Monday, August 02, 2010

Jefferson/Pound redux

While on vacation, I read Simon Johnson and James Kwak's 13 Bankers. The closing paragraph of this wholly convincing, if perhaps too affable, analysis of the financial system reads as follows:

Even when it goes out of fashion, Thomas Jefferson’s suspicion of concentrated power remains an essential thread in the fabric of American democracy. The financial crisis of 2007-2009 has made Jefferson a little less out of fashion. It is that tradition of skepticism that, if anything, can shift the weight of public opinion against our new financial oligarchy—the most law-abiding, hardworking, eloquent, well-dressed oligarchy in the history of politics. It is to help reinvigorate that spirit of Jefferson that we have written this book. (222)

If Jefferson is going to be "a little less out of fashion", then perhaps Pound can be hip again, too? In the late-1930s, he argued for a "revival" of what he called "American civilization", namely, America in the spirit of Henry Adams and Thomas Jefferson (ca. 1760 to 1830). In a sense, Johnson and Kwak argued that this revival actually came about (with the various banking reforms that came out of the Great Depression), though Pound was not of course satisfied. The "reinvigoration" that Johnson and Kwak are hoping for is much less radical than Pound's "revival", but, as the name of Jefferson indicates, is thought in the same "spirit". As Pound put it:

'As monument' or I should prefer to say as a still workable dynamo, left us from the real period, nothing surpasses the Jefferson correspondence. Or to reduce it to convenient bulk concentrating on the best of it, and its fullest implications, nothing surpasses the evidence that CIVILIZATION WAS in America, than the series of letters exchanged between Jefferson and John Adams, during the decade of reconciliation after their disagreements.

I'm going to spend a few posts this month thinking this through.

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