On Human Nature: Lou Henry Hoover’s Musings

Lou Henry Hoover
Lou Henry Hoover, ca. 1932

By Thomas F. Schwartz

                Lou Henry Hoover liked to capture kernels of ideas on papers for further elaboration at some later date.  Often, the ideas never were revisited and remain unpolished thoughts containing interesting potential.  One of these describes the problem of human nature.  Lou writes:

“It is a fault very evident in the panaceas offered by many would-be reformers of our social or political systems.  When things are going wrong at some special point, instead of investigating and discovering usually that it is because of faulty human manipulation of the system, through ignorance of some or craftiness of others—or discovering what improvements in that section of the system can be accomplished to obviate the trouble—instead of possible practical adjustments or frank avowal of human mistakes, frailties, inconsistencies, impractical reformers, enthusiastic over some theory, try to scrap the entire system of which 90% is working well, and expect to evolve from the resulting chaos a Utopia by way of their own untried theory.  They forget that the very same human nature will have to execute and live under the new theory as the old…”

                In some ways, Lou’s undated musing reflects ideas found in Herbert Hoover’s American Individualism, which is a spirited defense of American’s political and economic system in contrast to many of the central planning and collectivist ideas popular in Europe.  A concise way of summarizing these thoughts is “perfect is the enemy of good.”

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