Saturday, May 3, 2008

Adams' Hierarchy

We don't have a cable box in our bedroom, so when we're in bed, it's kind of fun to surf through the higher COMCAST channels and see what pops up. If we're lucky, someone else on our block is watching an on-demand movie and we pick up the feed. We saw "Knocked Up" for free this way, and we've even stumbled across some ... ahem ... well, you know. It'd be wierd if it were the nice older couple two doors down ordering that stuff and fast forwarding through the boring parts.

Last night, it was "John Adams". We had considered getting HBO just to watch this series, but I'd since dug into McCullough's book, and every time we decide to get premium channels, they seem to stop showing anything even remotely interesting.

I have no idea what number the episode was, but Adams was on his mission to France with Ben Franklin, uncomfortably dealing with the loathsome French aristocracy trying to get a commitment of naval power to the Revolution, when he says:
"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."

Never mind that this was actually written in a letter to Abigail Adams, instead of spoken to a drunk, lecherous, powdered and perfumed Frenchman.

I find so much in these words. They are at the same time a source of inspiration and clarity as well as fear and disappointment.

There is no clearer nor more elegant way to outline in principle what the intellectual makeup and pursuits of the republic and it's citizens should be. But I don't think I'm being overly pessimistic when I say we are failing to achieve it.

Our incoherent foreign policy, complete lack of grand strategy and our precarious economy are a given, but they are not what I am referring to; they can, and I believe will, be at least turned in the right direction in a matter of years. The impending failure from within, through inadequate education and lack of engagement in the political process, is what concerns me the most. Unless we correct it, we all but guarantee that the most elementary parts of Adams' Hierarchy - government, security, and the generation and sustainment of wealth - will fail.

And all our "painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain" will be hollow symbols indeed.

No comments: