The Degradation of the Democratic Dogma

by Henry Adams, with an Introduction by Brooks Adams. New York: The Macmillan Co. 1919. 12mo, xvi+317 pp. $2.50.
THE public will welcome this book; and the book deserves a welcome. It will be welcomed, in the first place, because it supplies us with new material from the pen of Henry Adams; and in the second place, because it throws additional light upon the life, thought, and character of an interesting, but extremely puzzling personality.
Everyone knows how eagerly and widely the famous Education of Henry Adams has been read. The book has gone through edition after edition. Its readers have not been confined to New England and the East; they are everywhere throughout the country, as numerous in Chicago as in Boston, as eager in San Francisco and Seattle as in Washington or New York. This book will be welcomed, therefore, because of Henry Adams; but, as a matter of fact, the interest and chief value of the book for most readers will be found to lie in the Introduction by Brooks Adams, a younger brother, which occupies one hundred and twenty-two pages in a volume of a little more than three hundred pages. Instead of counting this Introduction too long, however, readers will regret that it is not longer and more complete. It is the ‘Apologia’ of the youngest of three remarkable brothers. In 1906 the famous Education of Henry Adams was privately printed. It was followed in 1916 by the Autobiography of Charles Francis Adams. In the light of these remarkable publications some people began to wonder what Brooks Adams was likely to do in the way of reminiscences. This Introduction supplies the answer.
For one thing, we are glad to find in it what the two other volumes lack, namely, a proper appreciation of the greatness of the Adams inheritance. Henry, and to a much larger extent Charles, made somewhat light of their inheritance. They rather suggested that, had they been properly trained and adequately educated, they would have been as great as their grandfather and great-grandfather. The third brother goes to the opposite extreme. This Introduction is in large part a passionate eulogy of John Quincy Adams, from whom it is indicated that Henry Adams derived his interest in science and his mathematical instinct. No Adams excels in moderation, and least of all the youngest. He is as unrestrained in praise as he is in blame. Things are either black or white, and for the most part they are very black indeed. Democracy is doomed. It was doomed from ‘the day in 1828 when John Quincy Adams was defeated for reelection to the Presidency.’ That defeat made it clear that ‘science and education offer no solution to our difficulties, but possibly, on the contrary, aggravate them. Man is a mere automaton who is moved along the paths of least resistance by forces over which he has no control.’ For physical reasons, which are capable of mathematical proof, it is clear that democracy must ultimately disintegrate in chaos.
‘Beware,’ said Emerson, ‘when the great God lets loose a thinker on the planet.’ Here are two thinkers almost equally able, relent less, dogmatic, and amazingly equipped. Both agree upon many fundamental points, as, for instance, that the family is decaying, that woman is ashamed of her sex, renounces her function, and imitates the man.
Let it be repeated, however, that the chief interest of this volume lies in the Introduction. Not that we agree with the author; for we do not. It is refreshing, however, to have someone say bluntly what he thinks, and not temper the wind of his criticisms to a sensitive public. What is more, the state of the world, including America, is such at the present time that no one can lightly put aside the thesis that the democratic dogma has suffered serious degradation. P. R. F.