Sunday, September 27, 2009

The New Freedom

First a little reading, then a quiz.

We have come upon a very different age from any that preceded us. We have come upon an age when we do not do business in the way in which we used to do business -- when we do not carry on any of the operations of manufacture, sale, transportation, or communication as men used to carry them on. There is a sense in which our day the individual has been submerged. In most parts of our country men work, not for themselves, not as partners in the old way in which they used to work, but generally as employees -- in a higher or lower grade -- of great corporation.

The first two or three sentences you might think this quote is contemporary (which it is not) given the language about how things have changed so much in vital areas such as manufacture and communications. But by the time you get to the end of the passage, it's clear that that change being described is not necessarily the change we're experiencing today.

This passage is from The New Freedom, a collection of campaign speeches by Woodrow Wilson complied in a book published in 1913. What's interesting to me is that at this time, with mass manufacturing and the advent of the gigantic corporation, there wer ample societal challenges, just as we face today, and, frankly, just as large and as vexing as the challenges faced by any generation.

I've heard our modern age described as just about everything from the Age of Stupid, which is, of course, a cynical and completely inaccurate description, to the Electronic Age, which might be more apt but does little to really explain what the heck is going on. By reading this book by Wilson, I think it'll be interesting to consider that in any age, the people facing the difficulties they have to face will think they are in a unique time with heretofore unseen political and social challenges. Those who don't look at history, or those who choose to remain ignorant, while bandying about labels like the Age of Stupid for their own current time are the ones really showing off their stupidity.

I'm a few dozen pages into the book and, frankly, a lot of the things Wilson talked about are still being talked about today. It's interesting to see that fancy rhetoric doesn't solve problems, nor does the ability to place compromise above everything else.

No comments: