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Monday, February 29, 2016

The Search for Truth in a Reverent Spirit (Part Two)

(Editors note:  This is the second segment in a new series.  The first segment introduces readers to the fork in the road caused by the clash between proven scientific principles with matters of the spirit which defy the rigid limitations of scientific calculation ...)

In a land of plenty, something still appears to be missing?  What is it?

Thomas Jefferson aims at the pursuit of happiness, with virtue as its foundation.  Alexander Hamilton, by contrast, envisions the physical greatness of the state as being above the happiness of its citizens.  To the extent that the two are at odds, Hamilton would choose the former, and happiness will follow.  Resolving the dispute among his two top cabinet members, President George Washington decides in Hamilton’s favor.  For better or worse, the course is set.  America is constructed on this foundation. 

But although physical greatness does expand to levels unprecedented, the ordinary citizen’s “something is missing from life” experience continues to gather its own inexorable momentum.  The elusive ingredient involves a search for Truth.  Scientists reject any “new” principle which cannot be scientifically proven.  Spirit guided intuition, on the other hand, allows for the potential of a broader understanding and a higher trajectory.

In American History, a study of Theodore Roosevelt’s political transformation typically flies under the radar.  But it neatly highlights the above distinction.  T.R. has spent a lifetime of rejecting spiritual speculation, in favor of the body electric and the physics of (military) power --- from the land prizes of the Spanish American War --- to the construction of the Panama Canal --- to re-building the US Navy, almost from scratch, to a military size befitting the ability to successfully prosecute a two ocean war --- which he foresees 40 years in advance.  At the dawn of the 20th century, his presidency cements his reputation as the Republican heir to Abraham Lincoln’s grand old party and as the champion of Progressive Era domestic reform.

But T.R., too, feels the hunger pangs of the something that’s missing phenomenon.  With his successor botching T..R.’s progressive agenda and becoming the nation’s top reactionary, T.R. contemplates a return to political life as the calendar turns to 1912.  At the same time a political transformation is taking place within him.  He would begin to argue for wider recognition of the spiritual qualities inherent in all materialistic pursuits, from science to business to politics.

The roots of this transformation can be traced to several sources.  The first dates back to T.R.’s presidency (1901-1908), specifically the delivery of a Special Message to Congress in January 1908, his last year in office.  It argues for automatic compensation for job-related (industrial) accidents and federal scrutiny of corporate boardroom operations.  It campaigns “against privilege, part of the campaign to make the great class of property holders realize that property has its duties no less than its rights.”  It also campaigns against “predatory wealth --- of the wealth accumulated on a giant scale by all forms of iniquity.”  It is to be a war “against successful dishonesty.”

The issue T.R. raises in this message, perhaps more than any other utterance in his career, convinces Wall Street that “Theodore the Sudden” is a dangerous man.

But T.R. scoffs at this criticism, stating that it is “fundamentally an ethical movement:”

The opponents of the measures we champion single out now one, and now another measure for especial attack, and speak as if the movement in which we are engaged was purely economic.  It has a large economic side, but it is fundamentally an ethical movement.  It is not a movement to be completed in one year, or two or three years; it is a movement which must be persevered in until the spirit which lies behind it sinks deep into the heart and the conscience of the whole people.

Followed quickly on its heels is the publication of Herbert Croly’s The Promise of American Life, which becomes the bible of the new social movement.  The book argues the need for a strong central government (Hamiltonian), calling for a war on indiscriminate individualism (Jefferson) and unearned privilege (Jacksonian).  And it also calls for T.R. as the only leader in America capable of encompassing both aims.

But after completing two presidential terms featuring a progressive agenda of activist reform, T.R. upholds the tradition of George Washington and declines to run for a third term.  By 1909, T.R. is now a former president --- still relatively young by historical standards at age 51 --- but nonetheless outside the political power structure looking in.  With his spiritual evolution continuing, T.R. begins to plot his future course.

(Editor’s note:  To be continued.  The next segment (Part Three) will continue to explore the underpinnings of T.R.’s political transformation to spiritual icon …)

-Michael D’Angelo