Brooks Adams

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Brooks Adams, c. 1900

Peter Chardon Brooks Adams (June 24, 1848February 13, 1927) was an American historian and a critic of capitalism. He graduated from Harvard University in 1870 and studied at Harvard Law School in 1870 and 1871.


  • Law is merely the expression of the will of the strongest for the time being, and therefore laws have no fixity, but shift from generation to generation.
    • Brooks Adams, The Law of Civilization and Decay: An Essay on History (1895), p. 165.

The Theory of Social Revolutions,[edit]

Brooks Adams (1913). The Theory of Social Revolutions, New York: Macmillan Company.

  • The present industrial era brought with it a new governing class, as every considerable change in human environment must bring with it a governing class to give it expression. Perhaps, for lack of a recognized name, I may describe this class as the industrial capitalistic class, composed in the main of administrators and bankers. I conjecture that this class attained its acme of popularity and power, at least in America, toward the close of the third quarter of the nineteenth century. Almost at the opening of the present century a progressively rigorous opposition found for its mouthpiece the President of the Union himself. If Mr. Roosevelt became, what his adversaries are pleased to call, an agitator, his agitation had a cause which is as deserving of study as is the path of a cyclone.
  • There can be no doubt that the modem environment is changing faster than any environment ever previously changed; therefore, the social center of gravity constantly tends to shift more rapidly; and therefore modem civilization has unprecedented need of the administrative or generalizing mind. I take it to be an axiom, that perfection in administration must be commensurate to the bulk and momentum of the mass to be administered, otherwise the centrifugal will overcome the centripetal force, and the mass will disintegrate. In other words, civilization will dissolve. A moment arrives when the minds of any given dominant type fail to meet the demands made upon them, and are superseded by a younger type, which in tum is set aside by another still younger, until the limit of the administrative genius of that particular race has been reached. Then disintegration sets in, the social momentum is gradually relaxed, and society sinks back to a level at which it can cohere.
  • It is in dealing with administration, as I apprehend, that civilizations have usually, though not always, broken down, for it has been on administrative difficulties that revolutions have for the most part supervened. Advances in administration seem to presuppose the evolution of new governing classes, since apparently, no established type of mind can adapt itself to changes in environment even in slow-moving civilizations, as fast as environments change. Administration is the capacity of coordinating many, and often conflicting, social energies in a single organism, so adroitly that they shall operate as a unity. This presupposes the power of recognizing a series of relations between numerous special social interests, with all of which no single man can be intimately acquainted. Probably no very highly specialized class can be strong in this intellectual quality because of the intellectual isolation incident to specialization; and yet administration or generalization is not only the faculty upon which social stability rests, but is possibly the highest faculty of the human mind.

Quotes about Brooks Adams[edit]

  • Brooks Adams advocated that the chief function of administration should be to facilitate social change, or paradoxical as it may seem, to assure social stability by facilitating social change. Great-grandson of President John Adams, grandson of President Quincy Adams, brother of the "educated" Henry Adams, Brooks Adams produced, during the early 1900'S, a series of unorthodox historical essays. Their titles were more radical than their contents: The Law of Civilization and Decay, "The Collapse of Capitalistic Government," and The Theory of Social Revolutions. The last of these is quoted below; the first was regarded by Theodore Roosevelt as a "melancholy" but "powerful" book with "a very ugly element of truth."
  • Twenty years later, Professor Wallace B. Donham, Dean of the Graduate School of Business at Harvard University, repeated that "if our civilization breaks down, it will be mainly a breakdown of administration";" and authorities in the field of public administration like Professor John M. Gaus of the Graduate School of Public Administration at Harvard and Dean Paul H. Appleby of the Maxwell Graduate School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University have quoted Brooks Adams's view.
  • While Paul Pigors contends that the main purpose of administration is to preserve the status quo in society, Brooks Adams regards administration as a chief agent of social change.
    • Rumki Basu (2004), Public Administration: Concepts And Theories. p. 90

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