January 2002: Brooks Adams Has a Point
Over the past few years I have wondered why I did not, when I could, raise my hand and explain my concerns to the congressmen and women of this nation. In my search for answers, I looked in the shelves of prison libraries. One day I found it. Eureka! A book that told me the truth about politics today and yesterday.
Written by C.J.A. O'Toole, once Chief of the Problem Analysis Branch of our Central Intelligence Agency, the book is an account of the Spanish American War and the influences on some of the main actors in that conflict.
Theodore Roosevelt (Teddy) was Undersecretary of the Navy, serving under Secretary Long. From the outset, Teddy took command of his post in a most energetic manner. He was a friend of Henry Cabot Lodge and his wife Nannie, and so came under the spell of Henry Adams' younger brother Brooks. O'Toole records that almost every afternoon Teddy left his office in the Navy Department and walked across Lafayette Park to the massive four story building that stood at the corner of "H" and Sixteenth Streets. The building served as the residence of John Hay, once secretary to Abraham Lincoln, and that of Henry Adams. Brooks Adams, Roosevelt, and Cabot Lodge would take lunch together. They made a tight knit group, an elite referred to as the "pleasant gang."
Brooks Adams had left his law practice at the age of 47 to devote his time to writing and the study of history. One of his themes was "The Law of Civilization and Decay." It appears that Adams attempted to apply to history not only the laws of evolutionary biology but the principles of physics as then understood. He believed that human society obeyed the same inexorable laws that governed the decay of matter. Roosevelt found the conclusions depressing and upsetting.
Adams saw a bleak outlook for America and Western civilization. According to Brooks, the life of nations, like any form of "life," progresses from an early stage of fear to a later stage of greed while evolving from barbarism to civilization. The early stage of this development is marked by a type of human being Brooks called Imaginative Man. Typified by the soldier and the artist, Imaginative Man was characterized by fear of a ruling priesthood. With the passage of time and accumulation of wealth, the early type was supplanted by Economic Man, the man of industry, trade, and capital. Plutocrats and the working poor were the inevitable heirs of progress.
Teddy resisted the impact of the thought of the historian Brooks Adams, and structured his life around an effort to forestall Brooks' prophesy. That, according to O'Toole, is "as civilization has hitherto been developed, and once they [the inevitable extremes of Economic Man] have been produced, there follows either a stationary period during which the body politic gradually ossifies and atrophies, or else a period of utter disintegration."
How well did the aggressive Teddy Roosevelt or his successors succeed in forestalling the prophecy? Not well, if the Brooks Adams view of America is now upon us. With half a million stagnating behind the razor wire of America's prisons, with prison sentences unthinkable 25 years ago now the norm, with (as just reported by the Justice Department) 32 percent of America's adults under supervision by that euphemism "Corrections," with prisoners providing employment for our prison guards, our prison bureaucracy, the vast complex of industry that profits from our labor - present day America is not as far from the picture in Brooks Adams' crystal ball as one may think.
Once again - here we may leave O'Toole to his retirement - the cry rings out: If we as a nation do not pay heed and interrupt America's "progress" to the land of global corporations on the one hand and prisons on the other, the latter spewing out inventory at 12 cents an hour for the benefit of the former, the future for those yet unborn in America is bleak.
Think of it, you Congressmen and women. Is this the future of America you want? A nation of the poor and unprivileged who serve the aims of greedy people?
This may be your last call, don't miss the bus.