Popular Science Monthly/Volume 87/September 1915/Science and Democracy
|SCIENCE AND DEMOCRACY|
By M. E. HAGGERTY
REVOLUTIONS are a part of our modern world. Men have come to look upon them as natural moments in national life. So much experience have the western nations had with social upheavals and the reversal of political practises that they have learned how to revolute without war or violence.
To many thoughtful men, we are now in the midst of such a peaceful revolution. In America, England, Germany, old ideals are being forsaken and settled institutions are submitted to a criticism that unsettles their foundations. Everywhere, in religion, politics, industry, education, there is the antithesis between conservative and radical, the latter bringing about the ears of the former a perfect storm of clamor and bewilderment. In America we incline to view the current tumult as the fallow ground out of which is to spring a new and better form of social organization. The evident unrest is but the symptom of fundamental changes going on. It indicates the recasting of our ideals into a new and larger program of democracy.
Clearly to apprehend the portent of our current confusion, one needs to look below the symptoms for the cause. The fires of significant revolution are never kindled on the surface. They smolder in secret places and in obscurity gather the strength which overturns existing institutions. The overt crisis comes finally as the breaking forth of a long suppressed flame. So was it in France in 1789; so was it in America in 1860; so was it in China in 1912. So is it in all our western world in this year of grace. Causally contributing to our present ferment there are doubtless numerous causes, but there is probably none more potent than the phenomenal growth of science in the past hundred years. If we are about to have a new democracy it is because science with a thousand charges has shattered old ideas and institutions into fragments and given in their stead the materials for new constructions.
Primary in this relation of science to democracy is the change which has been wrought in the economic status of the men who work with their hands. As not before in the history of mankind, laborers may have food, they may have schools, they may travel and wear good clothes; they may have household conveniences, baths and lighted rooms, unknown to kings and nobles of a century ago. In fifty years our civilization has changed from one of deficit to one of surplus and the specter of a near world famine has disappeared.
For a hundred years following 1798, men were taught that their welfare depended upon the limitation of the population. Malthus had pointed out that the produce of the world could be made to increase in but an arithmetical ratio, while the unrestrained human race was enlarging in a geometrical ratio. The economic deficit which the world faced at the beginning of the nineteenth century could on this theory only become greater and greater until the whole race of men would be struggling for the insufficient fruits of a niggard earth. But in the very hour when Malthus and John Stuart Mill were most orthodox the theory was being already discredited by a change in the world's production. From an earth which gave too little for the sustenance of her children we have come to a condition where men live in the midst of abundance. We are not so much troubled now by the scarcity of food as by its inadequate distribution. "For the first time in the history of civilization" writes Prince Kropotkin, "mankind has reached a point where the means of satisfying its needs are in excess of the needs themselves."
For untold generations, slaves and peasants and farmers had gotten with pain the barest subsistence from the soil, but, suddenly, as if by magic, two blades of grass began to grow where one had grown before and an acre which had yielded thirty bushels of corn began to give fifty and sixty and a hundred. The area for the cultivation of foods was widely extended by the development of the American continent and exploration and colonization in South America and Africa. New articles of food came into existence. Beets, hitherto but a food for cattle, began to give sugar, and tropical fruits, especially the banana, found their way to every market in the world. The tomato, long suspected of being poisonous and, down to the middle of the nineteenth century, distrusted as a possible forerunner of cancer, has become a food staple. The potato, unknown before the sixteenth century and at the beginning of the eighteenth regarded as a fit food only for swine and cattle, has assumed the place of chief economic importance among garden products. Twenty-five years ago the European crop of potatoes exceeded in value the entire wheat crop of the world. In the United States in 1912 the increase of potato production over the average of the preceding ten years was 100,000,000 bushels, an additional bushel for every person living within our borders.
A bit of statistics may emphasize the fact of our increasing surplus. The increase of rural population in the United States between 1900 and 1910 was 9 per cent. In the same period the production of wheat increased 31 per cent.; of corn 47 per cent.; of rice 82 per cent.; and the value of all farm property over 200 per cent. Paralleling the rapid advance in agricultural production has been the increase of mineral products. In the decade the production of copper increased 40 per cent; of zinc 7 per cent.; of iron 69 per cent.; of petroleum 131 per cent.; and of coal 140 per cent. At the same time, the products of manufacture increased far faster than the population. While the latter went forward 21 per cent., the former advanced 84 per cent. How directly this bears on living conditions appears in the fact that the manufacture of food products and textile articles constitute more than a third of the total and show an increase in ten years of 83 per cent. To see how manufacture tends toward the food surplus, one needs but to look at the grocer's shelves. There safely packed away in cans, bottles, cartons, are the seasonal surpluses of widely distant zones. Vegetables, fruits, fish, meats hide behind attractive covers and await the capricious appetites of purchasers. Here one sees also how transportation by rail and boat has eliminated zonal boundaries. Australia, South America, Europe, Asia, and the farthest corners of our own continent are here brought together. The typical American epicure knows no season and no territorial zone. On Christmas day he eats fruits his progenitor of a half century earlier could have had only in June, and in New York he pleases himself with foods available to his ancestors only after ten thousand miles of travel.
To think of a near world famine in the face of these modern wonders of production and distribution is to be disturbed by a dream. The world can now produce more than it can properly consume and the production is increasing at a faster rate than is the population. If there is still hunger in America, it is not due to the scantiness of food. It is due to the inequality of distribution, an inequality, however, that is not static or necessary. We can rest assured that as soon as society has partially recovered its feet after its headlong plunge into wealth, it will set itself to rights and care for every man as he needs. At the present time there are searching efforts being made to ascertain the adequate standard of living for men of various occupations. That that standard will be met out of society's rapidly accumulating surplus is as sure a conclusion as that the anti-toxin for infantile paralysis will be used when once it is discovered.
One of the surest indications of what this means for the laboring man is the steady increase of estimate of the salary necessary for efficient living. John Mitchell fixed it at $600 for cities of less than one hundred thousand population; Streightoff said $650; the New York State Conference of Charities and Corrections say $825 for a family of five, and the Bruères say $1,200 per annum is the minimum upon which a family of five can maintain an adequate degree of industrial efficiency. The fact that we have come to the place where such standards can be set is an augury of the future of our working people. Involuntary poverty is as sure of elimination as anything in human affairs can be. Time, struggle, courage, patience, individual sacrifice, intelligent handling of the growing surplus, will bring us the new day of economic freedom. With that will be established the real basis of a democratic society, a society in which there will be the possibility of individual distinction coincident with the improvement of the whole state, the two guaranteed by a government in which the sovereign is the whole population.
The period which has seen this reversal of economic conditions is likewise the century of greatest scientific advance. By 1800 Newton had established the law of gravitation; Harvey had discovered the circulation of the blood Linnaeus had developed a biological classification and nomenclature, Buffon had written fifteen volumes of natural history, feeling his way toward a theory of organic evolution, Cavendish had discovered hydrogen, and Priestley, oxygen, while Lavoisier had constructed a chemical nomenclature and discovered the composition of water; surgery had been practised by Hunter and Haller, and physiology and anatomy were subjects of study; Locke, Berkeley, Condillac had originated the doctrine of sensationalism in psychology, and Kant had completed Hume's theory of ideas by denying the possibility of knowing anything beyond the phenomenal world.
Released from the domination of false theology and bad metaphysics, the youthful sciences took mighty steps in the early years of the nineteenth century. Cuvier and Lamarck in biology, Young, La Place, Volta, and Carnot in physics, Dalton in chemistry, were followed a little later by Davy, Faraday, Arago, Ampère, Owen, and a vast army of lesser men. By the middle of the century the pendulum had swung heavily in the direction of biological ideas. Lyell announced the theory of the slow development of the structure of the earth's crust. Johannes Mueller had established the physico-chemical school of physiology, Agassiz had collected many of the facts pointing to the theory of evolution, and in 1859 Darwin published the "Origin of Species." Pasteur discovered the organism known as yeast and the relation of germs to putrefaction. In 1869 Lister announced his method of antiseptic surgery. Helmholtz had published his "Physiological Optics" in 1866, and in 1879 Wundt, his greatest pupil, had established the psychological laboratory in Leipzig, coincident with the beginnings of experimental psychology by James at Harvard. In the very closing years of the last century and the first decade of the present, physics, which in popular favor had suffered a temporary eclipse by biology and psychology, was revivified by the discoveries of Röntgen and Madame Curie, and now disports itself with a youthful exuberance suggestive of the renaissance, while chemistry and all the sciences allied to medicine engage men and money in a fabulous way. In the field of human affairs, we are attempting to apply the methods of science not only to health, but to education, to industry, and commerce, to marriage, religion and government.
To believe that the great economic change of the last one hundred years and the triumphant march of science have been merely coincident, but not causally connected, would be a great mistake. Without tracing in detail this causal sequence, one can get a vivid idea of the relation of the two phenomena by trying to imagine the result of eliminating science and its achievements from our modern life. Out go the electric light, the gas, the gasoline and the kerosene. Our world which now knows no night is plunged half its time into a darkness relieved only by the flicker of tallow candles and burning wood. The telegraph, telephone, and railroad which have shrivelled this earth into a mere fragment of its former size crumble into ashes, and San Francisco moves away from New York ten times farther than it now is. Ocean steamers become sail boats, distancing London from New York fifty, sixty, seventy days instead of six as at present. Instead of eating foods gathered from the ends of the earth, the average citizen is limited to the products of his own locality and to primitive methods of food preparation. Rapid communication between distant places becomes impossible; books and newspapers, few and expensive; common interests and understanding grow more difficult; illiteracy increases, suspicion arises, popular government over wide areas becomes impracticable, and our twentieth-century civilization a fool's dream.
The consequent shrinkage in the wealth of the world, would be enormous, our civilization of a surplus would become one of deficit, every class would suffer retrenchment, but most of all the workers, who, by reason of birth, tradition or other limitations, would feel most keenly the scantiness of the world's supply of material goods.
In this perspective we see how science has worked for the liberation of all classes of society. In the long process of civic emancipation it has finally opened the way for the rise of the man who works with his hands. Nor will the former masters of society be willing to cut short the beneficent results of science, for it adds to the pleasure and efficiency of the rich and high-born as well as of the poor. But it is to the common man that it means most, for it lifts him for the first time in history above the level of economic slavery. Regardless of all the theories of political science and philosophy, this economic liberation of the fourth estate is working toward the ultimate democratization of society with a force as irresistible as gravitation. It matters little what Bourbon statesmen or scholastics may think about ultimate democracy; it matters tremendously that science has made it possible.
The economic results of science are not its only bearings upon democratic tendencies. Equally important are the changes it has wrought upon the attitude which men take toward the world of things. The time was when it was regarded as the surest way to wisdom to retire from contact with the concrete world of change. Plato held that the supreme duty of man is to escape from the sensible world to the world of ideas. The supreme destiny of the philosopher and his fullest satisfactions are to be found in the life of contemplation, culminating in the vision of the good. The world evident to the senses, the world of observation was thus to be disregarded and neglected. It was instable, changing and altogether below the life of reason. Small need, therefore, to examine it, for through it one would never find the truth, the beauty, or the goodness so necessary for the happy soul.
How large a share this doctrine of Plato's may have had in thwarting the development of science in ancient Greece, it is difficult to see. Mr. Schiller thinks it was very great. There were glimmerings of science and the experimental study of nature in Plato's time. Man was recognized as a part of nature; dissections had been practised by the Pythagoreans; the experimental spirit had expressed itself in the attitude of physicians toward their patients; anatomical research had been extended to animals; the relation of the parts of the body to their functions were discovered; Democritus had glimpsed the essence of atomic physics and had practiced experimental demonstration in his teaching; the relativity of nature to human sensibilities was set forth by Protagorus and other Sophists, and attempts had been made by a score of thinkers to analyze the physical world. But it all came to naught. Through the long night between Democritus and Galileo these flickerings of science slumbered.
To the abortion of these scientific interests several causes probably contributed. But if all the others had been removed, the chief philosophy of the time would probably have prevented any wide application of students to the things of nature, for Plato was the one overpowering genius of his time. The dominance of the Greek philosophy down to modern times is coincident with the sleep of science.
To-day all this is changed; we seek the truth through analysis and mastery of the world of sensible observation. The air, the soil, the lightning, the slime, the refuse of the world, is yielding up the truth by which we live. Your earlier philosopher would escape from the sensuous world; the modern savant eagerly penetrates its depths, making his implements of research as he goes. Compare Thomas Aquinas in an age which rotted with physical uncleanness withdrawing from the world, exalting divine reason above natural reason and refusing the evidence of his natural reason in order to conserve a difficult faith, with Metchnikoff studying the embryology of sponges, the structure and digestion of polyps, and the blood of water fleas to discover the phagocytes, which mean so much for the preservation of human health and the extension of earthly life. To our scientific minds the slimiest, vilest bit of earth may have the truth we need and will hold it forever locked from him who merely sits and thinks. Because this is so, the whole world of matter has assumed a higher value in our thinking than in any age before. To this exaltation of material things all the advances in evolutionary biology and the studies in physiology and experimental psychology contribute. We see now as not before how much is man of a piece with nature, in his ancestry, in his composition and in his future. And we see that the world of matter in which he lives has much in common with himself. Not to escape this world, but to understand it; not to despise it, but to control it, is our modern aim.
In this altered view of the world and man's relation to it, the man who works with his hands has assumed a new status. Both he and his work are objects of general concern, and manual labor that is skilled takes on dignity and honor with the work of the laboratory. No man who has worked with his hands in any of our modern laboratories will long despise his neighbor whose handiwork is in a shop, or in the cab of a locomotive, grimy as that work may be. This world of ours is fast ceasing to be a world of privilege and war, as it long has been, and is becoming through and through a world of work. Faster than he likes the king is being replaced by the scholar, and the soldier is giving way to the engineer. The province of the priest is suffering encroachment by the physician, and the lawyer is having to recognize the contentions of the social worker. In a score of fields the privilege of dogmatism is being crushed by established facts, and the privilege of contempt must more and more disappear as we see how near akin are all the men who work. In the process of our civilization's making, we see that all who labor must share in the glory of the final achievement. In this new view both the worker and his work are lifted to a more elevated place in our view of things. We realize the human value of the work and we see that through his work the worker himself is made.
A third and more subtle relation between science and democracy consists in this, that they are both unwilling to close the books. Neither can accept a closed scheme of thought. Science can not abide a finished statement of the world; democracy refuses a static law. In the field of animal behavior it is a fundamental fact that the simpler the exciting situation, the more direct is the response. If there is but one thing to do there is but one needed reaction, but if there are two possibilities of behavior there arise conflict, hesitation and compromise. This condition, present as an elementary fact in the behavior of the lowest animal organisms, reaches up through the whole conduct of man, rendering his life a continual struggle to meet the conflicting and incompatible stimulations of his complex environment. The insistent demand for action leads a man to simplify his world as much as possible. Through a maze of facts and forces he seeks one unitary principle. Every complex situation must be simplified, reduced to its lowest terms. When we do this in chemistry we get the atom; in biology we get the cell; in ethics we get goodness; in religion we get faith.
Wherever men have been thoughtful they have tried to secure a simple unitary formula, not alone for the great departments of life, but for the universe as a whole, including the most distant times and spaces, grouping together into a single system the smallest particle of insensible sand and the most mighty divine being. The Weltanschauung, the total world view, the apparent multiplicity of phenomena lost in the unity of eternal forces, this has been the goal of philosophic thinking. The vision of such a picture stirs and satisfies the needs of men because it gives unity to the world and makes for comfortable thought and conduct. To see the completed picture and then deduce one's own relation to it, gives confidence and security amid confusion. But philosophic vision outruns the logic upon which it would rest, and when once a man has announced such a conception he is compelled to spend the remainder of his days constructing the logic to defend it.
The man who would paint a world picture or construct a closed system of thought finds little encouragement in science or among scientific men. The achievements of science have been in the direction of making the world more multifarious than it was. Instead of water we have hydrogen and oxygen, and instead of a human soul we have a streaming concourse of sensibilities, memories, impulses, thoughts, emotions and decisions. Immersed in the swarming concrete realities of nature, the scientist finds it difficult to discover the single unifying idea. Inasmuch as the progress of research is continually laying bare new realities, he refuses to conclude the case, for the evidence is not all in. He has, besides, a half belief that the most important witnesses may be still in waiting. The things which yet lie hidden may overturn his settled beliefs, as the theory of evolution and the discovery of radium have already done. To the uncovering of these hidden truths all the machinery of his craft is devoted. To enrich the already multitudinous world with discovery of as yet unknown facts and forces is his chief aim. Not that he does not feel the need of a unified world, but he deprecates a unity with half the world left out. The unity which he seeks must embrace it all. If existent he can not see it. If not existent, it may yet be achieved through his and others' labors.
So also it is with democracy. It holds itself ready to give due justice to hitherto neglected interests. For this reason it does not have the stability so advantageous to interests already recognized and established. If one wishes stable government, he can find it in monarchies better than in democracies. Until within the last short while the Chinese citizen knew far more definitely upon what to depend in the way of future wealth or public office than did the citizen of Ohio. The lineage of his parents and their wealth, and the inescapable doom of sex, prejudiced his whole future within very narrow and definite limitations. For four hundred years the firm grip of Manchurian power, abetted by a religion which emphasized the virtue of tradition and the established order, gave China a government which for stability has seldom been equaled. During the same period the more democratic western peoples have seen turbulence, transition, and constant shift and change of policies.
Nor is the democratic state always the most efficient state. Let the German emperor conceive that the future German Empire is dependent upon particular forms of education and particular humanitarian movements, and he can by virtue of his concentrated power effect the necessary changes in a brief time. The single man can move more swiftly to the achievement of a clearly conceived end than can a whole people be brought up in response to the prophet's vision. It is because of this that Germany in a generation has accomplished industrial, educational, and social changes which would have required much longer if they had been the work of the whole population of the German Empire.
But whatever sacrifice of stability and efficiency must be made the democrat is willing to make in the interest of a larger end. That end is the possibility of forcing to the front interests which the existing government does not recognize. If he wishes to add to his governmental machinery a new instrument, such as preferential primaries, the income tax or universal suffrage, he does not want the way too effectually blocked. Just as men in the sphere of thought refuse to construct a closed system, so do they in the field of government refuse to make their laws and constitutions too rigid, or their public officers too secure in their positions. They want their government fluid and responsive to change, for the moral issues of life are as surely in a process of development as are the intellectual ones. To fix a government on the basis of the moral ideas of 1789 is as repugnant to the man who thinks as to write a natural history in the year 1913 with the theory of evolution left out. Just as certainly as the century has widened our vision of the world of matter, it has also brought to light moral facts, and problems unknown to the framers of the American constitution. In order that these newer living issues may have their day in court, the democrat is willing to tolerate a less fixed and stable government than is your cavalier, your tory, your man of comfortable surroundings who doesn't like to be disturbed.
Further, we are coming to see that the flexible government is not dangerous, that we may move on to a larger justice easily and smoothly without imperiling the goods we already have. That this new vision is becoming real to us is due to two causes. One of these is our experience in undergoing political changes; the other is our experience with science. Science is not destroyed by new discoveries and inventions. Radium and bacteria may alter certain highly important hypotheses, but they do not destroy our faith in science or make it a less serviceable instrument to men. It has become quite a matter of course to expect revolutionizing discoveries, and science is at heart disposed to readjustment and revision. This attitude has taken hold of the general social mind through the popularization of science, and society at large has acquired a faith in a mobile, growing body of truth. It is probably true that twentieth-century society has no more vital faith than this, and it would be strange if it had not affected our ideas of government and politics.
For the infusion of scientific conceptions into other fields of thought we are not without splendid precedent. President Wilson has shown how the American constitution was a reflection of the prevailing Newtonian physics, and all of us know how thoroughly the concept of evolution has interwoven itself into every specialized department of modern thought. In like manner, the growing receptivity of men's minds to new interests in society, to the rights of the laboring classes, to the claims of dependent peoples, to the widening interests of women and children, has been greatly accelerated by the diffusion of science and scientific ways of thinking. Men have become accustomed to changing their minds, to having their beliefs unsettled, to feeling the good that comes with a new order of things.
Finally, and in the most subtly penetrative way, the kinship of science and democracy appears in their attitude toward the future. To both, the present is but a cross section of an advancing stream whose source is in a distant and indefinite past, whose current has gathered momentum in its progress hitherward and which is pouring itself into the future with a rapidly accelerating force. To neither is the past of this stream so interesting or important as its future, and the present is but a point of vantage for the movement forward. There is a type of mind to whom this way of thinking is difficult or even offensive. To it the good things were the possession of former peoples, and to those earlier wisdoms and virtues the modern reprobate may hardly attain. Such is the theological mind, whose vision of the truth is a distant and completed revelation; such is the legal mind which judges a current moral problem wholly by the legal precedents. The one hallows the ten commandments; the other glorifies the constitution. Of such mind are we all when we uncritically accept the conventions of our group or yield thoughtless obedience to the traditions of our race. To capitulate to custom or resign ourselves to habit is to accept the past as virtuous and final.
Against this view of the world both science and democracy resolutely oppose an exuberant faith. The bulk of men is wiser and better than it has ever been; it can be infinitely better and wiser than it is. The critics of science have gratified themselves in pointing out the limitations of its method. But science replies by pushing those limitations further back. The whole achievement of experimental psychology has been made against the settled belief on the part of many that it could not be done. Twenty years ago it seemed that physics had finished its task. There was then a pessimistic feeling that all the interesting things had been discovered. To-day men are undertaking experiments that would have been thought fantastic at that time, and the undiscovered territory seems greater than ever. They said we could not fly, but Professor Langley and the Wright Brothers did it. They said you can not predict the weather, but we can tell it a week ahead of time. Once it was thought a miracle to cure the blind, but now we do it every day. Once disease was regarded as the visitation of an offended god, but to-day we meet it and destroy it with the instruments of science. Once insanity was the evidence of evil spirits, but to-day the legion of devils is put to flight by medicine and psychology. Once marriage was regarded as a holy ordinance to be approached in the spirit of religious humility; to-day its holiness depends in part upon its religious sanctions; it also depends upon its effects upon possible posterity as these are indicated by biology and pathology.
Nor is your individual scientist confused or disheartened when you point out to him how science fails in hosts of cases. He knows that aviators fall, that the weather does not turn out as predicted, that there are far more diseases for which we do not know the cure than there are of those for which we have an antitoxin, that there are forms of insanity that are supposedly incurable, that we do not know all the laws of heredity, that the subtle processes of human thinking and education are baffling to our present psychological methods. But he is not a pessimist. He is one of an advancing army, and he believes that all about him there are the solid achievements of the campaign; points have been taken and citadels have been established back of which the forces of science will never need to retreat. That many of the supposed conquests of science have been found unsound and that the still unpossessed territory is inimitably greater than that already gained is but a challenge to his courage and his resources. To the truly scientific spirit science is in part an achievement; in a larger sense it is a hope, an aspiration, a kind of intellectual idealism. As prophecy it is more convincing than revelation; as a field for constructive imagination it is as interesting as poetry or music.
This also is the spirit of democracy. If one insists on regarding society as a completed thing, then it must be admitted that democracy does not justify itself. It has never yet established on a lasting basis that thoroughgoing equality of which it dreams. The so-called democracy of Greece was admittedly founded upon the institution of slavery; that of England rests upon an economic submergence of large masses of its people, and in our own country privilege in business, politics, education and religion, with the consequent corruption of society and abortion of justice mocks our praise of democracy even while we make it. Our enemies need but to uncover the facts to lay bare a frightful indictment of our claim that democracy is the best form of social organization. City councils bought with money, weak and incompetent mayors, police forces subdued by threats or seduced by gifts, legislatures the willing servants of men who want the law shaped for their private gain, governors caught in the clutches of the party machine and unable to perform their sworn duty as executors of the law, seats in the senate bought with money or the promises of preferment, retired congressmen delivering their information acquired in the public service to private wealth for private ends, public courts shaping their procedure so that the man of means has an advantage over the poor man in the administration of justice, the supreme court of the land erecting itself into a law-making body through constitutional interpretation and thereby overriding the wishes of the people as expressed through their legislatures; four million laboring men subsisting on incomes below the level of a living wage; children sacrificed to factory labor; women unable to secure from state legislatures labor conditions comparable to those of men; the dispensation of religion administered in such a way as to make the rich comfortable and stupid, the poor indifferent or bitter, and the thoughtful anti-ecclesiastic; education for the professional classes but little for laborers; palaces and leisure for the rich and hovels and drudgery for the poor these are the facts flaunted before us in this most democratic country in the world.
But the real democrat is not disheartened by the hideous picture. He sees all this and he sees beyond it. In the presence of many failures he discerns one success, and to him that success is the important thing. You show him a score of corrupted cities, and beyond them he sees Cleveland with its new charter; you show him the terrible conditions of the textile and steel workers and he thinks of the workmen's compensation and state insurance laws; you show him a score of state governors subservient to the pressure of wealth and he recalls Johnson and La Follette; you show him failures in government ownership and he thinks of the post office and Panama Canal; you talk of aristocratic churches and he remembers the Salvation Army and the institutional church; you mention subsidized education, and he thinks of the state university; you recount the multitudinous cases where the popular suffrage fails to select men of learning and character and he thinks of Hughes, Roosevelt and Wilson.
That the upward strivings of democracy should have issued in innumerable abortions of social ideals is what on his theory was to have been expected. That these same strivings should have brought to maturity one well-born child of promise is much more significant, for it is the augury of the future. Not the level of his attainment but the direction of his going, concerns him most. His faith in democracy is not a doctrine of comfort; it is one of effort; he believes not so much in something attained as in something attainable. It is not something to be preserved, but something to be achieved. Just as science is an intellectual aspiration, democracy is a moral aspiration. Together they constitute an idealism toward which the will to live strives with an ever-increasing measure of success. To get the tinge of this idealism is to have one's fragmentary work become more vital. The isolated research and the little extension of justice in the affairs of men become significant by their association with larger movements. These in turn grow weighty with the wider purposes of many men and distant times.
In the realist sense, therefore, our modern life is typified by the twin movements of science and democracy. To our aspirations they give hope; to their achievement they solicit all that is vital and generous in men. They front the future not with the fatalistic view that somehow all will turn out well, but with the settled faith that that future will be made by what men do. Both are militant movements. They set a world of problems still unsolved and lay upon men the obligation to find the way. In their behalf they enlist a number of social forces, but to be the leader in their militant campaigns the call comes loudest to the university. Sad will it be if its ears are closed with selfish pursuits or its feet heavy with an unforgettable past.
- This paper was read to the Indiana University Chapter of Sigma XI, December 11, 1913, and subsequently to the Liberal Lecture League at Indianapolis. On superficial reading it may seem that some of its claims have been refuted by the present European war. To the writer it seems that the development of mankind is a deep movement in which the present war, terrible and reactionary as it is, is an episode. Its most harmful effect upon the march of civic emancipation will be the economic one, the destruction of the means of life. When the "glorious victory" shall have been won there will be less to eat than before. The "strong man" will get his disproportionate share, and the common men who are left in Europe will be hungry. They will be less aggressive than before, and the tide of economic liberation which was steadily rising in 1913 will be stayed. But a new generation will be born to try again the fight for freedom. Some day that fight will be really won and Europe will forget William III. and Nicholas II. as France has forgotten Napoleon and as we have forgotten George III. To the achievement of such oblivion science lends its indirect but powerful aid.