Reflections on Formative Influence
by Robbie McClintock
A work in progress. Started Spring 2011 as a series of lectures at Teachers College, Columbia University.
Henry Adams & The Education of Henry Adams
Ignorance and Education
My first semester at Columbia, I participated in a colloquium given by Henry Steele Commager on American intellectual history. Commager was a small, lively man who drew our reactions out well. I was reasonably diligent in preparing for class and remember speaking up quite a bit but feeling ill at ease, confronted by a disconcerting situation, my Jamesian, "age of innocence" moment.
Since the 2nd grade, I had gone to boy's schools and a man's college. During summers, I had met girls, but single-sex boarding schools made it hard to have either friends who were girls or a serious girlfriend. The summer before graduate school I had become engaged to be married to a student at Smith College. Sharing a narrow field of experience, she and I had grown close working at the same summer program in Switzerland for several years. We were still on the far side of the sexual revolution—the pill hit the market in 1960 and it took a few years for its cultural effects to take root. Oblivious to what we did not know, we shared our intellectual interests and a nervous erotic attraction. To me, this relationship was a special case. The life of the mind appeared to be a man's life, not from any conviction of male superiority—rather, to the degree that I had experienced it, the life of the mind seemed to occur in all male institutions.
In the fall of 1961, this appearance began to change for me, but not all that suddenly. Whether male or female, many beginning graduate students hold back in classroom discussions, accustomed to large undergraduate courses and uncertain about the sort of talk appropriate between a prestigious professor and a few graduate students. I went a bit against this pattern thanks to Princeton's precept system, small discussion groups in every course led by senior faculty members. So did one young woman in Commager's colloquium. By her appearance, short black hair, no make up, often lithe in a black leotard, I guessed she had gone to one of the good progressive colleges, like Sarah Lawrence. She always seemed to sit directly across the seminar table from me, and she too spoke up a lot, which was fortunate as it gave me a reason to look at her without seeming to stare too much.
A revelation, yes, but I found her thoroughly disconcerting. For the first time, I encountered a female peer in an academic setting. Engaged, confident about what she had to say, she voiced informed opinions in class about ideas, politics, and history that were clearly to the left of mine, which were moving a good deal more to the left than those passed to me by my origins. I wanted desperately to strike up a friendship, to get to know this revelation better. But I was thoroughly at a loss about what to do or how to do it. In that situation, on feeling a strong attraction to a woman, I could not form the distinction between initiating a meaningful friendship and starting a romantic entanglement. I did not want to disrupt my engagement and I did not understand my intent. There I sat, ignorant, marveling at the revelation across the table, never to speak to her outside of class nor to cross her path again.
From this experience, I became a settled opponent of single-sex education, especially for men. And with this experience in mind, perhaps it was natural that I should have written my paper for Commager's colloquium on Henry Adams. His great theme was the relation between ignorance and education. And the theme of ignorance and education marks him, I think, as the most important writer about education in the American tradition.
Adams 'Education was thoroughly Socratic, an examined life, even in the part of his life, a central one, that he left out of the reckoning—the 20 years of his marriage. We might speculate that this gap indicated the most overwhelming ignorance he felt had conditioned his education. By all accounts, the marriage of Henry and Clover united two highly talented, active members of the American elite. Clover had great creative abilities that Adams recognized and treasured. An excellent writer and an innovator in the art of photography, she became seriously depressed on her father's death. In the face of this depression, what could Adams have done? Was he too bound by what was comme il faut ? Did he know how to recognize and support her bringing her talents to bear in the world at large? Adams must have had an overwhelming ignorance about the world of emotions beneath the formalities of haut bourgeois life. He was ill-suited to launch into depth psychology, an American Freud, and willed to say nothing about Clover, her death, and his feelings—hence the famous 20-year gap in The Education of Henry Adams. But even without insight into all that pain, his reflections on the relation between ignorance and education remain profoundly important.
More than any other thinker that I know, Adams came to grips with the human importance of education. Most writers about education view it as something that humans do to and for others, educators acting with a sense of agency and an educational agenda of some sort. This view is deeply engrained in our ways of thinking. We might take as a characteristic example. Lawrence Cremin's definition informing his 3-volume study, American Education, in which many critics hold him to have used a dauntingly broad definition. It is worthwhile to reflect on it for a moment before considering what Adams did in The Education.
Lawrence A. Cremin. American Education: The Colonial Experience, 1607-1783 (New York: Harper & Row, 1970) p. xiii.
. . . I shall view education as the deliberate, systematic, and sustained effort to transmit or evoke knowledge, attitudes, values, skills, and sensibilities, a process that is more limited than what the anthropologist would term enculturation or the sociologist socialization, though obviously inclusive of some of the same elements. Education, defined thus, clearly produces outcomes in the lives of individuals, many of them discernible, though other phenomena, varying from politics to commerce to technology to earthquakes, may prove more influential at particular times and in particular instances. There are some who would consider all such phenomena educative, for they invariably shape men and affect their destinies; I myself find such a view so inclusive as to define nothing for the educational historian to study except "history in general," a concept with which I have always had a good deal of difficulty and which should not in any case be mistaken for the history of education.
Unlike Cremin, Adams did not define education in order to demarcate a domain of professional inquiry. For Adams education was the name for a necessary human function, in the same way that people speak of respiration, nutrition, locomotion, circulation, and so on. People begin to understand these functions and how they work by inquiring why they are necessary in the course of human life. Why do human beings require nutrition and how do they get it? Why do human beings require education and how do they get it? They require nutrition because at birth the umbilical symbiosis with the mother is cut and the physiology of self-maintenance, growth, and activity require sustenance ingested through suckling, drinking or eating. Starting from that recognition observers can build up an understanding of all sorts of ensuing functions from the mechanics of chewing and swallowing, the chemistry of digestion and absorption, to the mechanics of excretion. In the case of education, according to Adams, at birth, the human being is not only radically hungry, it is also radically ignorant, and as much as it needs nutrients, it needs those good things that Cremin enumerated—knowledge, attitudes, values, skills, and sensibilities—for the sake of survival and well-being. To live is to be ignorant and to struggle to overcome that condition sufficiently to survive, possibly to thrive.
Lawrence A. Cremin. American Education: The Metropolitan Experience, 1876-1980 (New York: Harper & Row, 1988) p. xiii. Here Henry didn't make the cut.
Established usage makes one want to say simply that initiative, control, and responsibility rest with the recipients of education, but such an expression would contradict what it is trying to say, for they are not the receivers, but rather the agents. Providers are merely the resources the the people educating use in coping with their ignorance.
Two further points relative to Cremin's definition help illuminate what is distinctive and important in Adams' ideas about education. The first of these concerns the source or locus of initiative, control, and responsibility. Modern culture has a strong tendency to locate these with the providers of education, not the recipients. Cremin and many other writers on education (although not, I think several in My Canon such as Ortega, Plato, Rousseau, Hegel) concentrated on education as a positive agency, ". . . the deliberate, systematic, and sustained effort to transmit or evoke . . ." all the sustaining cultural stuff. Later, at the prodding of the likes of me, he expanded the effort a bit "to transmit, evoke, or acquire." But the really relevant agent is not the one moving the positive goods, the "knowledge, attitudes, values, skills, and sensibilities, as well as any learning that results from that effort, direct or indirect, intended or unintended," as he put it in the final version. Rather, what drives education is the ignorance, the need that human being suffer on finding themselves in a complicated and difficult world. Initiative, control, and responsibility lie with those experiencing education, those coping with their own ignorance, engaged in recognizing it, assessing its implications, and actively working to diminish it.
Much of our thinking about education, and our practice of it, purveys all sorts of stuff with too much confidence that it will enable its recipients to overcome their substantial ignorance. Educators are too often like little children playing mud pies—"Yummy!" "Good!" "Wouldn't you like some more!"—only the children have enough sense not to eat them. Whether the proffered "knowledge, attitudes, values, skills, and sensibilities, as well as any learning that results," diminishes the ignorance from which a person will suffer in subsequent situations depends on the prospective life experience of that person. The measure of educating effort, coping with ignorance, turns out to have been what it purports to be depends on the character and import of the ignorance it seeks to assuage. Neither good nutrition nor good education results from stuffing a person with anything and everything that she can swallow—literally or figuratively. People educating could use much more insight into the cultural physiology of their ignorance. Adams addressed it.
Henry Adams was acutely aware that a great deal of what gets proffered in the pursuit of education does not diminish ignorance and often expands or accentuates it. He used himself as a litmus test. If anyone in his generation could have overcome their ignorance it was likely to have been him. He was very smart, wealthy, incredibly well-connected, hard-working, a serious person, impeccably schooled, a world traveler, a confidant of genial artists, powerful politicians, and savvy scientists. He spent his life in the systematic pursuit of education and did not brook much self-deception in the effort. He had the discipline to cut through his own complacencies and those of his time. If he had trouble overcoming his ignorance, few others, if anyone, were likely to do much better. And by normal assessments, Adams was supremely well-educated. He tried to show that the normal assessments were profoundly deceptive, themselves a source of dangerous ignorance—the belief that the wisdom of 1800 could suffice to manage the complexities of 1900. In reality, he and everyone else were failing in their pursuit of education.
Henry Adams and the Making of America by Garry Wills (New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 2005) renews appreciation of Adams' accomplishments as an historian of enduring importance.
Does it matter, one might ask, that Adams failed, in his odd view, in his pursuit of education? Indeed it does, Adams answered. Here we should attend to the second point relative to Cremin's reasoning about education. Adams was one of the great founders of the historical profession in the United States, but his sense of history went far beyond a professional commitment to writing it. He was acutely aware that he and everyone else lives in it.
Human beings are historical beings. Our historicity is the source of our ignorance. We are born into and dependent upon a complicated historical construction, at first utterly ignorant of what it is and how it works, having to develop a working diminution of that ignorance in order to survive and thrive, to form and fulfill our intentions. In Adams' view, historical catastrophes for persons, communities, nations, and whole civilizations have been real, sorely suffered experiences. For Adams, these catastrophes are what happens when the good stuff turns out to have been inadequate, deceptive, poorly mastered, when people turn out to have been ignorant about their ignorance. In historical catastrophes, history gives those engaged in "the deliberate, systematic, and sustained effort" the boot and takes over with a stern rod—learn by suffering the consequences or die.
Adams best statement of this sense of how education in history hurts, but by no means the only one, came at the end of his chapter on "Teason"—
The Education of Henry Adams, Chapter 7, (http://www.feedbooks.com), p. 89.
Not a man there knew what his task was to be, or was fitted for it; every one wihout exception, Northern or Southern, was to learn his business at the cost of the public. Lincoln, Seward, Sumner, and the rest, could give no help to the young man seeking education; they knew less than he; within six weeks they were all to be taught their duties by the uprising of such as he, and their education was to cost a million lives and ten thousand million dollars, more or less, North and South, before the country could recover its balance and movement.
By chronology and upbringing, Adams belonged to what the Austrian writer, Stephan Zweig, called The World of Yesterday, a relatively stable, pre-20th-century world in which people across many stations in life enjoyed a relatively high confidence that they could, through their deliberate, systematic, and sustained effort, overcome enough of their ignorance to come to grips, more or less, with the vicissitudes of their experience. But through serious reflection, Adams perceived the world of tomorrow. He sensed the passing of yesterday earlier than Zweig, marking its collapse with the Civil War, not World War I. And Adams was also far more analytical about the nature of the educational problem confronting people born into a historical world that had somehow gotten launched into a prolonged phase transition, shifting from a world of yesterday, to one of tomorrow. The world of tomorrow obeyed the law of acceleration. The problem of ignorance under the law of stability differed deeply from the challenge of ignorance under the law of acceleration. That was the change of phase.
Education, feedbook, p. 396.
The attempt of the American of 1800 to educate the American of 1900 had not often been surpassed for folly; and since 1800 the forces and their complications had increased a thousand times or more. The attempt of the American of 1900 to educate the American of 2000, must be even blinder than that of the Congressman of 1800, except so far as he had learned his ignorance.
Adams used chaos 60 times in the Education and complexity 22. As a benchmark, John Dewey did not use chaos in Democracy and Education and complexity twice. Readers will find Henry Adams, Novels • Mont Saint Michel • the Education (New York: The Library of Americ, 1983) to be a highly usable edition. All Adams work is widely available online.
Adams saw that the ignorance that people were vulnerable to in history, personally and collectively, was itself profoundly relative to history. The latter parts of The Education—supplemented by The Degradation of the Democratic Dogma, especially the long essay on "The Rule of Phase in History," anchored with Mont Saint Michel and Chartres as an historical baseline—are remarkably prescient anticipations of ideas about dynamic self-organization, chaos theory, and the problems of accelerating complexity in historical experience. He was alert to how uncontrolled changes in industry, technology, and science were driving changes in the demographic and material conditions of life that put great strains on the conduct of life by all persons, especially those in the leading elites, those who would exercise levers of rapidly mounting power about which they were increasingly ignorant. Catching up to a condition of relative equipoise would not be easy. The dynamo, the huge engines of an emerging electric age, fascinated and frightened him. He could plot curves of acceleration and the curves he plotted moved towards ever-increasing complexity at a mind-boggling rate. And given his views about ignorance and education, the boggled mind was not a comforting state.
In the fall of 1961, Adams struck me as setting an extremely important and difficult standard for someone embarking on a career in education. It seemed to me that the level of historical risk, and the evidence of a dangerous ignorance, was not anywhere at the point of intensity that Adams had witnessed in Washington 100 years earlier. But it seemed dangerously high, and the million lives and ten thousand million dollars, more or less, was perhaps modest should 20th-century events spin out of control. Adams set the standard it is imperative to meet: to understand real ignorance, to know what one does not know with sufficient acumen to remedy the deficiency, at least to the degree that a catastrophic pedagogy of events does not take over in the course of history, personal or collective. This imperative was being poorly met; historical suffering was doing too much teaching; and the threat of a disastrous intensification of historical education was far too high. Here are a few events listed for 1961 in Wikipedia—
- February 1—The United States launches its first test of the Minuteman I intercontinental ballistic missile.
- March 15—South Africa withdraws from the Commonwealth of Nations.
- April 11—The trial of Nazi Adolf Eichmann begins in Jerusalem.
- April 17 | The Bay of Pigs Invasion of Cuba begins; it fails by April 19.
- April 22—Algiers putsch: Four French generals who oppose de Gaulle's policies in Algeria fail in a coup attempt.
- May 4—U.S. Freedom Riders begin interstate bus rides to test the new U.S. Supreme Court integration decision.
- May 14—American civil rights movement: A Freedom Riders bus is fire-bombed near Anniston, Alabama and the civil rights protestors are beaten by an angry mob.
- August 13—Construction of the Berlin Wall begins, restricting movement between East Berlin and West Berlin and forming a clear boundary between West Germany and East Germany, Western Europe and Eastern Europe.
- September 28—A military coup in Damascus, Syria effectively ends the United Arab Republic, the union between Egypt and Syria.
- October 17—Paris massacre of 1961: French police in Paris attack about 30,000 protesting a curfew applied solely to Algerians. The official death toll is 3, but human rights groups claim 240 dead.
- October 27—A standoff between Soviet and American tanks in Berlin, Germany heightens Cold War tensions.
- October 30—Nuclear testing: The Soviet Union detonates a 58-megaton yield hydrogen bomb known as Tsar Bomba over Novaya Zemlya. It remains the largest ever man-made explosion.
- December 2—Cold War: In a nationally broadcast speech, Cuban leader Fidel Castro announces he is a Marxist-Leninist, and that Cuba will adopt socialism.
- December 11—The Vietnam War officially begins, as the first American helicopters arrive in Saigon along with 400 U.S. personnel.
- December 15—An Israeli war crimes tribunal sentences Adolf Eichmann to die for his part in The Holocaust.
Thankfully, 50 years later, we do not seem as close to the brink of Armageddon as we did then, despite the financial meltdown, egregious unemployment, and ever-greater fragility in countries long ruled by dead, repressive regimes in tension with a populace that seethes with discontent. But I am not sure how much comfort to take in that judgment. Can we cope with our ignorance? Are we wise to saddle our schools with educational expectations, missions, and responsibilities that they cannot possibly meet? Can we continue to imbue the brightest and most advantaged of our youth with an ethos of driving greed questing useless billions while the commonweal starves for resources and ordinary people slip into insecurity? Can we, over time, preserve sufficient public clarity when many powerful communicators serve their interests by propagating confusions, falsehoods, and resentments? To me, Henry Adams is still the most relevant and important of American educational thinkers.
A question of limits
My sense of urgency, and my sense of the historical importance of education, drawn from Henry Adams, and from Camus and Ortega as well, is evident in the excerpt from the draft of my MA thesis written in the winter and spring of 1962. Students starting on a Ph.D. in history had to submit a Masters essay at the end of our first year, which the Department would use to separate the few from the many. We were assigned to small seminars, intended to acquaint us with the nuts of bolts of writing history. I was part of a small batch of us, about ten, all recent graduates from college. We had a good deal of freedom to choose topics according to our interest, and I thought mine merited a lot of hard work. I would sit for hours in a cafeteria in Lerner Hall, then a good deal scruffier than now, reading and annotating a stash of documents with great care.
I had decided to write on changes in the language that prominent educators used in speaking about collective organizations, especially the nation, the public, the society. I thought there had been a growing proclivity to reify, to hypostatize these over the prior 200 years. People had come to think of them as self-subsistent entities with their own interests, morality, and goals, acting independently of living human beings. Such thinking struck me as rank mystification, resulting in very dangerous superstitions. These reifications risked legitimating absurd prospects, a nuclear Armageddon sacrificing millions of human lives for the survival of the nation, even merely for the advancement of the nation—nothing but an imagined construct of thought.
Now I look back and say that I had taken the "linguistic turn" well before those in the historical profession dreamed that a linguistic turn might be taken, a dangerous move for a beginning graduate student. I had spent six months in a detailed analysis of the language used in documents, dating from 1633 to 1948, collected in American Higher Education: A Documentary History, edited by Richard Hofstadter and Wilson Smith (2 vols., Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1961), which had just been published. I wrote up a close reading of the documents that I thought were the most revealing, showing changes in the use of abstract nouns and associated pronouns. The week before Spring vacation, we submitted our drafts to our seminar leader, a senior American historian. He would comment and return them in class after the break so that we could revise and submit our manuscripts to the department faculty for evaluation at the end of the semester.
According to plan, the day for feedback came, and one by one the professor returned the manuscripts, meting praise and criticism out in due measure for each—one, two, and on through nine of us, whereupon he declared the class ended. "But professor, you forgot me," I blurted out with a tremor. "Oh, yes . . . McClintock"—said with a tone and look that did not reassure—"I did not forget." He then reached down in his briefcase and pulled my manuscript out, holding it at a corner between thumb and forefinger, stretched away from him as if it were something soiled and smelly. I was sitting to his right and he swung his arm across the table and dropped my draft in front me, saying, "This is not history. When you decide you want to write history, perhaps you may come back and try again."
Here are the first two sections of the offending document. They are of interest here for they show a bit how in 1962 the work of Camus, Henry Adams, and José Ortega y Gasset was entering into the development of my concerns. . . .
The Development of Concepts of Association in American Educational Thought
Excerpt from a draft MA essay in history, submitted Spring 1962.
Not a man there knew what his task was to be, or was fitted for it; every one without exception, Northern or Southern, was to learn his business at the cost of the public. Lincoln, Seward, Sumner, and the rest, could give no help to the young man seeking education; they knew less than he; within six weeks they were all to be taught their duties by the uprising of such as he, and their education was to cost a million lives and ten thousand million dollars, more or less, North and South, before the country could recover its balance and movement.
The Education of Henry Adams
The Modern Library, New York. 1918, 1931. p. 109.
One: Murder and Education
The problem of life is death. And the problem of human life is murder. The difficulty of murder is not simple; has it been faced? Great energy is expended finding guilty murderers who are murdered by "society" in punishment. With greater energy mental expediencies are devised in the name of which vast numbers of people are killed. People kill people in war. It is not soldier killing soldier. No it is people killing people: men, women, and children.
D.H. Lawrence, Women in Love, Modern Library Edition, Random House, New York, 1950, p. 36.
But what has murder to do with education? To ask this is to ask why people kill people. As D.H. Lawrence pointed out every act of murder involves a murderer and a murderee. Both are implicated in the crime, the former positively, by committing the act, the latter negatively, by letting the act be committed.
I assume that people aspire to act rationally; that, if their acts are irrational, some devious twist of mind has convinced them of the rationality of the conventionally irrational. Given this assumption, it follows that people kill because they think it is right, and they must think it is right because of something they have learned. The murderer, somewhere in his personal history, has learned to kill. The murderee, in his, learned to be killed. Education, thus, becomes involved with murder in two ways: positively, we learn the symbols for which we kill in our educative experience; negatively, we fail to learn to put aright the dislocations that lead to death.
As long as the image of the "murderer" remains that of the unbalanced individual, the problem shall not be gripped. Murder, the intentional killing of a human being by another human being, is intimately involved with what is called society. In our world, today, multitudes starve in the midst of plenty while the engines of war expand. Now, men are murdering. And man murdering is common enough through the ages to discourage our glorification of any state of innocence. Education in the past has faltered in the struggle to avoid either positive or negative involvement in murder. The problem is not one of lost innocence and degraded standards. The problem is to face our condition. This confrontation shuns sentimentalizing the good society now past or the good society to be built. This confrontation admits that I am implicated in murder and asks why I murder and what I will do about the self-knowledge.
Through the ages the reason most murders are committed changes. This observation applies more to the positive reasons for murder than the negative ones. Man's limitations have always led to murder involving hungry, terrified, unbalanced, uncertain people. But the killings in the name of men's certainties have been the most repugnant. Here will and ineptitude, cruelty and pathos, horror and terror, seem to intensify: murder becomes a positive act, sometimes on a scale beyond comprehension. For most of the preceding 2000 years these positive reasons for murder have been variations on a single theme: religion. But in the last few centuries, these positive reasons have shifted to variations on the theme of politics.
An impression of the shift may be gained by a contrast of the Muslim wars of expansion, the Crusades, and the violence of the Counter Reformation, with the French and Russian revolutions, the Civil War, and World Wars I and II. Religion was central to the former group and peripheral to the latter. Politics was peripheral to the former and central to the latter.
Why do people kill for religion or politics? Because they think it is right and they think it is right because of something they have learned. That is, that religion or the political grouping is more important than the person. To die for God or to die for Country, Class (propertied or proletarian), or Culture becomes ones highest destiny. Here, education becomes positively involved in murder.
What has murder to do with education? Now, to ask this question is to ask how education is involved with concepts of political destiny which have so consistently led to people killing people in recent times. This is not a question of showing that in 1890 the Imperial Rescript on Education greatly intensified Japan's plunge into aggressive nationalism; nor of discovering and decrying tendencies to idealize American history in textbooks. Such occurrences undoubtedly have an effect, and they could be multiplied and expanded. But the problem of political destiny goes much deeper. It becomes necessary to confront the basic structure of our thought. Ortega y Gasset has described this purpose well:
José Ortega y Gasset, The Modern Theme, Harper Torchbook, New York, 1931, 1961. p. 11.
The explanation of a scientific system involves a further postulate: besides being true it must be understood. I am not for the moment referring to the difficulties imposed upon the mind by a scheme of abstract thought, especially if unprecedented, but to the comprehension of its fundamental tendency, of its ideological significance. I might almost say, of its physiognomy.
I shall search for the fundamental tendencies in the thought of certain educators. It is time to shift focus, away from the very general, towards the specific subjects I have chosen to examine. To begin with I shall take up a recent editorial in the New York Times. After this editorial I shall turn back 135 years to the Yale Report, once influential in higher education in the United States. Following this introduction to a contrast I shall study a series of educational thinkers: Francis Wayland, Horace Mann, Charles W. Elliott, John Dewey, Irving Babbitt, and Randolph Bourne, inquiring into the comparative physiognomy of their thought.
Professor's comment: "This is inappropriate as an introduction to a historical essay."
Two: A Contrast of Social Concepts
I asserted that the reason people kill changes; and that most modern murders were committed for reasons of political rather than religious destiny. Politics involves the common activities of people. Our term for it derives from the Greek word for city, polis. I think you will agree that political murder in modern times rarely involves a concrete dislike between the murderer and murderee. In political murder justification is derived from ideas held in common about common relationships in everyday life. Political murder involves city against city: it involves the clash of groupings, of communities. Because most murders are now political, the key areas in my confrontation will be ideas of the public, of society, of the nation, of the culture, of the community. I shall try to discover the fundamental tendency in the usages of these by the selected subjects.
In April 25, 1962 issue of the New York Times the editorial "In the Pursuit of Peace" appeared. The first third of this editorial summarized the events that led to president Kennedy's decision to resume atmospheric nuclear tests. In this part "we" was used once, with the meaning of "we, editors of the New York Times." In this part there was little that strikes one as extraordinary at a casual reading.
The remaining two thirds were introduced as follows:
Now it is more urgent than ever to explain once again to all humanity that the United States stands for a peaceful world ruled not by force, but by law, and that it has made innumerable efforts, sacrifices, and concessions to attain that goal.
The editorial staff of the New York Times (cir. 500,000+) were expounding "once again to all humanity" what "the United States stands for." In the remaining 12 sentences the editorial staff used "we," "us," and "our" 23 times. Their usage was precisely "we the people of the United States." Such a usage of "we" occurred in the Constitution only once and it was justified by requiring ratification by nine states and by expressly stating: "Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present. . . . In witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names, George Washington, President and deputy from Virginia. . . ."
The authors of "In the Pursuit of Peace" repeatedly spoke for we the people of the United States and refrained from subscribing their names to the document. While more thorough documentation may be necessary, I advance the generalization that glibness in reference to the body politic, the society, the nation has become more common feature of discussion and writing. The use of we the people, at least, appears to have changed. To start eliciting the significance of this, and other changes, I shall return temporarily to the modern act of murder.
Note from 2011: The OAS was a right-wing terrorist group in France wanting to prevent the French granting of independence to Algeria, up until 1962 a French colony. A close friend at Princeton wrote his senior thesis on the OAS and we had had several conversations about how it had operated.
Modern murders are committed for reasons of political destiny. I must take this further and observed the peculiar physiognomy of modern political murder. It is not enough to note, as is often done, that this is the century of total war. War has become social war: it is war of the society, by the society, and for the society—whatever that may be. Note the technique of air bombardment both sides used in World War II. It might justifiably be considered an attempt at applied sociological destruction, the wrenching loose of the fabric of society. Note that this was precisely the technique of the victors wherever they roamed. The enemy society was torn apart and replaced by one fashioned in the image of the victor. Note the technique of the Organisation Armée Secrète: random terror coupled with systematic sabotage of social services, the post, garbage collection, governmental records, communications, etc. The social role of guerrilla warfare can also be seen reflected in "Operation Sunrise" in South Vietnam where all Vietnamese in troubled areas are being resettled at gunpoint in specially designed villages in which security suspects are settled in the center of the villages while those of sure loyalty are located at the perimeter.
The role of the individual in 20th century political murder follows from the central place of society in this debacle. A warring society emphasizes the function a person performs, his docile submission to the higher expediencies of the social whole, and his reluctance to doubt socially symbolic characteristics on the basis of mere personal experience. In respective order, illustrative examples are: the terroristic technique fragmenting key urban occupation categories; 10 years of a peacetime draft with no significant dissent compared to the draft riots during the Civil War; and the techniques of brainwashing prisoners of war and [the use of] propaganda and counter-propaganda campaigns designed to weaken or preserve the conviction of soldiers and civilians. Keeping these characteristics of political murder in mind, let us return to "The Pursuit of Peace".
In issuing the orders to the Defense Department and Atomic Energy Commission, the President had to weigh the inexorable requirements of both national and free world defense against the many protests voiced not only by the Communists but also by neutralist statesmen, "peace marchers," and even United Nations Secretary General Thant. With deep reluctance and regret, which we share, he decided that our own and free world preservation demands the tests; and nobody who is not privy to the secret military and scientific considerations that went into the decision can gainsay it.
Everyone involved was described by his function. The requirements of national and free world defense were inexorable. The decision about free world strategy, based on secret information, was beyond debate of ordinary people. This physiognomy of thought corresponds remarkably with the nature of modern political murder. The person is reduced to his function in society. The social whole is the level of imperative concern. The symbolic characterization of this whole is maintained in spite of the realities of the actual situation.
An edited version of this is reprinted in Hofstadter and Smith, eds., American Higher Education: A Documentary History, Chicago, 1961, pp. 276-91. Page references to it will be given in parentheses in the text.
Such functionalism, fatalism, and phantasmagoria is not unique to this editorial in the New York Times. Rather it is a feature of our everyday speech. The editorial staff of the New York Times are well-educated individuals (excuse my functional identification, but they do not give their names) writing for a clientele of above-average intelligence. The implication is that we have learned to think easily and with confidence in these terms. But the public has not always had such a dominating usage in our intellectual heritage. What is now a pillar of imprecise usage, once, at least, was used much differently. I refer to the Yale Report of 1828.
The Yale Report expressed the philosophy of the traditional American college with its prescribed curriculum dominated by the classics. This exposition was influential over American higher education until after the Civil War. According to it, the purpose of Yale was to lay the foundation of a superior education. The prescribed curriculum was an intellectual expedient for attaining this goal. It best ministered to the psychology of mental faculties. It effectively disciplined the mind and gave the most valuable mental furnishings for those who would guide their lives with good sense and taste. While the intellectual resources available and those needed in living changed, the reporters felt that the prescribed curriculum had also changed. New sciences has been added to it. Expert judgment found the classics still of fundamental value. Prescription of studies, a careful planning of the intellectual experience as a whole, was the special feature of a college education. In respect to this point the concept of the public held by the reporters, President Day and Professor Kingsley, was explained.
It is said that the public now demand that the doors should be thrown open to all; that education ought to be so modified, and varied, as to adapt it to the exigencies of the country, and the prospects of different individuals; that the instruction given to those who are destined to be merchants, or manufacturers, or agriculturalists, should have a special reference to their respective professional pursuits.
The public are undoubtedly right. . . . And we rejoice at the prospect of ample provision for this purpose, in . . . the establishment of commercial high schools, gymnasia, lycea, agricultural seminaries, etc. But do the public insist, that every college shall become a high school, gymnasium, lyceum, and academy? . . . The college has its appropriate object, and they have theirs. . . . While an academy teaches a little of everything, the college, by directing its efforts to one uniform course, aims at doing its work with greater precision and economy of time. (pp. 285-86)
The word "public" was used as a plural noun. This emphatically placed the discussion of public interests on a plane different from that common today. Our indefinite, but monolithic "public interest" was not present. President Day admitted discussion of public interests only as special interests to which he could counterpose his special interest on an equal footing. Thus maintaining equal standing between Yale and the public, he stated that the college should define its aims regardless of the public strictures. He possessed special competence. But the public were interested in a little of every thing, owing to the multiplicity of interests among the public. Yale was interested in a special thing, a uniform course of instruction, to which it would devote its full efforts. Its distinctive program would appeal to a distinctive interest: those who wanted a superior education.
Not only did the Yale Report express a precise concept of the public. A concept of social action was at least implied. The authors asked whether merchants, manufacturers, and agriculturalists could derive no benefit from a Yale education. These were the men who were going to accumulate large estates by riding "the tide of prosperity." Given their increasing wealth "ought" they not be men of superior education, additions of "higher distinction" to their society? (pp. 287-88) This was asked rhetorically, implying the faith that the merchant, confronted by the question of what he ought to do, would answer that he should receive a superior Yale education and cease agitating for technical training.
There was, here, neither a feeling of helplessness, nor of social engineering. There was no effort to manipulate trends. There was no concept of an inexorable character of future society implicit in present society. The tide of prosperity would enrich many: let this be anticipated and acted upon by potential educators and students.
In Democracy and Education John Dewey observed:
John Dewey, Democracy and Education, Macmillan Paperbacks, New York 1960, 1944, 1961. pp. 282-3.
Science, adopting the methods of observation and experimentation, was to give up the attempt to "anticipate" nature—to impose preconceived notions upon her—and was to become her humble interpreter. In obeying nature intellectually, man would learn to command her practically.
This attitude towards opinion should be compared to that exemplified by the National Opinion Research Center which last year felt that 30 minutes of each of 30,000 college senior's time would suffice as a basis for a "major" study of the relation between college experiences and student's plans for later life.
The position in the Yale Report was pre-scientific in these terms. President Day tried to anticipate the workings of society by imposing preconceived notions upon it. For him society was not a thing with a nature: it was an association of particular men. The good additions to society were those of "large and liberal views," of "solid and elegant attainments, which will raise them to a higher distinction. . . ." (p. 288) The stature of society depended on the quality of its individual members. The individual, after college training, "when he comes to be engaged in the study of his profession, . . . may find his way through the maze, and firmly establish his own opinions, by taking days or weeks for the examination of each separate point."(p. 280) The implication was that the individual could control his own future, and by doing this he would control the future of society. It was not an easy course: it required self-discipline and this, therefore, was the central feature in the Yale education. This, supposedly, was the source of Yale's superiority.
In the Yale Report the public was composed of groups with special interests which each actively tried to further. The individual could make himself superior through discipline, followed by a careful forming of his opinion. The social future depended on the generation of high aspirations, lucid opinions, and a disciplined living by the present students. This educational philosophy has frequently been characterized as aristocratic. But Ortega y Gasset has advanced a different juxtaposition than the aristocratic and democratic man.
José Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses, W. W. Norton and Co.of, New York, 1932, 1937, p. 63.
Contrary to what is usually thought, it is the man of excellence, and not the common man who lives in essential servitude. Life has no savour for him unless he makes it consist in service to something transcendental. Hence he does not look upon the necessity of serving as an oppression. When, by chance, such necessity is lacking, he grows restless and invents some new standard, more difficult, more exigent, with which to coerce himself. This is life lived as a discipline—the noble life. Nobility is defined by the demands it makes upon us—by obligations, not by rights. Noblesse oblige.
Without agreeing with President Day's educational philosophy, we can note that he and his philosophy show characteristics of the noble life: "life lived as a discipline." Certainly the Yale idea was the discipline Day would follow; and its stated purpose was to discipline the student's mind. This service to clear thinking had its transcendental aspects as well. The man of superior education would not only continually transcend himself; but, by doing this, he would contribute to the social transcendence.
For me, then, nobility is synonymous with a life of effort, ever set on excelling oneself, in passing beyond what one is to what one sets up as a duty and an obligation. In this way the noble life stands opposed to the common or inert life, which reclines statically upon itself, condemned to perpetual immobility, unless an external force compels it to come out of itself. Hence we apply the term mass to this kind of man—not so much because of his multitude as because of his inertia. (p. 65)
Recall President Day's idea about education for merchants, manufacturers, and agriculturalists: since the tide of prosperity would enrich them, they should acquire a superior, rather than a technical, education so as to enhance opulence with elegance, dignity, and the potential of service. The appeal to the manufacturer was to overcome the inertia of being a manufacture and to pass beyond this by developing other qualities.
Earlier I quoted John Dewey to the effect that the scientist gave up the attempt to impose preconceived notions upon nature. The scientist "in obeying nature intellectually, . . . would learn to command her practically." I then observed that the Yale Report, with respect to society, was pre-scientific. It was pre-scientific in just those things in which it was noble. President Day refused to be society's "humble interpreter." He anticipated society, formed a discipline, and strove to fulfill it. On the one hand this was characteristic of the noble man. On the other, it was characteristic of the pre-scientific man.
This contrast relates to the editorial "In the Pursuit of Peace." The editorial extolled a heavy inertness in spite of the magnitude of events. The editorial opened with: "As the miracle . . . has failed to materialize. . . ." This set the tone of inexorable events carried out by vast abstractions of functions and forces. The very purpose of the piece was to preserve the inertness of the readers, to still dissent from an important decision.
The editorial expounded not only inertia. It exuded science in the sense of humbly interpreting events for their practical control. This "Pursuit of Peace" did nothing but observe, symbolize, order, and conclude. The product served only to enhance one current of thought while impeding another in the social audience; and, thus, it practically controlled the life of you and I to serve those national and free world interests, shrouded in miracles, secrets, and inexorable forces.
The contrast of public might be said to be the noble, pre-scientific public of 1828 compared to the inert, scientific mass of 1962. But deduce no golden age in the Yale Report. Its nobility and pre-scientific qualities qualities were by then anachronisms. Its roots were sunk in times when religious destiny was still supreme. Its surrounding ethos of religion was being challenged by that of politics. Napoleon had already risen and fallen. The Civil War was soon to descend upon the United States. The noble, pre-scientific public of the Yale Report were soon capable of developing symbols that justified murder. And events proved a vast lack of sufficient learning to put aright the dislocations that led to the Civil War. All this would be of interest, but I shall maintain the focus of my thought: the change in the fundamental tendency of American educational thought.