Critics & Crusaders: A Century of American Protest

By Charles A. Madison | Go to book overview

BROOKS ADAMS


JEREMIAN CRITIC OF CAPITALISM

THE RECENT REISSUE of Brooks Adams The Law of Civilization and Decay, with a long and illuminating introduction by Charles A. Beard, is tardy recognition of a work of seminal significance. Published over a half-century ago, it was one of the first efforts by an American scholar to study the roots of Western civilization in order to discover the basic law which governed the movement of society and to which mankind must pay heed if it was to escape catastrophe. Although the book was received with greater favor, both in England and in this country, than the author had anticipated -- and Theodore Roosevelt's discerning analytical review in The Forum was very gratifying to him -- it made little impress upon the thought of his contemporaries. Nor was this surprising. The work appeared during the heated bimetallist controversy and was at once branded by the "gold-bugs" as a defense of silver. Its larger implications were overlooked by both factions, and the leading Brahmins of his own state of Massachusetts scorned the author as the last and least worthy of the captious Adams tribe.

Yet this youngest son of Charles Francis Adams was in some essential respects the most original and profound member of that highly distinguished family. His great-grandfather and grandfather had been Presidents of the United States; his father had been the extraordinarily capable minister to Great Britain during the crucial period of the Civil War; the leading men of England and America were the intimate friends of his family. He himself was in every

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