Friday, November 4, 2011
Some things Stay the Same
In August, I stayed at the Youth Hostel at Malabar Farm. I had heard of it, but had never read any of the books by Louis Bromfield, the highly touted early 20th century writer who lived there. After talking with the hostel director, I decided to read "The Farm", which was first published in 1933.
It was a little slow to pull me in. A lot slow...I have persevered in continuing to read, admitedly much more slowly than I usually tear through books. I'm reaching the end, and it is getting more interesting. I was taken by the following observations, and thought you'd be interested in it as well.:
"James Willingdon left the bank for politic when two of the political bosses in the northern part of the State persuaded him that in politics there was a great future for him. Three things, I think, led them to believe that he was the material they sought--his charm, his easy-going ways, and his wide acquaintance among the farmer. The Republicans already had such a man--handsome, simple and willing to compromise. He came from the next county and already he had done much to help the "party," which mean that he voted as he was told by men who seldom held any office but stood in the wings, prompting and directing the performers. His name was Warren Gamaliel Harding. The Democratic Party no longer held to its old-fashioned principles. In it too there were men who believed in tariffs and believed that "business" should be helped now and then discreetly and judiciously.
But the men who sought out James Willingdon failed to count upon his what they later called eccentricity and pigheadedness. They did not understand that "honesty" meant one thing to him and another to themselves, nor that he was a man so fantastic that he could not be tempted either by money or by the political honors which could be bestowed through the mechanical operation of a political machine which was not above making bargains with the opposite party. Nor did they comprehend a man who never allowed ambition to become an obsession, and saw success and money not as the whole of life, but only as a part of it. It was, in their opinion, simply mad for a man to prefer respect for himself to money and renown.
He was elected at once, and no sooner was he seated in his office in the big Court House than certain rich men came to him separately and in groups to demand reductions upon the valuations of the mills and factories and houses which they owned. It was scarcely a shameless procedure because the question of shame was not involved. They had supported him and given money toward the expenses of his election, and now that he had won they were entitled to their rewards. It was all a part of the game of politics and not very many citizens troubled to consider the ethics of what they were asking. Not many of the citizens who elected Johnny's father could even have defined the word "ethics." The Republicans had had their innings and had their properties undertaxed, and now it was the turn of the men who had succeeded in driving them from influence. A poor man had no chance of having his taxes reduced, but the rich man who contributed to the party fund could have what he wanted. It was simply a question of "business" Why should anyone drag in a question of honesty in government? The contributions were investments and now the men who made them had a right to a return. Subtly, the government itself was being taken over by business men. Subtly the government was being put on the level of shopkeeping. It was a rule which worked in Washington as well as in a moderate-sized town in the Middle West. They had plenty of Senators like Aldrich and Hale and Payne and Foracker and Hanna who saw the point clearly and made no trouble. Often enough because they too were business men they were helping themselves as well." (pages 224-225, The Farm by Louis Bromfield. Harper & Brothers Publishers, New York and London, 1933, 1935,1946).
I realize that this quotation is far longer than it should be, but I also know that this volume is probably not widely known or widely available anymore, despite how popular it was when it was first printed. Bromfield usually draws his characters from a composite of people he knew and "The Farm" is considered to be autobiographical in nature. Certainly the parallels with the current economic crisis and the Great Depression are interesting, however, I would hazzard to say that there has been little change in the political climate.