Eternal Folly is mostly just a read, because the constitution is so dense, it’s hard to get your bearings. But the book is not without its pleasures, on both the personal and the historical level.
Both the visuals — a gorgeous juxtaposition of cartographic illustrations with the text and in-the-moment writing — and the voice-over render it especially true that it is a read. In her introduction, author April Winchell sticks closely to biographical detail, saying that she wanted the book to be a biography of the man from whom the state constitution came, and that she was obsessed with this strange man because of his elusive life, his multifaceted philosophy and his place in American history.
The story is that of William Weld, born in New Jersey to an Irish mother and Polish father in 1779, who at age 8 entered active duty in the Continental Army. In 1691, he married a Revolutionary Soldier, but in 1807 the couple separated. He remarried, but then divorced. In 1822, he ended his mother’s, and then his stepfather’s, life, by assassinating the latter, Thomas Bayly, according to Winchell.
Weld sought public office again, successfully running for the Senate in 1898, and was governor of New Hampshire in 1901 and for a brief period in 1903. This seemed to be as far as he would go. Of Weld, Winchell writes, “L’école fatally collided with ambition. He had fallen in love with patriotism, but it was Patriotism Without the Art.”
Now, at age 65, Weld is running for U.S. president on the Libertarian ticket.
That Weld would abandon his agenda of independence — a Democrat in the spirit of Alexander Hamilton and an ideologue in the spirit of Joseph Smith — while running for president as a third-party candidate is astounding, but we should not be surprised. While Winchell, like most Americans, is unaware of Weld’s bizarre alliance with Leon Trotsky in 1906, for her former suffragist political hero, there is little debate on the “Some Like It Hot” levels, especially about Weld’s legacy.
While the book does not delve into Weld’s prickly political positions — such as banning abortion, profiting from fossil fuels and legalizing sports gambling — it does tell a fascinating and slightly cruel tale about the dual wars he won and lost, as well as the geopolitical maneuverings and whirlpools of personal glory and disappointment.
The politics of “Fantasy of Awesomeness” are perhaps no surprise. While Weld is not the first man from New England who has been nominated for president, he is certainly the best known, and has frequently been the butt of jokes, because of his odd family.
Some sections of the book read like the musings of an eccentric politician, but others offer insights into events in European history. Weld was part of the convulsive mix of American statesmen that saw the United States as one nation, and it’s hard not to believe that another von Hayek of his generation, Daniel Webster, had a small hand in his final book, The American Virtues.
If Weld were elected, it is unclear what would come next. How would he become more in line with his anti-revolutionary heart? And would he and his party be able to bridge the ideological divides that dominate the political debate these days?
Weld might also claim to be inheriting his mother’s legacy, which would be interesting, but there is no evidence that he really inherited it. Perhaps all Americans are born patriots, but not by blood.
Weld, happily, is not a veritable Edward Jones disciple.