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Man and His Future

ISSUE:  Autumn 1944

The Condition of Man. By I.cwis Mumford. Ilarcourt, Brace and Company. $5.00. Justice and World Society. By Laurence Stapleton. University of North Carolina Press. $2.00. Diagnosis of Our Time. By Karl Mannheim. Oxford University Press. $3.00.

Three books of recent appearance have a common theme, and are timely also, because they bear upon the peace that will follow our present war. Only one author, indeed, addresses himself directly to this point, but the others also travel the same road. There is a problem that cannot be evaded, but of course there will be many differences as to its proper solution; and that is shown by the books under review.

Thus two authors, Mr. Mumford and Miss Stapleton, share a common love for the history of ideas, but their work shows a vast difference in range and conclusion. Dr. Mannheim, on the other hand, essays no such adventure; he is “one of Comte’s ablest successors in sociology” (to quote a passing remark that will be found in Mr. Mumford’s book), and his “Diagnosis of Our Time” is sociological first and last. It would be better, therefore, to reserve this book for the last.

Mr. Mumford’s “Condition of Man” is a splendid effort at a survey of the Western civilization which began with the decay of the Roman Empire. It was a sick world, to use Mr. Mumford’s phrase, for old tests had failed and ancient standards were falling. A new world came with the common acceptation of Christianity, but then followed the turmoil of ideas that were inspired by physical facts such as the opening of new worlds by discovery, the advancement of science, and a questioning of the faith by which man had guided his conduct. The scholastic philosophy, which reached its highest point in the “Summa” of St. Thomas Aquinas, failed to meet the new test, because it demanded a faith which it was the business of a new philosophy to question. And then, as was natural enough, once the faith itself was questioned, came a re-examination of the ethic which had guided the Western world. After that, we have the modern scene, and there Mr. Mumford stops, having produced a book of such high quality (at least in its earlier chapters) as to make one think of Buckle and Lecky. Of course, the work has defects. Mr. Mumford has not read everything, and he is wrong on many points, as I believe; but it would be an unworthy task for a reviewer to mention them. It will all come out in the wash, for this book is of a provocative character, and counterblasts may be expected. But it is better to write such a book and be inexact, than not to have undertaken the task at all.

I cannot help saying, however, that I wish Mr. Mumford had not devoted so much effort at the last to the Freudian approach. In this respect his book resembles Dr. Mannheim’s, but that is the only common bond. It seems out of place, in any event, that Mr. Mumford, in approaching a great journey through the shades of history, should have selected Freud as his Virgil, if only for part of the way. Even that, however, should not scare off readers, for the book is distinctly worth while.

Especially in point here is the lesson that Mr. Mumford draws from the history he has traced. He concludes that the need of today is a renewal, but it must commence within the particular man, for one’s collective work “cannot rise to a higher level than his personal scale of values”; indeed, he adds, one of our troubles is that too many of our best plans are in the hands of those who have not experienced an inner growth. And yet that process must mean an adherence to an outer standard, and where is it to be found? Not in the fleeting philosophies that have troubled the dreams of many generations—and that includes, by the way, the school of Karl Marx, to which Mr. Mumford devotes an effectual analysis. All these lights have failed, faith also has failed, and Mr. Mumford leaves man to his own breast with no outside guide whatever.

Rut to one who disagrees with that conclusion because he feels that man cannot live without a rule of conduct, Miss Stapleton’s modest little treatise offers a standard of respectable antiquity. Her monograph, “Justice and World Society,” develops the history of an universal norm that is called the Law of Nature, or natural law. The idea goes back to the Stoics, but it became part of Roman law and custom; thus it was inherent in Western civilization, and it is firmly imbedded in our Anglo-American way of legal thinking. So venerable is the law of nature in our own world, and yet so lively, that it appeared in our first treatise on constitutional restraints, the “In Praise of the Laws of England,” of Sir John Fortescue (circa 1469), and the present century has witnessed a new discussion of this ethic in the works of such jurists as Sir Frederick Pollock and Dr. Roscoe Pound. Rut this guide for law and justice is not confined to our law or to any other system. Its universal appeal is such that the Church took it in when the Church first appeared; in later years it was to guide such diverse persons as John Locke, the Levellers, and Mr. Jefferson. They considered that “not only kings but legislatures, are to have limits on their action.” That is a principle of natural law, but there are others, all as simple as nursery maxims, yet binding everyone in conscience. Thus, so use your property as not to injure others, let the other side have a chance to be heard, do not defraud, and so on. The theory is that there is a common conscience in all men, and that they will recognize these rules in the daily doings of themselves and of their States.

But of course this simple idea was not to go without criticism, and it is to the history of these attacks that Miss Stapleton’s book is devoted. Thus, when a new world was opened by discovery, how could it be said that the savage shared in the aspirations of Cicero? Is it, then, true that all mankind was governed, instinctively, by an unwritten code of natural justice? Thus began the attack. On one flank it was led by the cult of the “noble savage”; but that failed to gain ground, because of its insipidity—think of “Paul et Virginie”! On the other wing, however, a more formidable effort was launched, and thus we are led to the sinister heights that are held by the Nazi ideology which challenges us. If “man is a natural history subject,” and responds to a biological approach without reference to ethical rules of conduct, then Natural Law goes out of the window, a totalitarian state is quite logical, and the inside few who rule it have nothing to answer for. Yet this biological theory, as Miss Stapleton shows, traces back through more than two centuries, and among its proponents, whether conscious of the fact or not, were not only Herder, but such naturalists as Buff on and Darwin.

With this background, let us look at Dr. Mannheim’s “Diagnosis of Our Time,” which is part of an International Library of Sociology and Social Reconstruction. And when we look, we can relax, because the “Diagnosis of Our Time” is not a diagnosis at all, nor is it anything else particularly, beyond a series of lectures where “planning” is discussed, without our being told just what particular plans are in view; nor are we instructed as to the technique of “planning,” if, indeed, there is such a technique. But after a struggle, I believe I get Dr. Mannheim’s point. It is that there must be a “planned society,” but with democratic control. That, apparently, is what we fought this war for.

We must accept the proposition, however, because nothing more pleasant is offered by way of choice, except a dictatorship. The latter, so Dr. Mannheim says, is the key of Communism as well as of Fascism. In their benevolence, 1 Marx and Lenin thought that a dictatorship was merely a temporary expedient which would disappear shortly after the citizens accepted communism; but they were wrong, so a perpetual dictatorship is what we must swallow, if we would like to be Communists, Nazis, or Fascists, indifferently. But is there no other way out of our troubles? Why certainly, says Dr. Mannheim; we can have a “planned society,” with democratic control. As ideals, we are offered a “spiritual unity,” and a “democratic pattern of planning for freedom.” This is “the Third Way,” Fascism and Communism being the other two; and it presents, of course, a “problem of power and social control,” which is just another way of saying the same thing. But to resolve this problem, Christianity is not much of a help. What is needed is a Youth Movement, and sociology must be given a large place in the curriculum of every secondary school as well as every college, no less than four courses being recommended. That leads to a discussion of “mass education and group analysis,” with reference to Freud, psychoanalysis, the defense mechanism, and neuroses of various types.

Just where that will take us I do not know. Sociology has its place in our own universities, but Dr. Mannheim wants more than that. He wants action, he wants planning and an exercise of the process that will use sociology only as a base. This strikes me as somewhat repellent. But there is one point in Dr. Mannheim’s thesis that will save us in spite of all. His book was addressed primarily to the British world, but in a special preface to this, the American edition, the author rightly concedes our fitness to receive his message because we share with England an “Anglo-Saxon pattern of democracy.” That is one statement, at least, with which we can feel at home. And then a point that is made, with respect to the English, also strikes a responsive chord. It is a concession, but it is important.

The concession is that the Englishman is a difficult subject because he “lives more in his institutions than in reflective thought,” and thus he is apt to muddle through rather than to plan—or have others plan for him. This fact, which Dr. Mannheim was not the first to discover, is also to be found in our own make-up, as some have learned to their cost who tried to ignore it. Undoubtedly, reforms come up over our horizon—that happens continually—and those that ripen into thoughtful action become accepted institutions. Thus, today no one in his senses would want to destroy the Securities and Exchange Act, any more than we would like to see the English repeal their excellent labor laws. Nor are these recent examples anything but a type of what has been happening through the ages. I will not mention Magna Charta, the Bill of Rights, or things like that, because those things are sometimes offensive to our own planners. But, as an example of pretty effective planning that ripened through the ages, I venture to refer to the control of national credit by putting up, or lowering, the rate of discount, and to the machinery whereby a market is created for government securities. Those devices originated, long ago, with the establishment of the Bank of England, and we put them into effect with the creation of our Federal Reserve system. That is a dry subject, of course, but it is no drier than Dr. Mannheim’s book.

Anyway, our “planning” with regard to banking and the control of securities took time, but that is our way of doing things. And I am afraid that this habit of cautious approach is so deeply rooted as to defy the suggestion that “planning,” or “social engineering,” to use Dr. Roscoe Pound’s phrase, can ever be exalted into a primary way of life for us. We can plan when occasion arises—look again, I say, at American and English legislation—but not many of us want to make a hobby of it, and those who do are apt to meet a bad end. Does not some one recall the days of the “Great Engineer,” whose thinking was to save us? And was there not afterwards a Brain Trust? Also, there are other planners, of later date but likewise in retirement, who may sometimes wish that they had served, with one half the zeal, their sense of humor before the latter atrophied, But putting all these books together, the general conclusion is that mankind has got into quite a mess. All three authors agree as to that; and so the question is, how are we to guard against such a condition arising again? Mr. Mumford’s conclusion, that the individual must build within himself anew, does not answer the question, where he will find straw for his bricks. Dr. Mannheim’s “planning” presupposes democratic agreement upon the ideas to which such plans are to be pointed. But the outside force, the primum mobile of all such endeavours—from whence is it to come if previous ideals have failed? The answer is an anarchy foreshadowing another Hitler, another Lenin, another Marx. That is a dismal conclusion, however; and so Miss Stapleton’s book is useful, because it suggests Natural Law as an anchor. There are others as well, I hope, but the present is no place to mention them.


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