Below is an excerpt from an early speech given by Calvin Coolidge to the Algonquin Club in Boston, Mass. in 1915. These remarks are included in a series of speeches Coolidge published in the book, Have Faith in Massachusetts. The speeches primarily deal with his philosophy of government, which because of his emphasis on foundational beliefs, remained consistent.
In the excerpt, Coolidge quotes a “Dr. Garman,” who was a professor at Amherst College, in Amherst Mass. Coolidge graduated from the school in 1895. Coolidge’s political rise certainly coincided with a rise in popularity of the social gospel and the progressive movement. Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson were progressive presidents that preceded Coolidge. The rise of the progressive era saw the belief that the ideas and ideals set forth in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence could be improved upon. Coolidge would later masterfully pick that kind of thinking apart in his presidential address on the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1926.
As stated before on the PowerBlog, Coolidge is receiving considerably more attention today. Amity Shlaes, interviewed in the Fall 2009 issue of Religion & Liberty, will release a new biography of the 30th president in June. If you are in the Grand Rapids area, I will be hosting an Acton on Tap on Coolidge’s philosophy of government on May 10.
Coolidge uses the backdrop of a lecture that mentions the purpose of Christ and his coming to earth, the value of work, service, and human nature, to check the social gospel and the progressive utopian ideal. In his remarks, he strongly posits progressive and social justice schemes within the materialist worldview.
Coolidge believed that America’s founding principles could not be improved upon, and that they were in fact the real progressive view. He believed that there were fundamental truths about man and his relationship to the state. Furthermore, he held those views because of his understanding of the fall of man. Below is the excerpt from his remarks “On the Nature of Politics:”
The State is not founded on selfishness. It cannot maintain itself by the offer of material rewards. It is the opportunity for service. There has of late been held out the hope that government could by legislation remove from the individual the need of effort. The managers of industries have seemed to think that their difficulties could be removed and prosperity ensured by changing the laws. The employee has been led to believe that his condition could be made easy by the same method. When industries can be carried on without any struggle, their results will be worthless, and when wages can be secured without any effort they will have no purchasing value. In the end the value of the product will be measured by the amount of effort necessary to secure it. Our late Dr. Garman recognized this limitation in one of his lectures where he says:
“Critics have noticed three stages in the development of human civilization. First: the let alone policy; every man to look out for number one. This is the age of selfishness. Second: the opposite pole of thinking; every man to do somebody’s else work for him. This is the dry rot of sentimentality that feeds tramps and enacts poor laws such as excite the indignation of Herbert Spencer. But the third stage is represented by our formula: every man must render and receive the best possible service, except in the case of inequality, and there the strong must help the weak to help them selves; only on this condition is help given. This is the true interpretation of the life of Christ. On the first basis He would have remained in heaven and let the earth take care of itself. On the second basis He would have come to earth with his hands full of gold and silver treasures satisfying every want that unfortunate humanity could have devised. But on the third basis He comes to earth in the form of a servant who is at the same time a master commanding his disciples to take up their cross and follow Him; it is sovereignty through service as opposed to slavery through service. He refuses to make the world wealthy, but He offers to help them make themselves wealthy with true riches which shall be a hundred-fold more, even in this life, than that which was offered them by any former system.”
This applies to political life no less than to industrial life. We live under the fairest government on earth. But it is not self sustaining. Nor is that all. There are selfishness and injustice and evil in the world. More than that, these forces are never at rest. Some desire to use the processes of government for their own ends. Some desire to destroy the authority of government altogether. Our institutions are predicated on the rights and the corresponding duties, on the worth, of the individual. It is to him that we must look for safety. We may need new charters, new constitutions and new laws at times. We must always have an alert and interested citizenship. We have no dependence but the individual. New charters cannot save us. They may appear to help but the chances are that the beneficial results obtained result from an increased interest aroused by discussing changes. Laws do not make reforms, reforms make laws. We cannot look to government. We must look to ourselves. We must stand not in the expectation of a reward but with a desire to serve. There will come out of government exactly what is put into it. Society gets about what it deserves. It is the part of educated men to know and recognize these principles and influences and knowing them to inform and warn their fellow countrymen. Politics is the process of action in public affairs. It is personal, it is individual, and nothing more. Destiny is in you.