PART TWO: NEW PATTERNS OF THOUGHT

CHAPTER I

DISINTEGRATION AND REINTEGRATION

THE figures of the Gilded Age, colossal yet grotesque, belonged to an America that was passing. Another world of thought and experience was rising above the horizon-a world in which the divinities were science and the machine-that was to disintegrate the traditional society of the dispersion and reshape the plastic materials in new forms. The long tide that for two centuries and a half had been running out had come at last to the turn. For six generations the pattern of life had been woven by the impulse of dispersion that in scattering men along a wide frontier had disintegrated the philosophies and rejected the social order brought from the old world, transforming America into such a society of free men as the Enlightenment had dreamed of-decentralized, individualistic, democratic. Dispersion, disintegration, individual­ism, anarchism-such was the inevitable drift under the compul­sions of a fluid economics and frontier ways, of which the ultimate philosophical expression had been Thoreau at Walden Pond, discovering in his bean patch the same anarchistic principles that Godwin had learned of the French naturists-of which the prophet had been Walt Whitman, dreaming amidst the formless crowds of Manhattan his generous dreams of the democratic brotherhood­and of which Jay Gould the sordid wrecker in Wall Street was the prosaic reality.

Then had come the Industrial Revolution that in creating great cities and in drawing men from the plow to the machine was to undo in a few brief years the long work of the dispersion, repudiate the ideals of the Enlightenment, and provide a new pattern for a consolidating urban society. Thenceforward the drift was increas­ingly toward concentration, with its compulsions to reintegration and conformity-the imperious subjection of the individual to a standardizing order, the stripping away of the slack frontier free­doms in the routine of the factory, the substitution of the ideal of plutocracy for the ideal of Jacksonian democracy. And this revolutionary work of the machine was hastened by the new spirit of science that spread silently through the land, effecting a revolution in men's thinking as great as the machine was effecting in men's lives. Provincial America had been theological and political ­minded; but with the staying of the dispersion and the creation of an urban psychology, the ground was prepared for the reception of new philosophies that came from the contemplation of the laws of the material universe. The incoming of science had two immediate results: the application of technology to industry that was to further the Industrial Revolution; and the impact on speculative thought of the newly discovered laws of science that was to create a new philosophy. In the second of these twin influences lay an intellectual revolution that was to disintegrate the old theological cosmos, push far back the boundaries of space and time, reorient the mind towards all ultimate problems, and bring into question all the traditional faiths-political and social as well as theological and philosophical. Out of science was to come a new spirit of criticism and realism that was to set the pattern for later thought.

The story of disintegration and reintegration is a striking chapter in American life, a story that runs through two generations-the generation that came to maturity in the seventies, and the generation that came to maturity in the nineties. Between 1870 and 1900 the broad movement of thought passed through two sharply differentiating and contradictory phases: the exten­sion of the philosophy of the Enlightenment, and the final rejection of the Enlightenment in consequence of a more rigid application of the law of causality in the light of a mechanistic universe. During the seventies biological evolution was inter­preted in the light of earlier philosophies that had come out of the eighteenth century. It was reckoned a fulfillment and justi­fication of the ideals of the Enlightenment, sanctioning the doctrine of progress that had risen from the conception of human perfectibility by a teleological conception of cosmic progress, glorifying the ideal of democratic individualism, and putting the seal of scientific approval on the philosophy of anarchism that had been the flower of two and a half centuries of the dispersion. And then in the nineties the clouds drew over the brilliant Vic­torian skies. With the substitution of physics for biology came a more somber mood that was to put away the genial romanticism of Victorian evolution, substitute a mechanistic conception for the earlier teleological progress, and reshape its philosophy in harmony with a deterministic pessimism that denied purpose or plan in the changing universe of matter. It was an unconscious return to the dark spirit long before brought hither by Puritanism from the complexities of English society-the spirit that dominated Calvinistic dogma before it disintegrated in the freedoms made possible by the great dispersion.

The great changes came swiftly because the machine had made ready the soil. Farmers and bankers do not think alike; country and town create different psychologies. A simple, decentralized America had been content with theology and metaphysics, and the intellectual history of New England for two hundred and forty years is not greatly skimped by being compressed into three words, Calvinism, Unitarianism, Transcendentalism. What was true of New England was true of America generally, except for the lesser influence of metaphysics. So long as society was mainly agricultural-and in those portions where the frontier spirit lin­gered on into later days-the church would retain its dominant influence and theology would still bound men's thought. But with the revolutions in economics and industry, with the rise of an urban society, the mind of America was making ready for the reception of science and the realism that was eventually to spring from science.

Venturesome pioneers had been at work long before, digging about under the thick crust of theology. Even in theocratic Massachusetts Increase and Cotton Mather had professed a zeal for scientific investigation, and the latter was vastly proud of his membership in the Royal Society. In the eighteenth century Franklin and Rittenhouse and William Bartram were evidences of a new spirit, and at Yale College President Ezra Stiles made a small beginning of scientific study that was swept away by his successor Timothy Dwight. In the early decades of the nineteenth century an interest in science was spreading widely, as Silliman's Journal witnesses. Asa Gray, Le Conte, and Agassiz encouraged the general interest in geology, and in the sixties and seventies Lewis H. Morgan turned to anthropology and R. L. Dugdale stimulated sociology by his significant study of the Jukes family.

Our present concern, however, is not with the contributions of America to abstract science, but rather with the changing mental attitude that resulted from familiarity with scientific methods ­the shift from deductive reasoning to inductive investigation, with the consequent breakdown of theology and the slow drift from metaphysical idealism to scientific materialism; and such a changing attitude concerns us because of its enormous influence on the fabric of our later thinking, the total body of our intellectual and cultural life. Considered in this light the intellectual revolution that resulted when the mind of America, long shaped by theological dogmas, turned away from those dogmas to consider the new universe presented by science, cannot be made too much of. With the pushing out of the frontiers of space and time, the discovery of a vast impersonal cosmos that annihilated the petty egocentric world of good and evil postulated by the theologians, the substitution of universal energy for a beneficent providence, the conception of a ceaseless flux and flow that took no account of teleological ends, the assumption of universal law and universal causality, the mind of America quitted its quiet theological retreats and set forth on a great adventure that was to carry far and the results of which were to unsettle what before had been sure.

In this great work we have been engaged since European science first rose on our horizon a half-century and more ago. To speak exactly, it is not so much science that has taken possession of the mind, as certain postulates of science, certain philosophies presumably derived from science and justified by science, which we have felt bound to incorporate in our thinking as a hundred years before the conclusions of the Enlightenment had been incorporated. In that earlier philosophy of the Enlightenment the whole drift had been towards a dissolvent individualism, a disintegration of the earlier integration. In the new interpretation after 1870 the emphasis came to rest on the whole rather than the parts: in sociology, upon the historical growth of human societies; in biology, upon the evolution of the higher from lower forms. The individual, thus conceived of socially and politically, is no longer an isolated, self-determining entity, but a vehicle through which is carried the stream of life, with a past behind and a future before. He is a por­tion of the total scheme of things, tied by a thousand invisible threads to the encompassing whole. From the parts to the totality, from freedom to determinism-such has been the drift of thought that science has laid upon us and from which there is no easy escape.

With the advent of such a conception the long movement towards philosophical anarchism was brought to a stop. The integrating principle of unity must eventually shoulder aside the disintegrating principle of individualism; order must supersede willfulness. In the outcome a conception so coercive was to deny all the aspirations of our traditional social philosophy, surrendering society to a new regimentation and reducing the individual to an impotent victim of things as they are. Out of it was to spring the passionate protests of later rebels like Theodore Dreiser and Thorstein Veblen. Yet for the moment the rigid determinism of the premise was overlooked and man was accepted as the first-born and heir of God's benevo lent universe. In the seventies the new postulates of science were looked upon as no other than fresh sanctions for the Comtean principle of continuity-of evolution from lower to higher in biology, of growth and progress in sociology. It was this middle ground that Herbert Spencer came to occupy in the minds of his American disciples--holding to the older individualism with its implications of anarchism, yet creating a cosmic philosophy that foreshadowed the eventual dwarfing of the individual.

I

THE VICTORIAN MOOD

The sturdy optimism that was a genial hallmark of the Victorian, was erected on more substantial foundations than a middle-class prosperity arising out of the Industrial Revolution; it was founded on a systematic philosophy, built of excellent materials and laid up with nice mortar-work, to which many hands contributed and in the finality of which many minds believed. Its master idea was the conception of growth, a conception that by contrast with the ideal of the static of earlier times, was profoundly revolutionary. Perhaps the most stimulating suggestion that came out of the Enlightenment, it was evolved by Turgot in France and by Price and Priestley in England, from the psychology of John Locke. If the human mind at birth is an empty vessel, wanting in innate ideas and wait­ing to be filled by sense perceptions, or if-to accept the familiar figure-it is a clean slate on which the finger of experience writes what it will, then it follows from the philosophy of Locke that the shaping of the individual is determined by the environment that cradles him. It is not an unfolding from within but a molding from without. Hence the idea of growth, and hence the vast preoccupa­tion of the Enlightenment with sociology--or the science of environment--the hand of the sculptor that models the plastic clay. From such a conception the principle of progress was an inevitable de­duction.

1

SOCIOLOGY AND THE ENLIGHTENMENT

It is convenient, if not quite exact, to trace the rise of the new gospel to Condorcet, who in the midst of the Terror and whilst in hiding from the Jacobins, wrote his stimulating History of the Progress of the Human Mind1 a work that was early reprinted in America and profoundly influenced Jefferson, who professed to find its principles exemplified in the history of his native Virginia. Condorcet was a humane and liberal spirit, a mathematician, a physicist, a sociologist, one of those eager Revolutionary minds passionately devoted to the creation of a more generous social order; and his celebrated work deserves a distinguished place in the history of social thought. He begins as a good Lockean with the psychology of sense perception, on which he erects his entire superstructure. Here is his opening paragraph:

Man is born with the faculty of receiving sensations; of perceiving and distinguishing the simple sensations of which they are composed; of re­taining them, reproducing them, combining them; of comparing these combinations; of grasping what they have in common and what sets them apart; of fixing signs on all such objects in order to reproduce them more clearly and to facilitate new combinations.2

He then proceeds to trace the growth of the scientific attitude from the time of Bacon, till it culminated in the rise of social science, with the new politics of natural rights and the new conception of man as perfectible. It is commonly believed that the philosophers of the Enlightenment were speculative dreamers who created a fantastic natural man that flouted the sober realism of experience. Such a notion is grossly absurd. Condorcet was im­mersed in the scientific spirit of his age; it was to science that he looked for guidance and he had acquired a remarkable understanding of the data already gathered in western Europe. When he set down the following passages, therefore, he was writing not as a speculative dreamer, but as a sociologist who relied solely on scientific inquiry to find a way out of the social mess into which western civilization was plunged by the selfish stupidity of rulers who were hostile to scientific truth.

After long errors, after having lost their way in incomplete or vague theories, the publicists have finally come to recognize the true rights of man, to deduce them from this single truth, that he is a being endowed with sense perceptions (un être sensible), capable of shaping a train of reasoning (capable de former des raisonnements), and of acquiring moral ideas.3

Finally, we have seen a new doctrine appear. . . .It is that of the in­definite perfectibility of the human species, a doctrine of which Turgot, Price and Priestly, were the first and most distinguished apostles; it be­longs to the tenth epoch, in which we shall develop it broadly.4

In such passages is contained the kernel of Condorcet's philosophy, the grounds of that hope for human betterment which awakened his generous sympathies. The Esquisse is a noble contribution to the work which the heirs of the Enlightenment, from Turgot to Comte, so eagerly and hopefully engaged in-the work of tracing scientifically the changes of the past in order to forecast the path of the future. After dividing the history of social evolution into nine periods, Condorcet projects the outlines of the tenth which is still to come.

If man can predict, with almost complete assurance, the phenomena of which he knows the laws; if, while they are still unknown in him, from the experience of the past he can forecast, with much probability, the events of the future; why should one regard as a chimerical undertaking the attempt to trace with some likeness the picture of the future destiny of the human species, in accordance with the facts of its history (d'après les résultats de son histoire)? The sole ground of faith in the natural sciences is this idea, that the general laws, known or unknown, that rule the phenomena of the universe, are necessary and constant; and on what grounds would this principle be less true for the development of the intellectual and moral faculties of man, than for the other operations of nature? Finally, since opinions formed from the experience of the past, in matters of the same kind, are the sole rule of conduct for the wisest men, why should one deny the philosopher the right to rest his conjectures on the same base, provided he does not attribute to them a certainty beyond that which springs from the number, the constancy and the exactness of his observations?

Our hopes for the future state of the human species may be reduced to these three important points: the destruction of inequality between nations; the progress of equality amongst a common people; finally, the growth of man towards perfection (le perfectionnement réel de l'homme). May not all nations one day approach the state of civilization to which have arrived the most enlightened peoples, the freest, the most emanci­pated from prejudice, such as the French and the Anglo-Americans? The vast distance that divides these peoples from the servitude of nations subject to kings, from the barbarism of African tribes, from the ignorance of savages, must it not gradually disappear?5

Condorcet was an idealist, and the grand object towards which he was working was an adequate social philosophy that should interpret justly the evolution of civilization. True to the genius of the Enlightenment he believed that in reason and in the moral sense man possessed the keys to his own progress-that the general reason under the guidance of humane feeling must assure a progressive amelioration of life that will eventuate in the common well-being of men in a rational society. The age of the Enlightenment, he believed, had "opened new paths to the political and moral sciences," and laid bare what to him were "the true principles of social happiness." The American Federalists, who were prodigal of vituperative rhetoric in assailing all French theorists, might have read the pages of Condorcet with profit.

The idea of progress with its corollary of a philosophy of history, thus elaborated by Condorcet, was taken over by Saint-Simon, but came to its most elaborate expression in the work of Auguste Comte. The grandiose philosophy of history to which Comte gave the name of Positivism, was an attempt to formulate the law of progress in civilization; and his dynamic sociology, which emerged naturally from his conception of history, was an attempt to apply that law to society. That the principle of progress is the law of nature Comte professed to discover in the unity of all natural processes and the historical unfolding of all systems; there are no breaks and no fresh beginnings, but everywhere and always, continuity. From this principle emerged the Comtean law of historical evolution with its three phases: the theological, the metaphysical, and the scientific-industrial. If continuity is the law of nature, such continuity presupposes an objective-presumably benevolent; and in view of such continuity towards a benevolent objective, it is only logical to endeavor to dispose the forces of society in harmony with the teleological purpose, and through the application of positive knowledge hasten the advent of the Golden Age. Hence the grand science, hitherto neglected, is sociology. Earlier generations had placed the Golden Age in a dim past; Comtean philosophy, in harmony with the Enlighten­ment, placed it in the future as the ultimate goal of an evolving society. To forecast the lines along which such progress will move, to read the future as a child of the past, became therefore a prime objective of the new school of history. The tracing of social laws was the great business at hand, and as the founder of a new social science Comte carried further and systematized the work begun by the Physiocrats. Before Comte history had been little more than chronicles, without pattern or meaning, unconcerned with the sources of change and providing no basis for forecast; after Comte history became an interpretation and a philosophy.

One would have supposed that Positivism would have appealed to American intellectuals, as it appealed to liberal English thinkers like Mill and Spencer. Not only has the American mind taken kindly to sociology, but the history of America, as Woodbridge Riley has pointed out, offers too pat an illustration of the Comtean law of progress to be overlooked.6 The three centuries of American existence-the seventeenth with its theocracy, the eighteenth with its abstract theories of political rights and its faith in constitutions, and the nineteenth with its industrialism based on science-would seem to be pages out of the Positivist philosophy of history. That Comte made so slight an impression on the mind of New England was due, no doubt, to the current influence of transcendentalism with its metaphysical backgrounds. Although eager young intellectuals like John Fiske might accept it while awaiting a more adequate evolutionary philosophy, the country was not yet ripe for Positivism. When that time came it was Spencer rather than Comte who became the master of American intellectuals-Spencer and in a lesser degree John Stuart Mill. Both Spencer and Mill had come under the influence of the French sociological school, and it was through their writings that the new social philosophy penetrated America.7

2

BIOLOGY AND THE ENLIGHTENMENT

The appeal of Spencer to the generation born after the Civil War was extraordinary. Ardent young minds, for whom the candles of theology were burnt out and who were seeking new light to their feet, were drawn to him irresistibly. Young rebels who had thrown off the guidance of their elders and were bent on discovering fresh paths through the tangle of dead faiths-independent souls like Hamlin Garland and Jack London and Theodore Dreiser who were to become leaders of the realistic revolt against the genteel tradition in life and letters and faith-went to school to him to prepare themselves for the great work of freeing the American mind from the old theological inhibitions. Young men in colleges no longer read Butler's Analogy, as their fathers had done before the war, but turned with zest to Spencer's Data of Ethics to discover a more scientific theory of conduct. Everywhere the influence of the great Victorian penetrated, and wherever that influence spread the old theological prepossessions disintegrated. It is probably no exag­geration to say that Spencer laid out the broad highway over which American thought traveled in the later years of the century.

If the supreme excellence of Comte, as has been suggested by Lester F. Ward, was his insistence on the ultimate unity of all processes of nature,8 if before him the continuity of forces had been inadequately understood, his intellectual kinship with Spencer can­not fail to be remarked. The latter's master conception, which he arrived at independently of Darwin and which life-long he applied systematically to the several fields of thought, was the master creative conception of the nineteenth century-the conception of pervasive unity and organic growth. In his well-known phrase it was the law of continuous development from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous, from the simple to the complex; and this principle he found exemplified in the total history of nature and man. Here then is the Comtean law of continuity, but vastly strengthened and given a cosmic significance by deductions from the new science. Lamarck and Darwin laid the foundations for Spencer's philosophy, as Condorcet and Saint-Simon had provided the backgrounds for Comte. Trained thus in the new school of biology, Spencer erected his synthetic philosophy upon the broad­est foundations; the principle of organic evolution sufficed to ex­plain for him not only the history of civilization, but the total history of life in a physical universe; and biology, psychology, sociology, politics, ethics-all the congeries of ideals and institutions and bodies of knowledge that shape civilization-were but variant expressions of the development from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous.

The final effect of the synthetic philosophy was not to overset but to confirm the major postulates of the Enlightenment. In his social theory are unforeseen confirmations of the glowing hopes of Turgot and Condorcet. From his studies in biology Spencer had come to think primarily in terms of the individual, and only secondarily in terms of the species and the genus. Now variation is the mark of the individual, for strictly considered, nature knows no duplication of life forms, but always and everywhere individual differentiation; yet since likenesses are far greater and more cohesive than unlike­nesses, the instinct of gregariousness impels individuals to associate in ever larger groups, interacting through association and cooperation, whence arises a human society that tends continuously to pass from the simple to the complex. On these two major premises then-individual variation and the instinct of association-Spencer established his social and political theory; and when the elaborate data drawn from biology and ethnology and psychology are stripped away, the underlying conceptions reveal a curious likeness to the master principles of French romantic philosophy. This likeness becomes more striking as he explores the fields of sociology and politics; and his final deductions tally so closely with earlier theory as to warrant a disciple of Jefferson in becoming a disciple of Spencer.

There is no break between Condorcet and the synthetic philosophy. The great Victorian completed the work of the Enlightenment. In establishing his individualism on the principle of biological variation, Spencer was only restating in scientific terms the earlier metaphysical individualism; in establishing his psychology upon an unbroken sequence "from the simple reflex action by which an infant sucks, up to the elaborate reasoning of the adult man," with its corollary of continuously expanding powers, he was rebuilding on the foundation of Locke a fresh argument for the doctrine of indefinite development, or perfectibility; in establishing his sociology on the organic principle of "natural development," which shapes the individual to social ends, with an accruing wealth of individuation that is the final objective of true social life, he justi­fied the French enthusiasm for liberty as the great desideratum, but liberty enriched and augmented by association in a free society; and finally, in establishing his ethics on the principle that "increasing fullness of life is the `end' of evolution," and the "highest con­duct is that which conduces to the greatest length, breadth, and completeness of life"-that the ultimate criterion of social ethics is justice and that "every man is free to do that which he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man"-he rephrased the earlier . Godwinian principle that rational liberty under the reign of justice is the ultimate end of society.9

That Spencer's social theory should have been shot through with older ideals is not surprising when one considers his origins and training. Sprung from radical nonconformist stock, a congenital rebel, extraordinarily self-sufficient and coming to intellectual ma­turity in the tempestuous forties with their Benthamism, their Chartism, their exigent democracy, he was molded by forces that in large part were a reembodiment of the aspirations nullified by the Napoleonic wars and the Tory reaction, and now come again to birth. As a consequence his political theory, like Mill's, was deeply affected by the revolutionary heritage. He accepted the social contract as a "theoretical, though not a historical, basis of political authority and institutions";10 the doctrine of natural rights, which, with Jefferson, he interpreted in terms of the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and the theory of a constantly diminishing political state, on the hypothesis that the ultimate form of society-as in Godwin's Political Justice-will, be anarchistic.

At least, such he conceives to be the forecast suggested by the law of social evolution. As the coercive authority of the political state diminishes, its place will be supplied by the cohesive force of association, until voluntary cooperation extends to all the necessary functions of society; and since the state tends to disappear with the growth of a rational society, the great desideratum is an adequate sociology rather than a political theory. The net result, therefore, of Spencer's wide studies was a fresh justification, based on the findings of Victorian science, of the master principles of eighteenth-­century speculation; its individualism, its liberalism, its passion for justice, its love of liberty and distrust of every form of coercion. The power of the majority must be curbed equally with that of the minority and he concluded his The Man versus the State with the well-known words, "The function of Liberalism in the past was that of putting a limit to the powers of kings. The function of true Liberalism in the future will be that of putting a limit to the powers of Parliament." In the scientific speculations of the great Victorian the aspirations of romantic thought came to fresh vitality; embodied in a comprehensive evolutionary system they were given a fresh currency. Herbert Spencer completed the work begun by Locke a hundred and fifty years before, and his Synthetic Philos­ophy brought to conclusion the greatest intellectual movement of modern times.

As the young intellectuals, trained in the school of Spencer, looked out on the universe in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, they discovered, amid all its complexities an encompassing unity, a continuous growth, a creative purpose; and from such assumptions they justified the theory of progress, cosmic in scope and plan, that opened wide the doors to a vaster future. If in the backgrounds of their minds lurked the conception of determinism, it gave them no concern, for a benevolent determinism that shapes all things to a divine end, is no monster to be feared. In the evolu­tionary science were the grounds of a genial optimism that nothing could shake. If they had lost something of the jauntiness of the transcendental faith that beheld God plowing furrows at Brook Farm, they were armed with a scientific faith that by tapping stones and comparing fishes they should find His plan in an evolving series of life forms. Browning's Fra Lippo was a good Spencerian in his vigorous pronouncement:

This world's no blot for us,

Nor blank; it means intensely, and means good:

To find its meaning is my meat and drink.

That progress was the law of the universe was held to be axio­matic by the new evolutionary school, and the American read in the new philosophy an added confirmation of a prepossession common to all Americans since Franklin and Jefferson, and become the common faith after the War of 1812. In sober minds it led to a complete reshaping of the outlook upon life, and in unbalanced minds it ran riot in all sorts of blowsy enthusiasms. Freedom, love, benevolence, progress towards a millennial perfection-these were the clarion notes in a huge symphony in praise of human perfect­ibility that assaulted American ears in the Gilded Age. Not Henry Ward Beecher alone was the prophet of the new day. In the early seventies Mrs. Victoria Woodhull, one of the minor prophetesses, established a paper dedicated to the high end of "the Universal Religion of the Future . . . the Universal Home . . . the Universal Science, called Universology, based on the discovery and demon­stration of Universal Laws . . . and an accompanying Philosophy of Integralism "-the "organ of the most advanced thought and Purpose in the World . . . the Organ of Cardinary News . . . News of the Aspiration and Progression of Mankind toward Millen­nial Perfection." 11 By contrast with such rhythmic enthusiasms the familiar lines of Tennyson are sober prose.

Yet I doubt not thro' the ages one increasing purpose runs,

And the thoughts of men are widen'd with the process of the suns.

How logically to young intellectuals of the seventies it all followed from the premises! If man is a rational being, potentially excellent and capable of indefinite development, the idea of a humane and rational progress in civilization is an inevitable deduction; and the evolutionist above all men was certain to build into his philosophy the cardinal idea of a unified progress, but given a cosmic sweep, accepted as the master principle in all fields of the material and the spiritual. It was the law of life, as the static was the law of death. No thinker who had grasped the idea of organic growth, could escape its larger implications; and no student in the seventies could think seriously without coming upon it.

3

THE END OF THE HOPES OF THE ENLIGHTENMENT

Then a film of haze slowly gathered upon the face of the brilliant sun and the light of men's hopes grew dimmer. As physics en­croached upon the interest in biology, and leadership in speculation based on scientific findings passed from Spencer to Ernst Haeckel, young Americans of the next generation found the membership of the current philosophical trinity changed for them, and instead of unity, growth, purpose, they discovered unity, flux, chance. Purpose had disappeared from the grim face of the material universe, and they found themselves in the coils of a determinism that was more likely to prove malignant than benevolent. The idea of progress slipped quietly from their minds, and in its stead was only a meaningless and purposeless flux of things. But unity remained to bind the individual upon the whole and dwarf him to a pin-point in a vast macrocosm. The intellectual history of the last quarter of the nineteenth century-in America as well as elsewhere -in its teleological aspects is the history of the shift from the benevolent evolutionism of Spencer to the mechanistic materialism of Haeckel, with all the dislocations and readjustments involved in the cataclysmic change; and The Education of Henry Adams, that curiously suggestive study in disillusion, is saturated with the pessimism that followed upon the transition-a pessimism exuding from the contemplation of the bleak unity of a mechanistic universe. Of the earlier period before hope was gone, he wrote thus:

For the young men whose lives were cast in the generation between 1867 and igoo, Law should be Evolution from lower to higher, aggregation of the atom in the mass, concentration of multiplicity in unity, compulsion of anarchy in order; and he would force himself to follow wherever it led, though he should sacrifice five thousand millions more in money, and a million more lives.12

Was there purpose in it all? To this Adams and the younger men more and more declined to make answer. Yet this much is clear, for them the end of the theological age had come, and the end also of the great hopes of the Enlightenment. The idea of progress was given over henceforth to the middle class to become the plaything of material expansion.

II

THE SCHOOL OF SPENCER-JOHN FISKE

Of the distinguished group that labored to naturalize in America the philosophy of evolution John Fiske was the most authoritative spokesman. As a brilliant popularizer of the Synthetic Philosophy, and an historian who applied the Comtean law of continuity to the American past, he brought to the Gilded Age the revolutionary influence of English and French thought. Deeply immersed in Victorian speculation, he threw over his acquisitions the genial mood of his generation and infused the doctrines of evolutionary science with the spirit of religion. He reveled in the cosmic philosophy of Herbert Spencer, but within the material cosmos the scien­tists were revealing, controlling its eternal flux, he perceived a directing will that was shaping man's destiny to noble ends. New England scholarship had served God for too many generations to put aside its teleological prepossessions, and John Fiske was too completely New England to deny his spiritual obligations. The duty laid upon his conscience was plain. It was not enough to lay open to the New England mind the wealth of evolutionary science; he must justify its conclusions by binding them back upon the old faith and discover God revealed in biology as before he had been revealed in the Bible. And so in the heyday of Spencerian influence, before the bleak conception of a mechanistic universe had risen upon the horizon of men's thought to disperse the genial glow of optimism, this learned son of Connecticut was the prophet in America of the new order of thought.

John Fiske was a brilliant Yankee with a voracious appetite for ideas and a passion for cosmic syntheses. In certain respects he was the most richly endowed of the young students of his generation of Americans. Intellectually curious and acquisitive, he refused to be confined by orthodox fences but ranged far in pursuit of knowledge. The pale negations of the current New England theology, on which he had fed in his youth, soon lost their savor, and following his natural impulses he sought out the strongest food available. While still in his teens he had absorbed Emerson, Theodore Parker, and other New England radicals, and was reaching out for an ampler diet. That was in the late fifties, when a new cosmos was taking shape in men's minds and old faiths were disintegrating. The several rivulets of science-geology, zoology, chemistry, physics­that hitherto had followed diverse and vagrant courses, were slowly converging and making ready to mingle their waters in a vast common stream. Some further dredging needed to be done first, and on that great job Darwin had long been patiently engaged. It was a time of high hopes and young John Fiske, about to enter Harvard College, was not one to miss the significance of so great an awakening.

Amidst his quiet Connecticut lanes he had already been making his own discoveries. Although he had early gone through a form of conversion to dogmatic Calvinism he had not long been content with its arid provender, but turned to the English disciples of Positivism-George Henry Lewes, Buckle, Mill-and was absorbing Comte with the help of Voltaire and Goethe. In June, 1860, two months before taking his examinations for advanced standing at Harvard, he came upon a prospectus of Herbert Spencer's proposed system of philosophy, and this boy of eighteen was one of the first dozen Americans to subscribe to the undertaking. It was a golden day in his life, that was to determine his whole intellectual development. He became a devoted disciple of Spencer, dedicating his labors to the great cause of evolution. To that end he felt called to study prodigiously. As a Harvard undergraduate he found it difficult to treat his conventional instructors with due respect, for while his classmates were struggling with Greek roots he was ex­ploring the whole field of philology and rioting in Comtean sociology. Instead of exhausting his energies with the usual under­graduate themes, he wrote in his junior year, at the age of nineteen, a critical examination of Buckle's History of Civilization for the National Quarterly Review; and while preparing for his final exam­inations he wrote a learned article on "The Evolution of Language" that was accepted by The North American Review.

Such intellectual precocity, suggesting to timid souls a lack of respect for orthodox opinions, was not without its dangers. From his first entrance to Harvard he was marked by certain tutors as a dangerous influence. Positivism and evolution were in ill repute in the college circles, and he was eventually summoned before the faculty and admonished for undermining the faith of Harvard undergradugtes. Outside the college he was becoming known as the "young atheist of Cambridge." The reasons for such a reputation were quite sufficient to Unitarian dogmatists who had forgotten the cardinal principle of Unitarianism-the principle of devout free thought-for young John Fiske had already gathered a huge pile of combustible materials that threatened the established orthodoxy. Before entering Harvard he had planned to write a history of early Christianity, but his interest in science drew him into other fields­the new sociological interpretation of history that he discovered in Grote's History of Greece, and the broad field of scientific specula­tion that opened to him in Humboldt's Cosmos. To this latter field he turned greedily, reading amongst other works Cuvier's Regne Animal distribue d'apres son Organisation, Herschel's Outlines of Astronomy, Laplace's Systeme du Monde, Agassiz's Zoology and his Essay on the Classification of the Animal Kingdom (1857), and with the joy of a great discovery Darwin's Origin of Species(1859). From Agassiz's defense of special creation he dissented vigorously, and this dissent prepared him for an enthusiastic reception of Darwin's careful exposition. Certainly no other young student in America followed so closely or so intelligently the unfolding of the English school of evolutionary thought. In solid acquisition and in intellectual curiosity he was far in advance of Henry Adams, then a young diplomat in London.

Upon his graduation in 1863 he determined upon the law, read through the two-year course of the Harvard Law School in nine months, was admitted to the bar, waited two years for clients who never came, threw it over, and turned to his first love, the life of the scholar. He had his eye on a chair at Harvard, but so long as the old orthodox regime lasted no opening offered there. In the first year of President Eliot's administration (1869) an opportunity was provided and he was invited to give a course of lectures in Holden Chapel on the Positive Philosophy. The opposition was still too strong to permit the offer he sought-a chair in history-but he was eventually given a place as Assistant Librarian, where he spent five years amongst the books of Gore Hall. Driven to other means of support he turned to lecturing, was received with immense ap­plause in London, and thereafter to the end of his life he suffered much of his vast energy to drain off into that most fruitless of jobs for a creative mind. A certain genial egoism was to blame for his playing willingly the role of lackey to women's clubs. He liked to talk to sympathetic audiences, and he was greatly effective on the platform. The inevitable result was that he fell short in accomplish­ment of the fine promise of his early years. His style became diffuse, his materials picturesque rather than solid, his thinking flabby. Pretty much all his significant work was done before he was forty.

The greater part of Fiske's intellectual life, despite his later in­cursions into certain waste places of history, was dedicated to the indoctrination of the American people in the principle of evolution as that principle was outlined in Spencer's Synthetic Philosophy. He was a man of one idea, but that idea was so vast and germinal, so comprehensive in its implications and so constructive in its suggestions, as to set afoot the greatest intellectual revolution in western civilization. He called himself a philosopher, but he meant by the term not a metaphysician, but a cosmic historian whose business was to interpret the universe in the light of the great laws that science was revealing. By 1860 science had revealed three such general laws: the law of gravitation, the law of biological variation and the survival of the fittest, and the law of the conservation of energy; and from them Spencer had deduced the principle of a unitary cosmos, with a common force sustaining both the organic and the inorganic, working to a single "far-off divine event, to which the whole creation moves." An intimate friend of Fiske's, and an ardent Spencerian, puts the intellectual situation in these terms:

The conceptions of the Universe generally held at the time when Fiske was in college were fragmentary and chaotic, each phenomenon or each group of phenomena being, like language, a special creation of an anthropomorphic God, turning out different jobs piecemeal like a man. The con­ception of one power behind all had been a dream of not a few philosophers and poets, but as a fact comprehensible by the average mind, it was not known until the discovery about 1860 of the Conservation of Force. About the same time was discovered the unity of all organic life, in its descent from protoplasm, and the identity of its forces with those of the inorganic universe. The nebular cosmogony, the persistence of force and the bio­logic genesis, united together, showed the power evolving, sustaining and carrying on the entire universe known to us, to be one, and constantly acting in one unified process; and that every detail-from the most minute known to the chemist, physicist and biologist, up to the greatest known to the geologist and astronomer, and including all known to the psychologist, economist, and historian-was caused by a previous detail. It having been established that the same causes always produced the same results, these uniformities were recognized as Laws, and it was also recognized that conduct in conformity with these laws produced good, and conduct counter to them produced evil. . . .

These great discoveries were at once grasped by Fiske's great intelligence, and welcomed with enthusiasm. To their dissemination he mainly devoted his next twenty years, and to their illustration in the origins and foundation of our national commonwealth, the rest of his career.13

While still at Harvard, as a result of the publication of his two undergraduate essays already referred to, he was sought out by Edward L. Youmans and urged to join with him in spreading the new evolutionary philosophy.14 Youmans was an ardent proselytizer who had volunteered for the job of instructing the American people in the meaning of science. He attached himself to Spencer as spokesman and publicity agent, and was on the lookout for helpers. Encouraged thus by Youmans, Fiske threw himself impetuously into the work of furthering the new philosophy of evolution. As the task unfolded before his maturing mind it came to involve three major problems: to dissociate in the popular mind the potential theism of Spencer's First Principles from the material­ism of Comte's Positivism, with which it was widely confused; to elaborate the teleological implications of evolution and demon­strate that the grand objective of all natural processes was "the production of happiness, and that, despite occasional lapses, all records of them prove that, on the whole, they tend not only to produce happiness, but to increase it";15 and finally to apply the principles of the cosmic philosophy to historical writing and reveal how the law of evolution determines the forms of social institutions -to do more adequately in the field of American history what Buckle had tried to do in a larger field without the aid of evolution.

In all his intellectual interests and attitudes Fiske was a complete New England Victorian, but scarcely a British Victorian. In his erection of the doctrine of progress into a cosmic law, and in his resultant optimism, he was at one with Spencer and the English group. But he was a son of New England before he was an evolutionist, and although he had broken with the grotesque, anthropomorphic dogmas of Calvinism, he remained profoundly religious, and like Henry Drummond he sought to transfuse science with spiritual qualities. He was effectively a Unitarian, the leader of the Cambridge intellectuals who were carrying on the work that Theodore Parker would have done had he lived twenty years longer-the work of bridging the chasm between science and religion. To that end his vast concern with teleology-that God is the great wellspring out of which flows the unfolding cosmos, and that the unfolding is guided and controlled to beneficent ends. Natural law, working in a realm of causation, and shaping matter to forms more and more complex, to John Fiske was no other than the beneficent purpose known to theology as Divine Providence.

Pretty much all that he had to say on the question is contained in the four volumes of Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy, published when he was only thirty-two. Written with great enthusiasm and complete confidence, it was an attempt to summarize and restate the conception of cosmic evolution as Spencer had defined it in First Principles, and partly elaborated it in his Biology and Psychol­ogy. It was a timely presentation, and with its lucid exposition of the evidence drawn from the several fields of science it furthered the spread of the evolutionary philosophy. But it sought to do more. Not content with arraying in due order the scientific proofs of a vast unitary cosmos--as Spencer had done--Fiske essayed the role of apologist and supplemented the facts of science with ontological and teleological speculations. Whereas Spencer had remained agnostic, refusing to speculate on the unknowable, and clearly implying a deterministic cosmos, Fiske took high theistic ground, asserting that evolution implies the existence of a creative mind, vaster than the anthropomorphic conceptions of theology and far nobler, whose cosmic plan unfolding in the material uni­verse compels a belief in a benevolent God, and a belief also in the "eternal source of a moral law which is implicated with each action of our lives, and in obedience to which lies our only guarantee of the happiness which is incorruptible." And this "eternal Power, not ourselves, that makes for righteousness"-to use Arnold's phrase which Fiske was fond of quoting-is making also for altruism and the spirit of love that lies at the heart of Christianity; for is not the prolongation of infancy with its demands on altruism-a principle that was Fiske's contribution to evolution, of which he was justly proud-a master biological device for individual variation? In consequence the evolutionist becomes not only a theist, but a Christian in the truest meaning of the term. The fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man-to which New England Unitarianism had come to restrict its dogmas-are in reality "two great interrelated cosmic truths-the existence of righteousness as an active principle in the Infinite Power or Reality back of the cosmos, and its correlative manifestation in the altruistic consciousness of man."16

Such speculation concerning the unknowable exercised an in­creasing fascination for Fiske as his deeply religious nature slowly colored the acquisitions of the scientist, and in a succession of tracts--The Destiny of Man (1884), The Idea of God (1885), Through Nature to God (1899), and Life Everlasting (1900)--he definitely rejected the negative attitude of agnosticism that was a common mark of the English evolutionary school, and turned to outline the religious faith of an evolutionist. George Eliot's dictum that God is unknowable and immortality is unthinkable, was too thin a diet for his robust nature; instead he elaborated the argument that faith in God and immortality is reasonable in the light of the evolving cosmos that science was revealing. To John Fiske that cosmos was not bleak and impersonal, a vast congeries of physical forces that reduced man to the status of a flea on the epidermis of earth, but the expression rather of a benevolent will unfolding in accordance with a divine purpose. "The process of evolution is itself the working out of a mighty Teleology, of which our finite understandings can fathom but the scantiest rudiments." To Henry Holt this recovery of teleology was Fiske's great contribution to evolutionary thought.

He did more just there than any modern philosopher, perhaps than any philosopher, to show that this teleology is beneficent, and to restore in this way the attitude of mind which it may not yet be too late to call Faith in God and Immortality.17

No doubt it was due to such emphasis on the theistic implications of evolution that the doctrine was so quickly accepted in New Eng­land amongst the Unitarians and liberals; but for Fiske it marked the end of his intellectual leadership. After the battle had been won he turned away to engage in less fruitful activities, no longer followed keenly the new discoveries of science, and finally set himself to write the history of America. The venture on the whole was not fortunate. In his attempt to reinterpret the American past he suffered from grave handicaps, an inadequate knowledge and an inadequate philosophy. He was led into the field of history by his interest in the English school of Grote and Maine and Stubbs and Freeman, and his ultimate purpose was to present "the drama of American civilization, of which the political organization of the United States was the crowning feature, as an evolutionary development from antecedent causes and of great significance to the future civilization of the world." 18 But for this undertaking he was inadequately equipped and his conscious search for a Comtean continuity in social growth did him a real disservice. The economics of historical change he seems never to have considered, and his analyses of social forces are never acute or penetrating. Although he attempted to apply sociological evolution to history he was really little more than a political and military historian with a special fondness for wars and the details of battle strategy. In his first venture, American Political Ideas-written for his London lectures of 1880-he simplified American political develop­ment to two germinal ideas-the town meeting and the principle of federation, and these two conceptions he traces back to the Teutonic folkmote and the Teutonic principle of shire representation. The theme with which he deals is thus stated in the preface:

The government of the United States is not the result of special creation, but of evolution. As the town-meetings of New England are lineally descended from the village assemblies of the early Aryans; as our huge fed­eral union was long ago foreshadowed in the little leagues of Greek cities and Swiss cantons; so the great political problem which we are (thus far successfully) solving is the very same problem upon which all civilized peoples have been working ever since civilization began. How to insure peaceful concerted action throughout the Whole, without infringing upon local and individual freedom in the Parts,-this has ever been the chief aim of civilization, viewed on its political side; and we rate the failure or success of nations politically according to their failure or success in attaining this supreme end. When thus considered in the light of the com­parative method our American history acquires added dignity and inter­est, and a broad and rational basis is secured for the detailed treatment of political questions. 19

Only a New England historian could write so naively as that, for only to a New Englander does the town meeting become a germinal source of American democracy. Not a great historian, Fiske ceased to be in his wandering later years a great intellectual influence. The rare promise of his young manhood he never fulfilled, but like his generation he suffered his energies to be dissipated and he ended in a somewhat blowsy optimism. To Henry Holt he was a very great and learned man, but to a later generation it is difficult to make out his vast stature. Nevertheless as a purveyor of Victorian science to the American people he did a useful and important work.


1 The French title is, Esquisse d'un tableau historique des progres de l'esprit humain. See OEuvres, Vol. VI, Paris, 1847.
2 OEuvres, Vol. VI, p. 11, Paris, 1847.
3 Ibid., p. 176.
4 Ibid., Vol. VI, pp. 194-195.
5 Ibid., Dixieme Epoque, pp. 236-237.
6 American Thought, p. 172, New York, 1915.
7 Woodbridge Riley, American Thought, Chapter XI.
8 Ibid., p. 401.
9 For a brief exposition of Spencer's major ideas see, William Henry Hudson, " Herbert Spencer," in Philosophies Ancient and Modern, London, 1908.
10 William Archibald Dunning, A History of Political Theories from Rousseau to Spencer, New York, 1920, p. 400.
11 Quoted in Constance Mayfield Rourke, Trumpets of Jubilee, p. 201.
12 The Education of Henry Adams, p. 232.
13 Henry Holt, Garrulities of an Octogenarian Editor, with Other Essays somewhat Biographical and Autobiographical, Boston, 1923, pp. 327-328.
14 See John Spencer Clark, Life and Letters of John Fiske, Vol. 1, pp. 273-278.
15 Henry Holt, op. cit., p. 328.
16 John Spencer Clark, op. cit., Vol. II, p. 50.
17 Henry Holt, op. cit., p. 339.
18 John Spencer Clark, op. cit., Vol. 11, p. 456.
19 John Fiske, American Political Ideas, Preface, pp. 4-5.