Enterprise and Commerce: “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg” by Mark Twain

Enterprise and Commerce: “The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg” by Mark Twain

DAVID BROOKS: Weíre here to discuss a story
by Mark Twain, a late story called ìThe Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburg.î And this story
was written, as you know, at the end of his career. Heíd written Tom Sawyer, heíd written
Huck Finn, he was incredibly famous, he was on a world tour in Austria, I think, when
he wrote this story. And he wrote it on the stationary of one hotel, suggesting he wrote
it pretty fast, kind of impressive. And he was writing in reaction to the Gilded Age,
to the American Gilded Age, and to some of the effects of money and the effects of conformism
and public opinion on American culture. Now maybe, Amy, you could start us off by giving
a brief description of what actually happens in the story. AMY KASS: Ok. Thank you, very briefly. The
incorruptible town of Hadleyburg- which is renowned for its honesty- manages to offend
a stranger who is just passing through. How this happens, weíre never told. Bent on revenge,
the manówho is the man in the title ìThe Man That Corrupted Hadleyburgîósets on a
quest to undermine the town. He deposits a sack of gold with one of the townís 19 worthy
familiesóthe Richardsówith an explanatory message that the sack isÖcontains a gift
of gold for the one man in Hadleyburg, the one person in Hadleyburg, who one time did
him a good turn. And heÖ he isÖ he not only gave him 20 dollars, which apparently changed
his life. But also gave him some advice which also changed his life, said something which
was very, very important. What he said is contained in a sealed note in a message which
is inside the sack, which is to go to this person. An inquiry is supposed to be made,
either privately or publicly. The Richards finally choose to do it publicly. But in very
brief, the sack which is worth $40,000 proves to be a temptation not only for the Richards,
but for the rest of the town whose virtue has never really been tested. The rest of
the tale is basically a hilarious account of how the artificial virtue of the town is
exposed. DAVID BROOKS: It occurs to me as youíre describing
this plot, itís sort of a 19th century version of ìSurvivor.î When you take a bunch of
normal peopleóAmericansóput them in an odd situationóplopping a sack of alleged gold
in their midstóand then see how this reveals their character. Now what are we to make of
the town? What is the town when itís described as a virtuous town? LEON KASS: Well, the only virtue thatís actually
emphasized is that it isÖitís an honest town. And more or less, everybody agrees.
Itís honest in its dealings, itís commercially honest. And someone who has grown up in Hadleyburg,
itís enough to say ìIíve come from Hadleyburgî to have a recommendation for a job if you
go elsewhere. Umm, itís not a generous town; uhh itís rather tough on strangers; it doesnít
give a fig for the opinions of strangers. And at several points people point out that
the town is not only ungenerous, but downright stingy. Itís rather narrow-minded, itís
rather self-righteous. They are very proud, very proud, of their virtue, which has been
something that theyíve boasted of for generations. D; And are we supposed to take them you think
as examples of America? Is this Twain saying America is sort of a smug, narrow, bourgeois
society? And that they are examples of it? AMY KASS: Yeah, I , I, thatís, thatís a
very good question. Itís not clear whether itís examples of America as such, but it
seems to me that the town itself is supposed to be ìAnywhere, USA.î Whether itís our
national character heís exposing, Iím not sure. But heís certainly exposing a commercial
town, small-town life. DAVID BROOKS: And when you say they have commercial
virtues, are they the descendents of Benjamin Franklin? He was famous for emphasizing exactly
these virtues. LEON KASS: With a couple of exceptions. Among
the other virtues that he emphasized was humility, which was uhhÖ in which the appearance of
the virtue was as good as the reality. But you didnít sort of puff yourself in other
peopleís faces. And umm, Franklin had a whole list of virtues beyond, in fact, Iím not
sure that truthfulness was one of them. AMY KASS: Well, sincerity. LEON KASS: Sincerityóuse no hurtful deceit
is his maxim. But uhh, these people, their honesty seems to be confined to business dealings.
And one shouldnít make light of it. Commerce depends, really, on a fair bargain, and that
people deliver what they promise, and they keep their contracts and things of that sort. DAVID BROOKS: But just to set this up a little
more, the stranger who walks in. The traditional debate about this story has been, ìIs this
stranger Satan, who is taking a good town and essentially corrupting it by dropping
in alleged money in the middle? Or is he an avenging angel who is merely exposing the
rottenness which they should have been aware of all along?î AMY KASS: Thatís, thatís another wonderful
question, and I think there are more than two sides. (clears throat) Thereís plenty
of evidence in the text that it could be Satan. Umm, many descriptions of the stranger, the
fire that he carries with him, or the fire that they refer to, or the way in which he
has various disguises and portrays himself as dressed up as some kind of strange earl
or something like that at the town meeting. And uhh, the town meeting itself seems to
be a kind of devilís mass, over which he basically presides, finally. So yes, there
is a good argument to be made that it might be Satan. Another argument could be made that
the very title- The Man, wh-THAT- corrupted Hadleyburg, as opposed to ìthe Man whoî
corrupted, itís not one man. But it might be human nature itself, which comes to expose
itself. LEON KASS: This is a fellow who is certainly
not a Christian. Heís driven by revenge, it eats at him constantly. And heís not content
to take his revenge on the one or two people who gave him offense. But he wants to destroy
this whole town. And the town has for its original motto ìlead us not into temptationî,
the verse from Matthew, also part of the Lordís Prayer. And he wants to undoÖummÖthat kind
of aspiration. So you could say, I mean there are, there are people who are envious of virtue,
or of apparent virtue. Theyíd like to bring it down. They might be in league with the
Devil, if there is a devil. But itís not necessarily the case that you have to invoke
a figure called Satan. I mean, the story does have something of the character of the fall
of innocence. Not of Adam and Eve here, but of an innocent, untested town. And so there
is an analogy to that story, but Iím not sure we need to decide the question as between
these alternatives. DAVID BROOKS: Thereís ambiguity there. And
do we have a theory why, the original sin committed against the person, the man, is
never described. And we just know something bad happened. And that may universalize it,
I suppose. Or itísÖitís sort of an odd omission, it makes you wonder. AMY KASS: Right, and the fact that he is described
as a mysterious stranger is further evidence for the fact that it might be Satan. But umm,
were given a hint in what he says in the note thatís read, the post-script to the note
thatís read in the town meeting, about what his purpose was and what actually happened.
Uhh and it seems that it was the vanity of the town itself, their pride and their honesty,
and their honest dealings, and uhh the pride that becomes a real vanity that really disturbed
him. And itís that that he wants to undermine. DAVID BROOKS: And that sort of gets to the
third theme I want to touch right off the bat, which is an important theme in the story,
the theme of public opinion. And throughout the story there are people who are wrongly
accused in the town, and Richards, one of the main burghers of the town, a bank cashier,
I guess, has the opportunity to present evidence which would have exonerated this guy, Burgess,
a minister. And because he didnít want the town to think ill of him, he did not actually
go forward and say ìHey I have some facts about this guy you guys should know aboutî.
He didnít want to appear like he was on his side when he was out of favor. And this town,
this, the force of public opinion, the conforming force of public opinion is, in addition to
their vanity and their pride, one of the sins thatís already sitting there in the town. LEON KASS: The story really powerfully shows
how public opinion and reputation is in a way a dominant consideration in the minds
of absolutely everybody in this story. Umm, Twain really does a job on this without seeing
that, you know look, itís not, not simply terrible to care about your reputation. You
wouldnít want to live amongst people in which nobody cared what anybody else thought of
them. In this story, and as we know from experience, public opinion can be tyrannical, and it can
get in the way of people doing the honorable thing. DAVID BROOKS: Thereís this conformity, but
thereís actually not a lot of fellow feeling, or what youíd call ìcitizenshipî there. AMY KASS: Exactly. DAVID BROOKS: Because theyíre sort of kissing
up to each other, but the moment in the town meeting when they have a chance to laugh at
each other, they take that chance with great relish. LEON KASS: Well thereís, thereís a fair
amount of envy and discontent. Some of the people who were not part of the elite think
they deserve to be. And umm, even at the very beginning of the story when the sack of a
of, what turns out to be bogus gold, is deposited with the Richards, and sheís alone in the
house, three times she says, ìItís the time for burglarsî. AMY KASS: Itís her firstÖ LEON KASS: Itís her first thought, so they
have suspicions of one another at least when theyíre not engaged in ordinary, commercial
dealings. But look, umm, well we, maybe you want to talk about this later, but the encouragement
really of individualism and the commercial spirit very often leads people to think primarily,
narrowly, of themselves. And they will get along with other people insofar as itís necessary.
But they donít have really regard for any individual, but they do have regard for the
opinion of the public. DAVID BROOKS: Well, we might as well talk
about that. You can imagine the, I mean, one of the questions underlying this is what sort
of person does capitalism create? And some people have thought it softens the virtues
byÖyou have to cooperate if youíre going to work in a business. You have to have some
level of trust if youíre going to work, if youíre going to do deals. In those days and
even today people shake hands and do deals and have reciprocal relationships. The question
is, whether thatís a real fraternity, or whether itís simply contractual. And in this
town, it suggests theyíre doing deals, theyíre trading, selling, buying and selling through
each other, but thereís no actual fellow feeling. Theyíre just a bunch of struggling
individualists or families without any real cohesion. AMY KASS: But theyÖthey also are described
as, before this event, as being somewhat neighborly. LEON KASS: Thatís true. AMY KASS: How would they spend the evenings?
They would go visiting their neighbors. And itís perfectly clear that everybody knows
everybody else. DAVID BROOKS: Yeah, but I want to press this,
this point about the nature of capitalist relationships, because fundamentally- Iím
going to make this point repeatedly- I think Twain is wrong. I think itís an inaccurate
portrayal of what America is, of what towns are. And I think one of the things he gets
wrong is exactly the nature of what capitalism does to people, or what democratic capitalism
does to people. I think people get together for self-interested reasons, but these relationships
get enchanted in ways that are kind of profound. And they develop affections, people develop
affections for their neighbors which transcend the capitalist impulse it started with and
actually they are quite real relationships. AMY KASS: One of the problems is the state
of religion in this town. And I would ask you, how much of theÖ your portrayal of the
capitalist personality would depend upon religion. But in any case, what we see here is that
the Reverend Burgess has been disgraced. And so whatever the town once looked up to- if
it ever looked up to something higher- is very ambiguous now. So they have this very,
very ambivalent attitude towards religion. And that seems, in a certain way, to free
them to be the sorts of people they become. LEON KASS: Well, I mean, Iím inclined to
agree, David, with your view that if this was meant to be a caricature of the American
commercial society its partial and unfair, the way satire very often is unfair. But I
think to, to join with Amyís point uhh, first of all, I think this is small-town America,
this isnít, this isnít the big industrial society yet, and itís in a way, pre-capitalist
or itís, itís a different kind of market. Thereís the hatter, and thereís the tanner,
and thereís the saddler, thereís one of each in the town. SoÖbut second, in addition
to the commercial spirit and the reputation for honest dealings, we also have a certain
homogeneity of public opinion that is also said to be characteristic of small-town America.
Thereís a kind of self righteousness that goes with their pride in their own virtue.
And they do have a certain, umm religion is there, but religion serves mostly in the form
of public opinion. DAVID BROOKS: Right yeah IÖI mean I do, I
think we would agree that capitalism has to be embedded in a deeper value system. But
I would say especially in this country, that value system is extremely deeply embedded
and its, its not washed away simply because your minister gets disgraced. And so my shorthand
version of the American character is that Europeans came here in the whatever century.
They saw a vast forest, they saw huge oysters-so large theyíd never seen them before. They
saw flocks of geese so big it took them 45 minutes to take off and the early settlers
would shoot cannons at these flocks just to see if they could re-direct them, they were
so fascinated by these gigantic flocks. And so two thoughts appeared to these Europeans:
One, that Godís plans for humanity could be realized here. This could be the last,
the final eschatology of the human race. And second, they could get really rich in the
process. And so you had intense spiritual and intense material drive. And this moral
materialism fused, and really has been driving America ever since. AMY KASS: So you think that Twainís depiction
of their religion, for example, is really bogus, or Twainís depiction of character
in small-town America is simply wrong? DAVID BROOKS: Well, I think inÖif you want
my totally honest opinion, A), I think heís projecting. Remember Twain at the time he
wrote this story had just lost huge amounts of money on speculation. Throughout his life
he speculated a lot. He was very money-hungry. He had this type-setting machine that he thought
was gunna make him a zillion dollars, went bust. Heís constantly losing money. And I
think heís taking the intellectualsí false sense of superiority about a town. And my
main beef with this story is that it created the formula that was then recreated by every
single novel, movie about American small-town suburban life ever since. And the model is:
virtuous on the surface, rotten at the bottom. And only us intellectuals can see that. AMY KASS: Well, you may be right. But in fairness,
I think youíd want to say also that whatís on his mind is the emerging national character
of our country. This is the time, the Associated Press is mentioned for the first time here.
Okay? The railroads are coming so that weíre moving from small-town America to a nation
that will be united. So, what is going to be the character of that? LEON KASS: Thereís certain ways in which
I donít like this story for reasons that youíve given but also because mockery is
very easy. And itís the…we might want to talk about the laughter and what good it does
us. Does it just make us feel superior, or is there a real contribution to moderating
our own vanities and our own vices. But umm, again in fairness to the story, theÖas you
say, there are in a way two strands to the early American founding. One is a strand embodied,
say in the Mayflower Compact, that we are here for the greater glory of God. The other
is the strand that you find in the individual rights of the Declaration and encouraged by
the commercial Republic envisioned by Federalist 10 and the Constitution to ummÖfor material
well-being. And the spirit of religion and the spirit of liberty and enterprise live
side by side, even though in pure form they would seem to be opposed to each other. The
Scripture says itís easier for a camel to walk throughÖto get through an eye of a needle
than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven, the love of money is the root of all
kinds of evil, etc, etc. And uhh, and yet, what happens in America is religion manages
to make its peace with acquisitiveness, makes its peace with it, provided itís done honestly.
So Twain is I think going after that sort of compromise, that religion, with its general
suspicion of wealth, has made in America for honest dealings. Honest dealings, is in a
way, where the spirit of religion and the spirit of enterprise merge, and the question
is whether thatís sufficient and whether it isnít precarious when push comes to shove,
when temptation appears. DAVID BROOKS: Clearly thereís virtue in the
way theseÖ the Puritans would say are two callings, our religious and worldly calling
have come together. Clearly there are some advantages to it. In theory it a calming effect
on the rapacious desires of capitalism. Uhh and it probably makes religion probably a
little more vital. Our denominations, we have tremendous ability to do a lot of denominations,
and they essentially work like small companies, competing, in the marketplace of religion.
Now do you think itís possible to make generalizations when you think about the strengths and weaknesses
of this merger of God and Mammon, and is it possible to make generalizations about the
rules and the specific weaknesses of it that maybe Twain is warning us about? AMY KASS: Twain doesnít give us any rules
or show us any rules for bringing together Mammon and God. But he does, through laughter,
try to make us aware of the tension between those two things. And I think though we laugh
with the people who laugh in the story, the story is hilarious, but we are outside of
the story and we could also see ourselves mirrored in the story, which means that uhh,
though he doesnít give us any rules, he makes us certainly more self-conscious about the
way we are, both by ourselves as well as with respect to our neighbors. DAVID BROOKS: Yeah, if I wanted to defend
the story, Iíd say itís not an accurate sociological description of who we are, and
I think itís led to a lot of pernicious snobbery, but, but it is, it may be a corrective. One
of the things that America does to religion is that it makes religion very happy. It tends
to create religionsÖ Henry Steele Commager had a great sentence, he had wrote a book
I think, Iím not even going to quote the name, but he wrote a book, and one of the
sentences was, ìin the 19th century, religion prospered while theology slowly went bankruptî,
meaning that we donít really do doctrine very well. Our God is someone who is encouraging,
personal, thereís very little sin and Satan involved, thereís very little evil involved,
itís more of a friendly coach, telling you to work hard and be a good person. And so
he could, we have a tendency therefore to deny our own sinfulness, and he could be reminding
us of that I suppose. AMY KASS: In fairness to the story, before
this happens weíre lead to believe they werenít all that terrible. They were, they were as
I said before, neighborly, they did decent things. Uhh there were two churches in the
town, there were public meetings. UhhhÖ He exaggerates what happens as a result and itís
not exactlyÖitís, itís perfectly clear that it has, that this couldnít have happened
if Barclay Goodson hadnít died. And Barclay Goodson- the name itself- suggests unless
God had diedÖ.Son of God had died. So, in part, youíre mostly right but I would suggest
thereís something more redeeming, umm, yeah. And whatís redeeming about the Twain really,
has to do with the laughter. LEON KASS: You donít think that when we laugh
at these characters of the story weíre congratulating ourselves because weíre not dumb, hypocritical
yokels like these people. But heís held up a mirror in which we in fact see some of our
own pretentiousness, our own vanity, our own trust in our untested virtue. And that uhh
reading the story ought to produce a kind of modesty and, uhh, is that what youíre
saying? You take a certain amount of small pleasure
inÖ not so much in seeing the virtue exposed, but in the very comical way in which the people
struggle with their conscience until the price keeps going up. And by the way, those things
uhh, those things uhh I donít think I feel immune from. There are temptations to which
all of us are subject, and we are periodically tested by incentives and inducements, not
necessarily always financial. Uhh so, I mean, one sees something of oneís self in the story.
I donít particularly like the stranger, though Iíve got to hand it to him, itís an absolutely
ingenious scheme, getting them to convict themselves by their own practice. ButÖummÖIím
sort of sad for the town. Iím sort of sad for the town at the end. Itís true- and Iím
not sure that the new motto that they proposed for themselves is an improvement, the old
motto of the town is ìlead us not into temptationî, the new motto of the town is ìlead us into
temptationî. Iím not sure thatís what you really want to teach your young, young people.
So uhhÖ. DAVID BROOKS: Could you expand..? Cause that
befuddled me. I didnít understand why Twain emphasized that, changing the motto of the
town, what he meant by that, or what itís supposed to mean. AMY KASS: Well, they were raised from the
cradle to believe that they ought never to be lead into temptation. Thatís what theyíre
told form the very beginning. That seems to be, or at least this kind of Öwithout being
tested, that seems to me what makes them succumb so easily to the first temptation that comes
their way. So you change the motto from ìlead us not into temptationî to ìlead us to temptationî
because temptation . . . only by being tried and tested will your virtue really emerge,
something like that. LEON KASS: But I think, I think itís got
to be also a certain dig at Öa kind of Christian teaching. I mean, this is the heart of the
Lordís Prayer, and uhh basically, the town previously seemed to be echoing the prayerÖThat
was what was left of the Lordís Prayer in this town, now theyíve decided that wasnít
helpful. And itís certainly true that untested virtue may be hollow and may be artificial.
Mary Richards says herself, ìIím a humbugî. Uhh everybody in this town is going to be
shown to have an artificial virtue when the temptation comes. And itís true, people have
to face the things and learn how to deal with them, as a psychological matter. But I think
thereís a doctrinal question here thatís being attacked. And the town becomes anonymous,
we donít know where the town is, itís sort of taken a new name to avoid its previous
disgrace. And itís now going to encourage people to have temptations and you could say,
maybe you could say, look America has followed the new model of Hadleyburg all too wellÖ DAVID BROOKS: Right and so Vegas is our new
model because thereís a lot of temptation in Vegas presumably so thatís supposed to
improve us? AMY KASS: Wh-wh-what do you think? Three cheers
for hypocrisy? LEON KASS: Umm, actually Iíll give two. I
donítÖ I thinkÖ Hypocrisy, La Rochefoucauld says, is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.
And I think youíd much rather live in a community in which there was umm public scrupulosity
and some private corruption and Öuhh than if you lived in a community in which everybody
was vicious and they made no bones about it. I mean, thereís somethingÖLook, there are
things wrong with the town as caricatured, but Iím not sure the town has been improved
as a result of having abandoned its aspirations to be virtuous. DAVID BROOKS: Well you both have, you both
have said that one of the problems with the town is that the minister is in disgrace or
gone, so how do we understand that ministerís good influence on a town? Is it through what
youíve just said suggested that you donít have much faith in sermons, that if he gives
a sermon once a week that will have a huge effect. So those are just words that fly over
your head. How, how could he possibly, how could a minister possibly have had such a
good effect? LEON KASS: Well thereís a must-mystery in
this story about the minister. I mean, if we stay first with the story and then we can
generalize it. AMY KASS: And there are two churches. LEON KASS: There are two churches on the public
square, a bank, a town hall, the Presbyterian church, the Baptist church. The minister is
accused of doing something we know not what of which heís innocent. And as a result,
the town turns against him, and heíll never get another congregation. And yet, he sort
of presides over this meeting, he gives a kind of sermon-like speech which rouses the
faithful to their own reputation. And uhh in fact, heís a rather generous soul in the
story. He repays a kindness by lying for Mr. Richards so that Richardsí soul is not disgraced
with the rest of them. And heís repaid for that kindness by being vilified by Richards
in the end. But umm, it seems to be the minister has force partly by moral example, and in
this case he apparently seems to have lost it undeservedly. He has some force insofar
as his speech speaks to the better angels of peopleís nature and gives it encouragement,
and lifts their gaze. And uhh, that seems also to be onÖon tenuous grounds in the community.
But uhh people need to give voice to the things that they in a way they already believe and
already practice. But the speeches by themselves I donít think can do it. DAVID BROOKS: Let me mention a different act,
a different theory of moral development as a way to get into the subject we mentioned
earlier but should come back to and thatís the subject of public opinion and conformity
in America. Now another theory of moral development is Adam Smithís theoryÖwhich is that we
donít behave morally because God tells us, or sermons, we behave morally ëcause people
around us sort of reward us for it. Weíre liked better. And then, so he has a problem
with this theory as, well if youíre surrounded by Nazis, theyíll reward you for behaving
badly. And so his answer is you should imagine an impartial observer who would be the person
you would like to observe you. Now the people in this town are acutely interested in the
feelings/opinions of others. And while I think this story is very bad sociology, I think
itís pretty good psychology. And he gets the effect, the roiling effects of this uhh.
And so Tocqueville thought this was a particular American problem. Adam Smith might have disagreed.
Do you, do you think Tocqueville was right about this and this is a story about an American
trait? Or is it a universal trait about the public opinion? AMY KASS: Tocquevilleís argument rested on
a society that was founded on equality. And I think heís dead-right. That uhh what he
describes the philosophical method of AmericansÖ He talks about how they looked to themselves
as authorities- we donít look to other people as great authorities. Ok? So that asÖbecause
we donít look to other people as great authorities, public opinion takes on a great, a greater,
authority than it ought to. And I think thatís the way it works. And uhh I think there are
numerous examples in contemporary America. There were certainly efforts in the Constitution
to moderate this tendency, certainly the commercial republic was supposed to do something about
this to uhh multiply the number of interest and so on and extend the republic. But finally,
public opinion matters, and it matters a lot. And you see this from the newspapers every
day. DAVID BROOKS: Is this because our status is
insecure? If youíre Alexis Tocqueville or Lord so-and-so, no matter what you do, youíre
still a lord. Whereas for us, itís our own behavior- we can rise or fall to the top to
the bottom depending on behavior. Is that the essential issue? Is it equality or is
it meritocracy? Might be a better way to ask it. LEON KASS: I think, I think itís probably
come to be a mixture of both. But under democratic times where we donít think anybody else has
more purchase on the truth of things than we do, and yet we canít really sort out everything
for ourselves. We tend to give much more weight to the opinion of the majority. Umm and thatís
both good and bad. I mean, there is the danger of the tyranny of the majority, it wreaks
havoc on unconventional opinion which is sometimes better than that of the multitude. It makes
it difficult for the non-conformists, for artists, among others. On the other hand,
to say again, public opinion is where mores exist and are taught. And itís not unimportant
for civil peace that we donít violate those opinions. And very often those opinions areÖcarry
in a way, the moral teachings and norms and standards of the community. So you donít,
you donít want to teach your children- your mother will say, ìIf everybody jumps off
the roof are you gunna jump too?î- when they say well everybody else is doing it too. On
the other hand you also donít want to teach them to have contempt for the opinions of
people that they have to live with. UmmÖ.thatísÖthatís a kind of moderate position. Itís difficult
probably to negotiate. AMY KASS: Thatís very important. You donít
want to teach people to live in the opinions of others. On the other hand, you donít want
them to ignore the opinions of others. LEON KASS: Well, I want to add to what you
said about Smith. Umm Smith placed a great deal of weight, and he really was I think
intending to provide a kind of moral theory for modern capitalist society, and The Theory
of Moral Sentiments is at least as important a work as, and itís a companion work to On
the Wealth of Nations- the point of departure is not some arduous virtue. The point of departure
are certain in-grained natural feelings that we have: sympathy. And thatís why, going
back to something you said at the beginning, itís probably wrong to say of small communities
that theyíre only animated by selfish, narrow interests.
AMY KASS: The one thing thatís really off in this Twain story is the way in which this
community deals with strangers. LEON KASS: Yeah. Well, itísÖ AMY KASS: Not caring a rat for strangers. DAVID BROOKS: Yeah. The quality of sympathy
in a town can differ. I mean, the famous contrast is the one I think Edward Banfield and Robert
Putnam made about small towns in Italy and small towns in the U.S. And in Italy there
was tremendous social trust within families, but not so much trust outside of families.
And so when they would start a company, they would hire all of their cousins, but they
couldnít grow because they couldnít hire anybody BUT their cousins because they didnít
fundamentally trust them. In the United States, they hireÖ we feel noÖweíre suspicious
of our cousins because we actually know who they are, so we hire vastly outside. So I
do think its characteristic of the United States that we do tend to hire and do tend
to assimilate strangers phenomenally well. DAVID BROOKS: Could you go back to the Tocqueville
on the equality- when we think of this town, is it an equal town? Do weÖwould we say there
is equality in Hadleyburg? AMY KASS: Right, thereís an equality of opinion,
but thereís clearly a difference and some resentment about the difference between the
19 notable distinguished families and the rest of the town. LEON KASS: There are different social classes,
and there is economic inequality, but itís clearly recognizable as a democratic, American
town. You have the town meeting, the people mix it up, no one isÖ no one is shy about
speaking his mind, or defers to anybody else in the town. SoÖif, if, if the crucial thing
about equality is not the equality of result in terms of income or status, but the equality
of thinking that Iím as good as anybody else in this town when it comes to deciding how
I should live my life or what I should do, I think this is a recognizable Tocquevillian
American town. AMY KASS: I think that point is well-made. LEON KASS: Yeah, and it, and the equality
and the individualism go together. And thatís what, itís the equality which encourages
people to rely upon themselves alone, to turn away and to think primarily about their own
little nexusÖ and uhhÖ and I think we see that here. DAVID BROOKS: Ok, and then to conclude, let
me ask one final question. So many of the stories and essays in WSPWH are historical-
like this one, 19th century. Tocqueville came here in the 1830s,uhh, America is very different
know demographically, economically. Is it your basic belief that Tocqueville- the America
Tocqueville describes in the 1830s is essentially the culture we live in today and these stories
are germane because weíre essentially living in the same culture? Or is it an entirely
different nation? LEON KASS: I think I would be inclined to
say that notwithstanding many of the changes technological, sociological, political, thereís
still something recognizably American that has to do with the remarkable interweaving
of strands which ordinarily pull away from each other. I mean, this isÖwe hold many
things together- in fact, the motto, ìout of many oneî, applies not just to the states,
and not just to the individuals and the whole, but to the various strands- often conflicting-
that are held together here. Do we have something like a concern with the dominance of public
opinion that we should think about? Yes. Is there a way that materialism and the commercial
spirit leads us to be forgetful of community or higher things? Thereís a danger of that.
Are we uhÖdo we take an excessive pride in our presumptive virtue which may or may not
hold good when we are tempted? Yeah. What is the nature of our communities if we basically
think of ourselves as rights-bearing individuals? Or what kind of strength does our somewhat
watered-down religious teaching have? I think those are still pertinent concerns even if
Twain is dead-wrong as a sociologist about a particular town, but the issues that you
can tease out of this story, and the psychological ones that you mentioned, those may not be
particularly American, those may be human nature. AMY KASS: The Twain story, among several of
the others, really reveals, or exposes, some elements- crucial elements -in human nature.
And that doesnít make it distinctively American, but it takes on a kind of American twist in
these stories. What are the virtues or vices that all human beings have whatever age theyíre
in- that emerge or are exposed by particular arrangements that we have. LEON KASS: Well, in a way, Tocqueville suggests
that history marches in the direction of equality. And weíve seen that, I mean, what he predicted
about the direction of American history, and to some extent to the larger world as well,
in this direction. Would that more parts of the world would go in this direction as wellÖ
but umm, that means that certain aspects of human nature are especially more prominent
in ages of equality, and it is, in their strengths and in their weaknesses, America gives rein
to some of those things. And I do think that while human nature is on display here, itís
on display here with a very American twist, with a very American twist. DAVID BROOKS: Weíve been discussing the Mark
Twain short story ìthe Man Who Corrupted Hadleyburgî in the wonderful anthology What
So Proudly We Hail, with Amy and Leon Kass. Thank you! AMY KASS: Thank you. LEON KASS: Thank you.


  1. Jack Holiday says:

    I'm AWESOME!!!

  2. Young Ethiopian98 says:

    It was a great story that summed up humanity. 

  3. janessa is cool says:


  4. David S says:

    I just received a 16mm print of the movie starring Robert Preston, Hank Fonda, Fred Gwynne, and the great Frances Sternhagen. What a treat to project it on the big screen from a real movie projector! Great author, great story, great cast!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *