The name Jacob August Riis is an obscure one today, known only perhaps to scholars of American journalism and photography. He was a Danish-American journalist, and he lived from 1849 to May 26, 1914. He produced excellent work in his day; his photographs of the New York slums were influential in helping promote social reforms that eased the lives of the urban poor. His 1890 volume How the Other Half Lives: Studies Among The Tenements Of New York constitutes an important record of the squalid conditions of the Gilded Age’s downtrodden.Continue reading
The virtues have been a force promoting social cohesion and stability for thousands of years. As a society becomes more wealthy, it tends to neglect these virtues. The consequences are deeply destructive: loss of social cohesion, indiscipline, greed and moral corruption. History suggests that such societies become ripe for disorder, even collapse.
The scholar Petrarch once secured an audience with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, who lived from 1316 to 1378. His meeting with the emperor at Lombardy in 1354 is described in one of Petrarch’s luminous letters (Familiares XIX.3). It was a charming custom of those days that kings and popes would occasionally seek out men of letters for the purpose of philosophical inquiry. Perhaps kings preferred to talk with scholars because they were removed from the concerns of power, and could speak with a frankness that was lacking with the royal ministers and advisors.