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This Week in History
December 4-10, 2016

The Unfinished Symphony of Alexander Hamilton
and Wolfgang Mozart (1791)

By David Shavin

Alexander Hamilton.

December 5th is the 225th anniversary of perhaps the most bittersweet day in history. On that day, in 1791, Alexander Hamilton, in New York City, delivered his famous “Report on Manufactures” to Congress, a few hours after the premature death in Europe of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The former set the standard for the best hope of Western civilization, the latter marked the destruction of the best hope for bringing the American experiment to Europe.

To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, no world can last permanently half-imperial and half-republic. However, 225 years later, we stand at a remarkable fork in the road, echoing the poignancy of that day. Over the last two years, and increasingly so week by week, countries and populations respond to China’s drive to eliminate world poverty by means of massive infrastructure projects and scientific genius – turning their backs on the collective suicide, that of drowning beneath a financial bubble, orders of magnitude larger than any in known history. Simultaneously, the fantasies of a Western world implode, the cultural rot of an ‘entertainment’ society is exposed, and a London- and New York-centered financial  elite, addicted to geo-political calculations, flirt with their deadly game of thermonuclear confrontation.

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The core of Hamilton’s strategy for the young Republic centered around the development of the ‘labor power’, the cultural and skill level, of its population.[1] Hamilton took the “general welfare” of the nation and of its population deadly seriously. His “Report on Manufactures” culminated in his call for national expenditures (“bounties”) to reward the frontiers of science and industry. “…[T]here is no truth, which may be more firmly relied upon, than that the interests of the revenue are promoted, by whatever promotes an increase of National industry and wealth.” Beyond these bounties, Hamilton called for the establishment of a national body “for promoting Arts, Agriculture, Manufactures and Commerce… to induce the prosecution and introduction of useful discoveries, inventions and improvements…”  The national body would report to Congress; the deliberations would be over physical economy, not over budget-balancing. New discoveries were not ‘budgeted’, but were planned into the economic design: “It seems impracticable to apportion, by general rules, specific compensations for discoveries of unknown and disproportionate utility.” This was not the bottling up of science by the ideological bent of the British Royal Society, but rather the national Academy project of Gottfried Leibniz. “It may confidently be affirmed that there is scarcely any thing, which has been devised, better calculated to excite a general spirit of improvement than the institutions of this nature. They are truly invaluable.”

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The core of Mozart’s organizing of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and of the populations of Prague and Vienna, was centered around his passionate conviction that his own talent, his own genius, was not a freakish accident, but, indeed, was imbedded in all humans. From the age of 25 to 35 – or the ten years after Yorktown, where Hamilton and friends had turned the world upside down on the British – Mozart’s operas were bold interventions on the key politically-strategic issues for Emperors Joseph and Leopold. [2] His last opera, “The Magic Flute” – presented to the burgeoning middle class - humorously, dramatically and poignantly, organized a population that they were ‘born for a something better’. Mozart captivated Vienna with the intensely republican theme, that if their hearts could experience true love, their minds could rule. By the summer of 1791, the French Revolution had veered away from any passing resemblance to the American Revolution; the rage of the mobs got the upper hand; and the royalty of Europe became entrenched in their feudalistic reaction. In October, 1791, as “The Magic Flute” won the hearts of Vienna, Mozart confided to his wife that he was being poisoned. Within six weeks, the 35-year-old Mozart was dead.[3] On the same day, December 5th, Mozart’s political ally, Baron von Swieten, was dumped from office. Europe’s last best hope was extinguished.

Two hundred and twenty-five years later, Western civilization walks crippled upon two uneven legs, half-slave and half-free. It cannot long endure.

When you take a break from your study of Hamilton’s “Report on Manufactures”, contemplating whether human nature is up to the job, go take counsel from Mozart’s “Magic Flute” as to the necessary connection between beauty and truth.


[1].  Hamilton’s War vs Wall Street

[2].  Two examples of Mozart’s strategic-intervention operas:

Mozart and The American Revolutionary Upsurge (by David Shavin, Reprinted from FIDELIO Magazine, Vol .1, No.4, Winter, 1992)

Mozart's Entschlossenheit, or “Don Giovanni” vs. Venetian Ca-Ca (by David Shavin, 2010)

[3]. Some background on Mozart’s death: Mozart and The American Revolutionary Upsurge (by David Shavin, Reprinted from FIDELIO Magazine, Vol .1, No.4, Winter, 1992)