This idea has an immense and explosive appeal to a certain type of intellectual. I do not, of course, imply that all persons of large intellectual calibre are seduced by this fuzzy philosophy. I do say that it is an occupational disease of intellectualism. Silicosis is an occupational disease of coal miners, but only a fraction of them succumb. It is probable that the vast majority of so-called intellectuals are well-balanced, sober-minded people who do their work with interest and satisfaction without any disturbance in their mental balance. One frustrating condition, of course, is the comparatively small financial return to workers in the field of the mind—teachers especially, as well as journalists and a large number of writers and run-of-the-mill scientists. There are among these persons a number who resent the disparity in the salary of the professor of philosophy or history compared with the unlearned member of the board of trustees or the school board who earns as much as half a dozen teachers put together. There is something wrong, they feel, in a society which pays $50,000 to a bank president and only six or seven thousand dollars to a professor of economics or English poetry.
There is another mental disturbance involved in this problem. It is sometimes the case that a gentleman who knows how to split an atom or even compose a majestic symphony or write a book of poems of passion, may suppose that he also knows how to construct a model society on some new and gentler plan—and rule it as well. One does not run into many authentic poets who assume that their peculiar power enables them to split the atom or even understand what it is. But as every man in a free society is a citizen, he is at liberty to suppose that the role of citizenship itself qualifies him to rule or, even more, to divert himself in the intoxicating pastime of social architecture.
There is nothing new in this. The dynamic appeal in this idea cannot be understood unless we realize that it is not new and that it antedates Marx by many centuries. The building and direction of the State throughout the ages has been considered a department of philosophy by the philosophers. It is a fact that all during human history, society has consisted of the herd and the shepherd—the masses, and the monarch and lords and warriors who understood the methods of acquiring power. The intellectual, if he was present, served the warrior. There were in most early civilized societies intellectuals who gagged at this rule of the knight and the soldier. Hence they dreamed of the perfect commonwealth where they would rule the herd. The herd would be better off, not because it acquired the right to rule itself, but because of the benevolent mastership of the philosophers.
The earliest evangelist of this school was Plato. He sketched in his Republic the outlines of the perfect planned society. There would be no private wealth. All would be rich since all would have an equal “allotment” of leisure, merry-making, visiting, drinking and begetting children. There would be the Workers who would produce, the Warriors who would defend the city and the Philosophers—the Guardians—who would “bear rule.” No inhabitant would take part in government until he was 35 or 40; and after 50 the more intelligent would be chosen as guardians and would occupy their time in philosophical studies. They would form a monastic order, live in seclusion and never touch silver or gold. The artisans would have no share in government because they could not become philosophers. Here, therefore, in the early years of the ancient world, was the dream of the Dictatorship of the Philosophers.
Perhaps the most famous of these mythical heavens was Sir Thomas More’s Utopia. More was a philosopher and a dreamer who went to the block because he refused to yield to the policies of Henry VIII after the monarch’s break with Rome. In his treatise, More introduced us to a mythical navigator, Raphael Hythloday, who discovered a fabled communist island society called Utopia. The people divided their time between agriculture and industry, the whole product going into warehouses, whence each family could withdraw its share of goods. There would be no hoarding, no covetousness, no gold or silver. All ate ample meals in a common hall to which the diners were summoned by the trumpet. Children were cared for in nurseries. Every 30 families chose a magistrate and each ten magistrates chose an Over-magistrate who served for life and who chose a philosopher-prince who also ruled for life.
Not long after More, Sir Francis Bacon created another earthly paradise ruled by a “philosopher king.” Bacon, described as “the wisest and meanest of mankind” came up with a solution closely akin to that of More, who could be justly described as among the wisest and kindest of mankind. Bacon, in retirement because of his conviction of bribery, conjured out of the mystic seas his own island—New Atlantis. The center of this paradise was Salomon’s House, a laboratory where chosen students pursued the search for truth and constituted the ruling aristocracy of the island.
About the same time other Utopias sprouted—one in Italy and one in Germany. Thomas Campanella, an Italian monk, brought up from the deep a fabled island discovered by a fabled mariner—the perfect society known as the City of the Sun. Here the people were poor, because they possessed nothing, but rich because they wanted for nothing. The State was supreme and its powers were deposited with an aristocracy of learning. Here there was progressive education, to be discovered later by John Dewey. The City had seven walls on which were presented pictorially the seven regions of knowledge, so that the little children would inhale their education painlessly without going to school as they strolled the streets. Johann Valentin Andreae came up with a German version of a communist heaven known as Christianopolis. The Rulers of the City—the Commissars—would determine the needs of all for a given period whereupon the mechanics and farmers would produce them under the direction of the Commissars—representatives of religion, justice and learning—the Commissariat of the Philosophers.
The last quarter of the 18th century and the first quarter of the 19th produced the most extraordinary eruption in history of what have come to be known as Eggheads. The Egghead has been defined by Louis Bromfield as a character who pretends to the title of philosopher—a sort of professional intellectual—dedicated to the theory that the Eggheads are the appointees of destiny who will bring something known in the intellectual trade as “security” to a creature known as the “common man,”in return for which he will deliver himself to the management of a society managed by the Eggheads. The society of the Eggheads today embraces communists, socialists, rudimentary fascists, along with their wives and certain rich men’s sons and daughters, and even some corporate vice-presidents.
Near the end of the 17th century, the Age of Reason was dawning and presently the Age of the Machine would appear. The shape of the Western world would change and a newer and somewhat more rational breed of social architects would also enter the arena of ideas. But the communist philosopher with his enclosed commune would persist for a long time. What is more, the philosophers would in some instances desert the realm of fiction and begin to set up their enclosed heavens peopled by actual human beings, while others would toy with the idea of transforming great commonwealths into communist gardens of abundance and peace. Rousseau was telling France that private property was plunder and that all must return to the golden age of nature. Babeuf was teaching pure communism applied to a whole existing society, where production would be carried on by government agencies whose officers would determine what each family would have. All would dress alike and children would be taken from their parents at an early age to be instructed in the principles of the communist State.
There still were, however, dreamy philosophers making blueprints for small communities like Utopia. Etienne Cabet was a lawyer who entered the French Chamber of Deputies. He invented a mathematically precise heaven called Icaria, a commonwealth divided into 100 small provinces, each province into 10 communes. The capital of Icaria would be in the exact mathematical center. Each block would have 15 houses. The streets would be straight, the sidewalks covered with roofs of glass. The State would own all agricultural and industrial units and manage all. All would dress alike, including the women. Education would begin at five and end at 18 for boys and 17 for girls and all would work until they reached 65. Literature would be rigidly censored. Of course the inhabitants would hoose their governors from among the technicians. These would constitute a Dictatorship of the Technicians. Cabet felt his plan would require 50 years to complete in France. Blocked in that highly policed country, but impatient to begin, he decided, in 1848, to launch his experiment in—of all places—Texas. He actually gathered 1,500 pilgrims for his paradise. The Icarians, however, turned out to be human beings and began to behave as such. The first victim was harmony and Icaria dissolved.
It taxes belief to witness these masterpieces of credulity launched by men of great intelligence, but all convinced that the erection and direction of society is the peculiar mission of the philosopher, with a growing admission to the ranks of power of persons vaguely defined as technicians. What could be more bizarre than the career of Count Henri de Saint Simon, who was born in 1760? He insisted he was descended from Charlemagne. He inherited a large fortune which he lost. But he nursed his dream of glory. His valet was instructed to wake him each morning with the admonition: “Arise, Monsieur le Comte. You have grand deeds to perform.” He fought in the American Revolution and later, during the Commune in Paris, was thrown into jail as an aristocrat. In his cell his ancestor Charlemagne, he informs us, appeared to him with an interesting challenge. The august shade called his attention to the fact that in all history no family had produced both a great hero and a great philosopher. Charlemagne reminded St. Simon that he, the dead emperor, had given the family its great hero. Now St. Simon must become its heroic philosopher.
Thus urged, St. Simon plunged into speculation and made a fortune. He then studied philosophy and, to enrich his knowledge of man, he lived successively as a profligate, a pauper, and a gentleman of fashion. After this he settled down to remake the world. He wrote three volumes, the Industrial System, the Catechism of Industry and the New Christianity. There must be a new order that would guarantee jobs for all under the men of science. The striking fact about this scheme was that it attracted at once a whole rabble of professors, writers, poets, journalists, philosophers and some engineers and politicians. The president of the Constituent Assembly of France became a member, as did De Lesseps, the builder of the Suez Canal. The Ecole Polytechnique became its stronghold.
In time St. Simon drifted out of the leadership, which passed into the hands of Enfantin, an erratic exhibitionist, who abolished the institution of marriage in favor of free love, which ended the movement. The end, however, is sufficiently grotesque to be mentioned. Enfantin and twoscore leaders, some of them men of distinction, retired from the world to live an aesthetic life as a sort of monastic order, studying astrology and geology. But after a brief go at this, the order dissolved and Enfantin returned to everyday life and amassed a fortune.
These men were not fools. Many were men of great intelligence and some were driven by generous dreams of a better world. But there is a little screw somewhere near the center of the intellect which holds all its functions together in harmony so that a man may dream, yet dream within reason. When that little screw gets loose, the imagination, the reason, the senses of order, balance and proportion, seemingly begin revolving in contrary and eccentric orbits with amazing results. Shakespeare described it in Ophelia as “sweet bells, jangled out of tune.” These curious philosophic warriors might be described as “good brains, jangled out of tune.” It would be easy to name a dozen, even a full score, of eminent men—some of them in business—in the affairs of America these last dozen years who would most certainly have been members of St. Simon’s entourage and might have persisted even when Enfantin took over.
This was not an 18th-century disease. There are many among us today deeply infected with it. Take the case of Henry Wallace, a perfect example of a devotee of the cult of “intellectualism.” He has toyed in his time with almost every religion, having, in his search for peace, probed Buddhism, Confucianism and other cults. He told the Federal Council of Churches that perhaps we should be moving toward something like the theocracies of old. He finally got tangled with a curious old wandering mystic named Roerich, who concocted a hash of yogiism and various other Oriental cults. A whole collection of well-to-do American mystics gathered around Roerich, who was addressed as the Guru. One of the disciples, a Wall Street broker, built a temple for him—a $1,100,000 apartment house in which the first four or five floors were dedicated to the ministrations of the Guru. Roerich decided to go to Asia to establish a new state in Siberia. And to make the journey financially possible, at the expense of the American taxpayer, Wallace, as Secretary of Agriculture, commissioned this grotesque old faker to go to China to collect wild grass seed. But some difficulties intervened and while Roerich was in Asia, Wallace backslid and fired him. This curious adventure, which has the flavor and odor of the enterprises of St. Simon and Enfantin, took place here in our own time and country in a group led by a man who was Vice-President of the United States, and missed becoming President by only a few votes.
Associated with St. Simon was a far greater intellect—that strange recluse, Auguste Comte. He had served for a while as secretary to St. Simon, but in later life denounced him as a quack. Comte is known chiefly as the founder of the philosophic system called Positivism—the central idea being that philosophy must concern itself with knowledge based exclusively on experience. Comte had an intellect of the first order, but he was subject to periods of dark melancholy in one of which, at the age of 30, he threw himself into the Seine from which he was rescued—to resume his philosophical studies. But Comte, the recluse, felt called on to venture upon the reconstruction of the work-a-day world of which he knew little and which, indeed, he despised, and from which he gradually withdrew. Almost all the data on which this work-a-day world is based lies outside the mind of the recluse and embraces a formidable array of forces including economics, law, the table of weights and measures, the laws of gravity, the science of management and, above all, a knowledge of mankind. Comte had a system of investigation which he called Hygiene Cerebral. His method was to retire into complete seclusion, avoid people, newspapers, scientific and economic reports and devote himself to reading religious and political tracts. For setting about the reconstruction of society this was hardly a method to be recommended. Yet, little informed of the play of human, economic and political forces, he withdrew into complete seclusion to prepare a blueprint for the reconstruction of society.
Rejecting religion, he felt he had to find a substitute for it. He created a spiritual image called Humanity to replace God as the center of adoration. He sought to duplicate the images, sacrifices, rituals and external forms, including prayers, in his new church. One of his critics described his new religion as the Catholic Church minus Christianity. There would be a hierarchy, an officialdom, a priesthood, an elaborate series of feast days to excite the devotion of the faithful. But running through his whole system was the central idea that the rule of the people belonged to the philosophers who would be the clergy, as well as rulers, in this new order.
It is a fact the significance and influence of which cannot be ignored, that at the base of all these schemes of social reconstruction—from Plato to Marx—ran this idea of the Soviet of the Intellectuals. The attraction of this idea is nowhere more sharply illustrated than in the impression made by Comte’s philosophy on John Stuart Mill. But in the end the pragmatic Mill had to repudiate Comte, and his comment on this morose philosopher is most revealing. Mill said frankly that he “agreed with him [Comte] that the moral and intellectual ascendancy, once exercised by priests, must in time pass into the hands of philosophers, and will naturally do so when they become sufficiently unanimous and in other respects worthy to possess it.” But, added Mill, “when he exaggerated this line of thought into a practical system, in which philosophers were to be organized into a kind of corporate hierarchy” 19 invested with that kind of spiritual ascendancy possessed by a religious hierarchy, he could follow him no longer. He saw in it a scheme which would invest the State with a despotism which would extend to every part of society.
This pinpoints sharply the curious evil in this strange theory. First, it contemplates a society fully planned in its operations by an organized body of philosophers and administered by them. Of course this proposal ignores the solid fact that such a society or any other, when set up, will be administered not by philosophers but by politicians who possess the special talent for getting and holding power. The philosophers who created this formidable engine of power will probably all be in flight from the country or in jail.
The most illuminating episode in this weird history is to be found in our own country in that curious madness called Fourierism. Charles Fourier (1772-1837) was a traveling salesman in France. He discovered that the earth was passing out of its infancy and he contrived a plan to usher in 70,000 glorious years for mankind, when lions would be used as draft animals and whales would draw vessels through the seas. He proposed to reorganize society into groups called Phalanxes—small communities of from 400 to 2,000 inhabitants each. A central building—the phalanstery—would be surrounded by a purely agricultural community. Workers would dine in a central hall on meals prepared in a community kitchen. Each inhabitant would produce enough from his 18th to his 28th birthday to support him in comfort the rest of his life. This society would be headed by a Unarch and all the Phalanxes would be united under an Omniarch residing in Constantinople. The millennium, however, would not appear for ten years.
The most amazing aspect of this movement was not its weird simplicity, but that it crossed the ocean to America and commanded the support of many of the foremost writers and artists in this country. Its most noted convert was Horace Greeley, founder of the New York Tribune, who ran for the presidency against Grant and polled 2,834,000 votes to Grant’s 3,597,000. Greeley was recruited into the Fourierist movement by Albert Brisbane, a journalist who was engaged by Greeley to write for the Tribune about this new fenced-in heaven. Another convert was Parke Godwin, later a famous associate editor of the New York Evening Post. Charles A. Dana, editor of the Sun, and George Ripley, literary editor of the Tribune, also enlisted for this new paradise. Societies were formed to promote the new great dream and held a national convention in 1840 in which Greeley, Dana, Ripley and others took a leading part. The intellectual center of this movement was the Transcendental Club in Boston, the most exclusive rendezvous of America’s intellectual world. There Nathaniel Hawthorne, the novelist, William Ellery Channing, the great Unitarian divine, George Ripley, literary critic and encyclopedist, John S. Dwight, poet and music lover, Ralph Waldo Emerson and, among the women, Elizabeth Peabody and the famous and beautiful Margaret Fuller, breathed into the movement the inspiration of their flaming souls and their wide intellectual influence.
However, this enterprise required more than a soul. Hence George Ripley bought a 200-acre tract not far from Boston, and on it the first Phalanx was formed, known as the Brook Farm Institute of Agriculture and Education. Here its happy denizens would get employment according to taste, free education, medical care, baths, dancing and music, lectures and discussions and—of course—very short working hours. And hovering over its destinies were the master spirits Greeley, Godwin, Dana, Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Ripley, Lowell, Whittier and others. Hawthorne has idealized this adventure in his novel The Blithedale Romance. In addition to the Brook Farm Phalanx others were started at Red Bank, N.J., and one or two other spots. The phalanstery at Brook Farm was nearing completion when it was destroyed by fire. Thus the great adventure vanished—ended by one fire.
It is an interesting fact that this curious blueprint of an earthly heaven fired the imaginations of what might be called the intellectual élite of America. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote to Carlyle in England: “We are a little wild here with numberless projects of social reform—not a reading man but has a draft of a new community in his waistcoat pocket.” It was the same in England. Social conditions cried aloud for reform and many serious and practical men were busy at that. But there was the same gaudy, giddy experimentation in transcendental economics, played up in song and poetry. Wordsworth wrote:
“Bliss was it in that fair dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very Heaven! …
To meditate with ardor on the rule
And management of nations, what it is
And ought to be; and strove to learn how far
Their power or weakness, wealth or poverty,
Their happiness or misery, depends
Upon the laws and fashions of the State.”
And Shelley mourned:
“The seed ye sow, another reaps;
The wealth ye find, another keeps;
The robes ye weave, another wears;
The arms ye forge, another bears.”
The problem, in which there was at least a grain of truth, having been stated, the next step is a leap “into the wild blue yonder.” The root idea at the bottom of this long history of reckless blueprinting from Plato to Karl Marx, Aneurin Bevan, Henry Wallace, and their disciples such as Dr. James Conant, Dr. Robert Oppenheimer and the essayists of the floundering Nation, the New Republic and the Daily Worker is that social planning is the peculiar mission of the poet, the playwright and the novelist, the scientist and the teacher generally. Obviously I do not imply that this disease afflicts all writers, teachers and intellectuals. I merely suggest that the members of these crafts, some of them dissatisfied with their share of the social dividend, are apt to offer a peculiarly sensitive incubation to these giddy ideas. In the last 20 years in America this disease has run like a scourge through our colleges and journals of opinion. The bursting egotism of the intellectual collegian, sensitive to this subject and supposing that his diploma confers on him authority to seize the world by the scruff of the neck and shake it into good behavior, may be seen in the following chant by one of our most intrepid New Deal intellectuals as he left the campus at Columbia and charged into the battle with his war song on his lips:
“I am strong.
I am big and well made.
I am sick of a nation’s stenches.
I am sick of propertied czars.
I have dreamed my great dream of their passing.
I have gathered my tools and my charts.
My plans are finished and practical.
I shall roll up my sleeves—and make America over.”
The singer of this song was young Mr. Rexford Tugwell, who inevitably found himself, with his charts and his tools, as Under Secretary of Agriculture under Mr. Henry Wallace, who himself was equipped with no end of fantastic charts and tools. But this brash and exultant proclamation of authority and capacity to blueprint and operate the economic life of a vast nation is not confined to the young collegian. Recently Dr. Vannevar Bush, president of the Carnegie Institution, informed us that what this country needs is a “natural aristocracy”a minority of eminent intellectuals who will plan our political and economic lives. This curious cult of the “Soviet of the Intellectuals” has persisted through the centuries—this fatuous notion that because a man knows how to split an atom, hunt down viruses, write an ode or compose a symphony he is best qualified to undertake the rule of nations. There can be no doubt that the intellectual descendants of that curious company of brilliant quacks who presided over the rise and fall of the great phalanstery at Brook Farm can still be found in quantity in the groves of Harvard today.
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