Jubilees

Ben Holland writes on the ancient practice of jubilees and debt forgiveness:

In ancient Babylon, a newly enthroned king would declare a jubilee, wiping out the population’s debts. In modern America, a faint echo of that idea — call it jubilee-lite — is catching on.

Support for write-offs has been driven by Democratic presidential candidates. Elizabeth Warren says she’d cancel most of the $1.6 trillion in U.S. student loans. Bernie Sanders would go further -– erasing the whole lot, as well as $81 billion in medical debt.

But it’s coming from other directions too. In October, one of the Trump administration’s senior student-loan officials resigned, calling for wholesale write-offs and describing the American way of paying for higher education as “nuts.’’

Real-estate firm Zillow cites medical and college liabilities as major hurdles for would-be renters and home buyers. Moody’s Investors Service listed the headwinds from student debt -– less consumption and investment, more inequality — and said forgiveness would boost the economy like a tax cut.

While the current debate centers on college costs, long-run numbers show how debt has spread through the economy. The U.S. relies on consumer spending for growth -– but it hasn’t been delivering significantly higher wages. Household borrowing has filled the gap, with low interest rates making it affordable.

And that’s not unique to America. Steadily growing debts of one kind or another are weighing on economies all over the world.

The idea that debt can grow faster than the ability to repay, until it unbalances a society, was well understood thousands of years ago, according to Michael Hudson, an economist and historian.

Last year Hudson published “And Forgive Them Their Debts,’’ a study of the ancient Near East where the tradition known as a “jubilee” — wiping the debt-slate clean — has its roots. He describes how the practice spread through civilizations including Sumer and Babylon, and came to play an important role in the Bible and Jewish law.

Rulers weren’t motivated by charity, Hudson says. They were being pragmatic — trying to make sure that citizens could meet their own needs and contribute to public projects, instead of just laboring to pay creditors. And it worked, he says. “Societies that canceled the debts enjoyed stable growth for thousands of years.’’

Forgiveness was good for the economy, would be a modern way of putting it.

I’m reading Chuck Marohn’s “Strong Towns” right now, and he makes the case for both incremental reforms in our communities. But he also points out the impossibility of the present financial commitments of our cities and towns, citing the example of Ferguson, wherein approx. $800,000/year has been spent on paying creditors, and approx. $25,000 was spent repairing sidewalks.

We’re going to need some form of jubilee, and how we come to accept that is going to be less about partisanship than it will be about sober, political reality. At present, neither those of us in suburban HOAs nor those of us in hollowed out city neighborhoods can properly pay for the services we require. We can either embrace reforms now or have them thrust upon us.

New political priorities

John Burtka IV joins a growing chorus in calling for Republicans to turn from their concern with the economic and return to the human person and the family:

It’s time for Republicans to think anew about the family. For the past thirty years a conscious decision was made to prioritize financialization, cronyism, and globalization over social cohesion and broad prosperity. If conservatives believe that family is the foundation for a healthy civilization, it’s time that they protect the institution from external forces unleashed not by creativity but by deliberate policy choices promoted by elites on Wall Street and in our nation’s capital.

Thanks in large part to stagnant middle class wages, burdensome student loan debt, and rising housing costs, family formation is being delayed, and the building block of our society is crumbling. According to a recent Pew Research Center study, fertility rates in most Western countries have dipped below the replacement level of 2.1 children per family. In approximately fifty years, there will be more people on the planet over the age of sixty-five than under the age of fifteen for the first time in recorded history. …

If social conservatism is to have a future in American politics, the Republican Party must become pro-life for the whole of life, and the most popular place to start would be to support paid family leave. Across party lines, 74 percent of Americans support paid family leave. Family policy is an area that is very important to the president’s daughter, Ivanka, and there are a growing number of Republicans in the Senate like Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, Joni Ernst and Bill Cassidy who have introduced family leave proposals. Support for such policies is also picking up steam among conservative think tanks and publications like The Daily Caller, American Affairs, and the American Principles Project, as an appetite for a pro-worker, pro-family agenda grows on the Right.

Most importantly, implementing pro-family policy the right thing to do because it provides vital support needed for middle class families who have been suffering at the hands of market forces that have hollowed out our heartland and crushed the American dream. President Trump promised to end the forever wars in the Middle East and rebuild America. There is no more urgent place to start than by rebuilding the American family and the time to act is now.

Economic opportunity matters, but economics have become the sole measure of social health at the same that as the fracturing and fragmentation of family and community life have hollowed out so many parts of America. We need a shift in priorities.

Burtka touches on the experience of Hungary over the past decade, and on the reality that only conservatism provides a meaningful path forward for both human thriving and the protection and stewardship of the environment. We need a new Republican Party. And we need a New Democratic Party too, for that matter.

Optimism for social welfare

Tyler Cowen offers an optimistic perspective on Social Security’s stronger than expected future:

…over the next 75 years, about 17% of scheduled benefits are currently unfinanced. [Charles] Blahous estimates that the U.S. could cover that gap if the Social Security payroll tax were raised from 12.4% to 15.1%.

Now, you might have strong views about the wisdom of that kind of tax increase, but you should acknowledge that this is a very different reality than a bankrupt system. With Social Security on full cruise control, and with no forward-looking reforms, today’s younger earners still are slated to receive more than their parents did — just not very much more.

Dean Baker, an economist to the left of Blahous, also has studied Social Security. He estimates that retirees 30 to 40 years from now will receive monthly checks that are about 10% higher in real terms than today’s benefits. And keep in mind those are estimates per year. To the extent life expectancy rises, total benefits received will be higher yet.

To be clear: It may well be a bad thing when the Social Security trust fund is depleted, and Social Security is financed fully from current government revenues. …

I’m not saying everything will be fine in the future. The U.S. is vastly underperforming relative to its potential. But the claim that post-boomer generations will be left holding the bag, through a bankrupt Social Security system, just doesn’t add up.

A more interesting issue than the future of Social Security is whether we can imagine and implement a better and more solidarity-focused system of social welfare than we have today. I think that would look a lot more like what some European nations are experimenting with, nations like Hungary and Italy. And I wonder whether a new social welfare system would help encourage more Americans to see themselves more as the authors of their own destiny, supported and upheld by their neighbors, than as victims of circumstance amidst a frothy global economy, recipients of abstracted but desperately necessary national benefits.

Common good capitalism

I’m heading to Notre Dame this morning, where I’ll spend the rest of this week. I’m on a layer in Chicago at the moment, sharing some scenes below and catching up on reading—specifically Marco Rubio’s speech on “common good capitalism” at the Catholic University of America this week.

Michael Pakaluk reflects on Rubio’s speech:

“Free enterprise made America the most prosperous nation in human history,” [Sen. Rubio] said, “But that prosperity wasn’t just about businesses making a profit; it was also about the creation and availability of dignified work.”

Yes, one can see a certain secularization of Leo’s thought in such interpretations, perhaps inevitable in a politician’s thought. For Leo, rather, the goal of society is to make persons virtuous, to enable them to seek holiness easily and attain heaven.

Also, there seemed a persistent neglect of the role of virtue throughout Rubio’s speech. A student brought this up in the question-and-answer. “You say that people need dignified work so that they can support a family, but,” he asked, “don’t people need to be committed to each other in marriage first for there to be a family?” Rubio seemed unprepared to discuss the role of virtue, or better types of education for social unity. …

The main target of his attack, although not named, was the widely adopted “shareholder theory” of corporate management made famous by Milton Friedman. This is the normative claim that, as the shareholders of a business are its owners, and management serves owners, the sole goal of management should be to maximize shareholder value – then leave it up to the shareholders to use their profits, if they wish, for laudable social goals. The managers themselves should care for nothing other than increasing the share price. According to Rubio, this theory has kept companies from reinvesting profits in the workers, who helped create those profits, and in communities.

Rubio was famous (or infamous) for saying during his run for President that the nation needed fewer philosophers and more plumbers and welders. He now jokes that he would soften that assertion, as he has become more philosophical himself. But perhaps not philosophical enough. A serious shortcoming of his address was that it did not name or systematically refute the theories he was grappling with. He never mentioned Friedman or the theory of shareholder value. He did not say how his theory of “Common Good Capitalism” differed from so-called “stakeholder theory.” He did not even say what he meant by a “common good.”

The best refutation of Friedman’s principle is found in Catholic social thought under the heading, “the universal destination of goods.” The principle actually comes from Book II of Aristotle’s politics, and so one may cite it freely without the risk of being considered a theocrat. It states that in a good society property is owned privately, but that, as no property ultimately is solely one’s own, the use of that property should always be direct to the good of others and the common good. Friedman says rightly that a company’s managers have purely a fiduciary responsibility, and yet not solely to the owners. Similarly, the owners have a fiduciary responsibility as well, often to others, but ultimately to God. Thus, all the way up and down the line, form the lowliest worker to the owner with the highest net worth, the capital invested in the company must be regarded as for common benefit and used with that purpose in view. But, again, Rubio never identified this principle so essential to his policies.

And yet in a broader context these are small quibbles. Something is wrong in our society. We all know that. The worldwide movements of populism and nationalism show it. It’s more than prudent to turn to Catholic social thought for a diagnosis and for finding ways out. Each will do this in the manner appropriate to his state and expertise.

William Barr on religious liberty

I had been hearing about William Barr’s recent Notre Dame address on religious liberty, and recently watched it and including an excerpt below.

Modern secularists dismiss this idea of morality as other-worldly superstition imposed by a kill-joy clergy. In fact, Judeo-Christian moral standards are the ultimate utilitarian rules for human conduct.

They reflect the rules that are best for man, not in the by and by, but in the here and now. They are like God’s instruction manual for the best running of man and human society.

By the same token, violations of these moral laws have bad, real-world consequences for man and society. We may not pay the price immediately, but over time the harm is real.

Religion helps promote moral discipline within society. Because man is fallen, we don’t automatically conform ourselves to moral rules even when we know they are good for us.

But religion helps teach, train, and habituate people to want what is good. It does not do this primarily by formal laws – that is, through coercion. It does this through moral education and by informing society’s informal rules – its customs and traditions which reflect the wisdom and experience of the ages.

In other words, religion helps frame moral culture within society that instills and reinforces moral discipline.

I think we all recognize that over the past 50 years religion has been under increasing attack.

On the one hand, we have seen the steady erosion of our traditional Judeo-Christian moral system and a comprehensive effort to drive it from the public square.

On the other hand, we see the growing ascendancy of secularism and the doctrine of moral relativism.

By any honest assessment, the consequences of this moral upheaval have been grim.

Virtually every measure of social pathology continues to gain ground.

In 1965, the illegitimacy rate was eight percent. In 1992, when I was last Attorney General, it was 25 percent. Today it is over 40 percent. In many of our large urban areas, it is around 70 percent.

Along with the wreckage of the family, we are seeing record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence, and a deadly drug epidemic.

As you all know, over 70,000 people die a year from drug overdoses. That is more casualities in a year than we experienced during the entire Vietnam War.

I will not dwell on all the bitter results of the new secular age. Suffice it to say that the campaign to destroy the traditional moral order has brought with it immense suffering, wreckage, and misery. And yet, the forces of secularism, ignoring these tragic results, press on with even greater militancy.

Among these militant secularists are many so-called “progressives.” But where is the progress?

We are told we are living in a post-Christian era. But what has replaced the Judeo-Christian moral system? What is it that can fill the spiritual void in the hearts of the individual person? And what is a system of values that can sustain human social life?

The fact is that no secular creed has emerged capable of performing the role of religion.

Scholarship suggests that religion has been integral to the development and thriving of Homo sapiens since we emerged roughly 50,000 years ago. It is just for the past few hundred years we have experimented in living without religion.

We hear much today about our humane values. But, in the final analysis, what undergirds these values? What commands our adherence to them?

What we call “values” today are really nothing more than mere sentimentality, still drawing on the vapor trails of Christianity.

We want more than we have

Sen. Marco Rubio writes that the most important measure of American strength is her people and her families. The economy is a way to measure the health of American’s people, but it is not useful in and of itself as a measure of prosperity. If this sounds counter-intuitive, it’s because accountants and bureaucrats have captured the positions of political and economic power:

There are many factors that contribute to children’s well-being, but none is more important than strong families. We know this because it’s in our DNA, of course; stable, two-parent families have been the bedrock of all successful civilizations throughout all of history. …

But a true cultural revival requires us to also recognize the inextricable connection between culture and the economy. Shifts in American trade and fiscal policy have profoundly affected American family formation and child-rearing. The growth of capital-light sectors means that companies earn more profits off of less physical investment — which in turn means that short-term profits are quickly directed to shareholders, with fewer middle- and working-class jobs.

America’s shift to a post-industrial, services-based economy also means that jobs that do exist increasingly require expensive training and education. For many working-class, would-be parents, pursuing them means spending years and financial resources to acquire a credential — resources that in a more productive economy could be devoted to spending time with family. On top of this, the more recent rise of the gig economy means even less consistent wages, benefits, and schedules.

Americans routinely report wanting more kids than they have. It’s no surprise that, lacking stable employment opportunities, our marriage and childbirth rates have fallen.

Instead of an economy based on financial and intangible assets, we can shift economic incentives to the number-one driver of dignified work: more domestic business investment. By developing productive, long-life capital assets like new machinery, equipment, and assembly lines, we create enduring work opportunities for Americans.

More stable, productive work means more stable, productive families — and better outcomes for children.

And even if one is skeptical about this line of reasoning, there is a more practical cause for concern about how we structure the American economy and what it means for children’s welfare: the United States cannot compete against China’s 1.3 billion people if we condemn 73 million American children to the sidelines of the future economy.

We want more than we have—not economically, and not even really materially, but socially and culturally. We sense our poverty in critical aspects of our lives, and too many alleged thought leaders believe that economic solutions are the answer to a spiritual malaise of the sort that Jimmy Carter diagnosed and to which Ronald Reagan turned out to be a cure.

I increasingly think we need a new Great Awakening to renew America’s sense of itself as a people with a future.

Advertising and restlessness

Patrick Deneen shared the passage from Christopher Lasch below, commenting: “Tocqueville noticed this already in the 1830s—he diagnosed it as ‘restlessness.'”

In a simpler time, advertising merely called attention to the product and extolled its advantages. Now it manufactures a product of its own: the consumer, perpetually unsatisfied, restless, anxious, and bored. Advertising serves not so much to advertise products as to promote consumption as a way of life. It “educates” the masses into an unappeasable appetite not only for goods but for new experiences and personal fulfillment. It upholds consumption as the answer to the age-old discontents of loneliness, sickness, weariness, lack of sexual satisfaction; at the same time it creates new forms of discontent peculiar to the modern age. It plays seductively on the malaise of industrial civilization. Is your job boring and meaningless? Does it leave you with feelings of futility and fatigue? Is your life empty? Consumption promises to fill the aching void…

A friend of mine was probably riffing off this Lasch passage a few years ago when he said something that’s stayed with me ever since: “In a world built to encourage consumer demand by stoking your anxieties and your desires for more, the most powerful and radical response is to become a no wants person.” If you can learn to live in a properly anchored way, you can become fairly immune from the advertising machine that prioritizes the ephemeral and the material over the transcendent goods, from virtue to friendship to family to personal peace.

It’s not capitalism as an economic order that does this, but rather our disordered sense that has forgotten that the economy exists for man, and not the other way around. Notice that what the democratic socialists are proposing to achieve is, in essence, a more extreme version of the disorder we’re already experiencing—that is, a wider distribution of the material goods that already fail to satisfy our restlessness.

“Our hearts are restless,” writes Augustine in his Confessions, “until they rest in you.”

‘Perfection and satisfaction are the same thing’

I’ll share the second of three excerpts from Fr. Luigi Giuassani’s book “Christ, God’s Companionship with Man” today, from his writing on “The Risk of Education,” and on the pursuit of happiness:

Our insistence is upon the education in criticism: a child received a patrimony from the past, communicated to him by engaging him in a present experience, which presents that past, giving reasons for what it says. Then he must take that past and its explanations and evaluate them, comparing them with what he finds in his heart and say, “it’s true” or “it’s not true” or “I doubt it.” Through this process, with the help of companionship (without this companionship, man would be at the mercy of the tempests and fickleness of his heart, in the instinctive understanding of the word “heart”), he can say “yes” or he can say “no.” In doing so, he takes on his stature as a man.

Too often, we have been afraid of this critical capacity. Others, those who were afraid of it, have wielded it without understanding it well, and have used it poorly. Criticism has become equated with negativity, as has questioning something that someone has told you. If I tell you something, then you question it, asking yourself, “Is it true?,” this has been equated with doubt or rejection of what was said. The identity of a question with definitive doubt has been disastrous for young people’s identity today.

Doubts bring the search for truth to an end (which may or may not last), but a question, or a problem, is an invitation to understand what is in front of us, to discover something new that is good and true; it is an invitation to a richer and more mature sense of fulfillment.

Without these three factors: tradition, an experience lived in the present and the reasons for it, and criticism—I’m so thankful to my father, who always taught me to look at things and ask why; who would tell me each night before going to bed, “You always have to ask why. Ask yourself why,” (though he said it for very different reasons)—young people will be like fragile leaves far from the branch that supports them, subject to the changes of the strongest wind; subject to public opinion manufactured by whoever is in power: “Where are you going?” as the Italian poet Leopardi wrote.

Our goal is to free young people from the mental slavery that binds them, from the conformity in which their thoughts are enslaved by the opinions of others.

From my first day of teaching, I always said, “I’m not here so that you can take my ideas as your own; I’m here to teach you a true method that you can use to judge the things I will tell you. And what I have to tell you is the result of a long experience, of a two-thousand-year-old history.”

We have been careful to respect this method throughout our efforts to educate and have tried to clearly explain the reason for the method: to demonstrate the relevance of faith to answer life’s needs. Through my education at home and my time of formation in seminary, and later through my own meditation, I was thoroughly persuaded that a faith that could not be found or confirmed in present experience, that was not useful to its needs, would not be a faith capable of standing up in a world in which everything, everything, says the opposite. This opposition was so deep that, for a long time, even theology became a victim of the diluting of truth.

Our goal is to show the relevance of faith to answer the needs of life, and therefore—this “therefore” is very important for me—to demonstrate the reasonableness of the faith, but we must give a precise definition to understand reason. To say that faith exalts our reason is to say that faith corresponds to the fundamental and original needs of every human heart. We see the use of the word “heart” to describe what we might call “reason” in the Bible. Faith responds to the original needs of the human heart, which are the same for everyone: the need for truth, beauty, goodness, justice, love, and one’s complete satisfaction, which—as I often emphasize with young people—refers to the same thing as one’s “perfection.” (In Latin, satisfacere or satisfieri mean the same thing as perficere, or perfection. Perfection and satisfaction are the same thing, as are happiness and eternity.)

So when we say something is reasonable, we mean that it corresponds to the fundamental needs of the human heart, those needs that man—whether he wants to or not, or is aware of them or not—uses to judge everything, with varying degrees of success.

Considering all we have said, to give the reasons for faith means to constantly expand upon and deepen our description of the effect that Christ’s presence has on the world…

“Perfection and satisfaction are the same thing, as are happiness and eternity.”

There’s something radical in the idea that America’s idea of the “pursuit of happiness” could perfectly sync with the Catholic pursuit of perfection; of the highest good; of beatitude.

The judicial usurpation of politics

First Things November 1996 symposium, The Judicial Usurpation of Politics, might as well have been written today:

Articles on “judicial arrogance” and the “judicial usurpation of power” are not new. The following symposium addresses those questions, often in fresh ways, but also moves beyond them. The symposium is, in part, an extension of the argument set forth in our May 1996 editorial, “The Ninth Circuit’s Fatal Overreach.” The Federal District Court’s decision favoring doctor-assisted suicide, we said, could be fatal not only to many people who are old, sick, or disabled, but also to popular support for our present system of government.

This symposium addresses many similarly troubling judicial actions that add up to an entrenched pattern of government by judges that is nothing less than the usurpation of politics. The question here explored, in full awareness of its far-reaching consequences, is whether we have reached or are reaching the point where conscientious citizens can no longer give moral assent to the existing regime.

Americans are not accustomed to speaking of a regime. Regimes are what other nations have. The American tradition abhors the notion of the rulers and the ruled. We do not live under a government, never mind under a regime; we are the government. The traditions of democratic self-governance are powerful in our civics textbooks and in popular consciousness. This symposium asks whether we may be deceiving ourselves and, if we are, what are the implications of that self-deception. By the word “regime” we mean the actual, existing system of government. The question that is the title of this symposium is in no way hyperbolic. The subject before us is the end of democracy.

Since the defeat of communism, some have spoken of the end of history. By that they mean, inter alia, that the great controversies about the best form of governance are over: there is no alternative to democracy. Perhaps that, too, is wishful thinking and self-deception. Perhaps the United States, for so long the primary bearer of the democratic idea, has itself betrayed that idea and become something else. If so, the chief evidence of that betrayal is the judicial usurpation of politics.

Politics, Aristotle teaches, is free persons deliberating the question, How ought we to order our life together? Democratic politics means that “the people” deliberate and decide that question. In the American constitutional order the people do that through debate, elections, and representative political institutions. But is that true today? Has it been true for, say, the last fifty years? Is it not in fact the judiciary that deliberates and answers the really important questions entailed in the question, How ought we to order our life together? Again and again, questions that are properly political are legalized, and even speciously constitutionalized. This symposium is an urgent call for the repoliticizing of the American regime. Some of the authors fear the call may come too late.

The emergence of democratic theory and practice has a long and complicated history, and one can cite many crucial turning points. One such is the 1604 declaration of Parliament to James I: “The voice of the people, in the things of their knowledge, is as the voice of God.” We hold that only the voice of God is to be treated as the voice of God, but with respect to political sovereignty that declaration is a keystone of democratic government. Washington, Madison, Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, and the other founders were adamant about the competence—meaning both the authority and capacity—of the people to govern themselves. They had no illusions that the people would always decide rightly, but they would not invest the power to decide in a ruling elite. The democracy they devised was a republican system of limited government, with checks and balances, including judicial review, and representative means for the expression of the voice of the people. But always the principle was clear: legitimate government is government by the consent of the governed. The founders called this order an experiment, and it is in the nature of experiments that they can fail.

The questions addressed have venerable precedent. The American experiment intended to remedy the abuses of an earlier regime. The Declaration of Independence was not addressed to “light and transient causes” or occasional “evils [that] are sufferable.” Rather, it says: “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government and to provide new Guards for their future security.” The following essays are certain about the “long train of abuses and usurpations,” and about the prospect—some might say the present reality—of despotism. Like our authors, we are much less certain about what can or should be done about it.

The proposition examined in the following articles is this: The government of the United States of America no longer governs by the consent of the governed. With respect to the American people, the judiciary has in effect declared that the most important questions about how we ought to order our life together are outside the purview of “things of their knowledge.” Not that judges necessarily claim greater knowledge; they simply claim, and exercise, the power to decide. The citizens of this democratic republic are deemed to lack the competence for self-government. The Supreme Court itself—notably in the Casey decision of 1992-has raised the alarm about the legitimacy of law in the present regime. Its proposed solution is that citizens should defer to the decisions of the Court. Our authors do not consent to that solution. The twelfth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Harlan Fiske Stone (1872-1946), expressed his anxiety: “While unconstitutional exercise of power by the executive or legislative branches of the Government is subject to judicial restraint, the only check upon our own exercise of power is our own sense of restraint.” The courts have not, and perhaps cannot, restrain themselves, and it may be that in the present regime no other effective restraints are available. If so, we are witnessing the end of democracy.

I spoke with Charlie Camosy recently, and he commented on the strangeness that is Congress’s obsession with, on the one hand, party-obsessed pitched battles, and on the other, deference to executive power in most of the ways that are of truly grave importance. In short, the legislative branch hasn’t sought to check the executive branch for a very long time. And no one is checking the judicial branch.

A central reason for the political anxiety of American life since the end of the Cold War might be that “checks and balances” seem to no longer be in effect.

A patriotic parade

Childe Hassam’s “Allies Day, May 1917” hangs in the National Gallery of Art on Constitution Avenue:

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If you look on this far long enough, you’re transported to that time in America—a time before the Great War shattered the faith of Western nations and when the Anglosphere was still a living reality; when Western nations were connected by deeper ties than commerce and economics. National Gallery of Art offers this:

A patriotic whirlwind overtook mid–town Manhattan as America entered the First World War in the spring of 1917. On Fifth Avenue, the British Union Jack, the French Tricolor, and Stars and Stripes were displayed prominently during parades honoring America’s allies. The colorful pageantry inspired Childe Hassam, who dedicated this picture “to the coming together of [our] three peoples in the fight for democracy.” Hassam’s flag paintings were first shown as a group in New York’s Durand–Ruel Gallery in November 1918, just four days after the armistice was declared. Thus, the works, originally created to herald America’s entry into the war, also served to commemorate its victorious resolution.

Hassam had studied in Paris from 1886–1889 and was strongly influenced by the impressionists. In many respects, Allies Day resembles the vibrant boulevard paintings of Monet and Pissarro. Like these contemporary French artists, Haassam selected a high vantage point overlooking a crowded urban thoroughfare to achieve an illusion of dramatic spatial recession. But, rather than using daubs of shimmering pigment to dissolve form, he applied fluid parallel paint strokes to create an architectonic patterning. Although he shared the impressionists’ interest in bright colors, broken brushwork, and modern themes, Hassam’s overall approach was less theoretical and his pictorial forms remained far more substantial than those of his European contemporaries.