Skip to content

The State We’re In

     If everything and everyplace in the world can be categorized as either German or French (as Ned Rorem argues), what is Massachusetts?   Or if (as the late Isaiah Berlin had it) all the world is to be divided between foxes and hedgehogs, what is this old Bay State? 

     Robert David Sullivan has offered Democratic convention-goers a passel of fresh numbers, ideas and questions on the matter of the host state’s identity in Commonwealth magazine.  So, here’s my take:

     “Foxy Massachusetts” strikes the right complex chord for this state that knows, and teaches, and does, so many different things.  And (in the famous Isaiah Berlin pairing)  it makes the right contrast with the one-note hedgehog states of the South or the Oil Patch, for example.  Yes, we like to think of ourselves in Massachusetts as multifarious, quirky, entrepreneurial, mercurial–quick like a fox, wily and above all smart. 

    And then there are other parlor-game polarities to consider. 

    Yiddish or Goyish?  Massachusetts falls into my Yiddish column–it must be the asssociation with tradition, professionalism, learning, and the image of Louis Brandeis (1856-1941), the original Jewish Brahmin: the all-time model Massachusetts citizen and first Jew on the United States Supreme Court. 

    Catholic or Protestant?  Massachusetts has always felt to me like a Protestant place, probably because the dominant Catholics here of the Irish persuasion have so much Calvinist Puritanism bred into them (us!).  It’s another instance where the best statistics tell you very little.

    From Mars or from Venus?  We’re more Martian at least than our McGovernite reputation–so indeed was the WW2 bomber pilot George McGovern.  Patriots in battle are the stuff of Massachusetts history, starting with Paul Revere.  Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., on the Supreme Court with Brandeis, had left Harvard College at age 17 to fight in the Civil War. Ted Williams sacrificed his best baseball years to World War 2.  Our temples of learning, too, honor Mars and are funded in turn.  We understood in childhood that MIT was doing the science that would defeat the Nazis.

     Apollonian or Dionysian? This is the key distinction.  The Massachusetts state of mind is modeled on Apollo, the sun god and far-darting bowman, as in Shelley’s Hymn of Apollo:

I am the eye with which the Universe
Beholds itself and knows itself divine;
All harmony of instrument or verse,
All prophecy, all medicine is mine…

    Ted Williams, more like a god than a man, was Apollo in a Red Sox uniform.  Bill Russell of the immortal Celtics drew an uncrossable Apollonian line against Wilt Chamberlain and the Lakers.  John F. Kennedy was bewitchingly cool Apollonian rationality and restraint in a Massachusetts politician.  Barney Frank and the late Tip O’Neill (in the “Sodom and Begorrah” Congressional delegation) are Dionysian exceptions that prove the Apollonian rule.  Dionysus was the “jolly god,” the god of earth and wine and animal spirits, promoter of civilization and lover of peace.  But the distinctive heroes of Massachusetts mythology, from Emily Dickinson to Pedro Martinez, reenact the Apollonian drama of the mind in triumph over nature. 

    If the nation were more like Massachusetts–and if Massachusetts lived up to its own dream of itself–we would be a much crankier, more expressive, more democratic place than we are.  We would be contending more with the spirit of Henry David Thoreau, who wrote (Michael Moore-ishly) in Civil Disobedience, in 1849:  “How does it become a man to behave toward this American government today?  I answered that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it.”

    Or we might be digging still deeper for the serenity of Thoreau’s compatriot in Concord, Ralph Waldo Emerson:  “Although knaves win in every political struggle, although society seems to be delivered over from the hands of one set of criminals into the hands of another set of criminals, as fast as the government is changed, and the march of civilization is a train of felonies, yet, general ends are somehow answered. We see, now, events forced on which seem to retard or retrograde the civility of ages. But the world-spirit is a good swimmer, and storms and waves cannot drown him. He snaps his finger at laws: and so, throughout history, heaven seems to affect low and poor means. Through the years and the centuries, through evil agents, through toys and atoms, a great and beneficent tendency irresistibly streams.”

{ 25 } Comments

  1. Anonymous | April 10, 2006 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    Thank You!
    This is vicodin

  2. zxevil137 | March 3, 2008 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    Xu5Gc3 r u crazzy? I told u! I can’t read!

  3. RickVallen | March 13, 2009 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Nice interview, great job

  4. Lemonade Diet | July 23, 2010 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    Ted Williams was a legend. Thanks for the article.

    Buy Lemonade Diet Pills

  5. meubles de cuisine | November 18, 2010 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

    all those roots its great
    devis cuisine en ligne

  6. PS3 repairs | December 28, 2010 at 5:17 am | Permalink

    Don’t be mean with that.

  7. Benedict Boucouvalas | January 14, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    The calorie calculator is a great tool to assist determine if you are obese, how many energy you are burning a day and a few options to the amount of calories you should consume. After you input details about yourself such as your age, gender, peak, exercise degree and your present weight you may calculate a quantity items of data which might be helpful in a weight reduction process. Please be free and download Calorie Calculator type blog How to burn fat faster.

  8. Travel Blog | February 8, 2011 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Very nice post.

    a href=””>Travel Blog

  9. Travel Blog | February 8, 2011 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    VEry nice post.


    Travel Blog

  10. vlsi training | February 13, 2011 at 4:37 am | Permalink

    Nice post!

    Thanks and keep writing informative articals.


  11. Pete | March 20, 2011 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    I enjoyed your post.

  12. Mercado de Divisas | April 5, 2011 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    Great post, thanks for sharing, it is very good for me. Mercado de Divisas

  13. news maker | May 12, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    let the body hit the floor

  14. Como Adelgazo | May 15, 2011 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    Informative post, I agree with you.

  15. dizi | May 15, 2011 at 11:01 am | Permalink

    I enjoyed your post.

  16. P3 Pro Swing Reviews | September 12, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    Buy a golf simulator now – great fun and will improve your golf swing.

  17. Señor X | strap on | September 19, 2011 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    “If the nation were more like Massachusetts–and if Massachusetts lived up to its own dream of itself–we would be a much crankier, more expressive, more democratic place than we are. ” Fabulous words you are a crack.

  18. Kathy Grabe | September 27, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Different.. but i liked it

  19. Tony | October 24, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Massachusetts is where my family move to from France so i guess if if had my import it would be more french. Although we do have a bit of Germen in our blood but mostly french.

    carpet cleaning Santa Monica

  20. ShellShock UK | October 26, 2011 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    I would say the world is divided into online/offline

  21. Persuasive Essay | November 2, 2011 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Incredible post, I really enjoyed it.
    persuasive essay outline

  22. steve | February 3, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    my father actually played ball with ted Williams.. I have pics if anyone is interested email me


    custom silk screen t shirt

  23. loan | February 8, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    Incredible post, I really enjoyed it.

  24. HP Colour LaserJet C | March 21, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    Good and fantastic blog. I am interested very much in such publications and sure will keep visiting your blog to check your messages and news as well.

    Webmaster of HP Colour LaserJet CP2025DN Printer.

    The road to success is always under construction. — Lily Tomlin

  25. HP Colour LaserJet C | March 28, 2012 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    This HP 2025DN is a wonderful printer. The D stands for duplex (prints on both sides) and the N for network.

    Webmaster of HP Colour LaserJet CP2025DN Printer.