuitions consistently above the rate of inflation, while exploiting part-time, poorly paid contractual faculty, and masquerading all the while as liberal institutions are among the great mysteries of the modern age. Yet any inquiry into the labyrinth of identity politics, racial quotas, the absence of intellectual diversity or the problems with tenure are met by charges of “McCarthyism” or worse. American universities are rated the world’s best only because of our sciences and engineering—and thus despite, not because of, our failed liberal arts curriculum.
And into this gap, I have been pouring effort which entails my continuing study of Western Civilization with an appreciation for its catholic philosophy and politics. I started this a year or so ago having contextualized the 'clash of civilizations' and upon reviewing Shakespeare and other classic works at the prompting of Larry Arnn via Hugh Hewitt. The failure of our liberal arts curriculum in higher education was apparent to me during my college education, but I took that to be a consequence of the fact that I matriculated from a state university rather than one of the finest schools. I had a clue given my superior high school education and it was something I would have expected to continue at Claremont or USC given those as my other two, although prohibitively expenses choices. But now in retrospect, with Hanson's indictment and what I have found to be true through my reading of Hirsch and the current times, I understand how my existential dramas arise from a weakness in our society's social priorities driven by a rudderless, relativist liberal arts. My aim is not to blame society however, only to recognize the extent to which it cannot be depended and realize the consequences for myself and my fellows who have undertaken serious study of those Western underpinnings, unmoored as we are from them.
To see John Adams made flesh by Giamatti's sterling rendition is a great boon to my endeavor. Imagine my surprise when I heard this quote from Adams:
I must study politics and war that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain.
This was something I have always loosely attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, but had long lived myself. In all of my life, and specifically as I entered college for the second time this progression had been that thing which I had always considered my generation's imperative to obey. So my study of computer science and philosophy was in that regard pre-ordained. In Cobb, I realized perhaps finally that I had unfinished work from my father's generation to reconcile which is the Leftist legacy of black nationalism with the reality of my generations opportunity to study the disciplines of the second order. I have mentioned elsewhere in these pages my anticipation of my young cousin's desire to move directly to the third order as he told me during the mid 80s as he was accepted to an Ivy League school. And so he has been a fine if not distinguished playwrite and graphic artist. And yet both of us have become more conservative in various respects pulling back a bit to cover areas left undone. So he now is a school principal and I work at these politics here, both of us with a passion to see those legacies done right. We straddle.
This is something that hews more closely to families than generations, and it is something that may ebb and flow with the fortunes of families. It is this final realization that seals my destiny with this conservative view of life and politics and guides my belief in the role of the state. Another quote by Adams is probably very appropriate to this sentiment:
We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution is designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for any other.
It is an unfortunate and yet hopefully inevitable fact that our nation will not be able to correct the flaws in men. We would do best not to make that attempt with the implements of the state. The decision to follow or abandon the laws of God and morality remains in the hearts of men and that is something we must leave to them. The character of John Adams demonstrates to us what is possible when one's life, fortunes and sacred honor are bound to such defenses of liberty. A Constitution binds us together as we are committed to the duties of citizenship, but without such loyalties, it is only words. So too, without the understanding of and appreciation for the motives and actions of our Founders, we are a nation in name only.
As much as we on the Right wag on about how Hollywood often does its damnedest to besmirch America, there are those who have demonstrated not only their willingness but their extraordinary ability to awaken within us the best sorts of patriotic spirits. Tom Hanks deserves our appreciation and respect in that regard as he has given us this particular treasure as well as Saving Private Ryan and Apollo 13.