Science and International Harmony (longer version)

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Science and International Harmony
by Carl Schurz
From Edward Livingston Youmans, ed. Herbert Spencer on the Americans and the Americans on Herbert Spencer. Being a full report of his interview, and of the proceedings at the farewell banquet of Nov. 9, 1882. New York: D. Appleton and Co. 1887. pp. 40-45. A shorter version appeared in a poorly documented clipping in the Papers of Carl Schurz in the Library of Congress.
REMARKS OF MR. SCHURZ.


Mr. Carl Schurz responded to the toast, “The progress of science tends to international harmony.” He said:

Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen: Two things which fell from the lips of the first two speakers struck me as remarkably pertinent to our present situation. One was the proverb of the Amazulus, quoted by our worthy chairman, that “a stuffed body sees not secret things”; and, great orator that he is, he did not fail to accompany the saying with the illustration of example. (Laughter.) The other was the remark which formed the text of the eloquent address of our honored guest, Mr. Spencer, that too great continuity and intensity of work, as observed in this country, will be apt to break down the best physical constitution; and I am exceedingly sorry to see that, in this respect, he himself appears more like an American than like an Englishman. (Great applause.) I sincerely hope that, when he returns to his country, he will permit his incessant labors for the benefit of humanity to be sometimes interrupted by due relaxation. (Applause.) Profiting from the wisdom we have listened to, I shall turn round the Amazulu proverb, and follow Mr. Spencer's impressive advice in saying that, in my opinion, and according to general experience, any serious effort at profound philosophical thought or scientific inquiry, immediately after a good dinner, must be injurious to a man's health. (Applause.) Considering that I have a family to support, and various other duties to perform, which make a vigorous physical condition desirable, I shall, whatever others may do, in this respect try to take care of myself. (Laughter.) Do not understand me, however, as meaning to discourage any one of you, gentlemen. Everybody must be left to be the judge of his own conduct, upon his own responsibility. Herbert Spencer never spoke a wiser word than when he said, “The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of their folly is fill the world with” — he bluntly said — “fools,” but I will only say, “with dyspeptic philosophers.” (Laughter and applause.) Leaving, therefore, the discussion of deep philosophical and scientific problems to others more reckless of their physical well-being, I shall prefer to call up some pleasant memories which this interesting occasion brings to my mind. Nineteen years ago, shortly after the battle of Missionary Ridge, and an expedition to Knoxville for the relief of Burnside, I was with my command in a winter camp near Chattanooga, where, for some time, our horses suffered so much from want of food that many of them died, and where we had, at times, not salt enough to make our meat and crackers palatable. But I had Herbert Spencer's “Social Statics,” with me, which, in the long winter nights in my tent, I read by the light of a tallow-candle, and in which I found at least an abundance of mental salt to make up for the painful absence of the material article. (Applause.) For the delightful luxury of thus enjoying quiet philosophical meditation at the hand of such a guide, in the midst of the scenes of war, I have been grateful to Mr. Spencer ever since. (Applause.) Moreover, it became perfectly clear to my mind that, if the Southern people had well studied and thoroughly digested that book, there would never have been any war for the preservation of slavery (applause) — and that, since they had not read and digested it, it was our bounden duty to hammer the first principles of the “Social Statics” — namely, that “every man has freedom to do all that he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man” — (applause) — into the slaveholders' heads to the best of our ability. This was done, and the effect was good. (Applause.) That first principle is now more and more generally understood in this country, and the more generally it is appreciated the less occasion there will be for ourselves and our descendants to study the “Social Statics” in a camp of war again. (Applause.)

As I am supposed to respond to a sentiment touching the influence of the progress of science on the intercourse of nations, I may say that it strikes me as a common-sense view of the matter — and, as you know, Mr. Chairman, common-sense is often the most deceptive disguise of ignorance (laughter) — that the effect of that progress upon the relations of different peoples is very much the same that it is upon the relations of different portions of one people, or of different individuals. I shall not disregard my own warning as to the overstraining of our mental faculties immediately after dinner when I lay down the proposition that — given a certain number of subjects of discussion between different nations, or different individuals — if the progress of science, or of philosophical enlightenment, increases the number of things upon which they agree, it reduces, in the same measure, the number of things upon which they disagree (laughter); and thus it carries them forward in the direction of general good understanding and harmony. (Laughter and applause.) And if that progress, as is likely to be the case, increases the number of subjects of discussion, and teaches us, at the same time, how to dispose of them by peaceful and amicable reasoning, it will, to that extent, prevent us from coming to blows. (Applause.) These propositions, although simple, seem to me conclusive, and I feel very much like claiming for them the right of original discovery. (Laughter.)

I take it, also, that the end of science and of philosophy is not merely to enlighten the minds, but also ultimately to influence the conduct, of men, and not only the conduct of a few, but the conduct of the many. And to that end it should make itself understood by the many. The direct effect upon mankind will grow in strength and extent as science and philosophy are popularized in the best sense of the term, and thereby become more cosmopolitan. (Applause.)

There was a time when the investigations of science and their results were kept in the possession of privileged orders or circles, and treated as profound mysteries which could not be exposed to the gaze and the understanding of the multitude without profanation and without endangering the fixed order of society. That time lies, fortunately, far behind us. But some of us can remember the day when philosophy and science were, by many at least, studiously clothed in the darkness of formidable terminologies and obscure forms of speech, which seemed to warn off all the uninitiated. It was here and there considered unprofessional, and it exposed the man of science and the philosopher to the charge superficiality, if he discussed scientific and philosophical subjects in a language easily intelligible to the rest of mankind. I know of works of that sort professedly written in German, but requiring translation into German almost as much as if they had been written in Sanskrit. (Laughter.) And of some works written in other languages the same might be said. They tell an anecdote of a great philosopher who, on his death-bed, complained that of all his pupils only one had understood him, and that one had decidedly misunderstood him. (Laughter.) How great the misfortune was has probably never been ascertained. Perhaps the loss caused by the misunderstanding was not without compensation, as I have been told of a philosophical book of the obscure kind which was translated from one language into another, and some of the original thoughts of which were rather improved by the mistakes of the intelligent translator. (Laughter.)

We may certainly congratulate ourselves upon the fact that in our days, among men of science and philosophers, a tendency has grown up to take the generality of intelligent mankind into their confidence by speaking to them in a human language; and also a tendency vastly to enlarge the range of their immediate usefulness by applying the truths discovered by them directly and practically to all the relations and problems of actual life. (Applause.) And surely it can not be said that, by thus being made popular and cosmopolitan, science and philosophy have lost in depth and become superficial. On the contrary, it is an unquestionable fact that the same period which is marked by the popularization of science and philosophy is equally remarkable for its wonderful fertility in scientific discovery, mechanical invention, and philosophical generalization of the highest value. (Applause.) We have gained in depth and surface at the same time. (Applause.) Nor is this at all surprising. For, the greater the number of minds that are reached by new ideas, the greater will be the quantity and variety of new intellectual forces that will be inspired and stimulated into creative activity. (Applause.)

I am confident, gentlemen, I express your sentiments as well as my own when I say that, in the man who tonight honors and delights us with his presence, we greet one of the greatest representatives of that democratic tendency (applause); one of the boldest leaders of that philosophy that bursts the bonds of the closet (applause); one of the foremost builders up of science in the largest sense by establishing the relations of facts (applause); the apostle of the principle of evolution, which Darwin showed in the diversity of organic life, but which Spencer unfolded as a universal law governing all physiological, mental, and social phenomena (applause); a hero of thought (great applause), devoting his powers and his life to the vindication of the divine right of science against the intolerant authority of traditional belief (applause); an indefatigable diver into the profoundest depths of ideas and things, who has also known how to bring the discovered treasures within the reach of every intelligent mind (applause), and who has thus become one of the great teachers, not merely of a school, but of civilized humanity. (Applause.)

Among us he has come in search of rest and recreation, and I trust it will be to him a cheering satisfaction to know that, far from being a stranger with us, he has even among this youngest and busiest and most nervous of peoples, multitudes of devoted pupils and admirers, of whom the friends here present are a respectful but only a feeble representation. (Applause.)

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923. It may be copyrighted outside the U.S. (see Help:Public domain).