Goodbye, Alexander Hamilton

As we close in on the end of the first year of this Great Books reading program, I’m looking back over the list of works we’ve read and can’t help being impressed. That list will only grow, of course. I’ll do some breaking down of the numbers from Year One in early January.

Here are the readings for the upcoming week:

  1. Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Ch. 55-75  (GBWW Vol. 48, pp. 120-154)
  2. First Inaugural Address” by Abraham Lincoln (GGB Vol. 6, pp. 747-755)
  3. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume, Sections X-XII (GBWW Vol. 33, pp. 488-509)
  4. Federalist #84-85 (GBWW Vol. 40, pp. 251-259; Antifederalist responses are here)
  5. On the Loadstone and Magnetic Bodies by William Gilbert, Book IV (GBWW Vol. 26, pp. 77-91)
  6. The Politics of Aristotle, Book IV (GBWW Vol. 8, pp. 487-502)

This is the thirty-seventh and final week I will schedule something from the Federalist. That’s right: we won’t be plagued by those political centralizers after this week. And speaking of centralizers, Lincoln’s “First Inaugural” is the last selection we’ll be reading from that gentleman’s pen as well.

Here are some observations on last week’s readings:

  1. Moby Dick by Herman Melville, Chapters 40-54: Once I got over plot-fixation and realized that a novel’s quality is not dependent on a rapid storytelling pace or the suspense the author creates, I came to enjoy the vignettes and digressions common to 19th-century novels. Sir Walter Scott and Victor Hugo in particular can send up 75-page meanderings that have almost nothing to do with the main plot, but are very entertaining in and of themselves . Fifteen minutes into the Town-Ho‘s story (Ch. 54), I forgot all about Ahab and Moby Dick, and I was actually surprised when the whale burst onto the scene to dispose of the ship’s mate.
  2. “Farewell Address” by George Washington: Washington’s eminently sound and reasonable recommendations read like a laundry list of things our government isn’t doing today. And then there’s Washington’s warning that you can’t have morality without religion. No wonder no one pays attention to this piece anymore.
  3. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume, Sections VIII-IX: Well, I suppose if you’re going to deny that we can know anything about causality, then the question of liberty vs. necessity becomes moot. And if induction is not reason, then animals can’t reason. So we have two puzzles of the ages dispensed with by Hume here in a few pages.
  4. Federalist #82-83: More on the judiciary here. Hamilton attempts to clear up some ambiguity over the respective jurisdictions of the federal and state courts. He also attempts to explain away the lack of any provision for jury trials before the Supreme Court. Fairly technical stuff and not all that interesting.
  5. On the Loadstone and Magnetic Bodies by William Gilbert, Book III: In this book, Gilbert focuses on the poles of the loadstone and the “opposites attract” idea. What I found most interesting was his discussion of how he tried to replicate the results of some earlier scientists and couldn’t. Conclusion: the earlier scientists had screwed up somewhere.
  6. The Politics of Aristotle, Book III: You mean you need more than a pulse to be a citizen? If society would relearn the lessons of this book, I think we’d see some big changes. Aristotle demolishes the notion that a “pure” form of government (monarchy, democracy, etc.) ever really concerns itself with the good of the whole people.

This is a week for fireplace reading. I have to submit grades this morning and spend most of my week recording lectures for a project, but the prospect of finishing two major works and making significant progress on three more is good motivation to read.

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About Dr. J

I am Professor of Humanities at Faulkner University, where I chair the Department of Humanities and direct online M.A. and Ph.D. programs based on the Great Books of Western Civilization. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy and a member of the faculty at Liberty Classroom.
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