The Public Humanist

The Public Humanist contributor: John Hill

John HillJohn Hill is Professor Emeritus of Politics and History at Curry College in Milton, where he was been a member of the faculty since 1969. He was founder and first director of the Essential Skills Center, an office that provides tutoring in writing and study skills. Professor Hill also established the College’s Academic Advising Office and served as its director for 14 years. His colleagues repeatedly elected him to positions of leadership as Chairperson of the Faculty and as President of the Curry Chapter of the American Association of University Professors. His academic specialty is international relations. Dr. Hill’s most recent book is Revolutionary Values for a New Millennium: John Adams, Adam Smith, and Social Virtue, published by Lexington Books, in 2000. The second edition of his book (Revolutionary Values), retitled Democracy, Equality and Justice, John Adams, Adam Smith, and Political Economy, was published by Lexington Books in 2007. His latest, Adam Smith’s Equality and the Pursuit of Happiness, Palgrave MacMillan, September, 2016, deals with Smith’s thought about the integration of Equality, Liberty, and Justice as the secret to a wealthy nation.

Replacing Aristocracy with Democracy

Since the 1980s the wealthy in the US have steadily pulled away from the rest of the country while the other classes have stagnated. The works of Adam Smith and John Adams have some suggestions to help us democratize.


Adam Smith & Fake News

adam smith cropped

Misconceptions about the ideas of Adam Smith continue to this day. He never advocated an amoral free market economy, and knew that government would have to play a large role in protecting the weak against the strong.


John Adams & Why Fake News is Nothing New

“Fake news” is all the rage at the moment, but failing to expose it for what it is can have serious consequences for democracy. Take, for example, a campaign scare tactic used in the 1800 Presidential election.


Rhetorical Shifts: Economic Liberty

John Gast’s American Progress, an allegory of Manifest Destiny that was widely disseminated in chromolithographic prints in the late 1800s.

The meanings of welfare and liberty changed significantly from the revolutionary era to the present. How did Adam Smith’s ethically-based concept of liberty come to be replaced with a no-holds-barred free market?


Welfare and Liberty

Founding Fathers painting

Twenty years ago, President Clinton signed into law the welfare reform act for which his presidency is widely remembered. His efforts changed our national concept of welfare. But the word used to mean something very different, as is true with many of the ideas put forth in the Constitution.


Taxes, the Social Contract, and Adam Smith

Adam Smith argued for fair treatment for all classes. This essay is also an argument for fairness. And it is an argument for a fair social contract not just for our generation, but for generations yet to be born.


Community, Ethics, Emulation and Terrorism

Patriot’s Day and the Boston Marathon celebrate American values and resilience, which were tested on April 15, 2013. Many people in Boston felt violated by those bombs, but, ultimately, the terrorists lost, not because they were killed/captured relatively quickly but because within an instant of the first bomb Boston and the nation responded as a community.There is no perfect security against such insidious attacks.


John Adams’ Advice for the Nation

In the election of 1800, a good human being (a flawed person, as are we all) won; a good human being (also flawed) was savaged and lost. Both Federalists and Jeffersonians feared that the other party would destroy American democracy. But our democracy has survived.In the election of 2012, a good human being has won; a good human being has lost. But can the two parties now work together on the issues we confront as a nation?


Obama: Not a Prophet, but a Good President

Many Americans, including this author, were ecstatic that Barack Obama won the 2008 Presidential election. As the 2012 election campaign moves into high gear, it is time to evaluate his time in office.If we were choosing a national prophet, Obama would be in trouble. In his Inaugural Address he said: “What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long no longer apply.”


John Adams: Journey to Religious Tolerance

As stated in the previous blog, John Adams’s political ideals were firmly grounded in religion. This essay explores his journey from Puritan intolerance to universal tolerance and then argues that Adams’s religion has lessons for us today.Early in his life he made intolerant comments about Islam, Judaism, and Catholicism. He believed that every great leader was an imposter, and specifically listed Mohammed as one example.


Religious Roots of Liberal Ideas

Religion is obviously important to the political ideas of the Christian right. But political liberals might be surprised how many of their ideals have deep religious roots. John Adams is a good example of this connection that historians have long recognized. Adams was a religious man, a church-going animal (his words) all of his life. His religious views affected all aspects of his life and politics. But his religious views were not static; he moved from Puritanism toward a tolerant Unitarianism.


Pulling Out of Iraq

Pulling our military out of Iraq has stimulated many thoughts and memories. I remember a candlelight vigil against the invasion of Iraq on the steps of Church of the Presidents in Quincy. This was only one of many such vigils in cities and towns throughout Massachusetts and the country. But protests against this unjust war went unheard. This ideological war, this war of American exceptionalism has left us weaker.


Why Was the Stoic White Guy Crying?

11:00 P.M., November 4, 2008, the networks call Obama the victor. Was this real? Had Obama actually won the election? 12:02 A.M., November 5, 2008, President-elect Barack Obama is giving his victory speech when tears come to my eyes. This is real; Obama will be the President. But why did I cry when the candidate I voted for won? My experiences of prejudice have been indirect. I know that I cannot really fathom the impact of this evil on my friends and fellow citizens.


Good ol’ Boys and Democratic Accountability

Recently, my wife and I were fortunate enough to have a vacation in Italy. On that trip we met many Italians (with whom my wife could converse quite well). One in particular I remember because his English was good (my Italian is minimal, at best) and so we were able to have a long conversation about political economic issues. But I especially remember him because he simply could not comprehend American political campaigns, with their emphasis on personal factors at the expense of issues.


Optimism and a Forgotten Revolutionary Value

Memorial Day is a time for reflection. Two items in the May 26, 2008, Boston Globe stirred some thoughts. One was the continuation of a series on the Defense Department’s efforts to find the remains of soldiers missing in action, in this case airmen lost during World War II in Papua New Guinea. The second item was an obituary for one of the Tuskegee Airmen. Why would people willingly risk their lives the way these men did?


Justice in Capitalism and Monotheistic Religions

Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and capitalism share a theme with immense potential power to protect against extremism; that theme is social-economic justice.Ancient Judaism had the idea of a Jubilee year when the playing field would be leveled. The Jewish prophets were absolutely clear in their condemnation of injustice. Christianity shares the Golden Rule with other major religions and it has the principle of loving one’s neighbor as oneself.


Capitalism with Justice: A Hippocratic Oath for Free Market Capitalism?

Capitalism in the 21st century has been characterized by some as “savage capitalism.” That term elicits visions of a dog-eat-dog world, of a Hobbesian war of all against all. If one believes that capitalism need not be so vicious, one might start by demythologizing Adam Smith’s thinking about markets and how free they should be. In his famous work, the father of capitalism analyzed how to increase the wealth of nations. But what he meant by the nation was not only the rich; he included everyone.


Cooperative Models of Foreign Policy

I recently heard from an alumnuswho was being sent back to Iraq for his second tour of duty there. This newselicited all sorts of emotions, sadness and anger in particular.The sadness stems from concernsabout the fundamental wrongheadedness of unilateral US foreign policy. (I knowabout the coalition forces, but don’t be fooled by that. This policy was conceived and initiated by one nation.)