American Literature Week 23 Philip Dru

Prompt: “Would I have voted for the income tax amendment in 1912, based on the arguments in this book?”

I have a habit of not entirely trusting political literature that uses phrases like “A new world order”, and gives all hypothetical power to a young man who “comes panoplied in justice and with the light of reason in his eyes. He comes as the advocate of equal opportunity and he comes with the power to enforce his will.” This is religious language, making the title character out to seem like an economic messiah. Yet the character himself held the knowledge (advanced though it may be) of a man in his twenties, and the arrogance of one to boot. A dangerous combination.

Idealism was the model train Edward House rode in while writing the book Philip Dru: Administrator, and the economic hardships and class division of the time were the fuel in its engine. With the lower class of the Edwardian era living in destitution, watching their struggle and coming into a new time must have seemed like the perfect opportunity to do some good. To make economical equality, or at least balance things out better. So the revenue act of 1913 (from that perspective) seemed the perfect way to Robin Hood things up, to help the poor by taxing the rich. The issue was, instead of a charming rogue in green tights enforcing the taxes, it was a federal government. A federal government, whom with the ratification of this act, suddenly had immediate influence over peoples income. It gave those in power a foot in the door of peoples private life, which is certainly a slippery slope.

So to answer the original question, I don’t think Philip Dru: Administrator would have swayed me in 1912. But it would have given me insight into the thoughts of politicians of the time, as the author Edward House was a good friend and advisor of Woodrow Wilson.

But I can certainly see both sides of it. If I were around in 1912, working on a Betty Boop prototype and playing piano in a jazz club; I’d see plenty of friends working their hardest and only barely scraping by. I’d see poverty, intense poverty. But I’d also see plenty of Gatsby’s buying castles for their Daisy’s and I’d think to myself, “Gee wouldn’t it be the cats meow if those rich eggs made like a swell and threw a sawbuck my way!”

A slope made slippery by melted gold temptations and promises of a brighter tomorrow. Almost makes the term new world order sound optimistic, which was exactly how the federal tax act was dished up and sold. Philip Dru: Administrator was a nail in the coffin of Edwardian style small government.

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