Civics: as Applied Sociology/Part 2/J—From "School" to "Cloister"
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The preceding view is, as yet, too purely determinist. The due place of ideals, individual and corporate, in their reaction upon the function and the structure of the city, and even upon its material environment, has next to be recognised. For where the town merely makes and fixes its industry and makes its corresponding schools, where its habits and customs become its laws, even its morality, the community, as we have just seen, sinks into routine, and therefore decay. To prevent this a twofold process of thought is ever necessary, critical and constructive. What are these? On the one hand, a continual and critical selection among the ideas derived from experience, and the formulation of these as Ideals: and further, the organisation of these into a larger and larger whole of thought; in fact, a Synthesis of a new kind. This critical spirit it is which produced the prophets of Israel, the questioning of Socrates, and so on, to the journalistic and other criticism of life to-day. The corresponding constructive endeavour is now no mere School of traditional learning or of useful information. It is one of science in a new and reorganised sense; one of philosophy also, one of ideals above all.
As from the Schools of the Law, as over against these, arise the prophets, so from the technical and applied sciences, the descriptive natural sciences, should arise the scientific thinkers, reinterpreting each his field of knowledge and giving us the pure sciences—pure geometry henceforth contrasted with mere land surveying, morphology with mere anatomy, and so on; while instead of the mere concrete encyclopædia from Pliny or Gesner to Diderot or Chambers, vast subjective reorganisations of knowledge, philosophic systems, now appear. Similarly, the mere observations of the senses and their records in memory become transformed into the images of the poet, the imagery too of the artist, for art proper is only thus born. That mere imitation of nature, which so commonly in the graphic arts (though happily but rarely in music) has been mistaken for art, thus modestly returns to its proper place—that of the iconography of descriptive science.
Thus from the Schools of all kinds of knowledge, past and present, we pass into the no less varied Cloisters of contemplation, meditation, imagination. With the historian we might explore the Cloisters of the past, built at one time from the current ideals of the Good, at another of the True, at another of the Beautiful; indeed, in widely varying measures and proportions from all of these. How far each of these now expresses the present, how far it may yet serve the future, is obviously a question of questions, yet for that very reason one exceeding our present limits. Enough if in city life the historic place of what is here generalised under this antique name of Cloister be here recognised; and in some measure the actual need, the potential place be recognised also. Here is the need and use, beyond the fundamental claims of the material life of the Town, and the everyday sanity of the Schools, with all their observations and information, their commonsense and experience, their customs and conventions, even their morals and their law, for a deeper ethical insight than any rule or precedent can afford, for a fuller and freer intellectual outlook than that which has been derived from any technical experience or empiric skill, for an imagery which is no mere review of the phantasmagoria of the senses. In our age of the multiplication and expansion of towns, of their enrichment and their impoverishment, of the multiplication and enrichment of schools also, it is well for the sociologist to read from history, as he then may more fully see also around him that it is ever some fresh combination of these threefold products of the Cloister—ideal theory, and imagery—emotional, intellectual, sensuous—which transforms the thought-world of its time.
The philosopher of old in his academic grove, his porch, the mediaeval monk within his studious cloister's pale, are thus more akin to the modern scientific thinker than he commonly realises—perhaps because he is still, for the most part, of the solitary individualism of the hermit of the Thebaid, of Diogenes in his tub. Assuredly, they are less removed in essential psychology than their derived fraternities, their respective novices and scholars, have often thought. It is thus no mere play of language which hands on from the one to the other the "travail de Bénédictin," though even here the phrase is inadequate savouring too much of the school, into which each cloister of every sort declines sooner or later, unless even worse befall.
The decay of the cloister, though thus on the one hand into and with the school, may also take place within itself, since imagination and ideal may be evil, and theory false. That examples of all these decays abound in the history of religion, of philosophy, of art also, is a commonplace needing no illustration. Nor should the modern investigator think his science or himself immune to the same or kindred germs in turn.