This is a standalone version of the essay that Updike wrote on Ted Williams last game in Fenway Park that appeared in the New Yorker in October 1960....moreThis is a standalone version of the essay that Updike wrote on Ted Williams last game in Fenway Park that appeared in the New Yorker in October 1960. I read this in the New Yorker Baseball Digital Anthology a couple years back. This essay might be the Sgt. Peppers of sportswriting. It was the announcement that a previously trivialized form of popular culture (sportswriting/rock music) had to be taken seriously as a medium for works which could be seen as pieces of art. I'm not dismissing sports journalism written before that, some of which is quite fine. But even the greatest sportswriters, while they may not have written down to the genre, at least let the expected forms of the genre dictate their writing. Here, Updike trims the fat. There's none of that Grantland Rice style of inserting artificial poignancy through flowery rhetoric and overbearing metaphor. This was just a great writer writing about baseball, as that was all the embellishment you needed. It's not really surprising that Roger Angell, perhaps the dean of modern sportswriting, has acknowledged this essays influence on his own career.
The essay also has one of my favorite paragraphs in nonfiction prose. Near the end of the article, Updike describes how Williams homers in what is surely his last at bat.
Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the square of the bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. He ran as he always ran out home runs - hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were some sort of rain to get out of. He didn't tip his cap. Though we humped, wept, and chanted "We want Ted" for minutes after he hit the dugout, he did not come bac. Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement, into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortally is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now.
And then the money line:
Gods do not answer letters.
Great stuff. One of my five favorite essays. Highly recommended.
If you've read both works, you can't talk about The Case of Comrade Tulayev without Koestler's Darkness at Noon. Both books, written by disaffected fo...moreIf you've read both works, you can't talk about The Case of Comrade Tulayev without Koestler's Darkness at Noon. Both books, written by disaffected former Communists, and published within two years of each other, deal with the process of the revolution eating its children. Both books attempt to come to grips with the motivations of old guards revolutionaries who seemingly openly acquiesced with their own murder. Of course Darkness at Noon is much more widely known and widely read. There are pretty rational reasons for this that I won't get in to, but none of those reasons have to do with literary merit. In The Case of Comrade Tulayev, Serge accomplished everything that Koestler did, and perhaps more. Upon discovering Serge's novel, it's hard for the reader to resist the urge to dismiss Koestler's. Susan Sontag, in a way, falls prey to this urge in the introduction to this introduction.
However, I'm not sure how necessary it is to emphasize the merits of one book over the other. In fact, while the books seemingly have identical premises and ambitions, further exploration reveals stark differences. I'd argue that the two books relationship is symbiotic, they serve as a exemplary companions to each other. In a way, Serge finishes the thought that Koestler started in Darkness at Noon. If I remember the details correctly, Darkness at Noon takes place at the beginning of the purges, and concerns the history and psychology of one character, Rubashov, a Bukharin stand-in. Comrade Tulayev has a much wider lens.
Serge focuses on around half a dozen characters, each with different backgrounds and different reactions. There's the state security functionary, the provincial peasant turned revolutionary leader, the old party ideologue, and the almost-forgotten political prisoner. They all have their differences, and Serge exploits these differences to meditate on the perversion of the ideal, and the loyalty men feel to old ideas even as a warped form of the same threaten oblivion. Furthermore, The Case of Comrade Tulayev takes place well into the purge of the party. These characters, in a way, are familiar with Darkness at Noon, Rubashov's death is firmly in the past at the opening of Serge's work. Most of these men know with a sense of creeping fatalism what is coming to get them.
Moreover, the novel doesn't focus on the victims of Stalinist paranoia alone. Serge bookends the novel with two chapters examining the the characters behind the titular case, the assassin of Comrade Tulayev and his neighbor, who bought the gun in order to kill Stalin, but found himself unable to act when presented with the golden opportunity. Serge writes with understanding about the cogs of oppression, the functionaries who are attempting to stage an exhibition of guilt that they know is false, but must treat as if it were of the utmost truth. Even the Stalin stand-in is depicted with some empathy. For my money, the scene where the old veteran has to dance the wire of explaining to his old comrade "the boss", the insanity of what is going on, without going too far and sealing his doom is one of the most thrilling pieces of political fiction I've ever read. The penultimate chapter even deals with the legacy of Stalinism on the future generation of young Russians.
Darkness at Noon is the tale of how one man reconciles himself with betrayal and sacrifices himself for a perverted vestige of a dream. The Case of Comrade Tulayev does something similar, but it is also concerned about a broader scope. The two years follwing the publication of Koestler's novel were when Serge did most of his work on Comrade Tulayev. Those two years were not good one's for the Soviet Union. For much of those years the effects of Stalin's paranoia must seem exponentially more cataclysmic than they even do today. Serge may have thought that he was writing Leninism obituary. The Case of Comrade Tulayev reads as a prelude to obliteration. Although Russian Marxism would survive for another half century, The Case of Comrade Tulayev remains an engaging, thoughtful, and often breathtakingly (Serge's prose!)* beautiful account of a people dealing with a reign of scientific insanity.
*Not that I have anything to compare it to, but this edition reads as an extraordinary translation. (less)
Full review to come, but quick thought. Syme has me convinced that Octavian/Caesar/Augustus should be considered one of the most successful revolution...moreFull review to come, but quick thought. Syme has me convinced that Octavian/Caesar/Augustus should be considered one of the most successful revolutionary leaders of all time, which has me thinking: perhaps the true mark of success for a revolutionary leader is that future generations no longer consider them truly revolutionary? Before I follow that logic to picturing George Will in a beret and Castro beard, I'll leave. Hopefully, more to come...(less)
Look in almost any grade-school American History textbook and you'll find, highlighted in bold, the term "the Revolution of 1800, referring to the fou...moreLook in almost any grade-school American History textbook and you'll find, highlighted in bold, the term "the Revolution of 1800, referring to the fourth U.S. Presidential election. In these hypothetical textbooks, you'll find an explanation referring to the electoral victory of Thomas Jefferson over John Adams, and how the peaceful transition between two opposing parties demonstrated the strength of the new American democratic tradition. This isn't false, the peaceful transition between the Adams administration peacefully abandoning power in favor of a rival is certainly a landmark event, but it's not the complete story.
For one thing, a peaceful transition of the executive may have been important on a symbolic level, but does this justify the term Revolution? There had already been one peaceful transition after a disputed election. Granted, Adams succeeded Washington after the latter's retirement, not electoral defeat, and Adams was seen as Washington's sucessor while Jefferson was Adams replacement. But there had been peaceful transitions between two opposed groups vying for control of the House of Representatives. Additionally, the transition itself didn't occur until March of 1801. In fact, due to the tie between Jefferson and his vice presidential candidate, Aaron Burr, Jefferson wasn't officially certified as the president-elect until February. So if the term only concerns the peaceful transition, why isn't it known as the Revolution of 1801? So, if you go by our textbook's definition, the Revolution of 1800 becomes more like the Important Symbolic Gesture of 1801.
However, if you broaden the meaning of the definition both parts of our bold term work a lot better. There are plenty of elections that at first glance seem vastly more important. The results election of 1860 was the direct cause of the attempted secession of eleven states*, and thus the Civil War. The election 1932 led to an remarkable growth in the authority of the federal government. A few years ago, liberals like myself used to daydream about an alternate timeline where President Gore had fixed global warming, invented flying cars, and legalized cannabis while Commissioner Bush was doing his best to deal with the steroid scandal in baseball. What's more, you can endlessly play the what-if game with other elections, if X would have won in Y then A would have happened instead of B. Meanwhile, the changes signified and subsequent effects of the 1800 election were probably inevitable. Despite this, the 1800 election is probably the most important presidential election in American history. That's because it didn't just involve a change in theory, or politics, but a change in the conception of what government was and how popular sovereignty was supposed to function.
* I say attempted secession, because the United States never recognized the right of the eleven states to secede, and since we won the war, our terminology wins. I said United States and we although I have lived most of my life in the South and ancestors who fought on both sides, I live in the United States, not some made-up confederacy that nobody recognized. As you might guess, some people don't love these views down here.
Elkins and McKitrick's The Age of Federalism is probably the most comprehensive account of the dozen years of constitutional government before this change that will be written in my lifetime. Every major political situation that occurred during the Washington and Adams administration is dissected to its base elements and examined from every angle. The authors display a exemplary command of the major figures of the era and are able to offer remarkable insight on their actions and belief, even when the authors believe they were clearly wrong, showing a real sense of empathy not usually seen in works of history done by academics. The book itself is just over 750 pages not, including notes. This may seem long enough, but it reads as a much longer book. It took me twice as long to read as I thought it would. This isn't because it's hard to read, or non-engaging, but because it is literally crammed dense with information. If you're looking for full biographies, an account of how people lived in the 1790s, or non-essential anecdotes that provide texture, look elsewhere. This is pure, uncut history of high-politics.
The main theme in The Age of Federalism, is the emergence of primeval political parties. At the end of the era, these were firmly established and accepted conceptions, although they were still a very far thing from our modern conception of political parties, which didn't really start emerging until the 1820s. Regardless of how far these early parties were from modern ones, they still symbolized a vast difference from what existed a dozen years before. One of the primary goals of the authors of the U.S. Constitution was to establish a form of government that would, by balancing power between different branches, and impose several removes between individual voters and government, work as a check against the formation of political parties. This is somewhat remarkable, so I'll repeat myself: Not only was the Federal Government not designed to operate under a partisan system, it was designed for the express purpose of preventing a partisan system from emerging. That's right, the U.S. Constitution in a real and significant way had failed a a little over a decade after it was ratified.
Repugnance at the idea of political parties was a sentiment that can be traced back to 17th century England, and was a belief all but universally held by the Revolutionary generation at the time of the signing of the Constitution.** I put a qualifier in the last sentence, but the truth is, as late as the middle of the last decade of the 18th century, someone who came out in favor of political parties would be controverting not just a widely held position, but a longstanding and universal tradition.
**Madison discussed the acceptability of factions in a large republic in Federalist No. 10, but two things need to be noted. First, he's far from saying factions are a positive thing, he's saying they're inevitable, and a large republic will have a diluting effect on faction. Also, the idea of political parties are quite different from factions. Factions are concerned with the acquiring the ends, while political parties are concerned with the means.
So if everyone agreed that political parties were an unqualified bad thing, how did they nonetheless come about. What are Federalists? What are Democrat-Republicans? The story starts at the time of the debate over the ratification of the Constitution, Federalists supported ratification; while Antifederalists opposed it, at least without some alterations. Over the next twelve years, the details of Federalism may have changed, but the basic summary remained; they were the proponents of the Federal government. As you can see the Federalists were more a group of men of a common persuasion than proponents an organized ideology. The Anti-Federalists didn't just disappear, nor did they seamlessly transition into Jeffersonians. Some were elected to Congress and were instrumental in the passage of the Bill of Rights.
After the ratification of the Constitution there wasn't anything resembling political parties. A good deal of this had to due to the figure primary figure in the Federal Government, the universally respected George Washington***. The spark that led to their formation came in the early 1790s. This was provided by Hamilton's plans to finance the debt and establish a national bank. The lines in this argument were drawn were largely determined by an individual's home-state. If you were from South Carolina you were likely in favor, if you were from Virginia you were likely against it. The opponents of the measures never really had a great chance, but the argument is notable for Madison's arguments that the Constitutions only granted the Federal government limited powers expressly written in the Constitution. In all likelihood, Madison didn't really believe this, but was grasping at straws. It explicitly contradicted things that he had written just a few years earlier, and he didn't really press this line.**** Funny that we're still dealing with the ramifications of this desperate lunge.
***Elkins and McKitrick do a particularly good job of fostering an appreciation for George Washington as a President. Not only was he faced with monumental decisions, he had to determine the way in which those decisions would be decided and then put into effect. That his instincts were so consistently right on a wide array of issues, from commerce to etiquette, is frankly remarkable. The esteem he was held in by his own contemporaries is somewhat remarkable as well. It's somewhat well-known that Washington was unanimously elected president in 1788-89 (as well as in 1792). What's less known is that there was no organized resolution or movement behind this. It was just inconceivable that the job could go to anyone else rather than him. Jefferson, who could be unsparing of his enemies, even after they died, and never really saw eye to eye on Washington privately remarked that Washington's "character was, in mass, perfect, in nothing bad, in a few points indifferent; and it may truly be said, that never did nature and fortune combine more perfectly to make a man great."
****Elkins and McKitrick do the best job I've witnessed of reconciling the James Madison of 1789 and the James Madison of 1791. Previously, other books almost make it appear that he cowed to Jefferson after the latter returned from France, but his real motivations are more nuanced, and perhaps more craven than that.
What was really behind these issues was another question: who do you like better, England or France? This question was somewhat simpler, but tended to provoke a much more emotional response than assumption of state debt might do on its own. Of course the 1790s were not a particularly good time for a country to be divided on this issue. The Jeffersonians, particularly the Virginians, were motivated by a visceral hatred of England, and English culture. Jefferson in particular was seemingly unable to think of any issue concerning the English in a rational way. (Much like he was unable to look at any issue concerning the French in any sort of negative way. Elkins and McKitrick demonstrate ably how these two tendencies made him a pretty terrible Secretary of State.) From the start, any attempt to increase relations with Britain, or to improve commercial relations between the two countries, could only be the work of liberty-hating pseudo-aristocrats, bent on subverting the popular sovereignty and establishing a monarchy and nobility in the United States. At first this bias was somewhat one-sided, but with the increasing radicalism of the French Revolution, Hamiltonians began to cast the Jeffersonians as radical Jacobins who wished to install Jefferson as dictator.
This animosity was crucial to the development of political parties. It took a long time for the Jeffersonians to grow comfortable with the concept of acting as an opposition party. Partisan behavior was antithetical to the mores of society and how government was supposed to work. Democratic Societies which were forming across the country around this time were widely rejected across the spectrum, not because of what they did, but because of the fact that they existed at all. The mere act of forming a group of politcally like-minded people was a subversion of popular sovereignty. If these men were going to take up any activity that was described as partisan, it couldn't be just because the other side took different positions on the issues. It had to be because the others were actively working to crush liberty. Or the others were looking to install a dictatorship of the majority. The rhetoric in newspapers didn't get poisonous in order to win elections, it got poisonous because that was the only way it could justify itself.
Therefore, by Washington's retirement, there were two clearly developed opposing ideologies. The Federalists were still the party of the government.*****, and their candidate was Washington's logical successor, Vice President Adams. Meanwhile, the opposition party united behind Jefferson. That's about as partisan as things got. There was no real partisan electioneering in 1796.
*****History textbooks like to refer to Washington as not a member of a political party. But being that the Federalists were the party of the government, to which there was a clear opposition party to for the entirety of his second term, I believe it's just as accurate to call Washington a Federalist as it is to call Jefferson a Democratic-Republican.
Pretty soon into the Adams administration, the internal logic of Federalism began to fall apart. As I have said, the Federalists are best understood as the supporters of the government, but if you had to identify an intellectual leader of Federalism it would be Alexander Hamilton. Up to this point, Hamilton had a pretty remarkable record of brilliance, and at the very least being on the right side of history. Indeed, I have read plenty of books that attempt to justify Madison and Jefferson's opposition to Hamilton's policies, but I have never read an adequate defense of whether they were right.****** But around this time Hamilton began a series of what can only be described as baffling missteps. First, he appeared to have attempted to influence the vote in South Carolina in an effort to have Thomas Pickney, the Federalist Vice Presidential candidate, elevated to the Presidency above Adams. Hamilton always denied this was his goal, but he wasn't convincing, least of all to Adams who developed an implacable hatred of Hamilton that would be passed down in his family for generations. Adams was a bit irrational in this hatred, he would refuse to entertain advice from Hamilton, even where they matched his own convictions of what should be done.
******One could say that The Age of Federalism favors Hamilton, but I think the analysis is completely even-handed and fair. Jefferson, Madison and others might come off as biased, naive, parochial, and/or shortsighted, but that may be because they were.
Compounding this situation was the fact that Adams had retained Washington's last cabinet, made up mostly of allies and close friends of Alexander Hamilton. These cabinet members became convinced, which were strengthened due to Adams' prolonged and inconvenient absences from the capitol, that they didn't serve at the pleasure of the President, but that the President was an obstacle to their effective administration of the government. This eventually led to a breaking point where Adams dismissed the cabinet in a huff, thereby alienating a large wing of his supporters. The party of the government no longer supported the head of the government.
Adams can appear to be a weak-willed and equivocating president. One who claimed to act in a rational search for balance but who often acted in a vindictive and spiteful manner. This can be argued the other way though. What is clear is that he was the worse person to be in the leadership of the Federalist party in 1800. He repeatedly claimed that he was not interested in being a leader of a political party, but his refusal to take the smallest babysteps to repair the breach among those who would be his supporters, or to ensure some sort of organized effort behind his candidacy was a political death-wish. Therefore the Federalists faced an unprecedentedly organized and resolute opposition with an extremely weak candidate. With a few more votes at the right time in the right place, Adams would have won the election. But that it was that close is pretty remarkable.
But, even if Adams had been a stronger candidate, even if he was reelected, it's still an open question of what purpose it would serve. The eventual triumph of the Democrats over the Federalists was basically inevitable. This is because of something more inevitable than quality of candidates or party unity. The Federalists were the party of the Revolutionary generation. They believed in diluting out the elements of faction, in a type of natural aristocracy, virtue in the old sense of the word, "that quality under which he fulfills the totality of his nature in service of the republic." That conception was with the advent of the first generation of American born shortly before, during, and after the Revolution. This new generation had a different conception of how democracy was supposed to work, and what the meaning of virtue is. We're still living with these new conceptions today. And it's not surprise that within another dozen years of 1800, Federalism would be all but completely irrelevant.
The Age of Federalism covers much more than the rise of political parties, but I've gone on long enough. I can't help but mention a long chapter on the unmitigated disaster that was the initial development of the District of Columbia. The authors persuasively argue that choosing to build a capitol on sparsely populated swampland retarded the country's political, social, and cultural development for over a century. On the matter of accessibility, I don't think the book requires an expertise on the era. The authors don't dwell on introducing each issue, but they provide adequate summaries. Really, if you have enough curiosity to even pick this thing up you should be fine. There's a lot in the book that deals with the finer details of commerce and banking, which many people might find dull. It's not exactly my cup of tea either, but I thought it was presented in an engaging manner.
The twelve years encompassing the Washington and Adams administrations are perhaps the most unique in the annals of American government. The Age of Federalism provides a meticulous account and illuminating analysis of this era. (less)
Since the summer 2005, when I read the previous three volumes of Caro's majestic Years of Lyndon Johnson series, I have periodically checked the inter...moreSince the summer 2005, when I read the previous three volumes of Caro's majestic Years of Lyndon Johnson series, I have periodically checked the internet for updates on the final volume's release. When I saw that it was available for pre-order on Amazon I loudly whooped. I kinda hope that bookstores do a midnight release so I can dress up like Sam Rayburn and stay up reading all night. I may be crazy, but doesn't that cover look pretty sexy? Yes, my name is A.J., and I'm am fully aware that I'm a dork.(less)