Martha Nussbaum on Alexander Hamilton | EconTalk | …
Martha Nussbaum: So, he had a pretty complicated and interesting life after that. And I think Gore Vidal's novel, , is very good, because it's told mostly from the point of view of Burr. And so what's so interesting is to see how the personality of Burr is sort of like a yellow stain spreading over everything. This changes the way the recounts all the episodes that we know about from history. So, Washington comes off as a real dummy, and dupe of Hamilton. Of course, Hamilton comes off very badly. So, I really do think that novel is a great example of what in literary discourse is called the 'unreliable narrator'--where you [?] see how different the world looks from Burr's eyes. But he--you know, if you think about whether a Burr could ever succeed, and how far could a Burr succeed, it's an interesting question. I think, you know, when we think about people who have had spectacular falls from grace, someone like Richard Nixon, for example--I don't think that he a Burr, actually. I think he had a lot more of Hamilton in him. And really had grand ideas about the opening to China. And, so it's not surprising that John Adam's great opera, shows us a Hamiltonian Nixon, if you will--like a Nixon with big ideas and true love of what he was doing. I think that part was real. And then the other part was there, too. So, Nixon is the example of where the, kind of the envy/honor part ended up doing in the good part. And maybe Burr just didn't have the honor part at all. But he certainly got pretty far.
Banking and Bankers - Jewish Virtual Library
Martha Nussbaum: Okay. So, there are lots of careers that people can go into where this choice comes up, because you have to choose, as a scholar whether you just focus on doing what you think the truth is and pursuing truth, or whether you have to do politics in the scholarly world--trying to get ahead of other people or get a job when 10 people are applying for it. And, you know, even in the world of scholarship, which is relatively pure of that kind of bad competition, you've got to compete. Or else you don't get the job. And so you have to learn how to compete. I train my graduate students how to go on the job market, how to do a good job interview, and all that stuff. Now, if you are, maybe, a poet, you have to do less of that. Like, in an era where women could never compete, because no one wanted to have them around, Emily Dickenson could write the wonderful poetry she did just sitting in her room. And lots of other cases of that same thing. Once you get the paper and the pencil, then nothing stops you, so long as you have enough to eat and place to write. But there are some careers where this choice is much more complicated--and I think politics is perhaps the most complicated--where, yeah, you wanting to serve humanity, wanting to create something that's lasting, wanting to do what's right and just. But, given that it's politics--and especially democratic politics, right? Because if you are in a monarchy you might just get to do it by being born in the right family. But in democracy you have to compete. And you have to please people; and you have to seek votes; and so on. So, I think is all about these two aspects of a political career, and how they are in a very difficult kind of tension with each other. Now, Hamilton's main interest, as the musical presents him but I think it's true in real life, is to create--he says, "I want to build something that's going to outlive me." And the musical presents that, I think, very, very well. But, in order to do that, he has to get powerful friends. So, he has to befriend George Washington, who becomes his kind of surrogate father. He has to later try to win some elections. And so, he can't avoid playing that game. And, on the other side is Aaron Burr. Who, in real life, as in the musical, didn't really stand for anything; didn't have anything that he particularly wanted to create. , he was a consummate insider, always trying to position himself. And, the great song in the musical that defines him is "The Room Where It Happens." He just wants to be an insider, to be in the room where it happens.