On page 129 of Richard Nixon: The Shaping of His Character, Fawn Brodie says that two published articles that Richard Nixon wrote as a Duke Law School student related to traumas or unfortunate incidents in his own life, or in the life of someone from his family.
article that Nixon wrote was entitled "Changing Rules of Liability in
Automobile Accident Litigation," and it discussed "old horse and buggy
accident laws" (Brodie's words). Nixon fell out of a buggy when he was a
small boy, and his father as a motorman on a train got fired after the
"train hit an automobile at a crossing" (page 129). Brodie states that
Nixon "cited laws holding that the driver of the automobile must stop,
not just look and listen, thus indirectly exonerating his father of the
Another article that Nixon wrote was entitled
"Application of the Inherent Danger Doctrine to Servants of Negligent
Independent Contractors." This related to incidents in which the
negligence of a contractor led to injury or death of an employee.
Brodie states that "the choice of subject suggests that he was still
seeking an answer to the question 'Who was really responsible for the
death of my eldest brother?' He seems also to have been researching the
question 'Could we have sued to collect damages for his dying?'"
Here are two items:
Frodie's discussion here is an example of her overall methodology: to
explain things that Nixon did and said in light of what occurred to him
earlier in his life. The book, after all, is about "the shaping of his
character". This is one reason that Brodie's book has been criticized,
and it is also one of the characteristics of her book that makes it so
interesting. Although Brodie makes some of the same points that Bruce
Mazlish made in In Search of Nixon: A Psychohistorical Inquiry,
she does so more artfully than Mazlish did, in my opinion. When
Mazlish made some of the points that he made, he seemed to me to be
stretching and reaching, whereas Brodie narrated the same points more
effectively----perhaps because she could get the reader to feel for Nixon in terms of his predicaments, or her line from cause to effect was simpler.
the same time, even when reading Brodie, I feel that some of the
connections that she makes are not iron-clad. Why? I guess it's
because her work and other books about Nixon have shown me how hard it
is to define a person and to get a handle on what truly happened in the
past. Brodie herself goes into contradictory or different eyewitness
accounts: about what Nixon's mother was like, about events in Richard
Nixon's life, etc. That being the case, can we really pick a couple of
things from a person's life, and assert that one event influenced a
tendency or a much later event? The data field is much messier and
complex than that, in my opinion.
2. That said, it is plausible
that events in Nixon's early life and in the life of his family shaped
his interests, and the sorts of topics that he wrote about as a Duke Law
School student. That encourages me to ask: How does my background
influence my scholarly interests? Well, I grew up in Armstrongism,
which professed to observe the Old Testament law. I suppose that it's
not a stretch that I would study Judaism at Jewish schools. My
worldview was rocked when I learned that Jews and historical-critics had
different ways of interpreting the passages in the Hebrew Bible that
many Christians applied to Jesus, and that set me on a path of wanting
to learn more about the Hebrew Bible. I've also wrestled with the
question of how a person can be at peace with God, since I look at
myself and realize that my own flaws make me insecure in terms of my
standing with God.
The thing is, this was stuff in my past. I'm
not sure if I care about these issues to the same extent, anymore.
Religion and the Bible seem to me more and more to be the product of
human beings, and I am feeling that attempts by theologians and
evangelical scholars to claim otherwise are wishful thinking on their
part, or stretches. I am getting back into reading about religious
studies, however, and there are different reasons for this. One is that
this is my field of study, and I need to learn more so that I can teach
and write. Another reason, I have to admit, is spiritual: I wonder if
there is something that I can learn that can make my life make
sense to me, or that can encourage me to fall in love with God, as
opposed to going through the religious motions.