The Foremost Philosopher of the Age

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					The Foremost Philosopher of the Age
                    F R A N C I S GRAHAM WILSON

ON NOVEMBER 9, 1882, a farewell banquet          Among the weaknesses of Americans is
was held in honor of Herbert Spencer at       the desire to pick out the great philosopher
Delmonico’s in New York City. E. L. You-      of the day and to declare him to be greater
mans edited the proceedings of the dinner,    than Aristotle, or others who have been
reporting that the gathering was “large,      panegyrized as philosophers in the past.
cultivated, and brilliant.” The two hun-      President F. A. P. Barnard of Columbia
dred persons who c‘subscribed‘’ to the din-   College wrote from the “Pre~ident~s   Room”
ner represented what was considered to be     on November 10, 1882, expressing his re-
the elite of America at the time. [E. L.      gret at not having been able to attend the
Youmans (editor), Herbert Spencer on the      dinner on the previous evening. “It is im-
Americans and the Americans on Herbert        possible,” he said, “that, any one should
Spencer, 1882.1 Again, on October 20,         feel more profoundly than I do the mag-
1949, “1500 men and women from all sec-       nitude of the debt which the world owes to
tions of the community gathered together      that great man. . . . As it seems to me, we
in the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Com-       have in Herbert Spencer not only the pro-
modore, New York, to do honor to John         foundest thinker of our time, but the most
Dewey, America’s foremost philosopher and     capacious and most powerful intellect of
educator, on the occasion of his ninetieth    all time. Aristotle and his master were
birthday.” One of the speakers at this        not more beyond the pygmies who pre-
dinner said it was “the most important        ceded them than he is beyond Aristotle.
dinner ever tended to a private individual    Kant, Hegel, Fichte, and Schelling are
in the United States.” [Harry W. Laidler      gropers in the dark by the side of him.
 (editor), John Dewey at Ninety, League       In all the history of science there is but
for Industrial Democracy, 1950.1               one name which can be compared to his,

54                                                                          Winter 1957-58
and that is Newton’s. . . .” However, Presi-    his paean more than Herbert Spencer. Yet
dent Barnard concluded that as Newton           there is no record, save photographs of a
had not attempted so wide a field, it is only   delighted Dewey, to offer in proof of this
conjecture whether he would have suc-           view. Spencer made a career of being just
ceeded as Spencer had by 1882. At Dew-          a little cantankerous, and everyone knew
ey’s banquet, F. D. Fackenthal, former          about his many years-twenty-seven years
Acting-President of Columbia University,        of it by 1882-of    insomnia. In his Auto-
acclaimed Dewey because “he brought the         biography Spencer has left the following
world to Columbia and he carried Colum-         unbubbling account of the evening: “I was
bia t o the world. His influence was far        able to get through my prepared speech
flung. But over and above his influence         without difficulty, though not with much
stands his personification of democracy.. . .            .
                                                effect. . . My address was mainly devoted
I doubt whether. . . we shall have described    to a criticism of American life, as charac-
Professor Dewey any better that does that       terized by over-devotion to work . . . learn-
brief quotation from Emerson: ‘Nothing          ing and working are for life. . . . Of the
is more simple than greatness; indeed to be     proceedings which followed I need only
simple is to be great’.”                        say they were somewhat trying to sit
   At the time of Spencer’s farewell to         through. Compliments, even when addressed
America, the Americans had bought more          to one privately, do not give unalloyed
than a hundred thousand copies of his           pleasure.” [Herbert Spencer, An Autobiog-
books, and many more were to be sold.           raphy, 2 vols., New York, 1904, Vol. 11,
John Dewey’s book likewise had sold by          pp. 478-479.1 Strange, but there is no
many thousands when the ninetieth-birth-        word of eulogy for the intellectual effort of
day banquet was held. Both men shared in        the Americans as demonstrated in the ora-
their day in providing a “respectable” phi-     tory of that evening. Henry Ward Beecher’s
losophy that could be accepted as a mask        mighty speech passed as a shadow over
of intelligence among its devotees, and both    Spencer-the greatest mind of the age! In
profoundly influenced the ruling or elite       his long evening, listening to the benison
groups in America. But there are differ-        and optimism of American oratory, Spen-
ences, and one may trace with a broad           cer played the role of the tired, sick man.
stroke the evolution of American intellec-      Dewey at ninety was more like a picture
tuals by comparing the views expressed at       of health, and he must have listened with
these two great tributes almost an even         pleasure to the flow of encomia that flut-
sixty-seven years apart. It is an uncer-        tered down around him.
tain venture to select the great men of to-        The difference between the two Americas,
day. One recalls that Thomas Jefferson          of 1882 and 1949, is to be found in the
considered the forgotten Destutt de Tracy       differences between the men, the two he-
a great philosopher, and the judgment of        roes, and the guests of honor. But the dif-
the intelligentsia that picked Herbert Spen-    ference is also to be found in the kind of
cer as the great philosopher of all time is a   men who made speeches, told stories, and
reminder of the archaic past and the falli-     evoked appreciation and laughter suitable
bility of educated judgment. It is a vain       to the occasion. Who were these men, who
use of prophecy to select the living phi-       spoke so in harmony with the philosophies
losophers who have outdistanced Aristotle,      of their principals? How did they differ on
St. Thomas, o r Isaac Newton. Fifty years       the two occasions in their metaphysical
after his farewell toast, Herbert Spencer       commitments? What were their profes-
had become a paragraph in a history of          sions?
science and philosophy in the nineteenth           One fact looms in common-they were
century.                                        believers in science as the source of the
   It is probable that John Dewey enjoyed       answers to questions in American society.

Modern Age                                                                                55
Spencer’s science was different from Dew-          These men all were evolutionists-includ-
ey’s, but both philosophers were the ex-        ing Dewey-yet they had not learned the
ponents of a kind of “literary. theory of       old lesson that Huizinga has stressed : His-
science” which has been far away, indeed,       tory does not move quite that fast. Spen-
from the laboratory. The men who spoke          cer’s men were believers in a fast-moving,
were mostly leaders from outside of the         expanding, business civilization, and Spen-
scientific fields, and from the more respect-   cer was known as the philosopher of laissez-
able professions of the time. “Science” for     faire. Dewey’s men hailed him standing
those who offered tribute to Herbert Spen-      under socialism, or more especially “The
cer was evolution;’ and not merely biologi-     League f o r Industrial Democracy”; and
cal evolution, but the trend of society in      they, too, would move quickly toward their
all art, literature, morality, and learning.    utopian goals. Liberalism in Spencer’s time
Such science was the giver of “values” to       was for freedom of all kinds-or so it was
men in all fields and a system of prophecy      said-and     this included the freedom of
for times to come. From his science, Spen-      businessmen to make important economic
cer could predict the coming of a society       decisions. But “liberalism” around Dew-
governed by the ideal of leisure, following     ey’s plaudit-laden table favored the control
upon the achievements of the then contem-       of business by the civil servant, an abun-
porary, hardworking, industrial society          dant freedom to advocate a secular phi-
 [See Autobiography, Vol. 11, p. 4791. Evo-     losophy, and a collectivized economy. Lib-
lution and science seemed to blend together.    eral secularism had continued, but the free-
Dewey’s science has been more literary, it       dom of the economy had been lost in what
seems, than Spencer’s; more inclined toward     Americans have come to call liberalism.
speculation that has been based on a rejec-      It is the conservative, rather than the lib-
tion of metaphysical or ontological prob-       eral, who sees the necessity of moving
lems. It has, likewise, been based on the       slowly, and of working in and through
acceptance of a pragmatic epistemology, a        history and not against it. From liberty,
theory of logic, and a concept of method         the liberals had moved to democracy. The
devoted to social experimentation, that is,      organically organized, group-experience de-
certain kinds of experiments that fit into       mocracy of Dewey might strike with heavy
the liberal, secular, and socialistic concep-    hands against the autonomy of the indi-
tion of the good life. One fact, further,        vidual in either economics or in religion.
seems to stand out about Spencer and Dewey       To Spencer, his rich admirers tendered a
and the members of their symposia. They          farewell dinner; to Dewey his less wealthy
were enemies of traditional religion, of the     adulators offered a three-day celebration
supernatural as recorded either in Christian     and a gift of ninety thousand dollars on his
tradition or in the Bible. It is clear that      ninetieth birthday. This sum Dewey was
 one motive for the search for “the foremost     to distribute among the causes and reform
philosopher of the age” was to get away          movements of his choice. In such a way,
 from any Christianity that had a theology.      the course of history might be hurried on
What they wanted in 1882 and in 1949             without tarrying. Yet Spencer’s men
 was a vague system of ethics and a rejec-       seemed to sense that evolution restrained
 tion of sin in toto. These were modern men,     in principle the enthusiasm for change; and
 believers in science, who had an illusory       that conservatives may rest on evolution in
 sense of omnipotence. They felt no need         an age like that following the Confederate
 for God because of the dogma of “science.”      War. Evolution gives time to those who
 Every man, or more particularly, every in-      have power today; and improvement must
 tellectual was a king; he had a vote, and       come, not from an aggressive bureaucracy,
 he could vote God out of office at the end      but from the impersonal drive in nature.
 of his term.                                    The character of the American intelligent-

5G                                                                             1F’irrter ’ !9.57-58
sia changed much between Spencer and            Labor”; Ralph Barton Perry, of Harvard
Dewey, yet there has been much continuity        University, spoke on “Dewey as Philoso-
in philosophy to observe between these           pher,,, which must be considered one of
two points in time.                              the major addresses of the evening; Irwin
   William M. Evarts presided over the           Edinan considered “Dewey’s Contribution
Spencer banquet. Spencer’s address came          to Art”; William H. Kilpatrick spoke on
first, and a series of speakers then re-         “Dewey and Education for Democracy,”
sponded to various toasts. William Gra-          and there were other representatives of pub-
ham Summer spoke to a toast in honor of          lic education, including the New York
“The Science of Sociology” ; Carl Schurz         Teachers Guild. Hu Shih, the notable Chi-
rose to “The Progress of Science Tends to        nese scholar, and Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime
International Harmony”; 0. C. Marsh, pro-        Minister of India, offered a “Salute from
fessor at Yale College, talked in answer         the Orient.” The Committee read a cita-
to “Evolution-Once an Hypothesis, Now            tion “To John Dewey, Philosopher, Teacher,
the Established Doctrine of the Scientific       Citizen, and Friend”; and Dewey himself
World”; and John Fiske and Henry Ward            offered some of his observations on philos-
Beecher spoke in response to the toast:          ophy and democracy. In addition unre-
“Evolution and Religion: That Which Per-         ported remarks were made by Alvin John-
fects Humanity Can Not Destroy Religion.”        son, Sidney Hook, Elmer Davis, J. J. Singh,
It is clear that Beecher’s speech was the        and Carlos Delabarra, Chilean Consul-Gen-
high point of an evening of salutations to       eral, who bestowed on Dewey the Chilean
Spencer, yet today it seems an extraordi-        Order of Merit.
narily insubstantial performance for what           What are the differences in the kind of
was then regarded as so momentous an oc-         men called on to speak? Let it be noted
casion. The volume reporting the dinner          that businessmen were absent in 1949, for
included also some speeches that could not       Dewey was expected to use the ninety thou-
be delivered at the time; these were the         sand dollars to fight them, to try further
“unspoken speeches” of E. L. Youmans,            to establish a socialist society, and corre-
Lester F. Ward, and E. R. Leland. A num-         spondingly to overthrow the American cap-
ber of letters from absent persons con-          italist system. Here we have, then, a pow-
cluded the volume.                               erful symbol of the split between the secu-
   For Dewey’s banquet, there was likewise       lar- American intellectuals and the whole
a committee of notables. Harry W. Laid-          business community. In 1882, in contrast,
ler, of the League for Industrial Democ-         the intellectuals could sit down and break
racy, acted as chairman of the Dinner            bread with representatives of the business
Committee and made the introductory re-          community and not be disgraced. In 1949,
marks, while President Harold Taylor of          the intellectuals had a stronger sense of
Sarah Lawrence College served as toast-          unity with the bureaucracy than with busi-
master. Frank D. Fackenthal, former Act-         ness, whereas in 1882 only one civil serv-
ing-President of Columbia, spoke for that        ant-Lester F. Ward-made any remarks,
institution, regretting that President Eisen-    and Carl Schurz, a politician or at least
hower could not be present. Felix Frank-         one who ran for public office, made one of
furter descended from the Supreme Court          the principal speeches. One can say, I think,
bench to speak on “The Meaning of Dewey          that in 1882, the intellectuals showed a
to Us All”; John Haynes Holmes, the pas-         desire to make their atheism work, but they
tor of the Community Church and the theo-        were constrained to show that evolution
logical representative of the occasion, dis-     could be reconciled with Christianity. Their
cussed “Dewey as a Leader in Public Af-          motto might have been: “Some call it evo-
fairs”; David Dubinsky and Walter Reu-          lution, others call it God.” Henry Ward
ther spoke on “Dewey and the World of           Beecher was regarded as the principal

Modern Age                                                                                 57
speaker in 1882, but in 1949 John Haynes       times.” Dewey is a universal man. A
Holmes was surely remote from any living       Christian with any theology in his thought
theology in America, and his remarks are       will say that surely here is not religion but
hardly to be considered important in the       a practical, contemporary atheism masque-
proceedings of the Dewey celebration.          rading as religion. And what of Beecher?
Atheism had become respectable since Her-      Today his address seems thin. One may
bert Spencer had bade farewell to Ameri-       forgive the laughter of the well-fed audi-
can intellectuals.                             ence at his feeble jokes. But Beecher’s
    Further, if business was “accepted” in     prophecies have turned out feebler than his
1882, the leaders of organized labor who       wit. Spencer, the agnostic, was to him a
were left-wing and who sympathized with        kind of religious leader, or a proponent of
the League for Industrial Democracy (the       the religion of tomorrow. In any case, it
educational wing of the then existing So-      would be a religion that practicing atheists
cialist Party) took their place in 1949.       could permit to exist without criticism, and
Reuther ventured the opinion that Dewey        which would offer them no effective oppo-
was as great as Aristotle. In 1882 the in-     sition. Beecher insisted that moral ideas
tellectuals talked of science and progress     have evolved, and that the Bible proves it.
through evolution, while in 1949 the in-       With regard to original sin, he said: “It
tellectuals spoke of science and democracy.    will not be twenty years before a man will
Progress now was to make evolution-to          be ashamed to stand up in any intelligent
direct it, while in 1882 evolution was to      pulpit and mention it.” [Youmans, op. cit.,
generate progress. Both Spencer and Dewey      p. 62.1 Beecher agreed that through Moses
were recognized as foremost philosophers        God wrote on stone, but, he continued, “I
and educators, and the intellectuals on both   believe that that was not the first time he
occasions sensed the necessity of dominat-      wrote on stone. He made a record when he
ing and controlling education if their views    made the granite, and when he made all
were to prevail in both law and popular        the successive strata in the periods of time.
custom. Democracy, to Dewey, meant              There is a record in geology that is as much
“process,” but a process in which the tra-      a record of God as the record on paper in
ditional moral values and their bases were      human language. They are both true-
 to be rejected; progress to Spencer, how-      where they are true.” [Zbid. p. 65.1 And
ever, meant much the same thing. Evolu-                                               .
                                                in concluding, Beecher exclaimed: “. . if
 tion was absolute and objective to Spencer,    I had the fortune of a millionaire, and I
 just as “experimentation” of the proper        should pour all my gold at his [Spencer’s]
 kind has been to Dewey and to the prag-        feet, it would be no sort of compensation
 matic school of morals. Can we not say         compared to that which I believe I owe
 that both Spencer and Dewey along with         him . . .,, [Zbid. p. 66.1
 their intellectual courtiers had a “faith”        In evolutionary theory there was a cos-
 that was in effect an absolute?                mic purpose, for evolution, as handled by
    Let us consider the issue or science and    Spencer, offered an answer to all of the
 religion in 1882 and 1949. John Haynes         cultural and moral issues of society. Pro-
 Holmes, though not important at the ban-       fessor 0. C. Marsh, Yale College, quoted
 quet, spoke as a further-diluted Henry         some lines that Spencer had written twenty-
 Ward Beecher might have spoken, had he         five years before the farewell banquet:
 been available and chosen for this address.    “This law of organic progress is the law
 Dewey is the greatest living American, said    of all progress. Whether it be on the de-
 Holmes, but he “would be great in any          velopment of the earth, in the development
 age. Already he is one of the immortals.”      of life upon its surface, in the development
 Dewey’s book A Common Faith is “one of         of society, of government, of manufactures,
 the outstanding religious books of modern      of commerce, of language, literature, sci-

58                                                                            Winter 1957-58
ence, art, this same evolution of the simple      admired passionately the intellectual labors
into the complex, through a process of con-       of Spencer, would have nothing to do with
tinuous differentiation, holds throughout.”       organized religion, and both Darwin and
[]bid. p. 48.1 Evolution thus becomes the         Spencer had helped to lead him away from
key to all mysteries. And John Fiske ven-         his religious faith. Carnegie would con-
tured to state the essential truths of religion   tribute money to almost any cause save
and to show there was no conflict between         that of organized religion. As businessmen
religion properly understood and evolu-           are more religious today, they are more
tion; rather, they confirmed and strength-        separated from the intellectuals than they
ened each other; evolution explains and           were in the age of technological develop-
justifies righteousness.                          ments of the 1870s and 1880s. Clifford F.
   On the other hand, the gentlemen around        Hood, President of the United States Steel
Dewey did not like any argument about             Corporation, and a successor in a real
design o r cosmic purpose. Against the ar-        sense to Andrew Carnegie, said in March,
gument about design or cosmic purpose,            1954, to a religious audience: “Three or
W. H. Kilpatrick placed Dewey’s faith in          four months ago an article in one of the
modern science “based solely on inductive         national business periodicals discussed the
experimental logic.” [John Dewey ut               present emphasis being given to religion
Ninety, p. 22.1 And Kilpatrick said there         by the businessmen of the nation. It was
was no design to be drawn from Darwin’s           pointed out that much of the impetus for
argument, though Darwin at the close of           this so-called revival is to be found among
The Origin of Species insisted that his           the businessmen of Pittsburgh. This was
views should not shock the religious feel-        especially pleasing to me, for one naturally
ings of anyone, “and as natural selection         likes to see his local business associates
works solely by and for the good of each          being recognized for leadership in such an
being, all corporeal and mental endow-            important activity as this. . . . Is it too
ments will tend to progress towards per-          late to bring the old-time Bible stand down
fection. . . . There is grandeur in this          from the attic or up from the cellar?. . . .
view of life, with its several powers, having     If it is, gentlemen, then it is very late
been originally breathed by the Creator           indeed.”
into a few forms or into one. . . .,, And            The admirers of Spencer and Dewey rec-
Darwin praised at the same time the evolu-        ognized them both as foremost philosophers
tionary contributions made by Herbert             and educators. On both occasions, the im-
Spencer to the study of psychology. To            portance to political power of the control
Mr. Justice Frankfurter, Dewey’s philoso-         of education was sensed. In both instances
phy has meant, quoting a poet, that “man          it seemed to be taken as legitimate that
is omnipotent. . . . In him is every quality      their respective philosophies should be im-
that he attributes to his god: beauty, wis-       posed on the school children of the nation.
dom, omniscience, omnipotence, divinity.”         J. E. Morgan, editor of the National Edu-
And quoting Mr. Justice Holmes on                 cation Association Journal, remarked:
Dewey’s writings, he said: “. . . so me           “John Dewey had a deep appreciation of
thought, God would have spoken had He             the American free public school and its
been inarticulate, but keenly desirous to         significance as the foundation of democ-
tell you how it was.” To Frankfurter,             racy. It was his belief that what the wisest
Dewey’s ideas are a system beyond systems.        and best parent desires for his own child,
   Yet another development has been taking        that must society want for its own chil-
place. As the businessmen of Herbert              dren.” When the history of this time is
Spencer’s time were busy getting away from        written, the speaker continued, “it will be
religion, and doctrine, they are today re-        the names like Tolstoi, Gandhi and Dewey”
turning to them. Andrew Carnegie, who             that will be remembered. Yet, in 1882,

Modern Age                                                                                 59
Andrew 1). White wrote from Cornel1 ex-             cases evil, it seems we are dealing with a
pressing his regret at being unable to at-          subtle and false process of liberal identifica-
tend the Spencer dinner: “No competent              tion, in which religious ideas as authori-
person can look over the history of educa-          tarian are identified with tyranny, obscur-
tion in the United States during the past           antism, or in more recent times “fascism.”
twenty years and not see that Mr. Spencer’s         Thus, the great objective either in 1882 or
ideas have been among the principal forces          1949 has been to emancipate education
in bringing about the great and happy               from religion and the “educators” from
changes which have taken place. . . In  .           religious criticism or responsibility. With
short, the bringing of all human develop-           Spencer, an effort was made to reconcile
ment into harmony with the methods                  evolution and religion, as witnessed by
stamped upon the constitution of the Uni-           Henry Ward Beecher’s panegyric and John
verse-for all this progress our debt to             Fiske’s preconial address in response to
him is great indeed.” [Youmans, op. cit.,           the toast, “Evolution and Religion: That
pp. 85-86.] Yet, White said, we are only            Which Perfects Humanity Cannot Destroy
at the beginning of t h e reforms in education      Religion.” With Dewey, the scene has
that will be inaugurated because of Herbert         changed, for religion is either ignored or
Spencer’s ideas.                                    attacked by implication. As Ralph Barton
   To many, the great political struggle in         Perry said in his encomium of Dewey: that
a democracy is that for the control of edu-         he had a “belief in the power of science to
cation. Liberals-Spencer’s          or Dewey’s      deal with the moral and social questions
kind-have almost always favored a school            of the day, provided its scope is liberalized
system monopolized by the state, and one            and its underlying motivation properly di-
in which the freedom of parents, religious                      .
                                                    rected. . . His humanism, his democracy,
groups, and industry are restricted in their        his progressivism in education and else-
 right to organize educational programs.            where, his moral code, all rest on his belief
Religious liberty means among other items           that man’s dignity lies in his capacity to
the right of parents to choose the kind of          think for himself.” The enemies against
 religious training their children shall re-        which Dewey warred have been, Perry said,
 ceive, but it is difficult to conceive of either       arrogance, dogmatism, absolutism, uni-
 Spencer or Dewey being interested in such          formitarianism, servility, tradition, skepti-
 a freedom. Religious liberty means an edu-                 .
                                                     cism. . .”
 cational system in which diverse metaphysi-             Contemporary European philosophy has
 cal commitments are taught, one in which            grown increasingly concerned about “com-
 the state guarantees this liberty, even             munication” between individuals. Lan-
 against the prophets of progress we have            guage and its difficulties form one of the
 been examining. The liberal can call his            great approaches to modern philosophy,
 own program “freedom,” while those who              but whether a man can communicate the
 disagree with him are “authoritarians.”             attributes of his own existence to another
 But essentially it seems that to the Spencer        has become a matter of growing doubt.
 and Dewey schools of educational philoso-           Neither Spencer nor Dewey had any doubt
 phy any education based on religious lib-           about the ability of men to communicate,
 erty would be authoritarian in character,           especially at a scientific level. It is this
 and a denial of liberty.                            theory of ease of communication that un-
    Little or nothing was said about “author-        derlies both the notion of scientific as
 ity” at the time of Spencer’s visit, though,        against humanistic education and the in-
 indeed, both Spencer and Dewey have rep-             sistence that all life must be “socialized”
 resented a highly eulogized “authority.”             or lived in groups having predominance
 When “authority” is used as equivalent to            over the individual. For both Spencer and
 “authoritarian” and as something in all              Dewey “sharing” was easy, though in our

60                                                                                   Winter 1957-58
 world of crisis, communication and any            have triumphed. Few businessmen believe
 kind of secular or civic sharing become           now that an economic individualism and a
 increasingly remote from political reality.       free nineteenth-century capitalism can be
 Speaking to the problem, Dewey said as he         restored. And many liberals, even those
 received his crown of laurel: “This educa-        who might offer their golden opinions to
 tional process is based on faith in human         Dewey, have begun to doubt that collecti-
 good sense and human good will as it mani-       vism is necessarily a servant of the com-
 fests itself in the long run where communi-      mon good. It is clear that the new age of
 cation is progressively liberated from           transition must be a time for the search
 bondage to prejudice and ignorance.”             for justice, and perhaps not in terms either
 Thus, fear, suspicion and distrust are ex-        of Spencer or of Dewey. Invalidated
 pelled, while friendliness and democracy         prophecies rest heavily on both evolution-
 (as a group “proce~s,” not as majority           ary capitalism and the socialist reformers
 rule) are given renewed life and force.          of other days.
Tradition and custom, as guides presum-              The evolutionary mind, the liberal mind
 ably to the intellectuals, have been broken      as exemplified in both Spencer and Dewey,
 down, and science, breeding its understand-      is content with prophecies that leap far
ing and good will, gives its energy to a          into the future. Such predictions cannot
living democracy. Yet it is true there was        be checked against the experience of any
no serious inquiry into “communication”           generation, while most of the evils of the
 as a problem in education in the minds of        day are granted to exist. Both Spencer and
either Spencer or Dewey. It was not recog-        Dewey were men who were confident of
nized as a difficult problem by either one        the character of time to come. Perhaps
 of our dwellers in the prytaneum.                even today Spencer might say that more
    From education, which is political if it is   time is needed for his scheme of human
“public,” one easily moves on to the con-         welfare than he realized. And Dewey
sideration of political economics. Here, of       clearly thought of the day when communi-
course, profound differences are immedi-          cation will be freed from oppression and
ately obvious. Spencer seemed to be think-        suppression and most men will talk in free-
ing of time, great stretches of “duration,”       dom, that is, in the language and under
as Henri Bergson might say, while Dewey,          the presuppositions of Dewey’s instrumen-
also an exponent of evolution, seems in his       talist philosophy. Yet such a time is far
advocacy of r e f a m to be a man in a hurry.     off, and who can say it will or will not
One must choose here and now, he appears          come to be in some remote tomorrow? In
to be saying to those around who had of-          this sense, perhaps, no modern experience
fered their encomiastic words. The con-           is adequate to form a judgment of the
servative in 1882 believed time-that is,          value of economic systems. There yet may
Spencer’s evolution-was       on his side; in     be a triumphant free-market system, and
1949 the liberals seem to have acquired this      there yet may come a time when the ‘<wel-
same feeling, even though they might also         fare” or socialistic society will redeem some
insist on being in a hurry. I n 1882, indi-       of its pledges, both philosophical and prac-
vidualism, or a free-enterprise economy,          tical. What we have, however, .is precisely
seemed possible, though William Graham            other sets of prediction that deny both the
Sumner elsewhere denounced the interfer-          optimism of Spencer and the progressiv-
ence of government in business-that is,           ism of Dewey. Such prediction is made of
jobbery was the vice of a democratic so-          course in the background of world-wide
ciety. But at the midpoint of our century,        crisis, unanticipated by last-century op-
collectivism in various stages and forms,         timism or liberal prophecy in the earlier
from Russia’s planned economy to the war          years of the twentieth century.
cconomies of the democracies, seemed to              The massive movement of history, that

Modem Age                                                                                  61
has robbed Spencer of his readers, his fol-     umph of their views, their judgments, and
lowers, those who would hold him in re-         their metaphysical conceptions. In both
spect as a great man, may do the same for       instances our honored guests are continu-
Dewey in a short space of time. Someone         ators of the eighteenth-century theory of
said once that Dewey would be little read       progress, in which science leads the way
in fifty years. In this he would be like        to the millenium. Such was to both of
Spencer. If men turn toward a belief in         these men the core of the American tradi-
God, in Providence, and to an eschatologi-      tion and, one might. add, its validation.
cal view of the world, they will surely turn    As Americans have questioned such an in-
away from Spencer and Dewey. The turn-          terpretation of the meaning of our tradi-
ing away from biology helped to ruin            tion, so they have turned away from both
Spencer, and swiftly moving developments        Spencer and Dewey, and it would seem in
in contemporary science cast some doubt         all candor to be for much the same reasons
on a literary conception of science that is     in both cases. Are we not on the road to
limited in fact mostly to theories of logic     denying that either Spencer or Dewey can
and epistemology. Spencer’s “science” was       long remain as prime symbols of the Amer-
essentially specific, being biology and evo-    ican tradition?
lutionary theory, while science for Dewey          Indeed, it is a arrogant enterprise to
was a logical method rather than the ap-        attempt to discover greater philosophers
plication of any specific science to particu-   than Aristotle. Hu Shih, for the Chinese,
lar social enterprises, such as public educa-   noted that Aristotle was a baby compared
tion and the socialistic economy.               with Confucius, but Dewey’s Chinese
   Yet these two banquets-great in them-        friends were happy to celebrate his birth-
selves as events in intellectual history-       day “simultaneously with that of our most
provoke thinking about the meaning of the       honored ancient sage. . . .” And in 1882
United States in history. For “a philoso-        a Mr. W. D. LeSueur wrote from Ottawa
phy of history” is at least implied in the      that though he could not be present at the
labors of both Spencer and Dewey. Both          dinner, he joined in “paying honor to one
men saw the future in a cheerful way, be-       who stands forth incontestably as the fore-
lieving in the inevitable and ultimate tri-      most philosopher of the age.”

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