Accessible Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter March 29, 2014

Modernity, Experience, and the Law in The Education of Henry Adams

Mara Logaldo
From the journal Pólemos


In Henry Adam's riveting third-person autobiography posthumously published (The Education of Henry Adams, 1918) the concept of law is scrutinized in all its possible meanings. The moral law, the law of politics, the law of economics, the natural law, etc. are all regarded – however tentatively – as closely interconnected ways of organizing experience which may throw light both on universal issues and on historically determined, distinct features of American culture and society. Adams also explored therein the strict juridical meanings of Law. Notwithstanding his recurring paraleptic claims to ignorance on the subject, ``outlawry,'' and ``accidental education'' acquired through direct experience rather than on law books, Adams was actually a learned and fine analyst who constantly attempted ``to bring the case within a general law.'' Covering the period between 1838 and 1905, however, he presented the Law as a principle which, along with the ``democratic dogma'' instilled to him by his father and grandfather, was rapidly decaying, due to the abrupt changes brought about by the Civil War and, more generally, by the ground-breaking scientific and technological discoveries of the time. What Adams ultimately derives from experience is that ``the law altogether, as path of education, vanished in April 1861, leaving a million young men planted in the mud of a lawless world'' while struggling to catch up with the multiplicity and anarchy of the modern multiverse.

Published Online: 2014-3-29
Published in Print: 2014-4-30

©2014 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin/Boston