Copyright, 1947, by Lloyd R. Morris
All rights reserved under International and
Pan-American Copyright Conventions
Published in New York by Random House, Inc.,
and simultaneously in Toronto, Canada,
by Random House of Canada, Ltd., 1947
Designed by Meyer Wagman
The story of the American mind and heart during the past fifty years, told with ironic wit and deep nostalgia; a book to make you enjoy the past and understand the present; a cavalcade of America that both recreates and interprets the most extraordinary era of our history.
In 1896, Americans serenely faced the future. They were moving along the highroad of progress, and moving fast. Just beyond the horizon lay the promised land. They differed chiefly about the best means of reaching what was so obviously attainable. Under the circumstances to be a pessimist was to be a queer fish.
In 1946 their mood was very different. During the interval, their physical and social environment had been completely transformed. They had advanced, as no other nation in history, toward power, wealth, and material possessions. In the common view, these were what made existence more secure and more satisfying. But few Americans considered life as secure and satisfying as it had been fifty years earlier. Confidence and faith had evaporated. Skepticism was commonplace. Pessimism. was no longer eccentric. The weather had shifted from fair to overcast, and the American dream had taken on the quality of a mirage.
The parallel developments of unexampled progress and deepening disillusion are the subject of this book. It surveys the radical changes that have occurred in our lifethe revolution ,in customs, manners, and moralsin terms of the journalists, writers, philosophers, and religious and social leaders who have shaped our contemporary culture and helped make the moral weather in which we are living today.
Lloyd Morris, teacher, critic, and man of letters, is best known for
his biography of Hawthorne (The Rebellious Puritan); his collaboration
with John van Druten in The Damask Cheek; and his autobiography, Threshold
in the Sun, which both the New Yorker and the New York Times compared to
that American classic, The Education of Henry Adams. By the publication
of Postscript to Yesterday he takes his place as one of the foremost social
historians of this generation. (Electronic Information Network entry on Lloyd R. Morris, 1893 - 1954)
ISADORA DUNCAN's love affairs were numerous and she embarked on every one as if it were destined to be perfect and permanent. She was less promiscuous than psychically virginal. Men failed her with tedious unanimity. She asked nothing of them - except perfection.
Short, stocky, exceedingly plain, EMMA GOLDMAN looked like a strong-minded, respectable housewife. She was strong-minded, no housewife, and anything but respectable. Her Prim white shirtwaist and black skirt disguised a proletarian Aspasia whose tempestuous love affairs, whatever their private Passion, were always public demonstrations of a theory. Emma Goldman loved theories with an indiscriminate ardor. The violence of her affection for ideas was equaled only by the violence of her antipathy to capitalists and reformers. As she was convinced that every attractive idea ought to be adopted, her life-except for intervals spent in prison-held few vacant moments. In the phrase of the day, she "believed in experience". So her path was littered with abandoned lovers and discarded philosophies. To all of them she had been faithful, in her fashion. Each had seemed irresistible-for a while.
DUTCH SCHULTZ performed a traditionally approved economic function. By effecting the consolidation of independent units, he eliminated waste, promoted efficiency and replaced the disorder of an obsolete individualism with rigorous discipline.... He cheerfully recognized the "right of the inefficient to die" and made himself its willing instrument. Death solved the problem of competition.
Like Mrs. Stuyvesant Fish, MISS TEXAS GUINAN wished to redeem her world from the cardinal sin of dullness. Like Mrs. Fish, she was singularly free of illusions and possessed a notable talent for imaginative insult. Seated in the center of her nightly bedlam, her diamonds blazing and her gown shining with sequins, armed with a clapper and police whistle to ward off any intolerable momentary silence, she, would welcome patrons with a-, loud, cheerful, full-throated "Hello, sucker! ". . . . Life, as she saw it from her table, had the look of madness and she took a malicious pleasure in abusing it, making it more wacky, stepping up its frenzy.... By nature, she was a small-town woman, inclined to simple decencies.
(Source: William James, Emory University)
Sometimes he had forgotten to change the shabby Norfolk jacket in which he worked at home. Or he might still be wearing the ceremonial black coat reluctantly put on for one of those formal occasions which he did his best to avoid. The books, the meditative air, the inattentiveness to costume suggested his professorship. But they ere all that did.
His reputation as a psychologist, as a philosopher, was already world- wide. Even he did not foresee the notable work, the greater fame that still lay ahead. About him there lingered an occasiolial afterglow of Bohemia, mildly visible in the bright stripe of a shirt or the exuberance of a tie. His sense of fun was infectious, but to some disquieting. There were days when he felt "particularly larky", when an old spirit revived in him; he was then just like a blob of mercury, and relished his success in shocking the stodgy. There were earnest folk who deplored his want of academic dignity. Certain of his students, attached as they invariably were to his person, felt some doubts about the profundity of one who was so very natural. He was amusedly aware that his free and easy and personal way of writing made him an object of loathing to many respectable academic minds. His own lack o enthusiasm for mere respectability was marked, and his admiration für the acadernic mind rather less than tepid. On a lecture tour, he could perversely wish for the flash of a pistol, a dagger, or a devilish eye, anything to break the unlovely level of ten thousand good people - a crime, murder, rape, clopement, anything would do.
Not infrequently, James felt like a hurnbug as a professor. He confessed himself one who was unfit to be a philosopher because at bottorn he hated philosophy, especially at the beginning of a vacation, with the fragrance of the spruces and sweet ferns all soaking him through with the conviction that it is better to be than to define your being. Privately, he held that the collective life of philosophers is little more than an organization of misunderstandings. Were not the paradoxes of their subject. somewhat absurd, so trivial and so ponderous at once? And did their pompous speculations arnount to anything more than just fancy work? His former student and junior colleague, George Santayana, suspected that James had never seen a philosopher whom he would have cared to resernble. But James had seen the most eminent ones of his time, and incorrigibly coninued to be unlike any. At the back of his mind a rebellious nerve protested that philosophy is a queer thing, at once the most sublime and the most contemptible of human occupations. It was contemptible when you made it a refuge from the teemly and drarnatic richness of the concrete world. It might become sublime if you put it to sound use. "The ancients," he said, "did things by doing the business of their own day, not by gaping at their grandfathers' tombs -and the normal man today will do likewise."
Nearly always, William James gave the impression that he regarded nonconformity as the only principle worthy of being conformed to. "Almost any opinion I now have is liable to be changed or even re-versed by the experience of tornorrow", he had ruefully noted this trait at the age of twenty - five. Forty years later, in his 70's, he announced it as a kind of obligation, the first step in a method for dealing efficaciously with life. Characteristically, he recommended this method as absolutely the only philosophy with no humbug in it. For he had long been impatient with the awful abstract rigmarole in which American philosophers obscured the truth when he put forward his own theory under the forbidding label of "pragrnatism." The strange word was, he said, only a new name for some old ways of thinking.
But the little book in which he described them pleased him: it was a very uncon-ventional utterance. He would not be surprised, he told his brother Henry, if ten years later it would be rated as "epoch - making." Confident though he was of its eventual prestige, he was unprepared for its immediate meteoric success. It swept across the country; edition after edition was demanded; even "Mr. Deoley" took up pragmatism. When this happened, James gleefully reported that "its fortune's made!" Many who read it must have felt, with Henry James, a wonder at the extent to which, all their lives, they had "unconsciously pragrnatized." The book's reception gave William James a unique authority. In him, as only before in Emerson, the American people recognized a philosopher who spoke for their interests, their temper, their native way of sensing life.
His temperament, and many of his personal convictions, fitted James for this national spokesrnanship, But he had arrived at these convictions the hard way; and he held others that are counter to the spirit of the times. His childhood and youth were odd, even for a day when extreme oddity was scarcely rernarkable. His father, a son of one of the earliest American millionaires, was an uncompromising individualist who had an addiction to the darker problems of theology. A psychological crisis, destined to be paralleled in William's life, made the elder Henry Jarnes a Swedenborgian; but in that faith, as in all else, he remained a steadfast nonconformist. He was a utopian socialist who distrusted all social systems. A passionate democrat, who affirmed - not only humorously - that a crowded horsecar was the nearest approach to heaven on earth, he associatcd only with the intellectual elite of two continents. A man obsessed by the tragic sense of life, he achieved social celebrity as a great wit and a fanciful hurnorist. His father's peculiar duality cropped up as one of William's outstanding traits.
In the childhood of Williarn and Henry, the James family moved restlessly to and from Europe, seldom settling anywhere for more than a few months. The boys received a highly irregular education, on principle, acquiring a bent for cosmopolitanism and a facility in many languages. Their health was precarious, and William for many years was the victim of neurasthenia. In their residence abroad, Williarn went in for "experiments" -playir)g with chemicals, galvanic batteries, marine animals in splashy aquaria, taking curious drugs. Presently, he succumbed to a sudden passion for "giving myself up to awe" and, as Henry later noted dryly, "we went honte to Icarn to paint" -a decision typically Jamesian in its eccentricity.
The family settled at Newport, where William and Henry joined John La Farge in the studio of William Merris Hunt. Long afterwards, La Farge said that William had the promise of being a remarkable, perhaps a great painter, but the passion for art petered out as suddenly as it had arisen, and he went to Harvard to study science. In due time, he entered the medical school, but interrupted his course to join his teacher, Alexander Agassiz, on a scientific expedition to Brazil. Later he continued his studies in Germany, returned home to take his degree, and fell into a prolonged melancholia. He suffered a shattering crisis like his father's, from which he ernerged by a similar act of faith. He came upon a doctrine of free will put forward by the French philosopher, Renouvier: "the sustaining of a thought because 1 choose to when I might have other thoughts." It was, for him, a revolutionary insight, and it shaped all his future thinking. "My first act of free will", he determined, "shall be to believe in free will." He never thereafter relinquished his will to believe,
He became a teacher of physiology at Harvard. After some years, he deserted physiology for psychology. His great exploratory book on the principles of that science estabfished him as the most erninent authority in the field. But, once the book had been publisbed, hc felt that he had exhausted both his interest and his fertility. So he turned to philosophy. All his life he had been looking for a solution that should be not merely tenable as judged by scientific standards, but at the same time propitious enough to live by. In this he reflected the perplexity of his generation; solicited by the new science, conformed by the new industrialism, and deprived of all the old faiths.
The rnembers of James' early circle at Cambridge shared this perplexity. All, like James himself, tried to formulate attitudes to life that would solve it: the lawyer Oliver Wendell Holmes; the historians Henry Adams and John Fiske; the mathematicians Chauncey Wright and Charles S. Pierce; even the budding novelists Howells and Henry James. Some of them saw, in the new civilization that was ris;ng and transforming America, evidence that the individual had a free, active, essentially creative role to play in society; that he had the power to change his environrnent according to his desire. This was what most Americans wished to believe. But others drew very different deductions. To thern, the new scientific doctrines, stemming from Darwin's principle of evolution, suggested that progress was merely an automatic and impersonal process, the expression of a kind of fate or force. They adopted a theory of determinism which left the individual little freedom, and almost no creative function. Was man the master or the creature of his environment? Was he a social agent, or only a hapless social product?
To James, any form of determinism was temperarnentally repugnant. Scientific fatalism seemed to him no less deadly than theological predestination; both imprisoned men in an inevitable and foreknown doom, depriving life of any ethical significance. Trained as a scientist, he had no illusions about the finality of any scientific doctrine. His sister Alice said of him that he seemed to be born afresh every morning; this, he felt, was the condition of science, and he wanted it likewise to be the condition of life and society. As a psychologist, he knew better than many of his contemporaries the decisive part which desire and will played in all change, even the most momentous social changes. So it was natural that he should found the whole structure of his philosophy on one very simple fact. The fact was that we cannot live at all without some degree of faith.
Even scientists, he pointed out, were not exempt from this humble groundwork: faith is synonymous with working hypothesis. Every man of science had taken his stand on a sort of dumb conviction that the truth rnust lie in one direction rather than another, and a sort of preliminary assurance that his notion could be made to work; and had borne his best fruit in trying to make it work. This "dumb conviction" and "preliminary assurance" were, for James, the genuine basis of action. So he could define faith as belief in something concerning which doubt is still theoretically possible. And, since the test of belief is willingness to act, James held that faith is the readiness to act in a cause the prosperous issue of which is not certified in advance.
A risky business, surely. But was it not the method by which human life proceeded? Was it not the way in which men actually did act, with respect to the thousand and one decisions of their daily life, where complete knowledge was lacking, along with positive assurance as to the outcome. James affirmed that in the average man the power to trust, to risk a little beyond the literal evidence, is an essential function. Without it, action would cease. To act on belief is necessaiy; if the results of action justify the belief, the belief itself becomes truth. In such instances, faith creates its own verification. The truths cannot become true until our faith has made them so by the test of experiment.
Scientists, indeed, called the method that of hypothesis and experiment. James, thinking of its application in the daily life of the individual, called it the method of belief based on desire. For, in the absence of complete knowledge, you took your risks in the direction of your desires; you were prompted to try to produce the results you wanted. James held that the thought becomes literally father to the fact, as the wish was father to the thought. If you got the results you hoped for -if your experiment came out- you had not only verified your belief, but you had brought about some form of change in the existing state of affairs. So, said James, driving his point home, "that the course of destiny may be altered by individuals no wise evolutionist ought to doubt."
Progress, or evolution, or living were therefore not automatic processes. Deterrninism was not operative; spontaneous variations might be produced at any moment. The individual was not a pawn, but an active participant in the game of life. Nothing suggested this more eloquently than the fact that the impulse to take life strivingly is indestructible in the race. Was it not true that in the total game of life we stake our persons all the while? James asserted that success depends upon energy of act; energy deperids upon faith that we shall not fail; and this faith in turn oil the faith that we are right -which faith thus verifies itself. Of course, there is really no scientific or other method by which men can steer safely between the opposite dangers of believing too little or of believing too much. But, said James, to face such dangers is apparently our duty, and to hit the right channel between thern is the measure of out wisdom m men. He saw life, and social progress, as a perpetual experiment. But he did not preach reckless faith. He preached courage weighted with responsibility -the right of the individual to indulgr his personal faith at his personal risk.
Was not this right the basic source of American democracy? A social organism of any sort, James held -and the opinion seemed especially relevant to the dernocratic system- is what it is because each member proceeds to his own duty with a trust that the other members will simultaneously do theirs. When a desired result is brought about by the co - operation of many independent persons, its existence as a fact is a pure consequence of the precursive faith in one another of those immediately concerned. Without such mutual trust- whether warranted or not by prior evidence -not only is nothing achieved, but nothing is even attempted. You arrive at your democ-racy by believing in its possibility, having ccnfidence in yourself and your fellows -and getting to work.
Whatever field of life you touched, you came on its dynamism: upon experirnent, action, work. Therefore the pragmatist, James insisted, always turns towards concreteness and adequacy, towards facts, towards action und towards power. To him, ideas and beliefs are really rules for action. He asks the practical cash value of any idea, prograrn, or theory. What is its worth in actual use, its results when you set it at work within the stream of your experience? Theories thus become instruments, said James; we make nature over again by their aid. An idea, or a theory, is merely an indication of the ways in which existing realities may be changed. Its truth means nothing other than its power to "work." In fact, James declared "the true" is only the expedierit in the way of our thinking, just as "the right" is only the expedient in the way of out behaving.
Expedient? The word outraged old - fashioned moralists. What became of absolute ethical standards, or final truth? They went over- board, James admitted calmly. One could only say that truth and right were whatever is most expedient now; expedient in almost any fashion, and, so far as can be determined, in the long run and on the whole. For what meets expediently all the experience in sight won't necessarily meet all farther experience equally satisfactorily. Expe-rience, said James, has ways of boiling over, and making us correct our present formulas. Meanwhile, we have to live today by what truth we can get today, and be ready tomorrow to call it a falsehood. This fundamental relativity - or insecurity, or commitment to risk - is the price we pay for the privilege of living in an unfinished world, in a society essentially plastic, which we help to create by our thinking and action. ln point of fact, said James, the use of most of our thinkilig is to belp us to change the world. We are creative in our mental as well as in out active life; we mold our environrnent; we engender truth, he explained picturesquely, upon reality. What could be more inspiring than the assurance that the world, the society in which we live, stands really malleable, waiting to receive its final touches at our hands?
So the genuine pragm&tist, James held, is wilfing to consider life really dangerous and adventurous. He is willing to live on a scherne of uncertified possibilities which he trusts; willing to pay with his own person, if need be, for the realization of the ideals which he frames. Like Emerson - his father's friend, who had blessed him in his cradle- James asserted for the individual the indefeasible right to be exactly what one is, provided one only be authentic. Nothing to him seemed more wretched than to consent to borrowing traditions and living at second hand. "The weight of the past world here is fatal," he once wrote to his sister from Rome; "one ends by becoming its mere parasite instead of its equivalent." Actually, he inclined to doubt the utility of past wisdorn to the present. That wisdom might so easily have become only the dead heart of the livirig tree; it might have grown stiff with years of veteran service and petrified in men's regard by sheer antiquity. Were not the vital ideals of living men altars to unknown gods? And might not the best life consist at all times in the breaking of rules which have grown too narrow for the actual case? The important thing for each of u -the highest good- is to achieve our proper life. This, James felt, can come about only by help of a moral energy born of the faith that in some way or other we shall succeed in getting it if we try pertinaciously enough.
Here again, James struck the note of uncertainty, risk, change, plasticity. Did not life, as it came, bear the expression of being, or at least of involving, a muddle and struggle, with an "ever not quite" to all our formulas, and novelty and possibility forever leaking in? Certainly he could admit nothing final in any actually given equilibrium of human ideals. It seemed to him that, as our present laws and customs have fought and conquered other past ones, so they will in their turn be overthrown by any newly discovered order which will hush up the complaints that they still give rise to, without producing louder still. Reformers welcomed James' vision of society as a flux which seemed to give their efforts genuine legitimacy. They scarcely understood that their pet reforms, if accomplished, might with time become stiff and petrified. James hirnself thought that society would have to pass toward some newer and better equilibrium, that the distribution of wealth has doubtless slowly got to change. He confessed a utopian belief in the reign of peace and in the gradual advent of some sort of socialistic equilibrium. But even this, should it come, would be neither final nor stable: such changes have always happened, and will happen to the end of time.
Primarily, however, James' concern was for the individual, and especially for those traits in which the individual differed from, rather than resembled, his fellows. Society itself and all social insititutions, of whatever grade, were for him secondary and ministerial. They existed to serve man, not to standardize him; their function was "instru-mental". So he viewed with suspicion this intensely worldly social system of ours, in which each human interest is organized so collec-tively and so cornmercially. There were times when he was less than unqualifiedly respectful of "civilization" -with its herding and brand-ing, licensing and degree giving, authorizing and appointing, and in general regulating by system the lives of human beings.
Society would always be in flux; it would always have to decide through actual experiment by what sort of conduct the maximum of good could be gained and kept in this world; but to the extent that it sacrificed plasticity to organization, it becarne suspect. System was hostile to the free play of individuality. So James demanded one constant in his flux. He warned his countrymen that they must always preserve the well - known democratic respect for the sacredness of individuality. He urged them to remember that many as are the interests that social systems satisfy, always unsatisfied interests remain over, and among them are interests to which system, as such, does violence whenever it lays its hands on us. Let Americans guard well their faith in personal freedom and its spontaneitiesl Let them not forget that the best commonwealth will always be the one that most cherishes the men who represent the residual interests, the one that leaves the largest scope to their peculiarities!
In such warnings as these, James expressed his anxiety about the direction that American life was taking as the twentieth century opened. He welcomed the immense scientific and technotogical conquests of the industrial age. They proved that environment was malleable, and man essentially creative. They were pregnant with change and with promise. It was only when he came to consider their social effects that James was aware of reservations. He disliked what he saw; he was profoundly dubious about what appeared predictable. The moralist in him, as well as the nonconformist, protested against bigness and greatness in all their forms.
For he felt that the bigger the unit you deal with, the hollower, the more brutal, the more mendacious is the life displayed. He therefere took his stand against all big organizations as such, national ones first and foremost; against all big successes and big results; and in favor of the eternal forces of truth which work in the individual and immediately unsuccessful way, underdogs always, till history comes, after they are Iong dead, and puts them eu the top. In the era of the great trusts, the vast structures of finance capitalism, James looked at these results of "progress" and said that they were not good. The new element of "bigness" in American civilization had bred a national disease: "the exclusive worship of the bitch - goddess Success". On the word success, his countrymen were putting only a squalid cash interpretation. It was resulting in a moral flabbiness, a callousness to abstract justice which James condemned as sinister, incomprehensible blots on American civilization.
Looking at the society of his time, he sometimes thought that the higher heroisms and the old rare flavors were passing out of life. Where now was the American who, like Alexander Agassiz, would proudly announce that he had no time for making money? The "bosom - vices" of twentieth - century America were not redeemed by splendor. They were mean and ignoble. James enumerated them publicly: "they are swindling and adroitness, and the indulgence of swindling and adroitness, and cant, and sympathy with cant - natural fruits ef that extraordinary idealization of 'success' in the mere outward sense of 'getting there', and getting there on as big a scale as we can, which characterizes our present generation." Even the universities guaranteed little but a more educated cleverness in the service of popular idols and vulgar ends. James asserted that our undisciplinables are our proudest product; and eventually he discovered great fields of heroism in the American social landscape. They were, he said, in the daily lives of the laboring classes.
So Jarnes did not hesitate to assert that democracy was on its trial, that no one knew how it would stand the ordeal. Was the irremediable destiny of Americans no more than vulgarity enthroned and institutionalized, elbowing everything superior frum the highway? There were those who had already begun to draw Uncle Sam with the hog instead of the eagle for his emblem! James could not agree. For democracy was a kind of religion, and we were bound not to admit its failure. The best Americans were still filled with a vision of a democracy stumbling through every error till its institutions glow with justice and its customs shine with beauty, In the long tun, he was willing to put bis stakes on the "civic genius" of the American people. lf this genius failed in vigiliance, or atrophied in function, neither laws nor monuments, neither battleships nor public libraries, nor great newspapers nor booming stocks; neither mechanical invention nor civil service examinations could save us. But the genius would not fail. Of this he was confident.
From Europe, he wrote to aL colleague that "we must thank God for America; and hold fast to every advantage of out position!" Distrustful as he was of bigness, of the worship of mere pecuniary success, James loved his country for her youth, her greenness, her plasticity, innocence, good intentions. He was an inveterate voyager, a hereditary one, and sufficiendy a cosmopolitan to feel, from time to time, that life in Europe was preferable to life at home. But these moods were transient. He could never, like Henry, become an expatriate. He had a sense that a man coquetting with too many countries is as bad as a bigamist, and loses his soul altogether. Once abroad, he was irnpressed by the seamy side of European life: America didn't know the meaning of the word corruption compared with Europe. There forces of corruption were rooted and permanent, while at horne the only serious permanent incentive, he thought, was party spirit. Millionaires and syndicates had their immediate cash to pay, he admitted, but they had no intrenched prestige to work with, like the church sentiment, the army sentiment, the aristocracy and royalty sentiment which, in Europe, could be brought to bear in favor of every kind of individual and collective crime -appealing not only to the immediate pocket of the persons to be corrupted, but to the ideals of their imagination as well.
So was it not the moral obligation of American intellectuals, James asked, to work actively to keep our precious birthright of individualism, and freedom from these institutions? He had no special respect for intellectuals as such -there was just man thinking, whether he be greengrocer or metaphysician -but, seemirigly, the framing of ideals was a part of their vocation. lf their influence on the national life was meager, rnight not the fault be theirs? Too many of them, he felt, nursed the notion that ideals are self-sufficient and require no actualization to make us content. This, surely, was not "healthy-minded"; it was a kind of resignation and sour grapes. Ideals, James declared forthrightly, ought to aim at the transformation of reality -no less! lf, in America, there existed a "treason of the intellectuals", James suspected that it was hatched in an ivory tower.
His own antipathy to ivory towers amounted almost to a phobia. His private bogey, he said, was dessication, the occupational malady of those who stood aloof from the rough turbulence of common life. He enjoyed a world which was unfenced, uncultivated, untidy, and unpredictable, which slipped through every ideal container -and nothing delighted him more than personally to slip through the meshes of decorum or to shy a pebble at constituted authority: the smug authority of Science, for instance, in the form of abstraction, priggishness and sawdust, lording it over all. To him, technicality stemed to spell failure. He made colloquialism a principle, and vivacity a kind of method, in conduct as well as in thought. How else should a man express bis deep conviction that something is doing in the universe, and that novelty is real? So, in England, his brother Henry had frequent reason to be shocked. Williarn displayed an imperturbable indifference to social conventions. He didn't care what kind of hat he turned up in at weekend parties. He thought nothing of climbing a ladder to get a peck at G. K. Chesterton over a high garden wall. He failed of a fine fastidiousness in his choice of acquaintances. No man, Henry sighed, could well have cared less for the question, or made less of the consciousness, of dislike. And, at home, pedants found it hard to swallow a scientist and philosopher of worldwide fame who dabbled in hypnotism, frequented in mediums, didn't talk like a book, and didn't write like a book, except like one of his own. At the end, of one of his lectures on pragmatisrn at Columbia University, the audience thronged down to the edge of the platform, assailing him with questions. James wound up by sitting on that edge himself, all in his frock coat as he was, his feet hanging down, and, unmindful of his dignity, absorbedly continuing the discussion. What, after all, could you make of a man like that?
His sister Alice thought that William expressed himself and his environment to perfection when he told her that his summer horne in the New Hampshire hills had fourteen doors, all opening outwards. The doors of his spirit opened outwards, too, and there were many more than fourteen. He wanted, like his teacher Alexander Agassiz, always to live in the light of the world's concrete fullness, and if novelty did not put in an appearance, he simply went out to look for it. System, convention, officialdom -all categorical refusals to give novelty a hearing- closed the doors on what might be irnportant to the future. James had not only, as he said, a love of sportsmanlike fair play in science, but an abiding suspicion that to no one type of mind is it given to discern the totality of truth. He could not help but feel that orthodox science was a symbol of arrogance and vulgar success all too ready to abuse its power by disparaging and crushing innovations which threatened its authoritv. The disapproval of academic circles merely reinforced his temperamental nonconformity, and his chivalry toward doctrines that were despised by the genteel. He felt, he said, like a man who must set his back against an open door quickly if he does not wish to see it closed and locked. The results were sometimes disconcerting, especially to admirers who lacked his quixotic rashness. They seldom understood why he risked his personal fame for the right of others to procced with working hypotheses which, often enough, he did not share. He did so repeatedIy. It seemed almost as if he were using his mounting prestige as a kind of bank account, reservirig it for the heavy drafts of unpopular causes, pledging it to the service of theories or sects of dubious repute.
One of these hazards, which brought him displeasing notoriety, was his public support of the Society for Psychical Research, of which in due time he assumed the presidency. Nothing was more shocking to the reigning intellectual tastes than the phenomena produced by spiritualists. To conventional folk, fames' association with table rap-ping, automatic writing, and "materializatiori" smacked of intellectual bohemianism, of a fondness for excursions to the scientiric underworld. Could so great a man be deluded by the spurious? Privately, James retorted with a scriptural quotation: "And base things of the world and things which are despised hath God chosen, yes, and things which are not, to bring to naught things that are." He discovered, investigated, and reported on the Boston medium, Mrs. William J. Piper, who rode to celebrity on this connection with his fame. For twenty - five years Willam Jarnes held the door open for spiritualism. As a scientist, a psychologist, he was never able to claim more for it than that facts were still lacking to prove "spirit - return." Yet, in the end, though skilled in the detection of fraud, and skeptical about the evidence accumulated, he still found himself believing that there was some-thing in it. It was a characteristic illustration of what he called "the will to believe" ,
Quite as unselfish, and even more perilous, was James' vigorous championship of the cause of "mental healers" and "faith healers". He was disposed to curiosity about all forms of psychotherapy, not only as a psychologist, but as a lifelong sufferer from attacks of nervous exhaustion and melancholy. During one of his bouts of enervation, he offered himself as a patient to a healer, and after a course of treatments recorded that his state of mind was revolutionized. Nevertheless, he declared that he had no brief for the healers, and that his intellect had been unable to assimilate their theories. But when the medical profession of Massachusetts sought passage of a law designed chiefly to prevent Christian Science practitioners from continuing their work, William James was roused to public protest.
In his dual capacity of physician and psychologist, James went to the State House, and spoke against his fellow scientists. It cost him more moral effort, he said, than anything that he had ever done. But he felt that he could face the condemnation of his colleagues much more easily than that of his own conscience. Why should scientists, professing faith in experiment and discovery, seek to stop the really extremely important experiences which these peculiar creatures were rolling up? Speaking as a scientist himself, he asserted that their facts were patent and startling; and anything that interfered with the multiplication of such facts, and with the opportunity of observing and studying them, would be a public calamity.
Such forays as these made James permanently vulnerable to the charge of gullibility. He was, indeed, publicly accused of "mysticism" by his colleague Hugo Munsterberg, whom he had persuaded Harvard to import from Germany to take over the psychological laboratory which he founded. But James had a sound scientific reason for what seemed to be his credulity. He was one of the earliest "functional" psychologists, and one of the first to approach the study of the mind by way of its pathology. His major interest was therefore the twilight region that surrounds the clearly lighted center of experience, fertile in what he described as exceptional mental states. This interest led him to propound two doctrines which appealed strongly to the imagination of the American people, and which left curious traces in the national life.
James readily adopted the theory of the "subliminal," or subconscious, mind, advanced toward the turn of the century. He followed the experimental studies of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung with eagerness; hoped that Freud and his pupils would push their ideas to their utmost limits, since they couldn't fail to throw light on human nature, but was skeptical of Freud's dream theories and his use of symbolism as a method. Freud's theories implied a kind of determinism, by making the individual's behavior result from obscure mental forces beyond his control; and determinism was a principle which James could not tolerate. He took the contrary view. In a widely reprinted article on "The Energies of Men" James suggested that the "twilight region" was, in reality, a storehouse of unsuspected resources; that there existed incremental powers available to every individual, provided that he could find the key which would release them. The appropriate key, James said, might in every case be a different one; but he enumerated a number of disciplines which in his estimation had furnished impressive evidence of "working" efficaciously. Among them, he included Yoga, New Thought, Christian Science, as examples of a wave of religious activity passing over the American world; and, on a humbler level, he mentioned the current fad called "Fletcherism", a form of rumi-nation and wishful thinking advocated by the popular American "philosopher", Horace Fletcher.
Excitements, ideas, and efforts, James asserted, are what carry us over the dam, and he called attention to the common denominator of these optimistic faiths. All of them negated feelings of fear and inferiority; all of them, on the positive side, operated by the suggestion of power. James explicitly stated that by "power" he meant not only outward work but inner work - the capacity to achieve a higher qualitative level of life. But many of his readers ignored this. The doctrine he advanced was that men the world over possess amounts of resource which only very exceptional individuals push to their extremes of use, and that under appropriate conditions everyone might do so. Did it not give scientific validity to the common American conviction that anything may be accomplished by anybody? For nearly four decades after his death, the sanction of William James was invoked to spread gospels of materialistic mysticism which, if applied perseveringly, would enable their fortunate exponents to sell more goods, radiate "charm", acquire friends and command influence or rejoice in a satisfying love life.
There was a side of James' teaching which made this perversion of it almost inevitable. As a psychologist, he was persuaded that there is a continuum of cosmic consciousness, against which our individuality builds but accidental fences, and into which our several minds plunge as into a mother-sea or reservoir. To this fixed conclusion, James gave a religious application. It was received enthusiastically by a generation of Americans for whom orthodox dogmas had been discredited by science, and who were therefore disconsolately seeking congenial substitutes for them. Like James himself, they wanted a faith scientifically tenable, and propitious enough to live by. James candidly acknowledged both his predicament and his need. Did there not exist a feeling of unseen reality shared by large numbers of best men in their best moments, responded to by other men in their "deep" moments, good to live by, strength giving? As for himself, James felt no living sense of commerce with a God; he envied those who did. Yet, though lacking the active sense of God, he knew that "there is some-thing in me which makes response when I hear utterances from that quarter made by others. I recognize the deeper voice. Something tells me. - thither lies truth. . . "
This intuition would have been oddly at variance with his pragmatic reverence for fact, had James not assigned to it the status of a fact like all others. He held that it carried objective significance. It came from an altogether other dimension of existence into which the further limits of our being plunge. That other dimension, he asserted, is the source of most of our ideal impulses, which we find possessing us in a way for which we cannot articulately account. We belong to that dimension, James argued, in a more intimate sense than that in which we belong to the visible world, for we belong in the most intimate sense wherever our ideals belong. Yet the unseen region is not merely ideal. It produces verifiable effects in the everyday world. When we commune with it, James declared, work is actually done upon our finite personality, for we are turned into new men, and consequences in the way of conduct follow in the natural world upon our regenerative change. How, then, could one call unreal the unseen or mystical world? Did it not precipitate an actual inflow of energy in the faith - state and the prayer - state?
How did the transforming inflow of energy take place? James answered this question as a psychologist. He pointed to the phenomenon of "prayerful communion", in which certain kinds of incursion from the subconscious region take part. The subconscious mind is the channel of contact between our finite personality and a wider world of being than that of our everyday consciousness. By holding open the "subliminal door", James affirmed, we can experience union with something larger than ourselves and in that union find peace. Through that door higher energies filter in to increase our vital potential. Were not the practical needs of religion sufficiently met by the belief that beyond each man and in a fashion continuous with him there exists a larger power which is friendly to him and to his ideals?
For James, they were. He could keep more sane and true by pragmatically asserting the fact that the conscious person is continuous with a wider self through which saving experiences come. This was the essence of his religious doctrine. As fact, it was scientifically tenable. As faith, it was sufficiently propitious to live by. It was true, because it "worked". To many Americans -like James, reluctant agnostics- his practical mysticism provided a moral equivalent for the religion of which they felt deprived. Like him, they had a "mystical germ". It was, he said, a very common germ. He might have added that it had always been endemic in America. From the time of Jonathan Edwards to that of Mrs. Eddy there had never been wanting spiritual leaders of a strongly mystical cast. Surprisingly enough, their attraction had usually been most powerful when the nation's energies were being devoted mainly to practical affairs. Emerson had brought to the Western pioneers the gospel that the spiritual principle should be suffered to demonstrate itself to the end. During the gilded age of the robber barons, Mrs. Eddy had gained her swelling tide of converts in the East, the Middle West, and the Far West. Apparently, whenever materialistic incentives dominated the American people, an element of the native conscience rebelled against them. It seemed as if, in a revulsion of sheer disgust, as Margaret Fuller once said, they had to quarrel with all that is, because it is not spiritual enough.
It was therefore quite natural for William James' religious doctrine to emerge from the stupendous prosperity of the new century. To the American people, neither his mysticism nor his practical justification of it seemed novel. These merely gave sophisticated form to inarticulate and dormant popular convictions. James' real innovation consisted in making mysticism scientifically respectable. This had the happy effect of enabling the spiritually adrift to yield to their intuitions without violating their intelligence. As a result, the influence of James' doctrine ultimately reached many Americans who possibly had never heard of James himself. It penetrated the churches of liberal Protestantism. It was felt by adherents of various "social gospels" and "new" sects. And - as James might have been surprised to learn- it fertilized many of the esoteric cults which later sprang up and flourished under the sun of Southern California.
But the influence of James' pragmatism was far more extensive and decisive. The doctrine, the point of view, gave a fresh turn to important functions of the nation's life: to politics and social reform; to the law; to public education. The central ideas of pragmatism were taken over by the Progressive movement in politics. Theodore Roosevelt had been one of James' students; and James' thought also affected the thinking of Woodrow Wilson. By 1913, Wilson was declaring that the word "progress" was almost a new one; that the modern idea is to leave the past and to press on to something new. The social planners of the Wilson era, arid of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, drew their inspiration from James. Pragmatism equipped them with a notion of the instrumental use of social theory; with their sense that society is both plastic and experimental; with their belief in the positive virtue of change; with their identification of the good and the expedient; even with their faith that, through the "welfare state", the maximum of freedom will accrue to the creative individual.
Apart from these channels, however, James' philosophy entered the stream of popular American thought, and in some sense became part of the intellectual equipment of the average citizen. James knew the natural tendency of "satisfying" ideas to filter in; once, he confessed that his personal hopes were centered on "the newer generation". He might have been dismayed by the use to which some of them put his theories. Americans who lacked his stern moral sense, and who worshiped the bitclh-goddess Success that he detested, found in his doctrines of expediency and efficacy a sound justification for the principle that you had a right to whatever you could get away with. And James' denial of ethical absolutes, his insistence on relativity, furnished a convenient support for the moral cynicism of the jazz age.
But, in the main, James' teaching strongly reinforced traditional American convictions. As the twentieth century aged, the concept of determinism -economic, political and social- gained in authority, the world over. Many Americans continued to find it repugnant, and vigorously resisted it. The influence of James persisted in their confidence about the future, their faith in the resources and creative function of the individual, their emphasis on action as the end to which everything should contribute. James taught that a man must take his part, believing something, fighting for what he believes, and incurring the risk of being wrong. Many of his countrymen still considered this the best basis on which to conduct their lives, individually and collectively. To a group of Harvard students, James once said: "Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact."
Americans, on the whole, still lived in the light of that doctrine. Everything, in the end, depended not upon mechanism, but upon man, and especially upon his exercise of his moral will. Man's "practical control of nature", James pointed out, "accelerates so that no one can trace the limit; one may even fear that the being of man may be crushed by bis own powers, that his fixed nature as an organism may not prove adequate to stand the strain of the ever increasingly tremendous functions, almost divine creative functions, which his intellect will more and more enable him to wield. He may drown in his wealth like a child in a bath-tub, who has turned on the water and who cannot turn it off." But for Americans in 1946 the vital question, more than ever before, seemed to be the one which James had asked forty years earlier. "Will you join the procession? Will you trust yourself and trust the other agents enough to face the risk ? "