Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Because I'm self-obsessed, I was looking this blog's viewer statistics. I love to see the trails which lead people to me. Today, I noticed that some stranger out there was looking for Louis Bromfield's "Apologia," the introduction from his shockingly under-celebrated book, A Few Brass Tacks.
In an earlier post about green/environmentalism books I promised to eventually upload some of Bromfield's "Apologia." Today is the day!
The following is the entirety of Louis Bromfield's "Apologia," transcribed by me from a 1946 first edition copy of A Few Brass Tacks, published by Harper & Brothers Publishers. As I'm typing this up myself with semi-frozen fingers in my basement, please excuse any typos. Let me know if you spot any. There may be a copy of this on Google somewhere, but... well, I don't always take the easy way out.
Italicized words are Bromfield's own.
If you'd prefer a printable file that's easier to read, skip to the bottom of this post.
This book is no more than the thinking aloud of one man who makes no pretension at being a specialist in economics nor at solving the problems of the world, the nation or even of the township in which he lives. It is simply the record of the intellectual processes of one individual trying to find his way, indeed at times to force his way, out of the jungle and morass of man's troubled life in this Age of Irritation in which man, caught in the maze of his own selfishness, stupidity, ambition, greed and intricate mechanical ingenuity, lives in a perpetual state of nerves with his neighbors, with fellow men on the other side of earth whom he has never seen, indeed with his own wife and children. It is a record born out of experience of one politically-minded citizen who happens to like the human race, without regard for race, religion, creed or color, and who has lived closely and intimately with inflations and booms and depressions, wars and invasions and revolutions, and the oppression and exploitation of his fellow men, not only in his home country but in many others. Out of this experience he has come to regard with some cynicism the term 'civilized man' and to arrive at the conclusion that the bases of man's wretchedness and bewilderment are far more of economic than of political or social or racial or national origins. He is almost persuaded that the violent political differences, the social unrest, the racial hatreds are largely only manifestations of economic inequalities, maladjustments and injustices, and that, if the economic ills of this badly managed, complex, industrialized world could be adjusted, many of these evils would presently disappear and we should make a great advance in civilization itself, which in the end is the only real justification for man's existence.
The author has seen the sense of co-operation, of neighborliness, of patriotism (which may or may not be a bad thing, according to its manifestation) disappear from the village, from the great city, from the nation and from the rapidly intensifying interrelationship among nations until the average man has come to live perpetually in a state of pessimism, accepting dully a conviction that wars are inevitable, that economic depression and misery and starvation are simply the common lot of mankind and that the only course for the individual is to look out for the interests of himself and those immediately dependent upon him. such a despair, such a disillusionment and cynicism were largely responsible for the disintegration and defeat of a great nation like France. Her forty million people ceased to be a united nation; they became simply forty million individuals each looking out for himself. [end page 2]
It would be well for other Western nations to regard France as a barometer, for being the most civilized of nations (and I am not speaking in terms of plumbing and country clubs but of true civilization) and the leader of Western civilization which has kept alive the fire of Greece, of Rome and of the Renaissance, she serves well and accurately as a gauge of the social and political weather which lies ahead just beyond the horizon. The signs of national disintegration are present in every country in Europe, in every modern empire, even in these United States, standing apparently at the very peak of her power and wealth.
As man looks about him today for leadership or a solution of the demoralizing perplexities which surround him, he finds himself confronted by hordes of soothsayers and midget messiahs, gigantic humbugs (no less humbugs for all their sincerity and sentimentality), by demagogues ranging from Hitler and Mussolini to the politicians of the democratic states, all talking loudly and intimately of 'the people' and promising them the millennium. And the man in the Western world is an easy victim of all this rabble rousing and superficiality since he seeks pitifully for some leader or some faith that will clarify his confusion and east the pain of his bewilderment and despair.
Man is not naturally a cynic; he wants pitifully to believe, in himself, in his future, in his community and in the nation in which he is a part. Hitler was [end page 3]born of the despair of the German people. As history has already shown, he was neither a great man nor a great leader, but only a windy demagogue who promised the German people salvation and an end to their misery, spiritual as well as economic. The end, as with all leadership by demagogues, was tragedy and disaster, not only for the people of Germany but for the whole of the world. The Hitler story might well serve as a symbol of caution to the rest of us, warning of the inefficacy of short-cuts, of intolerance, of economic panaceas, of loose and visionary thinking. And it should never be forgotten that both Hitler and Mussolini began their careers as radicals, promising 'the people' everything.
Largely speaking, salvation in these times is held forth to troubled mankind either by the demagogues and the superficial, ecstatic visionaries wallowing in self-conscious reflection upon their own virtues and superiority, or by the reactionaries who would have man betray himself by turning backward into his own dark and painful past. These are the elements which, without reason or profundity or balance, scream at each other the shrill and meaningless epithets of 'Red' and 'Fascist,' 'Bolshevik' and 'Reactionary.'
The word 'liberal' once had a real meaning which implied reason, dignity, intelligence, balance and tolerance. That meaning is lost. The 'liberal' of our times has become all too often little more than a sentimentalist [end page 4] 'with both feet planted firmly in mid-air' or a vicious name caller in the school playground at recess time.
Economic prosperity and the privileges of growth and development which accompany it, are not achieved by short-cuts and fanciful and visionary theories, but by work and experience and faith and wisdom. The whole of the history of man's long struggle upward out of the steaming ooze is evidence of this irrefutable fact. In his capacity for work and in his faith in himself and the ideals by which he lives, modern man in the twentieth century is tragically deficient. More and more he looks wearily toward the easy way out, toward something for nothing, toward doles and subsidies, toward the political leader who promises utopia overnight. But the grim truth is that there are no short-cuts and panaceas.
On the other hand, unhappy, bewildered, modern man finds those who would lead him backward into the dark world of the nineteenth century - a brutal, sentimental world of extremes in luxury and poverty, of incredible opportunity for the unscrupulous exploiter as well as for the genius, a world which can reappear only as a prelude to the anarchy of a demoralized and disintegrated Western world. The leaders of this philosophy of the return to the 'good old days' are themselves the very symbols of decay and despair, and offer no hope whatever of man's advance but only of his [end page 5] retrogression toward the hazy blessings of a sentimentalized world which no longer exists and never did exist save in the experience of the gifted, the fortunate and the unscrupulous. Out of the reality of that nineteenth century world were born much of the evil and most of the perplexities that torment us today.
In most of the panaceas offered either from the extreme Left or from the extreme Right, one element seems to have been almost wholly overlooked and that is consideration for the nature of man - that he is a creature which must move upward toward a greater realization of his capacity and his dignity as an individual, that he must have gods in which to believe and results which justify, regardless of illusion, his faith in these gods, that there is in any man, save for the physiologically handicapped and debased, a desire to work and to create which is the foundation of his neighbor's respect for him, and what is more important, his respect for himself.
In our modern world these things, which are the very foundations of man's rise in the world of animals, are too much lacking both in himself and in his community as well as in the community of nations. One thing is certain - that he cannot go backward either into the world of Fascism or of Marxian Communism without losing his liberty of action and the freedom and dignity which are his right as an individual man who walks erect and thinks. [end page 6]
It is sad that so many of the soothsayers offer him economic security and even a state-supported indolence at the price of his independence, his dignity, his freedom and his very soul. The short-cuts, the panaceas are, at best, but the Devil's bargain - which dangle a short-time paradise in the scales of civilization as a balance against retrogression and eternal damnation, political, social, spiritual and even economic on this earth.
No less puzzled and confused by the cynicism and evangelical visions, the irritations, the pressures of his day, the author felt long ago - indeed years ago while living in the midst of a European civilization already in the process of disintegration - a passionate desire to cut his way somehow through the jungle of disillusionment and false gods back to fundamentals, to those things and beliefs and thoughts by which man can and has, at certain epochs of his existence, lived well and sanely, however briefly. The impulse of escape took the form of a driving desire to return to his own roots, to find some base, solid and eternal, even perhaps primitive, upon which to build the structure of his own thought, uncontaminated either by the propaganda of those who would turn backward or those who with hosannas would rush forward into the treacherous mirages of what is too frequently no more than man's hunger for a paradise for which he is not yet prepared, a mirage of wishful thinking which sails serenely over [end page 7] all the realities of nature and of the nature of man himself.
It was inevitable that in the search for some base in truth and reality, the author should have turned to the earth, to the soil and to agriculture. There were two very strong reasons for this (1) that he came of an ancestry and background which for generations had been rural rather than urban and that by interest as well as by experience, he had faith in the philosophy and in the character of things rural and small town rather than urban; (2) that he found out of daily living and a widespread experience that the farmers and gardeners of the world, however poor or prosperous, whatever their nationality or race or faith, possessed a common basic philosophy which proved a bulwark against the uncertainty of existence and the periods of crisis which the men who lived in great cities lacked conspicuously and immeasurably.
The farmer, the gardener, is inevitably a pragmatist who believes in what works. This is so because he lives nearer to the basic and eternal laws of nature than any other element of society. These laws are a part of his daily life. He lives with them and in a sense by them. The rain, the sun, the ice and snow, the soil, the breeding of his animals, are constant and eternal reminders of the laws by which man must live whether he chooses to or not, those laws which, if ignored or tampered with, only encompass his own disintegration and destruction. [end page 8] The farm, the earth, appeared to be the sound base from which a man, especially one who was weary and disillusioned through too much experience in the modern, complex, industrial, imperialist world, could re-examine his own significance, if any, and that of the confused and confusing period in which he lived.
The wisdom of the good farmer is an eternal wisdom and indestructible. As Liberty Hyde Bailey once wrote and as history has testified so many times, 'The farmer is the first man and he will be the last man.' The good farmer, working with soil and plants and animals, living in peace and co-operation with his neighbors, outwitting the weather or profiting by it but never ignoring it, is far nearer to the eternal truths and laws of our existence, by which we must live and within which we must find our salvation, than the workers of the industrial age, fitting similar nuts onto similar bolts eight hours a day five days a week throughout the whole of his life. When all industry lies in ruins and the industrial worker has died either in riots or against a wall in the war of brother against brother or by starvation, the farmer will still be there, tilling his bit of earth - in China, in Russia, in Germany, in the United States, everywhere.
Few thinkers would disagree with the premise that much of our cynicism and discontent, most of our ills, a great part of our perplexities and irritation, much of our ill-health and insanity, are the results of the rapid industrialization [end page 9] of the modern world. We have not had time to adjust ourselves to this monstrous change and the staggering increases of population which have accompanied it nor to fit industry itself into the pattern of a wise and balanced economy or existence. No change in the history of the world has ever come so rapidly or with such devastating effects as the brief industrial revolution with steam power, the telephone, the telegraph, the railway, the automobile, the airplane, the radio and countless other developments which have shrunken the world and made neighbors, however unhappy or perilous, of all of us. this headlong change has led us, especially in America, to confuse plumbing and automobiles, which have to do only with the body, with civilization, which has to do with the mind, the spirit, the soul and with man's relation to his fellow men. It has led man into a conceit in his own ingenuity which may in the end achieve only his destruction. It has immensely enhanced the growth of his baser side by encouraging his faith in the material and the mechanical and by these things he certainly cannot live alone, safe in eventual brutishness and misery. The atomic bomb, the Bofors gun, the jet plane, a hundred other examples of man's material ingenuity, all become symbols of a materialism by which the best efforts of scientists and inventors, which should be directed toward civilization, are in an utterly material and badly adjusted world instead aimed only at the destruction of civilization and eventually of man himself. [end page 10]
This modern world, this Age of Irritation is not one in which man can take pride. This is so, I think, because man himself has established false values and false gods, often in defiance of his own nature and certainly of natural law. He is in the process of selling his great birthright of aspiration, of achievement, of growth and advance for a mess of pottage composed of selfishness, materialism, indolence, confusion, pride and despair.
The problem is not to do away with mechanics, with industry and scientific discovery. These things are with us and of inestimable value, if they can be used by man instead of using man. the problem is how to live with these things, how to adjust the daily life of man, of cities and of nations to the vast and complicated problems which machines, industry and scientific discovery have themselves created. In all of history there has never been such a hot potato as the atomic bomb. It is indeed so hot a potato that there is, despite all the highfalutin talk, no solution but for men and nations to learn the lesson of living together in peace.
We shall never learn by turning backward and we shall never find the answer by following the soothsayers and demagogues who promise paradise overnight or those whose panaceas are all founded upon money or the manipulation of money. Man's problems are not and have never been solely material problems, nor can they be solved by inflations and deflations or the manipulation of currencies. When they become so, as they threaten to do in our trying times, civilization [end page 11] dies to be revived again only when man through misery and defeat and disillusionment touches bottom and begins again. For civilized man, for those leaders who have influenced the long journey upward of mankind, money or rewards in material were not the great and ultimately desired rewards. When they become so, man dies spiritually and his civilization dies with him.
The author, in the thinking aloud recorded here, is aware that he will probably be accused of many things - as many indeed as there are soothsayers and reactionaries, as many as there are panaceas and economic short-cuts. The whole science of economics (and the belief of the author is that it is a science as well as an art and a philosophic exercise) is a difficult and complex one which in the end may be justified perhaps only in the farmer's pragmatic way - that it works. In our age and especially in our own country, we have been treated during the past few years to such an appalling array of unorthodox and experimental economics, that the sound rules which the experience of the world has proven workable, have tended to become unorthodox. In other words, orthodoxy has become unorthodoxy and vice versa. To put forward some new and interesting short-cuts, some fresh panacea which is 'good for man, child or beast' has become orthodox or conventional procedure. Few if any of these panaceas have produced noticeable results; few if any have worked by solving any of the complex problems which confront us. [end page 12] Many of them have only done harm by further confusing the desperately important problems involved and by adding further to man's perplexities.
Too many of the panaceas, sometimes through the necessity of emergency, have been improvised, superficial or based upon money and the manipulation of money, while overlooking completely the fundamental causes of the crises involved. Reforms in terms of money and of the manipulation of currencies are not signs of wisdom nor of deep thinking nor of statesmanship but rather symptoms of the chronic weakness of a nation or a world or a civilization, symptoms of shallow makeshift thinking, of shiftlessness, of demagoguery, of ear and of desperation. In this realm of action the San Francisco and Bretton Woods conferences, despite all the good will of their most enthusiastic supporters, stand somehow as symbols of the superficiality and the futility of these methods. In the one case a vague and powerless political structure was erected and in the other arrangements for the manipulations of international exchange were established, while the fundamental causes of war, of economic depressions, of misery, of hunger - the access and distribution on a fair basis of raw materials, food and markets - were passed over with averted gaze. It was as if both conferences had been thrown out cynically as a sop to those who hope passionately and tragically for a better world without ever understanding how to achieve one. Already the results of both conferences [end page 13] show the pallid signs of futility, because the nations of the world or the leaders who represent them are either not yet able to save themselves or are unwilling to do so. Surely there must have been among the distinguished men assembled at San Francisco and Bretton Woods some who knew in their hearts that they were only making gestures and solving nothing at all. Is it that there are no more great leaders in the world or only that the problems of this modern industrial imperialist world have become so vast and so complex as to dwarf all men however great?
This is not a book written for the economist closeted behind a desk in some college or university. Humbly it attempts to reveal the mental processes of an ordinary layman trying to understand something of the increasingly complex world in which he lives and to fight his way to fairly simple fundamentals, despite the confusion created by the aggregate opinions of the professional economists. The author in his reading of and conversation with the economists is led to believe that all too often many of these gentlemen suffer from multiple vision and cannot discern very clearly either the forest or even a single tree. The immense diversity of their opinions and theories and the spectacle of their intense animosity toward each other, both fail to encourage a belief in their infallibility, either singly or as a whole. The truth is that probably no one man, or even a school of men, thinking together, has either [end page 14] sufficient learning or sufficient experience to permit a complete understanding of the immensely complex economic problems of our times.
In any case the author has put his thoughts and conclusions on paper with the primary purpose of clarifying his own thinking. If they serve to stimulate either discussion or abuse or are of any value whatever to others, so much the better.
This is merely the book's introduction! I'm going to print out a copy to highlight and scribble upon. Even though Bromfield is long-winded in some places, "Apologia" is a fascinating piece to read while living the life of a Midwesterner in the new millennium.
It took me about two hours type this up, and I've not yet begun to reread it and fix typos. If you found this useful, please tell me! It'd be nice to know that someone else finds Bromfield's musings interesting and engaging more than 60 years after publication!
Contact me if you'd like a Word document file of "Apologia" without the info links, and with better formatting. Indentations and appropriate spacing, oh my! I'll gladly share it with you.
If you'd like your own copy of this underrated classic, please check your local used book shops. You could also try my personal favorite, The Curious Book Shop. Or, if all else fails, you have a friend in Bookfinder.