A photo of Henry Adams helped draw me into a review by George F. Will of an anthology of conservative thinkers (“American Conservatism: Reclaiming an Intellectual Tradition,” Edited by Andrew J. Bacevich).

In “The Education of Henry Adams (1907),” Adams recalled “visiting ‘the great hall of dynamos’ at a 1900 exposition of modern technologies.”

There he felt “his historical neck broken by the sudden irruption of force totally new.” This illustrates Bacevich’s theory that “modern” American conservatism “emerged in reaction to modernity,” by which he means “machines, speed and radical change — taboos lifted, bonds loosened and, according to Max Weber, ‘the disenchantment of the world.’”

(George F. Will, “The Mind of Conservatism,” NYTimes, 4-1-20)

My bond with Henry Adams’s work is not with his famous “Education,” but with his “Mont Saint Michel and Chartres,” privately published in 1904. Wikipedia describes it as

a pastiche of history, travel, and poetry that celebrated the unity of medieval society, especially as represented in the great cathedrals of France. Originally meant as a diversion for his nieces and “nieces-in-wish”, it was publicly released in 1913 at the request of Ralph Adams Cram, an important American architect, and published with support of the American Institute of Architects.

It’s good to be reminded during a plague of soulless conservatism that a sensibility and tongue such as Adams’s once stood and spoke for the better kind, even in disenchantment.

(c) 2020 JMN

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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1 Response to Neck-Broken

  1. Eric Wayne says:

    The only thing worse than the souless conservatism of the right is the mindless radicalism of the left. Every conservative I know of is a climate change denier, and every contemporary “liberal” — not to be confused with classic liberals and humanists, with which they have nothing in common — is an identity politics wingnut who thinks western culture is a plague on the Earth, and the average white male is the source of all evil in society. Sadly, people apparently need to belong to one camp or the other, because they need to belong and can’t be individual, mature thinkers, who have their own opinions and conclusions based on their own experience, knowledge, and reasoning. Just the notion of a “conservative thinker” annoys me, even when it comes from Roger Scrutin. It announces, I’m half a thinker.


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