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The Mind in the Making by James Harvey Robinson

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attracted them, and perhaps at the end stumbling on the expedient of
cannibalism. Even in the country districts men could not invent, in
time to preserve their lives, methods of growing food, or taming
animals, or making fire, or so clothing themselves as to endure a
Northern winter."--GRAHAM WALLAS, _Our Social Heritage_, p. 16. Only
the very lowest of savages might possibly pull through if culture
should disappear.

[14] "A Theory of History", Political Science Quarterly, December,
1920. He attributes history to the adventurers.

[15] Count Korzybski in his _Manhood of Humanity_ is so impressed by
the uniqueness and undreamed possibilities of human civilization and
man's "time-binding" capacity that he declares that it is a gross and
misleading error to regard man as an animal at all. Yet he is forced
sadly to confess that man continues all too often to operate on an
animal or "space-binding" plan of life. His aim and outlook are,
however, essentially the same as those of the present writer. His
method of approach will appeal especially to those who are wont to
deal with affairs in the spirit of the mathematician and engineer. He
is quite right in thinking that man has hitherto had little conception
of his peculiar prerogatives and unlimited opportunities for

[16] In the beginning, too, man did not know how children came about,
for it was not easy to connect a common impulsive act with the event
of birth so far removed in time. The tales told to children still are
reminiscences of the mythical explanations which our savage ancestors
advanced to explain the arrival of the infant. Consequently, all
popular theories of the origin of marriage and the family based on the
assumption of conscious paternity are outlawed.

[17] Lucretius warns the reader not to be deterred from considering
the evils wrought by religion by the fear of treading on "the unholy
grounds of reason and in the path of sin".--_De Rer. Nat_. i, 80 ff.

* * * * *


Thereupon one of the Egyptian priests, who was of a very great
age, said: O Solon, Solon, you Hellenes are but children, and
there was never an old man who was a Hellene. Solon in return
asked him what he meant. I mean to say, he replied, that in mind
you are all young; there is no old opinion handed down among you
by ancient tradition; nor any science which is hoary with age.
--PLATO'S _Timaeus_, 22 (Jowett's translation).

The truth is that we are far more likely to underrate the originality
of the Greeks than to exaggerate it, and we do not always remember the
very short time they took to lay down the lines scientific inquiry has
followed ever since.--JOHN BURNET.


The Egyptians were the first people, so far as we know, who invented a
highly artificial method of writing, about five thousand years ago,
and began to devise new arts beyond those of their barbarous
predecessors. They developed painting and architecture, navigation,
and various ingenious industries; they worked in glass and enamels and
began the use of copper, and so introduced metal into human affairs.
But in spite of their extraordinary advance in practical,
matter-of-fact knowledge they remained very primitive in their
beliefs. The same may be said of the peoples of Mesopotamia and of the
western Asiatic nations in general--just as in our own day the
practical arts have got a long start compared with the revision of
beliefs in regard to man and the gods. The peculiar opinions of the
Egyptians do not enter directly into our intellectual heritage, but
some of the fundamental religious ideas which developed in western
Asia have, through the veneration for the Hebrew Scriptures, become
part and parcel of our ways of thinking. To the Greeks, however, we
are intellectually under heavy obligation. The literature of the
Greeks, in such fragments as escaped destruction, was destined, along
with the Hebrew Scriptures, to exercise an incalculable influence in
the formation of our modern civilized minds. These two dominating
literary heritages originated about the same time--day before
yesterday--viewed in the perspective of our race's history. Previous
to the Greek civilization books had played no great part in the
development, dissemination, and transmission of culture from
generation to generation. Now they were to become a cardinal force in
advancing and retarding the mind's expansion.

It required about a thousand years for the Greek shepherds from the
pastures of the Danube to assimilate the culture of the highly
civilized regions in which they first appeared as barbarian
destroyers. They accepted the industrial arts of the eastern
Mediterranean, adopted the Phoenician alphabet, and emulated the
Phoenician merchant. By the seventh century before our era they had
towns, colonies, and commerce, with much stimulating running hither
and thither. We get our first traces of new intellectual enterprise in
the Ionian cities, especially Miletus, and in the Italian colonies of
the Greeks. Only later did Athens become the unrivaled center in a
marvelous outflowering of the human intelligence.

It is a delicate task to summarize what we owe to the Greeks. Leaving
aside their supreme achievements in literature and art, we can
consider only very briefly the general scope and nature of their
thinking as it relates most closely to our theme.

The chief strength of the Greeks lay in their freedom from hampering
intellectual tradition. They had no venerated classics, no holy books,
no dead languages to master, no authorities to check their free
speculation. As Lord Bacon reminds us, they had no antiquity of
knowledge and no knowledge of antiquity. A modern classicist would
have been a forlorn outlander in ancient Athens, with no books in a
forgotten tongue, no obsolete inflections to impose upon reluctant
youth. He would have had to use the everyday speech of the
sandal-maker and fuller.

For a long time no technical words were invented to give aloofness and
seeming precision to philosophic and scientific discussion. Aristotle
was the first to use words incomprehensible to the average citizen. It
was in these conditions that the possibilities of human criticism
first showed themselves. The primitive notions of man, of the gods,
and of the workings of natural forces began to be overhauled on an
entirely new scale. Intelligence developed rapidly as exceptionally
bold individuals came to have their suspicions of simple, spontaneous,
and ancient ways of looking at things. Ultimately there came men who
professed to doubt everything.

As Abelard long after put it, "By doubting we come to question, and by
seeking we may come upon the truth." But man is by nature credulous.
He is victimized by first impressions, from which he can only escape
with great difficulty. He resents criticism of accepted and familiar
ideas as he resents any unwelcome disturbance of routine. So criticism
is against nature, for it conflicts with the smooth workings of our
more primitive minds, those of the child and the savage.

It should not be forgotten that the Greek people were no exception in
this matter. Anaxagoras and Aristotle were banished for thinking as
they did; Euripides was an object of abhorrence to the conservative of
his day, and Socrates was actually executed for his godless teachings.
The Greek thinkers furnish the first instance of intellectual freedom,
of the "self-detachment and self-abnegating vigor of criticism" which
is most touchingly illustrated in the honest "know-nothingism" of
Socrates. _They discovered skepticism in the higher and proper
significance of the word, and this was their supreme contribution to
human thought_.

One of the finest examples of early Greek skepticism was the discovery
of Xenophanes that man created the gods in his own image. He looked
about him, observed the current conceptions of the gods, compared
those of different peoples, and reached the conclusion that the way in
which a tribe pictured its gods was not the outcome of any knowledge
of how they really looked and whether they had black eyes or blue, but
was a reflection of the familiarly human. If the lions had gods they
would have the shape of their worshipers.

No more fundamentally shocking revelation was ever made than this, for
it shook the very foundations of religious belief. The home life on
Olympus as described in Homer was too scandalous to escape the
attention of the thoughtful, and no later Christian could have
denounced the demoralizing influence of the current religious beliefs
in hotter indignation than did Plato. To judge from the reflection of
Greek thought which we find in Lucretius and Cicero, none of the
primitive religious beliefs escaped mordant criticism.

The second great discovery of the Greek thinkers was _metaphysics_.
They did not have the name, which originated long after in quite an
absurd fashion,[18] but they reveled in the thing. Nowadays
metaphysics is revered by some as our noblest effort to reach the
highest truth, and scorned by others as the silliest of wild-goose
chases. I am inclined to rate it, like smoking, as a highly gratifying
indulgence to those who like it, and, as indulgences go, relatively
innocent. The Greeks found that the mind could carry on an absorbing
game with itself. We all engage in reveries and fantasies of a homely,
everyday type, concerned with our desires or resentments, but the
fantasy of the metaphysician busies itself with conceptions,
abstractions, distinctions, hypotheses, postulates, and logical
inferences. Having made certain postulates or hypotheses, he finds new
conclusions, which he follows in a seemingly convincing manner. This
gives him the delightful emotion of pursuing Truth, something as the
simple man pursues a maiden. Only Truth is more elusive than the
maiden and may continue to beckon her follower for long years, no
matter how gray and doddering he may become.

Let me give two examples of metaphysical reasoning.[19] We have an
idea of an omnipotent, all-good, and perfect being. We are incapable,
knowing as we do only imperfect things, of framing such an idea for
ourselves, so it must have been given us by the being himself. And
perfection must include existence, so God must exist. This was good
enough for Anselm and for Descartes, who went on to build a whole
closely concatenated philosophical system on this foundation. To them
the logic seemed irrefragable; to the modern student of comparative
religion, even to Kant, himself a metaphysician, there was nothing
whatsoever in it but an illustration of the native operations of a
mind that has made a wholly gratuitous hypothesis and is victimized by
an orderly series of spontaneous associations.

A second example of metaphysics may be found in the doctrines of the
Eleatic philosophers, who early appeared in the Greek colonies on the
coast of Italy, and thought hard about space and motion. Empty space
seemed as good as nothing, and, as nothing could not be said to exist,
space must be an illusion; and as motion implied space in which to
take place, there could be no motion. So all things were really
perfectly compact and at rest, and all our impressions of change were
the illusions of the thoughtless and the simple-minded. Since one of
the chief satisfactions of the metaphysicians is to get away from the
welter of our mutable world into a realm of assurance, this doctrine
exercised a great fascination over many minds. The Eleatic conviction
of unchanging stability received a new form in Plato's doctrine of
eternal "ideas", and later developed into the comforting conception of
the "Absolute", in which logical and world-weary souls have sought
refuge from the times of Plotinus to those of Josiah Royce.

But there was one group of Greek thinkers whose general notions of
natural operations correspond in a striking manner to the conclusions
of the most recent science. These were the Epicureans. Democritus was
in no way a modern experimental scientist, but he met the Eleatic
metaphysics with another set of speculative considerations which
happened to be nearer what is now regarded as the truth than theirs.
He rejected the Eleatic decisions against the reality of space and
motion on the ground that, since motion obviously took place, the void
must be a reality, even if the metaphysician could not conceive it. He
hit upon the notion that all things were composed of minute,
indestructible particles (or atoms) of fixed kinds. Given motion and
sufficient time, these might by fortuitous concourse make all possible
combinations. And it was one of these combinations which we call the
world as we find it. For the atoms of various shapes were inherently
capable of making up all material things, even the soul of man and the
gods themselves. There was no permanence anywhere; all was no more
than the shifting accidental and fleeting combinations of the
permanent atoms of which the cosmos was composed. This doctrine was
accepted by the noble Epicurus and his school and is delivered to us
in the immortal poem of Lucretius "On the Nature of Things".

The Epicureans believed the gods to exist because, like Anselm and
Descartes, they thought we had an innate idea of them. But the divine
beings led a life of elegant ease and took no account of man; neither
his supplications, nor his sweet-smelling sacrifices, nor his
blasphemies, ever disturbed their calm. Moreover, the human soul was
dissipated at death. So the Epicureans flattered themselves that they
had delivered man from his two chief apprehensions, the fear of the
gods and the fear of death. For, as Lucretius says, he who understands
the real nature of things will see that both are the illusions of
ignorance. Thus one school of Greek thinkers attained to a complete
rejection of religious beliefs in the name of natural science.


In Plato we have at once the skepticism and the metaphysics of his
contemporaries. He has had his followers down through the ages, some
of whom carried his skepticism to its utmost bounds, while others
availed themselves of his metaphysics to rear a system of arrogant
mystical dogmatism. He put his speculations in the form of dialogues
--ostensible discussions in the market place or the houses of
philosophic Athenians. The Greek word for logic is dialectic, which
really means "discussion". argumentation in the interest of fuller
analysis, with the hope of more critical conclusions. The dialogues
are the drama of his day, employed in Plato's magical hand as a
vehicle of discursive reason. Of late we have in Ibsen, Shaw, Brieux,
and Galsworthy the old expedient applied to the consideration of
social perplexities and contradictions. The dialogue is indecisive in
its outcome. It does not lend itself to dogmatic conclusions and
systematic presentation, but exposes the intricacy of all important
questions and the inevitable conflict of views, which may seem
altogether irreconcilable. We much need to encourage and elaborate
opportunities for profitable discussion to-day. We should revert to
the dialectic of the Athenian agora and make it a chosen instrument
for clarifying, co-ordinating and directing our co-operative thinking.

Plato's indecision and urbane fair-mindedness is called irony. Now
irony is seriousness without solemnity. It assumes that man is a
serio-comic animal, and that no treatment of his affairs can be
appropriate which gives him a consistency and dignity which he does
not possess. He is always a child and a savage. He is the victim of
conflicting desires and hidden yearnings. He may talk like a
sentimental idealist and act like a brute. The same person will devote
anxious years to the invention of high explosives and then give his
fortune to the promotion of peace. We devise the most exquisite
machinery for blowing our neighbors to pieces and then display our
highest skill and organization in trying to patch together such as
offer hope of being mended. Our nature forbids us to make a definite
choice between the machine gun and the Red Cross nurse. So we use the
one to keep the other busy. Human thought and conduct can only be
treated broadly and truly in a mood of tolerant irony. It belies the
logical precision of the long-faced, humorless writer on politics and
ethics, whose works rarely deal with man at all, but are a stupid form
of metaphysics.

Plato made terms with the welter of things, but sought relief in the
conception of supernal models, eternal in the heavens, after which all
things were imperfectly fashioned. He confessed that he could not bear
to accept a world which was like a leaky pot or a man running at the
nose. In short, he ascribed the highest form of existence to ideals
and abstractions. This was a new and sophisticated republication of
savage animism. It invited lesser minds than his to indulge in all
sorts of noble vagueness and impertinent jargon which continue to
curse our popular discussions of human affairs. He consecrated one of
the chief foibles of the human mind and elevated it to a religion.

Ever since his time men have discussed the import of names. Are there
such things as love, friendship, and honor, or are there only lovely
things, friendly emotions in this individual and that, deeds which we
may, according to our standards, pronounce honorable or dishonorable?
If you believe in beauty, truth, and love _as such_ you are a
Platonist. If you believe that there are only individual instances and
illustrations of various classified emotions and desires and acts, and
that abstractions are only the inevitable categories of thought, you
would in the Middle Ages have been called a "nominalist".

This matter merits a long discussion, but one can test any book or
newspaper editorial at his leisure and see whether the writer puts you
off with abstractions--Americanism, Bolshevism, public welfare,
liberty, national honor, religion, morality, good taste, rights of
man, science, reason, error--or, on the other hand, casts some light
on actual human complications. I do not mean, of course, that we can
get along without the use of abstract and general terms in our
thinking and speaking, but we should be on our constant guard against
viewing them as forces and attributing to them the vigor of
personality. Animism is, as already explained, a pitfall which is
always yawning before us and into which we are sure to plunge unless
we are ever watchful. Platonism is its most amiable and complete

Previous to Aristotle, Greek thought had been wonderfully free and
elastic. It had not settled into compartments or assumed an
educational form which would secure its unrevised transmission from
teacher to student. It was not gathered together in systematic
treatises. Aristotle combined the supreme powers of an original and
creative thinker with the impulses of a textbook writer. He loved
order and classification. He supplied manuals of Ethics, Politics,
Logic, Psychology, Physics, Metaphysics, Economics, Poetics, Zoology,
Meteorology, Constitutional Law, and God only knows what not, for we
do not have by any means all the things he wrote. And he was equally
interested, and perhaps equally capable, in all the widely scattered
fields in which he labored. And some of his manuals were so
overwhelming in the conclusiveness of their reasoning, so
all-embracing in their scope, that the mediaeval universities may be
forgiven for having made them the sole basis of a liberal education
and for imposing fines on those who ventured to differ from "The
Philosopher". He seemed to know everything that could be known and to
have ordered all earthly knowledge in an inspired codification which
would stand the professors in good stead down to the day of judgment.

Aristotle combined an essentially metaphysical taste with a
preternatural power of observation in dealing with the workings of
nature. In spite of his inevitable mistakes, which became the curse of
later docile generations, no other thinker of whom we have record can
really compare with him in the distinction and variety of his
achievements. It is not his fault that posterity used his works to
hamper further progress and clarification. He is the father of book
knowledge and the grandfather of the commentator.

After two or three hundred years of talking in the market place and of
philosophic discussions prolonged until morning, such of the Greeks as
were predisposed to speculation had thought all the thoughts and
uttered all the criticisms of commonly accepted beliefs and of one
another that could by any possibility occur to those who had little
inclination to fare forth and extend their knowledge of the so-called
realities of nature by painful and specialized research and
examination. This is to me the chief reason why, except for some
advances in mathematics, astronomy, geography, and the refinements of
scholarship, the glorious period of the Greek mind is commonly and
rightfully assumed to have come to an end about the time of
Aristotle's death. Why did the Greeks not go on, as modern scientists
have gone on, with vistas of the unachieved still ahead of them?

In the first place, Greek civilization was founded on slavery and a
fixed condition of the industrial arts. The philosopher and scholar
was estopped from fumbling with those everyday processes that were
associated with the mean life of the slave and servant. Consequently
there was no one to devise the practical apparatus by which alone
profound and ever-increasing knowledge of natural operations is
possible. The mechanical inventiveness of the Greeks was slight, and
hence they never came upon the lens; they had no microscope to reveal
the minute, no telescope to attract the remote; they never devised a
mechanical timepiece, a thermometer, nor a barometer, to say nothing
of cameras and spectroscopes. Archimedes, it is reported, disdained to
make any record of his ingenious devices, for they were unworthy the
noble profession of a philosopher. Such inventions as were made were
usually either toys or of a heavy practical character. So the next
great step forward in the extension of the human mind awaited the
disappearance of slavery and the slowly dawning suspicion, and final
repudiation, of the older metaphysics, which first became marked some
three hundred years ago.


[18] When in the time of Cicero the long-hidden works of Aristotle
were recovered and put into the hands of Andronicus of Rhodes to edit,
he found certain fragments of highly abstruse speculation which he did
not know what to do with. So he called them "addenda to the
Physics"--_Ta meta ta physica_. These fragments, under the caption
"Metaphysica", became the most revered of Aristotle's productions, his
"First Philosophy", as the Scholastics were wont to call it.

[19] John Dewey deduces metaphysics from man's original reverie and
then shows how in time it became a solemn form of rationalizing
current habits and standards. _Reconstruction in Philosophy_, lectures
i-ii. It is certainly surprising how few philosophical writers have
ever reached other than perfectly commonplace conclusions in regard to
practical "morality".

* * * * *


And God made the two great lights; the greater light to rule the
day, and the lesser light to rule the night; he made the stars also.
And God set them in the firmament of heaven to give light upon the

And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after
its kind, cattle and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after
its kind: and it was so.

And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and
let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl
of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over
every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.--Gen. i.

Ibi vacabimus et videbimus, videbimus et amabimus, amabimus et
laudabimus. Ecce quod erit in fine sine fine. Nam quis alius noster
est finis nisi pervenire ad regnum, cuius nullus est finis?--AUGUSTINE.


In the formation of what we may call our historical mind--namely, that
modification of our animal and primitive outlook which has been
produced by men of exceptional intellectual venturesomeness--the
Greeks played a great part. We have seen how the Greek thinkers
introduced for the first time highly subtle and critical ways of
scrutinizing old beliefs, and, how they disabused their minds of many
an ancient and naive mistake. But our current ways of thinking are not
derived directly from the Greeks; we are separated from them by the
Roman Empire and the Middle Ages. When we think of Athens we think of
the Parthenon and its frieze, of Sophocles and Euripides, of Socrates
and Plato and Aristotle, of urbanity and clarity and moderation in all
things. When we think of the Middle Ages we find ourselves in a world
of monks, martyrs, and miracles, of popes and emperors, of knights and
ladies; we remember Gregory the Great, Abelard, and Thomas Aquinas
--and very little do these reminiscences have in common with those of

It was indeed a different world, with quite different fundamental
presuppositions. Marvelous as were the achievements of the Greeks in
art and literature, and ingenious as they were in new and varied
combinations of ideas, they paid too little attention to the common
things of the world to devise the necessary means of penetrating its
mysteries. They failed to come upon the lynx-eyed lens, or other
instruments of modern investigation, and thus never gained a godlike
vision of the remote and the minute. Their critical thought was
consequently not grounded in experimental or applied science, and
without that the western world was unable to advance or even long
maintain their high standards of criticism.

After the Hellenes were absorbed into the vast Roman Empire critical
thought and creative intelligence--rare and precarious things at
best--began to decline, at first slowly and then with fatal rapidity
and completeness. Moreover, new and highly uncritical beliefs and
modes of thought became popular. They came from the Near East
--Mesopotamia, Syria, Egypt, and Asia Minor--and largely supplanted
the critical traditions of the great schools of Greek philosophy.
The Stoic and Epicurean dogmas had lost their freshness. The Greek
thinkers had all agreed in looking for salvation through intelligence
and knowledge. But eloquent leaders arose to reveal a new salvation,
and over the portal of truth they erased the word "Reason" and wrote
"Faith" in its stead; and the people listened gladly to the new
prophets, for it was necessary only _to believe_ to be saved, and
believing is far easier than thinking.

It was religious and mystical thought which, in contrast to the
secular philosophy of the Greeks and the scientific thought of our own
day, dominated the intellectual life of the Middle Ages.

Before considering this new phase through which the human mind was to
pass it is necessary to guard against a common misapprehension in the
use of the term "Middle Ages". Our historical textbooks usually
include in that period the happenings between the dissolution of the
Roman Empire and the voyages of Columbus or the opening of the
Protestant revolt. To the student of intellectual history this is
unfortunate, for the simple reason that almost all the ideas and even
institutions of the Middle Ages, such as the church and monasticism
and organized religious intolerance, really originated in the late
Roman Empire. Moreover, the intellectual revolution which has ushered
in the thought of our day did not get well under way until the
seventeenth century. So one may say that medieval thought began long
before the accepted beginning of the Middle Ages and persisted a
century or so after they are ordinarily esteemed to have come to an
end. We have to continue to employ the old expression for convenience'
sake, but from the standpoint of the history of the European mind
three periods should be distinguished, lying between ancient Greek
thought as it was flourishing in Athens, Alexandria, Rhodes, Rome, and
elsewhere at the opening of the Christian era, and the birth of modern
science some sixteen hundred years later.

The first of these is the period of the Christian Fathers, culminating
in the authoritative writings of Augustine, who died in 430. By this
time a great part of the critical Greek books had disappeared in
western Europe. As for pagan writers, one has difficulty in thinking
of a single name (except that of Lucian) later than Juvenal, who had
died nearly three hundred years before Augustine. Worldly knowledge
was reduced to pitiful compendiums on which the mediaeval students
were later to place great reliance. Scientific, literary, and
historical information was scarcely to be had. The western world, so
far as it thought at all, devoted its attention to religion and all
manner of mystical ideas, old and new. As Harnack has so well said,
the world was already intellectually bankrupt before the German
invasions and their accompanying disorders plunged it into still
deeper ignorance and mental obscurity.

The second, or "Dark Age", lasted with only slight improvement from
Augustine to Abelard, about seven hundred years. The prosperous
_villas_ disappeared; towns vanished or shriveled up; libraries were
burned or rotted away from neglect; schools were closed, to be
reopened later here and there, after Charlemagne's educational edict,
in an especially enterprising monastery or by some exceptional bishop
who did not spend his whole time in fighting.

From about the year 1100 conditions began to be more and more
favorable to the revival of intellectual ambition, a recovery of
forgotten knowledge, and a gradual accumulation of new information and
inventions unknown to the Greeks, or indeed to any previous
civilization. The main presuppositions of this third period of the
later Middle Ages go back, however, to the Roman Empire. They had been
formulated by the Church Fathers, transmitted through the Dark Age,
and were now elaborated by the professors in the newly established
universities under the influence of Aristotle's recovered works and
built up into a majestic intellectual structure known as
Scholasticism. On these mediaeval university professors--the
schoolmen--Lord Bacon long ago pronounced a judgment that may well
stand to-day. "Having sharp and strong wits, and abundance of leisure,
and small variety of reading, but their wits being shut up in the
cells of a few authors (chiefly Aristotle, their dictator), as their
persons were shut up in the cells of monasteries and colleges, and
knowing little history, either of nature or time [they], did out of no
great quantity of matter and infinite agitation of wit spin out unto
us those laborious webs of learning which are extant in their books."

Our civilization and the human mind, critical and uncritical, as we
now find it in our western world, is a direct and uninterrupted
outgrowth of the civilization and thought of the later Middle Ages.
Very gradually only did peculiarly free and audacious individual
thinkers escape from this or that mediaeval belief, until in our own
day some few have come to reject practically all the presuppositions
on which the Scholastic system was reared. But the great mass of
Christian believers, whether Catholic or Protestant, still professedly
or implicitly adhere to the assumptions of the Middle Ages, at least
in all matters in which religious or moral sanctions are concerned. It
is true that outside the Catholic clergy the term "mediaeval" is often
used in a sense of disparagement, but that should not blind us to the
fact that mediaeval presumptions, whether for better or worse, are
still common. A few of the most fundamental of these presuppositions
especially germane to our theme may be pointed out here.


The Greeks and Romans had various theories of the origin of things,
all vague and admittedly conjectural. But the Christians, relying upon
the inspired account in the Bible, built their theories on information
which they believed vouchsafed to them by God himself. Their whole
conception of human history was based upon a far more fundamental and
thorough supernaturalism than we find among the Greeks and Romans. The
pagan philosophers reckoned with the gods, to be sure, but they never
assumed that man's earthly life should turn entirely on what was to
happen after death. This was in theory the sole preoccupation of the
mediaeval Christian. Life here below was but a brief, if decisive,
preliminary to the real life to come.

The mediaeval Christian was essentially more polytheistic than his
pagan predecessors, for he pictured hierarchies of good and evil
spirits who were ever aiding him to reach heaven or seducing him into
the paths of sin and error. Miracles were of common occurrence and
might be attributed either to God or the devil; the direct
intervention of both good and evil spirits played a conspicuous part
in the explanation of daily acts and motives.[20]

As a distinguished church historian has said, the God of the Middle
Ages was a God of arbitrariness--the more arbitrary the more Godlike.
By frequent interferences with the regular course of events he made
his existence clear, reassured his children of his continued
solicitude, and frustrated the plots of the Evil One. Not until the
eighteenth century did any considerable number of thinkers revolt
against this conception of the Deity and come to worship a God of
orderliness who abode by his own laws.

The mediaeval thinkers all accepted without question what Santayana
has strikingly described as the "Christian Epic". This included the
general historical conceptions of how man came about, and how, in view
of his origin and his past, he should conduct his life. The universe
had come into being in less than a week, and man had originally been
created in a state of perfection along with all other things--sun,
moon, and stars, plants and animals. After a time the first human pair
had yielded to temptation, transgressed God's commands, and been
driven from the lovely garden in which he had placed them. So sin came
into the world, and the offspring of the guilty pair were thereby
contaminated and defiled from the womb.

In time the wickedness became such on the newly created earth that God
resolved to blot out mankind, excepting only Noah's family, which was
spared to repeople the earth after the Flood, but the unity of
language that man had formerly possessed was lost. At the appointed
time, preceded by many prophetic visions among the chosen people, God
sent his Son to live the life of men on earth and become their Saviour
by submitting to death. Thereafter, with the spread of the gospel, the
struggle between the kingdom of God and that of the devil became the
supreme conflict of history. It was to culminate in the Last Judgment,
when the final separation of good and evil should take place and the
blessed should ascend into the heavens to dwell with God forever,
while the wicked sank to hell to writhe in endless torment.

This general account of man, his origin and fate, embraced in the
Christian Epic, was notable for its precision, its divine
authenticity, and the obstacles which its authority consequently
presented to any revision in the light of increasing knowledge. The
fundamental truths in regard to man were assumed to be established
once and for all. The Greek thinkers had had little in the way of
authority on which to build, and no inconsiderable number of them
frankly confessed that they did not believe that such a thing could
exist for the thoroughly sophisticated intelligence. But mediaeval
philosophy and science _were grounded wholly in authority_. The
mediaeval schoolmen turned aside from the hard path of skepticism,
long searchings and investigation of actual phenomena, and confidently
believed that they could find truth by the easy way of revelation and
the elaboration of unquestioned dogmas.

This reliance on authority is a fundamental primitive trait. We have
inherited it not only from our mediaeval forefathers, but, like them
and through them, from long generations of prehistoric men. We all
have a natural tendency to rely upon established beliefs and fixed
institutions. This is an expression of our spontaneous confidence in
everything that comes to us in an unquestioned form. As children we
are subject to authority and cannot escape the control of existing
opinion. We unconsciously absorb our ideas and views from the group in
which we happen to live. What we see about us, what we are told, and
what we read has to be received at its face value so long as there are
no conflicts to arouse skepticism.

We are tremendously suggestible. Our mechanism is much better adapted
to credulity than to questioning. All of us believe nearly all the
time. Few doubt, and only now and then. The past exercises an almost
irresistible fascination over us. As children we learn to look up to
the old, and when we grow up we do not permit our poignant realization
of elderly incapacity among our contemporaries to rouse suspicions of
Moses, Isaiah, Confucius, or Aristotle. Their sayings come to us
unquestioned; their remoteness makes inquiry into their competence
impossible. We readily assume that they had sources of information and
wisdom superior to the prophets of our own day.

During the Middle Ages reverence for authority, and for that
particular form of authority which we may call the tyranny of the
past, was dominant, but probably not more so than it had been in other
societies and ages--in ancient Egypt, in China and India. Of the great
sources of mediaeval authority, the Bible and the Church Fathers, the
Roman and Church law, and the encyclopaedic writings of Aristotle,
none continues nowadays to hold us in its old grip. Even the Bible,
although nominally unquestioned among Roman Catholics and all the more
orthodox Protestant sects, is rarely appealed to, as of old, in
parliamentary debate or in discussions of social and economic
questions. It is still a religious authority, but it no longer forms
the basis of secular decisions.

The findings of modern science have shaken the hold of the sources of
mediaeval authority, but they have done little as yet to loosen our
inveterate habit of relying on the more insidious authority of current
practice and belief. We still assume that received dogmas represent
the secure conclusions of mankind, and that current institutions
represent the approved results of much experiment in the past, which
it would be worse than futile to repeat. One solemn remembrancer will
cite as a warning the discreditable experience of the Greek cities in
democracy; another, how the decline of "morality" and the
disintegration of the family heralded the fall of Rome; another, the
constant menace of mob rule as exemplified in the Reign of Terror. But
to the student of history these alleged illustrations have little
bearing on present conditions. He is struck, moreover, with the ease
with which ancient misapprehensions are transmitted from generation to
generation and with the difficulty of launching a newer and clearer
and truer idea of anything. Bacon warns us that the multitude, "or the
wisest for the multitude's sake", is in reality "ready to give passage
rather to that which is popular and superficial than to that which is
substantial and profound; for the truth is that time seemeth to be of
the nature of a river or stream, which carrieth down to us that which
is light and blown up, and sinketh and drowneth that which is weighty
and solid".

It is very painful to most minds to admit that the past does not
furnish us with reliable, permanent standards of conduct and of public
policy. We resent the imputation that things are not going, on the
whole, pretty well, and find excuses for turning our backs on
disconcerting and puzzling facts. We are full of respectable fears and
a general timidity in the face of conditions which we vaguely feel are
escaping control in spite of our best efforts to prevent any
thoroughgoing readjustment. We instinctively try to show that Mr.
Keynes must surely be wrong about the Treaty of Versailles; that Mr.
Gibbs must be perversely exaggerating the horrors of modern war; that
Mr. Hobson certainly views the industrial crisis with unjustifiable
pessimism; that "business as usual" cannot be that socially perverse
and incredibly inexpedient thing Mr. Veblen shows it to be; that Mr.
Robin's picture of Lenin can only be explained by a disguised sympathy
for Bolshevism.

Yet, even if we could assume that traditional opinion is a fairly
clear and reliable reflection of hard-earned experience, surely it
should have less weight in our day and generation than in the past.
For changes have overtaken mankind which have fundamentally altered
the conditions in which we live, and which are revolutionizing the
relations between individuals and classes and nations. Moreover, we
must remember that knowledge has widened and deepened, so that, could
any of us really catch up with the information of our own time, he
would have little temptation to indulge the mediaeval habit of
appealing to the authority of the past.

The Christian Epic did not have to rely for its perpetuation either on
its intellectual plausibility or its traditional authority. During the
Middle Ages there developed a vast and powerful religious State, the
mediaeval Church, the real successor, as Hobbes pointed out, to the
Roman Empire; and the Church with all its resources, including its
control over "the secular arm" of kings and princes, was ready to
defend the Christian beliefs against question and revision. To doubt
the teachings of the Church was the supreme crime; it was treason
against God himself, in comparison with which--to judge from mediaeval
experts on heresy--murder was a minor offense.

We do not, however, inherit our present disposition to intolerance
solely from the Middle Ages. As animals and children and savages, we
are naively and unquestioningly intolerant. All divergence from the
customary is suspicious and repugnant. It seems perverse, and readily
suggests evil intentions. Indeed, so natural and spontaneous is
intolerance that the question of freedom of speech and writing
scarcely became a real issue before the seventeenth century. We have
seen that some of the Greek thinkers were banished, or even executed,
for their new ideas. The Roman officials, as well as the populace,
pestered the early Christians, not so much for the substance of their
views as because they were puritanical, refused the routine reverence
to the gods, and prophesied the downfall of the State.

But with the firm establishment of Christianity edicts began to be
issued by the Roman emperors making orthodox Christian belief the test
of good citizenship. One who disagreed with the emperor and his
religious advisers in regard to the relation of the three members of
the Trinity was subject to prosecution. Heretical books were burned,
the houses of heretics destroyed. So, organized mediaeval religious
intolerance was, like so many other things, a heritage of the later
Roman Empire, and was duly sanctioned in both the Theodosian and
Justinian Codes. It was, however, with the Inquisition, beginning in
the thirteenth century, that the intolerance of the Middle Ages
reached its most perfect organization.

Heresy was looked upon as a contagious disease that must be checked at
all costs. It did not matter that the heretic usually led a
conspicuously blameless life, that he was arduous, did not swear, was
emaciated with fasting and refused to participate in the vain
recreations of his fellows. He was, indeed, overserious and took his
religion too hard. This offensive parading as an angel of light was
explained as the devil's camouflage. No one tried to find out what the
heretic really thought or what were the merits of his divergent
beliefs. Because he insisted on expressing his conception of God in
slightly unfamiliar terms, the heretic was often branded as an
atheist, just as to-day the Socialist is so often accused of being
opposed to all government, when the real objection to him is that he
believes in too much government. It was sufficient to classify a
suspected heretic as an Albigensian, or Waldensian, or a member of
some other heretical sect. There was no use in his trying to explain
or justify; it was enough that he diverged.

There have been various explanations of mediaeval religious
intolerance. Lecky, for example, thought that it was due to the theory
of exclusive salvation; that, since there was only one way of getting
to heaven, all should obviously be compelled to adopt it, for the
saving of their souls from eternal torment. But one finds little
solicitude for the damned in mediaeval writings. The public at large
thought hell none too bad for one who revolted against God and Holy
Church. No, the heretics were persecuted because heresy was, according
to the notions of the time, a monstrous and unutterably wicked thing,
and because their beliefs threatened the vested interests of that day.

We now realize more clearly than did Lecky that the Church was really
a State in the Middle Ages, with its own laws and courts and prisons
and regular taxation to which all were subject. It had all the
interests and all the touchiness of a State, and more. The heretic was
a traitor and a rebel. He thought that he could get along without the
pope and bishops, and that he could well spare the ministrations of
the orthodox priests and escape their exactions. He was the
"anarchist", the "Red" of his time, who was undermining established
authority, and, with the approval of all right-minded citizens, he was
treated accordingly. For the mediaeval citizen no more conceived of a
State in which the Church was not the dominating authority than we can
conceive of a society in which the present political State may have
been superseded by some other form of organization.

Yet the inconceivable has come to pass. Secular authority has
superseded in nearly all matters the old ecclesiastical regime. What
was the supreme issue of the Middle Ages--the distinction between the
religious heretic and the orthodox--is the least of public questions

What, then, we may ask, has been the outcome of the old religious
persecutions, of the trials, tortures, imprisonings, burnings, and
massacres, culminating with the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes?
What did the Inquisition and the censorship, both so long
unquestioned, accomplish? Did they succeed in defending the truth or
"safeguarding" society? At any rate, conformity was not established.
Nor did the Holy Roman Church maintain its monopoly, although it has
survived, purified and freed from many an ancient abuse. In most
countries of western Europe and in our own land one may now believe as
he wishes, teach such religious views as appeal to him, and join with
others who share his sympathies. "Atheism" is still a shocking charge
in many ears, but the atheist is no longer an outlaw. _It has been
demonstrated, in short, that religious dogma can be neglected in
matters of public concern and reduced to a question of private taste
and preference_.

This is an incredible revolution. But we have many reasons for
suspecting that in a much shorter time than that which has elapsed
since the Inquisition was founded, the present attempt to eliminate by
force those who contemplate a fundamental reordering of social and
economic relations will seem quite as inexpedient and hopeless as the
Inquisition's effort to defend the monopoly of the mediaeval Church.

We can learn much from the past in regard to wrong ways of dealing
with new ideas. As yet we have only old-fashioned and highly expensive
modes of meeting the inevitable changes which are bound to take place.
Repression has now and then enjoyed some temporary success, it is
true, but in the main it has failed lamentably and produced only
suffering and confusion. Much will depend on whether our purpose is to
keep things as they are or to bring about readjustments designed to
correct abuses and injustice in the present order. Do we believe, in
other words, that truth is finally established and that we have only
to defend it, or that it is still in the making? Do we believe in what
is commonly called progress, or do we think of that as belonging only
to the past? Have we, on the whole, arrived, or are we only on the
way, or mayhap just starting?

In the Middle Ages, even in the times of the Greeks and Romans, there
was little or no conception of progress as the word is now used. There
could doubtless be improvement in detail. Men could be wiser and
better or more ignorant and perverse. But the assumption was that in
general the social, economic, and religious order was fairly

This was especially true in the Middle Ages. During these centuries
men's single objective was the assurance of heaven and escape from
hell. Life was an angry river into which men were cast. Demons were on
every hand to drag them down. The only aim could be, with God's help,
to reach the celestial shore. There was no time to consider whether
the river might be made less dangerous by concerted effort, through
the deflection of its torrents and the removal of its sharpest rocks.
No one thought that human efforts should be directed to making the lot
of humanity progressively better by intelligent reforms in the light
of advancing knowledge.

The world was a place to escape from on the best terms possible. In
our own day this mediaeval idea of a static society yields only
grudgingly, and the notion of inevitable vital change is as yet far
from assimilated. We confess it with our lips, but resist it in our
hearts. We have learned as yet to respect only one class of
fundamental innovators, those dedicated to natural science and its
applications. The social innovator is still generally suspect.

To the mediaeval theologian, man was by nature vile. We have seen
that, according to the Christian Epic, he was assoiled from birth with
the primeval sin of his first parents, and began to darken his score
with fresh offenses of his own as soon as he became intelligent enough
to do so. An elaborate mechanism was supplied by the Church for washing
away the original pollution and securing forgiveness for later sins.
Indeed, this was ostensibly its main business.

We may still well ask, Is man by nature bad? And accordingly as we
answer the question we either frame appropriate means for frustrating
his evil tendencies or, if we see some promise in him, work for his
freedom and bid him take advantage of it to make himself and others
happy. So far as I know, Charron, a friend of Montaigne, was one of
the first to say a good word for man's animal nature, and a hundred
years later the amiable Shaftesbury pointed out some honestly
gentlemanly traits in the species. To the modern student of biology
and anthropology man is neither good nor bad. There is no longer any
"mystery of evil". But the mediaeval notion of _sin_--a term heavy
with mysticism and deserving of careful scrutiny by every thoughtful
person--still confuses us.

Of man's impulses, the one which played the greatest part in mediaeval
thoughts of sin and in the monastic ordering of life was the sexual.
The presuppositions of the Middle Ages in the matter of the relations
of men and women have been carried over to our own day. As compared
with many of the ideas which we have inherited from the past, they are
of comparatively recent origin. The Greeks and Romans were, on the
whole, primitive and uncritical in their view of sex. The philosophers
do not seem to have speculated on sex, although there was evidently
some talk in Athens of women's rights. The movement is satirized by
Aristophanes, and later Plato showed a willingness in _The Republic_
to impeach the current notions of the family and women's position in

But there are few traces of our ideas of sexual "purity" in the
classical writers. To the Stoic philosopher, and to other thoughtful
elderly people, sexual indulgence was deemed a low order of pleasure
and one best carefully controlled in the interests of peace of mind.
But with the incoming of Christianity an essentially new attitude
developed, which is still, consciously or unconsciously, that of most
people to-day.

St. Augustine, who had led a free life as a teacher of rhetoric in
Carthage and Rome, came in his later years to believe, as he struggled
to overcome his youthful temptations, that sexual desire was the most
devilish of man's enemies and the chief sign of his degradation. He
could imagine no such unruly urgence in man's perfect estate, when
Adam and Eve still dwelt in Paradise. But with man's fall sexual
desire appeared as the sign and seal of human debasement. This theory
is poignantly set forth in Augustine's _City of God_. He furnished
therein a philosophy for the monks, and doubtless his fourteenth book
was well thumbed by those who were wont to ponder somewhat wistfully
on one of the sins they had fled the world to escape.

Christian monasticism was spreading in western Europe in Augustine's
time, and the monkist vows included "chastity". There followed a long
struggle to force the whole priesthood to adopt a celibate life, and
this finally succeeded so far as repeated decrees of the Church could
effect it. Marriage was proper for the laity, but both the monastic
and secular clergy aspired to a superior holiness which should banish
all thoughts of fervent earthly love. Thus a highly unnatural life was
accepted by men and women of the most varied temperament and often
with slight success.

The result of Augustine's theories and of the efforts to frustrate one
of man's most vehement impulses was to give sex a conscious importance
it had never possessed before. The devil was thrust out of the door
only to come in at all the windows. In due time the Protestant sects
abolished monasteries, and the Catholic countries later followed their
example. The Protestant clergy were permitted to marry, and the old
asceticism has visibly declined. But it has done much to determine our
whole attitude toward sex, and there is no class of questions still so
difficult to discuss with full honesty or to deal with critically and
with an open mind as those relating to the intimate relations of men
and women.

No one familiar with mediaeval literature will, however, be inclined
to accuse its authors of prudishness. Nevertheless, modern
prudishness, as it prevails especially in England and the United
States--our squeamish and shamefaced reluctance to recognize and deal
frankly with the facts and problems of sex--is clearly an outgrowth of
the mediaeval attitude which looked on sexual impulse as of evil
origin and a sign of man's degradation. Modern psychologists have
shown that prudishness is not always an indication of exceptional
purity, but rather the reverse. It is often a disguise thrown over
repressed sexual interest and sexual preoccupations. It appears to be
decreasing among the better educated of the younger generation. The
study of biology, and especially of embryology, is an easy and simple
way of disintegrating the "impurity complex". "Purity" in the sense of
ignorance and suppressed curiosity is a highly dangerous state of
mind. And such purity in alliance with prudery and defensive hypocrisy
makes any honest discussion or essential readjustment of our
institutions and habits extremely difficult.

One of the greatest contrasts between mediaeval thinking and the more
critical thought of to-day lies in the general conception of man's
relation to the cosmos. To the medieval philosopher, as to the
stupidest serf of the time, the world was made for man. All the
heavenly bodies revolved about man's abode as their center. All
creatures were made to assist or to try man. God and the devil were
preoccupied with his fate, for had not God made him in his own image
for his glory, and was not the devil intent on populating his own
infernal kingdom? It was easy for those who had a poetic turn of mind
to think of nature's workings as symbols for man's edification. The
habits of the lion or the eagle yielded moral lessons or illustrated
the divine scheme of salvation. Even the written word was to be
valued, not for what it seemed to say, but for hidden allegories
depicting man's struggles against evil and cheering him on his way.

This is a perennially appealing conception of things. It corresponds
to primitive and inveterate tendencies in humanity and gratifies,
under the guise of humility, our hungering for self-importance. The
mediaeval thinker, however freely he might exercise his powers of
logical analysis in rationalizing the Christian Epic, never permitted
himself to question its general anthropocentric and mystical view of
the world. The philosophic mystic assumes the role of a docile child.
He feels that all vital truth transcends his powers of discovery. He
looks to the Infinite and Eternal Mind to reveal it to him through the
prophets of old, or in moments of ecstatic communion with the Divine
Intelligence. To the mystic all that concerns our deeper needs
transcends logic and defies analysis. In his estimate the human reason
is a feeble rushlight which can at best cast a flickering and
uncertain ray on the grosser concerns of life, but which only serves
to intensify the darkness which surrounds the hidden truth of God.

In order that modern science might develop it is clear that a wholly
new and opposed set of fundamental convictions had to be substituted
for those of the Middle Ages. Man had to cultivate another kind of
self-importance and a new and more profound humility. He had come to
believe in his capacity to discover important truth through thoughtful
examination of things about him, and he had to recognize, on the other
hand, that the world did not seem to be made for him, but that
humanity was apparently a curious incident in the universe, and its
career a recent episode in cosmic history. He had to acquire a taste
for the simplest possible and most thoroughgoing explanation of
things. His whole mood had to change and impel him to reduce
everything so far as possible to the commonplace.

This new view was inevitably fiercely attacked by the mystically
disposed. They misunderstood it and berated its adherents and accused
them of robbing man of all that was most precious in life. These, in
turn, were goaded into bitterness and denounced their opponents as
pig-headed obscurantists.

But we must, after all, come to terms in some way with the emotions
underlying mysticism. They are very dear to us, and scientific
knowledge will never form an adequate substitute for them. No one need
fear that the supply of mystery will ever give out; but a great deal
depends on our taste in mystery; that certainly needs refining. What
disturbs the so-called rationalist in the mystic's attitude is his
propensity to see mysteries where there are none and to fail to see
those that we cannot possibly escape. In declaring that one is not a
mystic, one makes no claim to be able to explain everything, nor does
he maintain that all things are explicable in scientific terms.

Indeed, no thoughtful person will be likely to boast that he can fully
explain anything. We have only to scrape the surface of our
experiences to find fundamental mystery. And how, indeed, as
descendants of an extinct race of primates, with a mind still in the
early stages of accumulation, should we be in the way of reaching
ultimate truth at any point? One may properly urge, however, that as
sharp a distinction as possible be made between fictitious mysteries
and the unavoidable ones which surround us on every side. How milk
turned sour used to be a real mystery, now partially solved since the
discovery of bacteria; how the witch flew up the chimney was a
gratuitous mystery with which we need no longer trouble ourselves. A
"live" wire would once have suggested magic; now it is at least
partially explained by the doctrine of electrons.

It is the avowed purpose of scientific thought to reduce the number of
mysteries, and its success has been marvelous, but it has by no means
done its perfect work as yet. We have carried over far too much of
mediaeval mysticism in our views of man and his duty toward himself
and others.

We must now recall the method adopted by students of the natural
sciences in breaking away from the standards and limitations of the
mediaeval philosophers and establishing new standards of their own.
They thus prepared the way for a revolution in human affairs in the
midst of which we now find ourselves. As yet their type of thinking
has not been applied on any considerable scale to the solution of
social problems. By learning to understand and appreciate the
scientific frame of mind as a historical victory won against
extraordinary odds, we may be encouraged to cultivate and popularize a
similar attitude toward the study of man himself.


[20] St. Ethelred, returning from a pious visit to Citeaux in the days
of Henry II, encountered a great storm when he reached the Channel. He
asked himself what _he_ had done to be thus delayed, and suddenly
thought that he had failed to _fulfill_ a promise to write a poem on
St. Cuthbert. When he had completed this, "wonderful to say, the sea
ceased to rage and became tranquil".--_Surtees Society Publications_,
i, p. 177.

* * * * *


Narrabo igitur primo opera artis et naturae miranda.... ut videatur
quod omnis magica potestas sit inferior his operibus et indigna.

I do not endeavor either by triumphs of confutation, or pleadings
of antiquity, or assumption of authority, or even, by the veil of
obscurity, to invest these inventions of mine with any majesty....
I have not sought nor do I seek either to force or ensnare men's
judgments, but I lead them to things themselves and the concordances
of things, that they may see for themselves what they have, what
they can dispute, what they can add and contribute to the common
stock.--FRANCIS BACON (_Preface to the Great Instauration_).


At the opening of the seventeenth century a man of letters, of
sufficient genius to be suspected by some of having written the plays
of Shakespeare, directed his distinguished literary ability to the
promotion and exaltation of natural science. Lord Bacon was the chief
herald of that habit of scientific and critical thought which has
played so novel and all-important a part in the making of the modern
mind. When but twenty-two years old he was already sketching out a
work which he planned to call _Temporis Partus Maximus (The Greatest
Thing Ever)_. He felt that he had discovered why the human mind,
enmeshed in mediaeval metaphysics and indifferent to natural
phenomena, had hitherto been a stunted and ineffective thing, and how
it might be so nurtured and guided as to gain undreamed of strength
and vigor.

And never has there been a man better equipped with literary gifts to
preach a new gospel than Francis Bacon. He spent years in devising
eloquent and ingenious ways of delivering learning from the
"discredits and disgraces" of the past, and in exhorting man to
explore the realms of nature for his delight and profit. He never
wearied of trumpeting forth the glories of the new knowledge which
would come with the study of common things and the profitable uses to
which it might be put in relieving man's estate. He impeached the
mediaeval schoolmen for spinning out endless cobwebs of learning,
remarkable for their fineness, but of no substance or spirit. He urged
the learned to come out of their cells, study the creations of God,
and build upon what they discovered a new and true philosophy.

Even in his own day students of natural phenomena had begun to carry
out Bacon's general program with striking effects. While he was urging
men to cease "tumbling up and down in their own reason and conceits"
and to spell out, and so by degrees to learn to read, the volume of
God's works, Galileo had already begun the reading and had found out
that the Aristotelian physics ran counter to the facts; that a body
once in motion will continue to move forever in a straight line unless
it be stopped or deflected. Studying the sky through his newly
invented telescope, he beheld the sun spots and noted the sun's
revolution on its axis, the phases of Venus, and the satellites of
Jupiter. These discoveries seemed to confirm the ideas advanced long
before by Copernicus--the earth was not the center of the universe and
the heavens were not perfect and unchanging. He dared to discuss these
matters in the language of the people and was, as everyone knows,
condemned by the Inquisition.

This preoccupation with natural phenomena and this refusal to accept
the old, established theories until they had been verified by an
investigation of common fact was a very novel thing. It introduced a
fresh and momentous element into our intellectual heritage. We have
recalled the mysticism, supernaturalism, and intolerance of the Middle
Ages, their reliance on old books, and their indifference to everyday
fact except as a sort of allegory for the edification of the Christian
pilgrim. In the mediaeval universities the professors, or "schoolmen",
devoted themselves to the elaborate formulation of Christian doctrine
and the interpretation of Aristotle's works. It was a period of
revived Greek metaphysics, adapted to prevailing religious
presuppositions. Into this fettered world Bacon, Galileo, Descartes,
and others brought a new aspiration to promote investigation and
honest, critical thinking about everyday things.

_These founders of modern natural science realized that they would
have to begin afresh. This was a bold resolve, but not so bold as must
be that of the student of mankind to-day if he expects to free himself
from the trammels of the past_. Bacon pointed out that the old days
were not those of mature knowledge, but of youthful human ignorance.
"_These_ times are the ancient times, when the world is ancient, and
not those we count ancient, _ordine retrogrado_, by a computation
backward from ourselves." In his _New Atlantis_ he pictures an ideal
State which concentrated its resources on systematic scientific
research, with a view to applying new discoveries to the betterment of
man's lot.

Descartes, who was a young man when Bacon was an old one, insisted on
the necessity, if we proposed to seek the truth, of questioning
_everything_ at least once in our lives. To all these leaders in the
development of modern science doubt, not faith, was the beginning of
wisdom. They doubted--and with good reason--what the Greeks were
supposed to have discovered; they doubted all the old books and all
the university professors' lecture notes. They did not venture to
doubt the Bible, but they eluded it in various ways. They set to work
to find out exactly what happened under certain circumstances. They
experimented individually and reported their discoveries to the
scientific academies which began to come into existence.

As one follows the deliberations of these bodies it is pathetic to
observe how little the learning of previous centuries, in spite of its
imposing claims, had to contribute to a fruitful knowledge of common
things. It required a century of hard work to establish the most
elementary facts which would now be found in a child's book. How water
and air act, how to measure time and temperature and atmospheric
pressure, had to be discovered. The microscope revealed the complexity
of organic tissues, the existence of minute creatures, vaguely called
infusoria, and the strange inhabitants of the blood, the red and white
corpuscles. The telescope put an end to the flattering assumption that
the cosmos circled around man and the little ball he lives on.

Without a certain un-Greek, practical inventive tendency which, for
reasons not easily to be discovered, first began to manifest itself in
the thirteenth century, this progress would not have been possible.
The new thinkers descended from the magisterial chair and patiently
fussed with lenses, tubes, pulleys, and wheels, thus weaning
themselves from the adoration of man's mind and understanding. They
had to devise the machinery of investigation as investigation itself

Moreover, they did not confine themselves to the conventionally noble
and elevated subjects of speculation. They addressed themselves to
worms and ditch water in preference to metaphysical subtleties. They
agreed with Bacon that the mean and even filthy things deserve study.
All this was naturally scorned by the university professors, and the
universities consequently played little or no part in the advance of
natural science until the nineteenth century.

Nor were the moral leaders of mankind behind the intellectual in
opposing the novel tendencies. The clergy did all they could to
perpetuate the squalid belief in witchcraft, but found no place for
experimental science in their scheme of learning, and judged it
offensive to the Maker of all things. But their opposition could do no
more than hamper the new scientific impulse, which was far too potent
to be seriously checked.

So in one department of human thought--the investigation of natural
processes--majestic progress has been made since the opening of the
seventeenth century, with every promise of continued and startling
advance. The new methods employed by students of natural science have
resulted in the accumulation of a stupendous mass of information in
regard to the material structure and operation of things, and the
gradual way in which the earth and all its inhabitants have come into
being. The nature and workings of atoms and molecules are being
cleared up, and their relation to heat, light, and electricity
established. The slow processes which have brought about the mountains
and valleys, the seas and plains, have been exposed. The structure of
the elementary cell can be studied under powerful lenses; its
divisions, conjunctions, differentiation, and multiplication into the
incredibly intricate substance of plants and animals can be traced.

In short, man is now in a position, for the first time in his history,
to have some really clear and accurate notion of the world in which he
dwells and of the living creatures which surround him and with which
he must come to terms. It would seem obvious that this fresh knowledge
should enable him to direct his affairs more intelligently than his
ancestors were able to do in their ignorance. He should be in a
position to accommodate himself more and more successfully to the
exigencies of an existence which he can understand more fully than any
preceding generation, and he should aspire to deal more and more
sagaciously with himself and his fellow-men.


But while our information in regard to man and the world is
incalculably greater than that available a hundred, even fifty years
ago, we must frankly admit that the knowledge is still so novel, so
imperfectly assimilated, so inadequately co-ordinated, and so feebly
and ineffectively presented to the great mass of men, that its
_direct_ effects upon human impulses and reasoning and outlook are as
yet inconsiderable and disappointing. We _might_ think in terms of
molecules and atoms, but we rarely do. Few have any more knowledge of
their own bodily operations than had their grandparents. The farmer's
confidence in the phases of the moon gives way but slowly before
recent discoveries in regard to the bacteria of the soil. Few who use
the telephone, ride on electric cars, and carry a camera have even the
mildest curiosity in regard to how these things work. It is only
_indirectly_, through _invention_, that scientific knowledge touches
our lives on every hand, modifying our environment, altering our daily
habits, dislocating the anciently established order, and imposing the
burden of constant adaptation on even the most ignorant and lethargic.

Unlike a great part of man's earlier thought, modern scientific
knowledge and theory have not remained matter merely for academic
discourse and learned books, but have provoked the invention of
innumerable practical devices which surround us on every hand, and
from which we can now scarce escape by land or sea. Thus while
scientific knowledge has not greatly affected the thoughts of most of
us, its influence in the promotion of modern invention has served to
place us in a new setting or environment, the novel features of which
it would be no small task to explain to one's great-great-grandfather,
should he unexpectedly apply for up-to-date information. So even if
modern scientific _knowledge_ is as yet so imperfect and ill
understood as to make it impossible for us to apply much of it
directly and personally in our daily conduct, we nevertheless cannot
neglect the urgent effects of scientific _inventions_, for they are
constantly posing new problems of adjustment to us, and sometimes
disposing of old ones.

Let us recall a few striking examples of the astonishing way in which
what seemed in the beginning to be rather trivial inventions and
devices have, with the improvements of modern science, profoundly
altered the conditions of life.

Some centuries before the time of Bacon and Galileo four discoveries
were made which, supplemented and elaborated by later insight and
ingenuity, may be said to underlie our modern civilization. A writer
of the time of Henry II of England reports that sailors when caught in
fog or darkness were wont to touch a needle to a bit of magnetic iron.
The needle would then, it had been found, whirl around in a circle and
come to rest pointing north. On this tiny index the vast extension of
modern commerce and imperialism rests.

That lentil-shaped bits of glass would magnify objects was known
before the end of the thirteenth century, and from that little fact
have come microscopes, telescopes, spectroscopes, and cameras; and
from these in turn has come a great part of our present knowledge of
natural processes in men, animals, and plants and our comprehension of
the cosmos at large.

Gunpowder began to be used a few decades after the lens was discovered;
it and its terrible descendants have changed the whole problem of human
warfare and of the public defense.

The printing press, originally a homely scheme for saving the labor of
the copyist, has not only made modern democracy and nationality
possible, but has helped by the extension of education to undermine
the ancient foundations upon which human industry has rested from the
beginnings of civilization.

In the middle of the eighteenth century the steam engine began to
supplant the muscular power of men and animals, which had theretofore
been only feebly supplemented by windmills and water wheels. And now
we use steam and gas engines and water power to generate potent
electric currents which do their work far from the source of supply.
Mechanical ingenuity has utilized all this undreamed-of energy in
innumerable novel ways for producing old and new commodities in
tremendous quantities and distributing them with incredible rapidity
throughout the earth.

Vast factories have sprung up, with their laborious multitudes engaged
on minute contributions to the finished article; overgrown cities
sprawl over the neighboring green fields and pastures; long freight
trains of steel cars thunder across continents; monstrous masses of
wealth pile up, are reinvested, and applied to making the whole system
more and more inconceivably intricate and interdependent; and
incidentally there is hurry and worry and discontent and hazard beyond
belief for a creature who has to grasp it all and control it all with
a mind reared on that of an animal, a child, and a savage.

As if these changes were not astounding enough, now has come the
chemist who devotes himself to making not new _commodities_ (or old
ones in new ways), but new _substances_. He juggles with the atoms of
carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, chlorine, and the rest, and far
outruns the workings of nature. Up to date he has been able to produce
artfully over two hundred thousand compounds, for some of which
mankind formerly depended on the alchemy of animals and plants. He can
make foodstuffs out of sewage; he can entrap the nitrogen in the air
and use it to raise wheat to feed, or high explosives to slaughter,
his fellows. He no longer relies on plants and animals for dyes and
perfumes. In short, a chemical discovery may at any moment devastate
an immemorial industry and leave both capital and labor in the lurch.
The day may not be far distant when, should the chemist learn to
control the incredible interatomic energy, the steam engine will seem
as complete an anachronism as the treadmill.

The uttermost parts of the earth have been visited by Europeans, and
commerce has brought all races of the globe into close touch. We have
now to reckon with every nation under heaven, as was shown in the
World War. At the same time steam and electrical communication have
been so perfected that space has been practically annihilated as
regards speech, and in matters of transportation reduced to perhaps a
fifth. So all the peoples of the earth form economically a loose and,
as yet, scarcely acknowledged federation of man, in which the fate of
any member may affect the affairs of all the others, no matter how
remote they may be geographically.

All these unprecedented conditions have conspired to give business for
business' sake a fascination and overwhelming importance it has never
had before. We no longer make things for the sake of making them, but
for money. The chair is not made to sit on, but for profit; the soap
is no longer prepared for purposes of cleanliness, but to be sold for
profit. Practically nothing catches our eye in the way of writing that
was written for its own sake and not for money. Our magazines and
newspapers are our modern commercial travelers proclaiming the gospel
of business competition. Formerly the laboring classes worked because
they were slaves, or because they were defenseless and could not
escape from thraldom--or, mayhap, because they were natural artisans;
but now they are coming into a position where they can combine and
bargain and enter into business competition with their employers. Like
their employers, they are learning to give as little as possible for
as much as possible. This is good business; and the employer should
realize that at last he has succeeded in teaching his employees to be
strictly businesslike. When houses were built to live in, and wheat
and cattle grown to eat, these essential industries took care of
themselves. But now that profit is the motive for building houses and
raising grain, if the promised returns are greater from manufacturing
automobiles or embroidered lingerie, one is tempted to ask if there
are any longer compelling reasons for building houses or raising food?

Along with the new inventions and discoveries and our inordinately
pervasive commerce have come two other novel elements in our
environment--what we vaguely call "democracy" and "nationality". These
also are to be traced to applied science and mechanical contrivances.

The printing press has made popular education possible, and it is our
aspiration to have every boy and girl learn to read and write--an
ideal that the Western World has gone far to realize in the last
hundred years. General education, introduced first among men and then
extended to women, has made plausible the contention that all adults
should have a vote, and thereby exercise some ostensible influence in
the choice of public officials and in the direction of the policy of
the government.

Until recently the mass of the people have not been invited to turn
their attention to public affairs, which have been left in the control
of the richer classes and their representatives and agents, the
statesmen or politicians. Doubtless our crowded cities have
contributed to a growing sense of the importance of the common man,
for all must now share the street car, the public park, the water
supply, and contagious diseases.

But there is a still more fundamental discovery underlying our
democratic tendencies. This is the easily demonstrated scientific
truth that nearly all men and women, whatever their social and
economic status, may have much greater possibilities of activity and
thought and emotion than they exhibit in the particular conditions in
which they happen to be placed; that in all ranks may be found
evidence of unrealized capacity; that we are living on a far lower
scale of intelligent conduct and rational enjoyment than is necessary.

Our present notions of nationality are of very recent origin, going
back scarcely a hundred years. Formerly nations were made up of the
subjects of this or that gracious majesty and were regarded by their
God-given rulers as beasts of burden or slaves or, in more amiable
moods, as children. The same forces that have given rise to modern
democracy have made it possible for vast groups of people, such as
make up France or the United States, to be held together more
intimately than ever before by the news which reaches them daily of
the enterprises of their government and the deeds of their conspicuous

In this way the inhabitants of an extensive territory embracing
hundreds of thousands of square miles are brought as close together as
the people of Athens in former days. Man Is surely a gregarious animal
who dislikes solitude. He is, moreover, given to the most exaggerated
estimate of his tribe; and on these ancient foundations modern
nationality has been built up by means of the printing press, the
telegraph, and cheap postage. _So it has fallen out that just when the
world was becoming effectively cosmopolitan in its economic
interdependence, its scientific research, and its exchange of books
and art, the ancient tribal insolence has been developed on a
stupendous scale._

The manner in which man has revolutionized his environment, habits of
conduct, and purposes of life by inventions is perhaps the most
astonishing thing in human history. It is an obscure and hitherto
rather neglected subject. But it is clear enough, from the little that
has been said here, that since the Middle Ages, and especially in the
past hundred years, science has so hastened the process of change that
it becomes increasingly difficult for man's common run of thinking to
keep pace with the radical alterations in his actual practices and
conditions of living.

* * * * *


Peace sitting under her olive, and
slurring the days gone by,
When the poor are hovell'd and
hustled together, each sex, like
When only the ledger lives, and
when only not all men lie;
Peace in her vineyard--yes!--but
a company forges the wine.

Could great men thunder
As Jove himself does, Jove would
ne'er be quiet.
For every pelting, petty officer
Would use his heaven for thunder;
Nothing but thunder!
... Man, proud man,
Drest in a little brief authority,
Most ignorant of what he's most
His glassy essence, like an angry
Plays such fantastic tricks before
high heaven
As make the angels weep; who, with
our spleens,
Would all themselves laugh mortal.


It is so difficult a task to form any correct estimate of one's own
surroundings, largely on account of our very familiarity with them,
that historical students have generally evaded this responsibility.
They have often declared that it was impossible to do so
satisfactorily. And yet no one will ever know more than we about what
is going on now. Some secrets may be revealed to coming generations,
but plenty of our circumstances will be obscure to them. And it
certainly seems pusillanimous, if not hazardous, to depute to those
yet unborn the task of comprehending the conditions under which we
must live and strive. I have long believed that the only unmistakable
contribution that the historical student can make to the progress of
intelligence is to study the past with an eye constantly on the
present. For history not only furnishes us with the key to the present
by showing how our situation came about, but at the same time supplies
a basis of comparison and a point of vantage by virtue of which the
salient contrasts between our days and those of old can be detected.
Without history the essential differences are sure to escape us. Our
generation, like all preceding generations of mankind, inevitably
takes what it finds largely for granted, and the great mass of men who
argue about existing conditions assume a fundamental likeness to past
conditions as the basis of their conclusions in regard to the present
and the still unrolled future.

Such a procedure becomes more and more dangerous, for although a
continuity persists, there are more numerous, deeper and wider
reaching contrasts between the world of to-day and that of a hundred,
or even fifty, years ago, than have developed in any corresponding
lapse of time since the beginning of civilization. This is not the
place even to sketch the novelties in our knowledge and circumstances,
our problems and possibilities. No more can be done here than to
illustrate in a single field of human interest the need of an
unprecedentedly open mind in order to avail ourselves of existing
resources in grasping and manipulating the problems forced upon us.

Few people realize how novel is the almost universal preoccupation
with business which we can observe on every hand, but to which we are
already so accustomed that it easily escapes the casual observer. But
in spite of its vastness and magnificent achievements, business, based
upon mass production and speculative profits, has produced new evils
and reinforced old ones which no thoughtful person can possibly
overlook. Consequently it has become the great issue of our time, the
chief subject of discussion, to be defended or attacked according to
one's tastes, even as religion and politics formerly had their day.

Business men, whether conspicuous in manufacture, trade, or finance,
are the leading figures of our age. They exercise a dominant influence
in domestic and foreign policy; they subsidize our education and exert
an unmistakable control over it. In other ages a military or religious
caste enjoyed a similar pre-eminence. But now business directs and
equips the soldier, who is far more dependent on its support than
formerly. Most religious institutions make easy terms with business,
and, far from interfering with it or its teachings, on the whole
cordially support it. Business has its philosophy, which it holds to
be based upon the immutable traits of human nature and as identical
with morality and patriotism. It is a sensitive, intolerant
philosophy, of which something will be said in the following section.

Modern business produced a sort of paradise for the luckier of
mankind, which endured down to the war, and which many hope to see
restored in its former charm, and perhaps further beautified as the
years go on. It represents one of the most startling of human
achievements. No doubt a great part of the population worked hard and
lived in relative squalor, but even then they had many comforts
unknown to the toiling masses of previous centuries, and were
apparently fairly contented.

But escape was possible, for any man of capacity or character at
all exceeding the average, into the middle or upper classes, for
whom life offered, at a low cost and with the least trouble,
conveniencies, comforts, and amenities beyond the compass of the
richest and most powerful monarchs of other ages. The inhabitant
of London could order by telephone, sipping his morning tea in bed,
the various products of the whole earth, in such quantity as he
might see fit, and reasonably expect their early delivery upon his
doorstep; he could at the same moment and by the same means adventure
his wealth in the natural resources and new enterprises of any
quarter of the world, and share, without exertion or even trouble,
in their prospective fruits and advantages.... He could secure
forthwith, if he wished it, cheap and comfortable means of transit
to any country or climate without passport or other formality, could
dispatch his servant to the neighboring office of a bank for such
supply of the precious metals as might seem convenient, and could
then proceed abroad to foreign quarters, without knowledge of their
religion, language, or customs, bearing coined wealth upon his
person, and would consider himself greatly aggrieved and much
surprised at the least interference.

And most important of all, he could, before the war, regard this state
of affairs as

... normal, certain, and permanent, except in the direction of
further improvement, and any deviation from it as aberrant,
scandalous, and avoidable. The projects and politics of militarism,
and imperialism, of racial and cultural rivalries, of monopolies,
restrictions, and exclusion, which were to play the serpent in this
paradise, were little more than the amusements of his daily newspaper,
and appeared to exercise almost no influence at all on the ordinary
course of social and economic life, the internationalization of which
was nearly complete in practice.[21]

This assumption of the permanence and normality of the prevailing
business system was much disturbed by the outcome of the war, but less
so, especially in this country, than might have been expected. It was
easy to argue that the terrible conflict merely interrupted the
generally beneficent course of affairs which would speedily
re-establish itself when given an opportunity. To those who see the
situation in this light, modern business has largely solved the
age-long problem of producing and distributing the material
necessities and amenities of life; and nothing remains except to
perfect the system in detail, develop its further potentialities, and
fight tooth and nail those who are led by lack of personal success or
a maudlin sympathy for the incompetent to attack and undermine it.

On the other hand, there were many before the war, not themselves
suffering conspicuously from the system, who challenged its
beneficence and permanence, in the name of justice, economy, and the
best and highest interests of mankind as a whole. Since the war many
more have come to the conclusion that business as now conducted is not
merely unfair, exceedingly wasteful, and often highly inexpedient from
a social standpoint, but that from an historical standpoint it is
"intensely unusual, unstable, complicated, unreliable, and temporary"
(Keynes). It may prove to be the chief eccentricity of our age; quite
as impermanent as was the feudal and manorial system or the role of
the mediaeval Church or of monarchs by the grace of God; and destined
to undergo changes which it is now quite impossible to forecast.

In any case, economic issues are the chief and bitterest of our time.
It is in connection with them that free thinking is most difficult and
most apt to be misunderstood, for they easily become confused with the
traditional reverences and sanctities of political fidelity,
patriotism, morality, and even religion. There is something
humiliating about this situation, which subordinates all the varied
possibilities of life to its material prerequisites, much as if we
were again back in a stage of impotent savagery, scratching for roots
and looking for berries and dead animals. One of the most brilliant of
recent English economists says with truth:

The burden of our civilization is not merely, as many suppose, that
the product of industry is ill-distributed, or its conduct tyrannical,
or its operation interrupted by bitter disagreements. It is that
industry itself has come to hold a position of exclusive predominance
among human interests, which no single interest, and least of all the
provision of the material means of existence, is fit to occupy. Like
a hypochondriac who is so absorbed in the processes of his own
digestion that he goes to the grave before he has begun to live,
industrialized communities neglect the very objects for which it is
worth while to acquire riches in their feverish preoccupation with
the means by which riches can be acquired.

That obsession by economic issues is as local and transitory as it is
repulsive and disturbing. To future generations it will appear as
pitiable as the obsession of the seventeenth century by religious
quarrels appears to-day; indeed, it is less rational, since the object
with which it is concerned is less important. And it is a poison which
inflames every wound and turns each trivial scratch into a malignant

Whatever may be the merits of the conflicting views of our business
system, there can be no doubt that it is agitating all types of
thoughtful men and women. Poets, dramatists, and story writers turn
aside from their old _motifs_ to play the role of economists.
Psychologists, biologists, chemists, engineers, are as never before
striving to discover the relation between their realms of information
and the general problems of social and industrial organization. And
here is a historical student allowing the dust to collect on mediaeval
chronicles, church histories, and even seventeenth-century
rationalists, once fondly perused, in order to see if he can come to
some terms with the profit system. And why not? Are we not all
implicated? We all buy and many sell, and no one is left untouched by
a situation which can in two or three years halve our incomes, without
fault of ours. But before seeking to establish the bearing of the
previous sections of this volume on our attitude toward the puzzles of
our day, we must consider more carefully the "good reasons" commonly
urged in defense of the existing system.


So far we have been mainly engaged in recalling the process by which
man has accumulated such a mind as he now has, and the effects of this
accumulation on his mode of life. Under former conditions (which are
now passing away) and in a state of ignorance about highly essential
matters (which are now being put in quite a new light) he established
certain standards and practices in his political, social, and
industrial life. His views of property, government, education, the
relations of the sexes, and various other matters he reaffirms and
perpetuates by means of schools, colleges, churches, newspapers, and
magazines, which in order to be approved and succeed must concur in
and ratify these established standards and practices and the current
notions of good and evil, right and wrong. This is what happened in
the past, and to the great majority of people this still seems to be
the only means of "safeguarding society". Before subjecting this
attitude of mind to further criticism it will be helpful to see how
those argue who fail to perceive the vicious circle involved.

The war brought with it a burst of unwonted and varied animation.
Those who had never extended their activities beyond the usual routine
of domestic and professional life suddenly found themselves
participating in a vast enterprise in which they seemed to be
broadening their knowledge and displaying undreamed of capacity for
co-operation with their fellows. Expressions of high idealism exalted
us above the petty cares of our previous existence, roused new
ambitions, and opened up an exhilarating perspective of possibility
and endeavor. It was common talk that when the foe, whose criminal
lust for power had precipitated the mighty tragedy, should be
vanquished, things would "no longer be the same". All would then agree
that war was the abomination of abominations, the world would be made
safe for right-minded democracy, and the nations would unite in
smiling emulation.

Never did bitterer disappointment follow high hopes. All the old
habits of nationalistic policy reasserted themselves at Versailles. A
frightened and bankrupt world could indeed hardly be expected to
exhibit greater intelligence than the relatively happy and orderly one
which had five years earlier allowed its sanctified traditions to drag
it over the edge of the abyss. Then there emerged from the autocracy
of the Tsars the dictatorship of the proletariat, and in Hungary and
Germany various startling attempts to revolutionize hastily and
excessively that ancient order which the Hapsburg and Hohenzollern
rulers had managed to perpetuate in spite of all modern novelties. The
real character of these movements was ill understood in our country,
but it was inevitable that with man's deep-seated animistic tendencies
they should appear as a sort of wicked demon or a deadly contagion
which might attack even our own land unless prevented by timely
measures. War had naturally produced its machinery for dealing with
dissenters, sympathizers with the enemy, and those who deprecated or
opposed war altogether; and it was the easiest thing in the world to
extend the repression to those who held exceptional or unpopular
views, like the Socialists and members of the I.W.W. It was plausible
to charge these associations with being under the guidance of
foreigners, with "pacificism" and a general tendency to disloyalty.
But suspicion went further so as to embrace members of a rather small,
thoughtful class who, while rarely socialistic, were confessedly
skeptical in regard to the general beneficence of existing
institutions, and who failed to applaud at just the right points to
suit the taste of the majority of their fellow-citizens. So the
general impression grew up that there was a sort of widespread
conspiracy to overthrow the government by violence or, at least, a
dangerous tendency to prepare the way for such a disaster, or at any
rate a culpable indifference to its possibility.

Business depression reinforced a natural reaction which had set in
with the sudden and somewhat unexpected close of the war. The unwonted
excitement brought on a national headache, and a sedative in the form
of normalcy was proffered by the Republican party and thankfully
accepted by the country at large. Under these circumstances the
philosophy of safety and sanity was formulated. It is familiar and
reassuring and puts no disagreeable task of mental and emotional
readjustment on those who accept it. Hence its inevitable popularity
and obvious soundness.

And these are its presuppositions: No nation is comparable to our own
in its wealth and promise, in its freedom and opportunity for all. It
has opened its gates to the peoples of the earth, who have flocked
across the ocean to escape the poverty and oppression of Europe. From
the scattered colonies of the pre-revolutionary period the United
States has rapidly advanced to its world ascendancy. When the European
powers had reached a hopeless stalemate after four years of war the
United States girded on the sword as the champion of liberty and
democracy and in an incredibly short time brought the conflict to a
victorious close before she had dispatched half the troops she could
easily have spared. She had not entered the conflict with any motives
of aggrandizement or of territorial extension. She felt her
self-sufficiency and could well afford proudly to refuse to join the
League of Nations on the ground that she did not wish to be involved
in European wrangles or sacrifice a tittle of her rights of

The prosperity of the United States is to be attributed largely to the
excellence of the Federal Constitution and the soundness of her
democratic institutions. Class privileges do not exist, or at least
are not recognized. Everyone has equal opportunity to rise in the
world unhampered by the shackles of European caste. There is perfect
freedom in matters of religious belief. Liberty of speech and of the
press is confirmed by both the Federal Constitution and the
constitutions of the various states. If people are not satisfied with
their form of government they may at any time alter it by a peaceful
exercise of the suffrage.

In no other country is morality more highly prized or stoutly
defended. Woman is held in her proper esteem and the institution of
the family everywhere recognized as fundamental. We are singularly
free from the vices which disgrace the capitals of Europe, not
excepting London.

In no other country is the schoolhouse so assuredly acknowledged to be
the corner stone of democracy and liberty. Our higher institutions of
learning are unrivaled; our public libraries numerous and accessible.
Our newspapers and magazines disseminate knowledge and rational
pleasure throughout the land.

We are an ingenious people in the realm of invention and in the
boldness of our business enterprise. We have the sturdy virtues of the
pioneer. We are an honest people, keeping our contracts and giving
fair measure. We are a tireless people in the patient attention to
business and the laudable resolve to rise in the world. Many of our
richest men began on the farm or as office boys. Success depends in
our country almost exclusively on native capacity, which is rewarded
here with a prompt and cheerful recognition which is rare in other

We are a progressive people, always ready for improvements, which
indeed we take for granted, so regularly do they make their
appearance. No alert American can visit any foreign country without
noting innumerable examples of stupid adherence to outworn and
cumbrous methods in industry, commerce, and transportation.

Of course no one is so blind as not to see that here and there evils
develop which should be remedied, either by legislation or by the
gradual advance in enlightenment. Many of them will doubtless cure
themselves. Our democracy is right at heart and you cannot fool all
the people all the time. We have not escaped our fair quota of
troubles. It would be too much to expect that we should. The
difference of opinion between the Northern and Southern states
actually led to civil war, but this only served to confirm the natural
unity of the country and prepare the way for further advance.
Protestants have sometimes dreaded a Catholic domination; the Mormons
have been a source of anxiety to timid souls. Populists and advocates
of free silver have seemed to threaten sound finance. On the other
hand, Wall Street and the trusts have led some to think that corporate
business enterprise may at times, if left unhampered, lead to
over-powerful monopolies. But the evil workings of all these things
had before the war been peaceful, if insidious. They might rouse
apprehension in the minds of far-sighted and public-spirited
observers, but there had been no general fear that any of them would
overthrow the Republic and lead to a violent destruction of society as
now constituted and mayhap to a reversion to barbarism.

The circumstances of our participation in the World War and the rise
of Bolshevism convinced many for the first time that at last society
and the Republic were actually threatened. Heretofore the socialists
of various kinds, the communists and anarchists, had attracted
relatively little attention in our country. Except for the Chicago
anarchist episode and the troubles with the I.W.W., radical reformers
had been left to go their way, hold their meetings, and publish their
newspapers and pamphlets with no great interference on the part of the
police or attention on the part of lawgivers. With the progress of the
war this situation changed; police and lawgivers began to interfere,
and government officials and self-appointed guardians of the public
weal began to denounce the "reds" and those suspected of "radical
tendencies". The report of the Lusk Committee in the state of New York
is perhaps the most imposing monument to this form of patriotic zeal.

It is not our business here to discuss the merits of Socialism or
Bolshevism either from the standpoint of their underlying theories or
their promise in practice. It is only in their effects in developing
and substantiating the philosophy of safety and sanity that they
concern us in this discussion.

Whether the report of the so-called Lusk Committee[23] has any
considerable influence or no, it well illustrates a common and
significant frame of mind and an habitual method of reasoning. The
ostensible aim of the report is:

... to give a clear, unbiased statement and history of the
purposes and objects, tactics and methods, of the various
forces now at work in the United States, and particularly
within the state of New York, which are seeking to undermine
and destroy, not only the government under which we live, but
also the very structure of American society. It also seeks to
analyze the various constructive forces which are at work
throughout the country counteracting these evil influences,
and to present the many industrial and social problems that
these constructive forces must meet and are meeting.

The plan is executed with laborious comprehensiveness, and one
unacquainted with the vast and varied range of so-called "radical"
utterances will be overwhelmed by the mass brought together. But our
aim here is to consider the attitude of mind and assumptions of the
editors and their sympathizers.

They admit the existence of "real grievances and natural demands of
the working classes for a larger share in the management and use of
the common wealth". It is these grievances and demands which the
agitators use as a basis of their machinations. Those bent on a social
revolution fall into two classes--socialists and anarchists. But while
the groups differ in detail, these details are not worth considering.
"Anyone who studies the propaganda of the various groups which we have
named will learn that the arguments employed are the same; that the
tactics advocated cannot be distinguished from one another, and that
articles, or speeches made on the question of tactics or methods by
anarchists, could, with propriety, be published in socialist, or
communist newspapers without offending the membership of these
organizations." So, fortunately for the reader, it is unnecessary to
make any distinctions between socialists, anarchists, communists, and
Bolsheviki. They all have the common purpose of overthrowing existing
society and "general strikes and sabotage are the direct means
advocated". The object is to drive business into bankruptcy by
reducing production and raising costs.[24]

But it would be a serious mistake to assume that the dangers are
confined to our industrial system. "The very first general fact that
must be driven home to Americans is that the pacifist movement in this
country, the growth and connections of which are an important part of
this report, is an absolutely integral and fundamental part of
international socialism." European socialism, from which ours is
derived, has had for one of its main purposes "the creation of an
international sentiment to supersede national patriotism and effort,
and this internationalism was based upon pacificism, in the sense that
it opposed all wars between nations and developed at the same time
class consciousness that was to culminate in relentless class warfare.
In other words, it was not really peace that was the goal, but the
abolition of the patriotic, warlike spirit of nationalities".

In view of the necessity of making head against this menace the
Criminal Anarchy statute of the State of New York was invoked, search
warrants issued, "large quantities of revolutionary, incendiary and
seditious written and printed matter were seized". After the refusal
of Governor Smith to sign them, the so-called Lusk educational bills
were repassed and signed by the Republican Governor Miller. No teacher
in the schools shall be licensed to teach who "has advocated, either
by word of mouth or in writing, a form of government other than the
government of the United States or of this state". Moreover, "No
person, firm, corporation, association, or society shall conduct,
maintain, or operate any school, institute, class, or course of
instruction in any subject without making application for and being
granted a license from the University of the State of New York [_i.
e_. the Regents]." The Regents shall have the right to send inspectors
to visit classes and schools so licensed and to revoke licenses if
they deem that an overthrow of the existing government by violence is
being taught.[25]

But the safe and sane philosophy by no means stops with the convenient
and compendious identification of socialists of all kinds, anarchists,
pacificists and internationalists, as belonging to one threatening
group united in a like-minded attempt to overthrow society as we now
know it. This class includes, it may be observed, such seemingly
distinguishable personalities as Trotzky and Miss Jane Addams, who are
assumed to be in essential harmony upon the great issue. But there are
many others who are perhaps the innocent tools of the socialists.
These include teachers, lecturers, writers, clergymen, and editors to
whom the Lusk report devotes a long section on "the spread of socialism
in educated circles". It is the purpose of this section

... to show the use made by members of the Socialist Party of America
and other extreme radicals and revolutionaries of pacifist sentiment
among people of education and culture in the United States as a
vehicle for the promotion of revolutionary socialistic propaganda.
The facts here related are important because they show that these
socialists, playing upon the pacifist sentiment in a large body of
sincere persons, were able to organize their energies and capitalize
their prestige for the spread of their doctrines. [P. 969.]

An instance of this is an article in the _New Republic_ which:

... includes more or less open attacks on Attorney-General Palmer,
Mr. Lansing, the House Immigration Committee, the New York _Times_,
Senator Fall, this Committee, etc. It also quotes the dissenting
opinions in the Abrams case of Justices Holmes and Brandeis, and
ends by making light of the danger of revolution in America: ...
This belittling of the very real danger to the institutions of this
country, as well as the attempted discrediting of any investigating
group (or individual), has become thoroughly characteristic of our
"Parlor Bolshevik" or "Intelligentsia". [P. 1103.]

So it comes about, as might indeed have been foreseen from the first,
that one finds himself, if not actually violating the criminal anarchy
statute, at least branded as a Bolshevik if he speaks slightingly of
the New York _Times_ or recalls the dissenting opinion of two judges
of the Supreme Court.

Moreover, as might have been anticipated, the issues prove to be at
bottom not so much economic as moral and religious, for "Materialism
and its formidable sons, Anarchy, Bolshevism, and Unrest, have thrown
down the gauge of battle" to all decency.

... What is of the greatest importance for churchmen to understand,
in order that they may not be led astray by specious arguments of
so-called Christian Socialists and so-called liberals and
self-styled partisans of free speech, is that socialism as a system,
as well as anarchism and all its ramifications, from high-brow
Bolshevism to the Russian Anarchist Association, are all the
declared enemies of religion and all recognized moral standards
and restraints. [P. 1124.]

We must not be misled by "false, specious idealism masquerading as
progress". The fight is one for God as well as country, in which all
forms of radicalism, materialism, and anarchy should be fiercely and
promptly stamped out.[26]


[21] Keynes, _The Economic Consequences of the Peace_, pp. 11-12.

[22] Tawney, R. H., _The Acquisitive Society_, pp. 183-184. The
original title of this admirable little work, a Fabian tract, was,
_The Sickness of an Acquisitive Society_, but the American publishers
evidently thought it inexpedient to stress the contention of the
author that modern society has anything fundamentally the matter with

[23] _Revolutionary Radicalism, Its History, Purpose, and Tactics:
with an exposition and discussion of the steps being taken and
required to curb it, being the report of the Joint Legislative
Committee investigating seditious activities, filed April 24, 1920, in
the Senate of the state of New York._ This comprises four stout
volumes (over 4,200 pages in all) divided into two parts, dealing,
respectively, with "Revolutionary and Subversive Movements at Home and
Abroad" and "Constructive Movements and Measures in America". Albany,

[24] "While the nature of this investigation has led the committee to
lay its emphasis upon the activities of subversive organizations, it
feels that this report would not be complete if it did not state
emphatically that it believes that those persons in business and
commercial enterprise and certain owners of property who seek to take
advantage of the situation to reap inordinate gain from the public
contribute in no small part to the social unrest which affords the
radical a field of operation which otherwise would be closed to him."

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