An essay on the American contribution and the democratic idea Part 2

An essay on the American contribution and the democratic idea -

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That a significant change of heart and mind has begun to take place amongst capitalists, that the nucleus of a "public opinion" has been formed within an element which, by the use and wont of business and habits of thought might be regarded as least subject to the influence of social ideas, is a most hopeful augury. This nascent opinion has begun to operate by shaming unscrupulous and recalcitrant employers into better practices. It would indeed fare ill with democracy if, in such an era, men of large business proved to be lacking in democratic initiative, wholly unreceptive and hostile to the gradual introduction of democracy into industry, which means the perpetuation of the American Idea. Fortunately, with us, this capitalistic element is of comparatively recent growth, the majority of its members are essentially Americans; they have risen from small beginnings, and are responsive to a democratic appeal--if that appeal be properly presented. And, as a matter of fact, for many years a leaven had been at work among them; the truth has been brought home to them that the mere acquisition of wealth brings neither happiness nor self-realization; they have lavished their money on hospitals and universities, clinics, foundations for scientific research, and other gifts of inestimable benefit to the nation and mankind. Although the munificence was on a Medicean scale, this private charity was in accord with the older conception of democracy, and paved the way for a new order.

The patriotic and humanitarian motive aroused by the war greatly accelerated the socializing transformation of the business man and the capitalist. We have, indeed, our profiteers seeking short cuts to luxury and wealth; but those happily most representative of American affairs, including the creative administrators, hastened to Was.h.i.+ngton with a willingness to accept any position in which they might be useful, and in numerous instances placed at the disposal of the government the manufacturing establishments which, by industry and ability, they themselves had built up. That in thus surrendering the properties for which they were largely responsible they hoped at the conclusion of peace to see restored the 'status quo ante' should not be held against them. Some are now beginning to surmise that a complete restoration is impossible; and as a result of their socializing experience, are even wondering whether it is desirable. These are beginning to perceive that the national and international organizations in the course of construction to meet the demands of the world conflict must form the model for a future social structure; that the unprecedented pressure caused by the cataclysm is compelling a recrystallization of society in which there must be fewer misfits, in which many more individuals than formerly shall find public or semi-public tasks in accordance with their gifts and abilities.

It may be argued that war compels socialization, that after the war the world will perforce return to materialistic individualism. But this calamity, terrible above all others, has warned us of the imperative need of an order that shall be socializing, if we are not to witness the destruction of our civilization itself. Confidence that such an order, thanks to the advancement of science, is now within our grasp should not be difficult for Americans, once they have rightly conceived it. We, who have always pinned our faith to ideas, who entered the conflict for an Idea, must be the last to s.h.i.+rk the task, however Herculean, of world reconstruction along the lines of our own professed faith. We cannot be renegades to Democracy.

Above all things, then, it is essential for us as a people not to abandon our faith in man, our belief that not only the exceptional individual but the majority of mankind can be socialized. What is true of our physicians, our scientists and professional men, our manual workers, is also true of our capitalists and business men. In a more just and intelligent organization of society these will be found willing to administer and improve for the common weal the national resources which formerly they exploited for the benefit of themselves and their a.s.sociates. The social response, granted the conditions, is innate in humanity, and individual initiative can best be satisfied in social realization.

Universal education is the cornerstone of democracy. And the recognition of this fact may be called the great American contribution. But in our society the fullest self-realization depends upon a well balanced knowledge of scientific facts, upon a rounded culture. Thus education, properly conceived, is a preparation for intelligent, ethical, and contented citizens.h.i.+p. Upon the welfare of the individual depends the welfare of all. Without education, free inst.i.tutions and universal suffrage are mockeries; semi-learned of the population are at the mercy of scheming politicians, controversialists, and pseudo-scientific religionists, and their votes are swayed by prejudice.

In a materialistic compet.i.tive order, success in life depends upon the knack--innate or acquired, and not to be highly rated--of outwitting one's neighbour under the rules of the game--the law; education is merely a cultural leaven within the reach of the comparatively few who can afford to attend a university. The business college is a more logical inst.i.tution. In an emulative civilization, however, the problem is to discover and develop in childhood and youth the personal apt.i.tude or gift of as many citizens as possible, in order that they may find self-realization by making their peculiar contribution towards the advancement of society.

The prevailing system of education, which we have inherited from the past, largely fails to accomplish this. In the first place, it has been authoritative rather than scientific, which is to say that students have been induced to accept the statements of teachers and text books, and have not been trained to weigh for themselves their reasonableness and worth; a principle essentially unscientific and undemocratic, since it inculcates in the future citizen convictions rather than encourages the habit of open-mindedness so necessary for democratic citizens.h.i.+p.

For democracy--it cannot be too often repeated--is a dynamic thing, experimental, creative in its very essence. No static set of opinions can apply to the constantly changing aspect of affairs. New discoveries, which come upon us with such bewildering rapidity, are apt abruptly to alter social and industrial conditions, while morals and conventions are no longer absolute. Sudden crises threaten the stability of nations and civilizations. Safety lies alone in the ability to go forward, to progress. Psychology teaches us that if authoritative opinions, convictions, or "complexes" are stamped upon the plastic brain of the youth they tend to harden, and he is apt to become a Democrat or Republican, an Episcopalian or a Baptist, a free trader or a tariff advocate or a Manchester economist without asking why. Such "complexes"

were probably referred to by the celebrated physician who emphasized the hopelessness of most individuals over forty. And every reformer and forum lecturer knows how difficult it is to convert the average audience of seasoned adults to a new idea: he finds the most responsive groups in the universities and colleges. It is significant that the "educated"

adult audiences in clubs and prosperous churches are the least open to conversion, because, in the scientific sense, the "educated" retain complexes, and hence are the least prepared to cope with the world as it is today. The German system, which has been bent upon installing authoritative conviction instead of encouraging freedom of thought, should be a warning to us.

Again, outside of the realm of physical science, our text books have been controversial rather than impartial, especially in economics and history; resulting in erroneous and distorted and prejudiced ideas of events, such for instance, as our American Revolution. The day of the controversialist is happily coming to an end, and of the writer who twists the facts of science to suit a world of his own making, or of that of a group with which he is a.s.sociated. Theory can now be labelled theory, and fact, fact. Impartial and painstaking investigation is the sole method of obtaining truth.

The old system of education benefited only the comparatively few to whose nature and inclination it was adapted. We have need, indeed, of cla.s.sical scholars, but the majority of men and women are meant for other work; many, by their very construction of mind, are unfitted to become such. And only in the most exceptional cases are the ancient languages really mastered; a smattering of these, imposed upon the unwilling scholar by a principle opposed to psychology,--a smattering from which is derived no use and joy in after life, and which has no connection with individual inclination--is worse than nothing. Precious time is wasted during the years when the mind is most receptive. While the argument of the old school that discipline can only be inculcated by the imposition of a distasteful task is unsound. As Professor Dewey points out, unless the interest is in some way involved there can be no useful discipline. And how many of our university and high school graduates today are in any sense disciplined? Stimulated interest alone can overcome the resistance imposed by a difficult task, as any scientist, artist, organizer or administrator knows. Men will discipline themselves to gain a desired end. Under the old system of education a few children succeed either because they are desirous of doing well, interested in the game of mental compet.i.tion; or else because they contrive to clothe with flesh and blood some subject presented as a skeleton. It is not uncommon, indeed, to recognize in later years with astonishment a useful citizen or genius whom at school or college we recall as a dunce or laggard. In our present society, because of archaic methods of education, the development of such is largely left to chance.

Those who might have been developed in time, who might have found their task, often become wasters, drudges, and even criminals.

The old system tends to make types, to stamp every scholar in the same mould, whether he fits it or not. More and more the parents of today are looking about for new schools, insisting that a son or daughter possesses some special gift which, under teachers of genius, might be developed before it is too late. And in most cases, strange to say, the parents are right. They themselves have been victims of a standardized system.

A new and distinctly American system of education, designed to meet the demands of modern conditions, has been put in practice in parts of the United States. In spite of opposition from school boards, from all those who cling to the conviction that education must of necessity be an unpalatable and "disciplinary" process, the number of these schools is growing. The objection, put forth by many, that they are still in the experimental stage, is met by the reply that experiment is the very essence of the system. Democracy is experimental, and henceforth education will remain experimental for all time. But, as in any other branch of science, the element of ascertained fact will gradually increase: the latent possibilities in the mind of the healthy child will be discovered by knowledge gained through impartial investigation. The old system, like all other inst.i.tutions handed down to us from the ages, proceeds on no intelligent theory, has no basis on psychology, and is accepted merely because it exists.

The new education is selective. The mind of each child is patiently studied with the view of discovering the peculiar bent, and this bent is guided and encouraged. The child is allowed to forge ahead in those subjects for which he shows an apt.i.tude, and not compelled to wait on a cla.s.s. Such supervision, of course, demands more teachers, teachers of an ability hitherto deplorably rare, and thoroughly trained in their subjects, with a sympathetic knowledge of the human mind. Theirs will be the highest and most responsible function in the state, and they must be rewarded in proportion to their services.

A superficial criticism declares that in the new schools children will study only "what they like." On the contrary, all subjects requisite for a wide culture, as well as for the ability to cope with existence in a highly complex civilization, are insisted upon. It is true, however, that the trained and gifted teacher is able to discover a method of so presenting a subject as to seize the imagination and arouse the interest and industry of a majority of pupils. In the modern schools French, for example, is really taught; pupils do not acquire a mere smattering of the language. And, what is more important, the course of study is directly related to life, and to practical experience, instead of being set forth abstractly, as something which at the time the pupil perceives no possibility of putting into use. At one of the new schools in the south, the ignorant child of the mountains at once acquires a knowledge of measurement and elementary arithmetic by laying out a garden, of letters by inscribing his name on a little signboard in order to identify his patch--for the moment private property. And this principle is carried through all the grades. In the Gary Schools and elsewhere the making of things in the shops, the modelling of a Panama Ca.n.a.l, the inspection of industries and governmental establishments, the designing, building, and decoration of houses, the discussion and even dramatization of the books read,--all are a logical and inevitable continuation of the abstract knowledge of the schoolroom. The success of the direct application of learning to industrial and professional life may also be observed in such colleges as those at Cincinnati and Schenectady, where young men spend half the time of the course in the shops of manufacturing, corporations, often earning more than enough to pay their tuition.

Children are not only prepared for democratic citizens.h.i.+p by being encouraged to think for themselves, but also to govern and discipline themselves. On the moral side, under the authoritative system of lay and religious training, character was acquired at the expense of mental flexibility--the Puritan method; our problem today, which the new system undertakes, is to produce character with open-mindedness--the kind of character possessed by many great scientists. Absorption in an appropriate task creates a moral will, while science, knowledge, informs the mind why a thing is "bad" or "good," disintegrating or upbuilding.

Moreover, these children are trained for democratic government by the granting of autonomy. They have their own elected officials, their own courts; their decisions are, of course, subject to reversal by the, but in practice this seldom occurs.

The Gary Schools and many of the new schools are public schools. And the principle of the new education that the state is primarily responsible for the health of pupils--because an unsound body is apt to make an unsound citizen of backward intelligence--is now being generally adopted by public schools all over the country. This idea is essentially an element of the democratic contention that all citizens must be given an equality of opportunity--though all may not be created equal--now becoming a positive rather than a negative right, guaranteed by the state itself. An earnest attempt is thus made by the state to give every citizen a fair start that in later years he may have no ground for discontent or complaint. He stands on his own feet, he rises in proportion to his ability and industry. Hence the program of the British Labour Party rightly lays stress on education, on "freedom of mental opportunity." The vast sums it proposes to spend for this purpose are justified.

If such a system of education as that briefly outlined above is carefully and impartially considered, the objection that democratic government founded on modern social science is coercive must disappear.

So far as the intention and effort of the state is able to confer it, every citizen will have his choice of the task he is to perform for society, his opportunity for self-realization. For freedom without education is a myth. By degrees men and women are making ready to take their places in an emulative rather than a materialistically compet.i.tive order. But the experimental aspect of this system should always be borne in mind, with the fact that its introduction and progress, like that of other elements in the democratic program, must be gradual, though always proceeding along sound lines. For we have arrived at that stage of enlightenment when we realize that the only mundane perfection lies in progress rather than achievement. The millennium is always a lap ahead.

There would be no satisfaction in overtaking it, for then we should have nothing more to do, nothing more to work for.

The German Junkers have prost.i.tuted science by employing it for the destruction of humanity. In the name of Christianity they have waged the most barbaric war in history. Yet if they shall have demonstrated to mankind the futility of efficiency achieved merely for material ends; if, by throwing them on a world screen, they shall have revealed the evils of power upheld alone by ruthlessness and force, they will unwittingly have performed a world service. Privilege and dominion, powers and princ.i.p.alities acquired by force must be sustained by force.

To fail will be fatal. Even a duped people, trained in servility, will not consent to be governed by an unsuccessful autocracy. Arrogantly Germany has staked her all on world domination. Hence a victory for the Allies must mean a democratic Germany.

Nothing short of victory. There can be no arrangement, no agreement, no parley with or confidence in these modern scions of darkness--Hohenzollerns, Hindenburgs, Zudendorffs and their tools.

Propaganda must not cease; the eyes of Germans still capable of sight must be opened. But, as the President says, force must be used to the limit--force for a social end as opposed to force for an evil end. There are those among us who advocate a boycott of Germany after peace is declared. These would seem to take it for granted that we shall fall short of victory, and hence that selfish retaliative or vindictive practices between nations, sanctioned by imperialism, will continue to flourish after the war. But should Germany win she will see to it that there is no boycott against her. A compromised peace would indeed mean the perpetuation of both imperialism and militarism.

It is characteristic of those who put their faith in might alone that they are not only blind to the finer relations.h.i.+ps between individuals and nations, but take no account of the moral forces in human affairs which in the long run are decisive,--a lack of sensitiveness which explains Germany's colossal blunders. The first had to do with Britain.

The German militarists persisted in the belief that the United Kingdom was degenerated by democracy, intent upon the acquisition of wealth, distracted by strife at home, uncertain of the Empire, and thus would selfishly remain aloof while the Kaiser's armies overran and enslaved the continent. What happened, to Germany's detriment, was the instant socialization of Britain, and the binding together of the British Empire. Germany's second great blunder was an arrogant underestimation of a self-reliant people of English culture and traditions. She believed that we, too, had been made flabby by democracy, were wholly intent upon the pursuit of the dollar--only to learn that America would lavish her vast resources and shed her blood for a cause which was American.

Germany herself provided that cause, shaped the issues so that there was no avoiding them. She provided the occasion for the socializing of America also; and thus brought about, within a year, a national transformation which in times of peace might scarce in half a century have been accomplished.

Above all, as a consequence of these two blunders, Germany has been compelled to witness the consummation of that which of all things she had most to fear, the cementing of a lasting fellows.h.i.+p between the English speaking Republic and the English speaking Empire. For we had been severed since the 18th Century by misunderstandings which of late Germany herself had been more or less successful in fostering. She has furnished a bond not only between our governments, but--what is vastly more important for democracy--a bond between our peoples. Our soldiers are now side by side with those of the Empire on the Frontier of Freedom; the blood of all is shed and mingled for a great cause embodied in the Anglo-Saxon tradition of democracy; and our peoples, through the realization of common ideas and common ends, are learning the supreme lesson of co-operation between nations with a common past, are being cemented into a union which is the symbol and forerunner of the democratic league of Nations to come. Henceforth, we believe, because of this union, so natural yet so long delayed, by virtue of the ultimate victory it forecasts, the sun will never set on the Empire of the free, for the drum beats of democracy have been heard around the world. To this Empire will be added the precious culture of France, which the courage of her sons will have preserved, the contributions of Italy, and of Russia, yes, and of j.a.pan.

Our philosophy and our religion are changing; hence it is more and more difficult to use the old terms to describe moral conduct. We say, for instance, that America's action in entering the war has been "unselfish." But this merely means that we have our own convictions concerning the ultimate comfort of the world, the manner of self-realization of individuals and nations. We are attempting to turn calamity into good. If this terrible conflict shall result in the inauguration of an emulative society, if it shall bring us to the recognition that intelligence and science may be used for the upbuilding of such an order, and for an eventual achievement of world peace, every sacrifice shall have been justified.

Such is the American Issue. Our statesmen and thinkers have helped to evolve it, our people with their blood and treasure are consecrating it.

And these statesmen and thinkers, of whom our American President is not the least, are of democracy the pioneers. From the mountain tops on which they stand they behold the features of the new world, the dawn of the new day hidden as yet from their brothers in the valley. Let us have faith always that it is coming, and struggle on, highly resolving that those who gave their lives in the hour of darkness shall not have died in vain.

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