History Feed

Williams' Social Compact

Victor Parrington gives this description of Roger Williams's idea of the social compact, a description I think is helpful in understanding the democratic idea of government:

But unlike the fiction assumed by Hobbes and Locke, this was no suppositious contract between ruler and ruled in prehistoric times, but present and actual, entered into between the several members of a free community for their common governance; nor on the other hand, like Burke's irrevocable compact, was it an unyielding constitution or fundamental law; but flexible, responsive to changing conditions, continually modified to meet present needs.  It is no other than a mutual agreement, arrived at frankly by discussion and compromise, to live together in a political union, organizing the life of the commonwealth in accordance with nature, reason, justice, and expediency.

Actually, reading that description, I think of Rorty.


A Rebel Against Stupidities

I've been reading Vernon Parrington's 1927 Pulitzer Prize winning book The Colonial Mind and today read his treatment of Roger Williams, which was a delight to read, as Parrington clearly is enamored of Williams.  Here are some descriptions he gives:

"Democrat and Christian, the generation to which he belongs is not yet born, and all his life he remained a stranger amongst men."

"An intellectual barometer, fluctuating with every change in the rising storm of revolution, he came transporting hither the new and disturbant doctrines of the Leveler, loosing wild foxes with fire-brands to ravage the snug fields of the Presbyterian Utopia."

"He was a rebel against all the stupidities that interposed a barrier betwixt men and the fellowship of their dreams."

"He was an adventurous pioneer, surveying the new fields of thought laid open by the Reformation."

"He was the incarnation of Protestant individualism."

"One of the most notable democratic thinkers that the English race has produced."

"The truest Christian amongst many who sincerely desired to be Christian."

 


A Computer Called Katherine

A Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the MoonA Computer Called Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Helped Put America on the Moon by Suzanne Slade
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was the other Apollo book to arrive today. I didn't want our son to only know the stories of the astronauts but also to learn about the work involved in getting them to the moon. This is a wonderful book with great art and fine content that gives Katherine Johnson's story while also highlighting math skills and their importance. Our son has enjoyed all of his space books, and I find him poring over them on his own looking at the pictures.

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Moonshot

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Since the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing, our four year old has been fascinated by space, the moon, and specifically the Apollo missions. We have encouraged this fascination with toys and books. Two more books arrived today, including this gorgeous one by Brian Floca (we have two others of his).

This book is beautiful art and good free verse poetry. And just the right amount of information and content for our son. I highly recommend it.

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24th & Glory

24th & Glory: The Intersection of Civil Rights and Omaha's Greatest Generation of Athletes24th & Glory: The Intersection of Civil Rights and Omaha's Greatest Generation of Athletes by Dirk Chatelain
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A engaging, moving read. The story of significant American social movements told through the lens of one neighborhood in a Midwestern city and the prominent characters who lived there. A essential read for Omahans that will be enjoyed by many others.

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Sapiens

Sapiens: A Brief History of HumankindSapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

There were three places in the book where I felt an interesting idea was discussed. First was his claim that the Agricultural Revolution caused a decrease in happiness and freedom. Second was his discussion of the rise and dominance of capitalism and particularly how that tied with science. Third was his claim that Europe came unexpectedly to dominate the world because of its embrace of ignorance.

But overall I didn't find the book very interesting. Most ideas weren't new. I didn't find the writing style engaging. I ended up having to force myself to finish reading rather than put it down after a few chapters.

So, I'm unsure what all the buzz was about.

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Robinson on Puritanism & Liberalism

Speaking of Liberalism, a fine essay by Marilynne Robinson defending the liberal history of Puritanism, along the way pointing out the illiberalism of the Lockian tradition.  

In a fun aside, she mentions that interpretation of Walt Whitman should begin with an understanding of Puritan theology.

The closing paragraph is fine; here are the final two:

Our heavily redacted history has meant the loss of many options. The idea of a good community, one whose members are happy in the fact of a general well-being, is not native to us, natural to us, possible for us—or so we are to believe. It is too far left. It is downright socialist. Hugh Peter [a Puritan divine] speaks in terms of practical enhancements, crowned roads to help prevent flooding, for example. He proposes that all advocates and attorneys should be paid by the public, that no one should be above the law. He proposes that artists and craftsmen of modest income should not be taxed. There is nothing sectarian in his list of reforms, assuming that most of us would be pleased to have improved infrastructure, equal justice before the law, a creative environment that acknowledges the social value of art.

We know our penal system is unfair and inhumane, that our treatment of immigrants threatens the ideal of a just nation. Why are we paralyzed in the face of these issues of freedom and humanity? Why are we alienated from a history that could help us find a deep root in liberality and shared and mutual happiness? Those who control the word “American” control the sense of the possible. Our public is far more liberal than our politics. Our politics must change if there is to be any future for representative democracy.