Stuck is a weekly serial appearing at 3QD every Monday through early April. The Prologue is here. The table of contents with links to previous chapters is here.
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was an odd fellow who eventually became someone else.
Born in 1832, he was the fourth of twelve children, and descended from a long line of English soldiers and priests all named Charles Dodgson. His parents were first cousins. He stuttered. A childhood fever left him deaf in one ear. As an adult he would suffer from migraines and epilepsy.
At age 12 he was sent away to school. He hated it. Still, he aced his classes and went on to Christ Church College in Oxford. He did not always apply himself, but nonetheless excelled at mathematics and eventually earned a teaching position. He remained at the school for the rest of his life.
Dodgson was conservative, stuffy, and shy. He was awed by aristocrats and sometimes snobbish to his social inferiors. He was mildly self-deprecating and earnestly religious. He had a reputation for being a very good charades player. He invented a number of gadgets, including a stamp collecting folder, a note taking tablet, a new type of money order, and a steering device for tricycles. He also created an early version of Scrabble. He liked little girls.
Dodgson enjoyed photographing and drawing nude children. He never married or had any children of his own. Whether his affection for pre-pubescent girls was sexual, or merely tied to Victorian notions of children representing innocence, is still debated. In the prime of his adulthood, one girl in particular caught his fancy: eleven year old Alice Liddell.
Dodgson spent much time with the Liddell family. A favorite activity was taking Alice and her two siblings out on a rowboat, where he would tell them stories. Alice so enjoyed the stories that she begged Charles to write them down. He presented her with a handwritten, illustrated collection in 1864. He called it Alice’s Adventures Underground. Read more »
The United States boasts a deeply conservative economic tradition. From its origins as a colonial, agricultural society, it quickly emerged as a slave holding republic built on the ethnic cleansing and occasional genocide of Indigenous peoples. After the Civil War (1861-65), it reshaped itself in the crucible of unfettered laissez-faire capitalism straight through to the Roaring ‘20s. A post-Depression Keynesian consensus led U.S. leaders to reign in the most conservative impulses during the mid-20th century, but the Reagan Revolution of the 1980s set the stage for the current neo-liberal moment.
Consequently, ever since the industrial revolution, the United States has typically trailed other developed nations in establishing a basic social welfare system. It has never fielded a competitive socialist or labor party. It was the last major nation to implement an old age pension. More recently, ObamaCare made it the last major nation to mandate that all of its citizens receive some sort of healthcare coverage, even if it's quite wanting in many cases.
Amid its overriding conservativism, the United States has had only three presidents with any real socialist tendencies: Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-45), Harry S. Truman (1945-53), and most recently Lyndon Baines Johnson, whose presidency (1963-69) ended before half of current Americans were born (median age 37.9).
The election of Donald Trump as president and, just as important, the impending Republican dominance of Congress, make certain that the United States will not correct its social welfare shortcomings anytime soon. Indeed, the nation may take significant steps backwards.
However, a quick review of America's stunted progressive history suggests that the opportunity for a progressive counter-revolution may be closer than it appears at this dark moment.