Science, Civilization and Faith



Presidential Address, American "Neurological Association, Rye, New York, June 6, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VI, pp. 583-586.

GENTLEMEN: It is with humility and thanks that I come before you today, having been given by you our most honorable title. To be, even passingly, the head of a Society of learning of such a country as this is an event in one's inner life and prompts questionings of ones inner worth. But I do not propose to turn my office into a grisly confessional and will only consent to the necessary psychological dissection at the hands of some very kindly colleague, and behind the arras. But thanks, and again thanks.

We are met here to discuss in detailed fashion some of the abnormalities of our individual organisms. However, today, it seems fit that we should first look with fearful and anxious gaze at the maladies of the organism of the world.

We here concern ourselves with the master-organ of life, the great integrator which brings into harmonious relationship, so varied an array of forces as are in one's tissues and organs. It is therefore proper and right that we should extend our horizons and regard the integration of the Community which is ours, the dangers that menace it, and the

threatened dissolution of harmonious relationship, which as in the physical body may spell death, may also in a civilization write a final word. Later, I shall speak of the new trend toward an arid professionalism in science, of its growing intellectuality at the expense of its heart, of its need of union with philosophy; and also of the poverty of diencephalic push in the political thinking of you and me.

Each civilization of which we have knowledge had an ordered growth, a life history almost as precise as that of a man. In each there appears first, Order; then Law; next architecture whence comes sculpture; then painting and literature, and near the close, as in our own time, Science. So each era breeds specialists; those in the earlier periods of the Arts being better integrated,—with their past and future as were Da Vinci, Shakespeare, Michael Angelo, and on a lower level Sir Thomas Brown,—than those of the age of Science and Invention, which is a more discreet occurrence or a more sudden efflorescence, during which men are apt to forget Poetry which must be the Spearhead of every civilization, and to forget Faith which gives civilization force. The man of one age cannot do as well the especial work of the man of the other. No man living today could create Salisbury Cathedral,—though he might copy it. And no man of the Twelfth Century could do our work in medicine or physics. In each of these epochs, men tend to become overmuch the product of their own time; to speak in the idiom of their period; to groove their energies, often into ruts. And when specialism in a scientific era becomes hypertrophied and professionalized, the world intellect becomes unbalanced; values get lost; loveliness is misapprehended, and men lose their way.

So in science, we risk degenerating into a medley of hypothesis if we join not Science to philosophy, which the Greeks used to integrate all knowledge. And philosophy lacks meaning if there be little feeling for beauty and the arts that make a pattern for us out of the unknowable; for Life, "like a dome of many colored glass, stains the white radiance of eternity." Science can be no cloistered or fugitive thing. It cannot sit cowering in its laboratory, while freedom dies. Science was born out of the womb of freedom; it must feel for its mother. It must protect its house. It must have high-hearted ways and be ashamed of priggish petitions from its children to the President of this country saying that because, forsooth, they are scientists they are above the battle and addicted to the higher life. These men showed themselves in that action the gadgeteers of science, totally unaware that the ancestors of the spirit of true science were Aeschylus, and Sophocles who saw life steadily and saw it whole. No one in a world as dangerous as this one, can afford the luxury of an ivory tower,—in such case he is an intellectual poltroon—and desiccated at that.

These esoteric but good little boys of science said pompously the truism that war is out of harmony with the rational spirit and with the objective methods of science. But of course! that's true too of all men of good will;—but what do they mean by "objective?" Science can more easily be objective today in Pasadena than on a Belgian road under machine guns and the objectivity of science in Leipzig at this moment exists in the exact proportion of the usefulness of that science to the National Socialist Administration. The scientist, the poet, the soldier, the laboring man, and the laboring mother, are, in Naziland, all conscripts—doing time; press-ganged by a so-called government which has adopted as its watchword the most foolish of all phrases Oderint dum metuant." To be hated, if only they can also be feared, an evil cry of despair. Indeed one might say to many of our scientific over-specialized colleagues, so empty of so much, the deep cry of Oliver Cromwell "My brethren, by the bowels of Christ, I beseech you, bethink you that you may be mistaken?"

The Scholastics of the middle ages gave us as heritage the ideal of precise thinking, and intellectual discipline. This legacy we have put to good purpose on material things and we have done much thereby to subdue the rigor of our surroundings, so much so that we tend to confuse civilization with comfort and Science with Security. (We have open plumbing openly arrived at, and by way of balance, apes in aeroplanes as well.)

But, have we noticed that the Scholastics brought to their unutilitarian tasks the amulet of a passionate faith. Somewhere, however, perhaps in the Eighteenth Century, this Faith, this magical emotional quality, blew away. So, instead of faith, the mass of Western culture has been left with "habit," and habit breeds no energy. But men must worship; they have to fertilize their souls on something,— and the Emperor-God is the oldest form of worship. As Matthew Arnold told us God must be a Power outside and greater than ourselves which makes for righteousness. But men can be dragooned from childhood into a perverted conception of what they must call righteousness. Twenty-five years ago a German Pastor en route for their present religion prayed to his god: "Du, der hoch iiber Cherubinen, Seraphinen, Zeppelinen, ewig tronst," and today, three hundred and fifty millions of men have as their emotive power a blind worship of a Figure; for the Nazi, "Mein Kampf" is the Bible, and contemplation of the Fuehrer takes the place of prayer. This total belief in their decision gives them energy; only another belief and decision just as strong can successfully confront that energy.

Our doctrine of Democracy has come out of two thousand years of Christianity: a system of ethics and philosophy which exalted the importance of the individual man, giving him personality, dignity, and hope. To make us victorious, we must, find a passion for personal Freedom within the framework of a Society, and a passionate faith at that! But for two hundred years we have drained out of our religion, and out of our liberal opinions, the magic of emotion. We believe in kindness but hardly in the Immaculate Conception; and the Holy Ghost seems more like a J. M. Barrie whimsy than a Tongue of Fire. And that a citizen is a free man we take to be a natural law. But the innate need to draw strength from the level of Mystery and Magic must be served in all of us, we instinctively grope for deeper help. For example, within British men and women there is a mystical reverence for the Crown, for the person of the King. This is an emotion built into the organism, entirely lacking rational foundation. But, the chalice of community that anoints the King acts as the spiritual and religious bond of more than three score nations of many faiths and many colors covering in internal peace a quarter of the world. A spiritual and emotional drive lacking which British contribution to political philosophy could have no existence nor valid power. In our Country of America the mystical emotional symbol is "Freedom." But Freedom is no isolated abstraction, it is no natural estate, it is the legacy to us of a thousand years of battling men; if we would keep it, we must battle as they did, and fail not. It is a lie that all men have what Freedom they can afford,—the Barons at Runnymede and the Minutemen of New England had little economically in common; they were radically the same.

The world, as we want it, cannot live half Nazi and half free. The enemies of our freedom, by a restoration of symbolic and pagan worship have aroused in their people emotion for their cause; they think viscerally, and to think thusmeans power, however wrong the thoughts. In that power lies indeed a desperate danger for us and for our children. The spirit of free thought, the practice of free speech, the free way of life, the aspirations of science,—all may go. The gifts of the ages may be lost and instead may be left an atmosphere in men's relationships of quarrel and terror.

If Hitler could win the battle which by lies he has thrust on the most peaceful peoples on earth, he would give us a world in which, as Hobbes might have put it, there would be no place for ingenuity; no art; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continuous fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man then would be solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

Let me paraphrase for you some words of Coleridge written a century and a half ago, having an odd prophetic application to the personality of the moment. The Will appears in us indifferently as Wisdom or as Love: two names of the same power, the former intelligential, the latter spiritual. But in some few persons, the Will becomes Satanic pride and rebellious self-idolatry to itself, and remorseless despotism to others; the more hopeless, by reason of its subjugation of all sensual impulses, by its superiority to toil and pain and pleasure: in short, by the fearful resolve to find in itself alone the one absolute motive of action, under which all other motives from within and from without must be either subordinated or crushed.

Wherever such a character has appeared, under whatever circumstance of time and country, it has been identified by the same attributes. Hope, in which there is no cheerfulness; rigidity and immovable resolve, with outward restlessness and whirling activity; violence with guile; temerity with cunning; and, as a result of all, a single aim and utter indifference of means. These are the marks that have characterized the masters of mischief, the murderers of liberty. And even men of honest intentions too frequently become fascinated. Nay, whole nations have been so far duped as to regard with palliative admiration, instead of abhorrence, the Molochs of human nature, who dare to say with their whole heart "Evil, be thou my good!" In such a personality, system makes for power; and a systematic criminal, self-consistent and entire in wickedness, who entrenches villainy within villainy, and barricades crime by crime, has removed a world of obstacles by the mere decision that he will have no obstacles but those of force and brute matter. And so speaks Atila's voice of destruction:

"We are the guns, and your masters! Saw ye our flashes?
Hear ye the screams of our shells in the night, and the shuddering crashes?
Saw ye the work by the roadside, the shrouded things lying,
Moaning to God that He made them,—the maimed and the dying?
Husbands or sons, fathers and lovers, we break them.
We are the guns!"

In our struggle for the Heart of man, we must renew the faith; gain again the flaming emotion of Pitt, Cromwell, Washington, Lincoln and the great founders of this Republic. We must fire political doctrine with belief, with the magic of passion, for our own sake and for the decency of mankind. We must do dauntlessly because we have faith fully.

No, our social political belief must be lighted by reborn faith; and our science lighted by beauty and by a sense of our responsibility to our time. A chapter in the history of Earth closed with the appearance of man. In man, as Julian Huxley has put it, the world stuff had been made to thinkand feel, to love beauty and truth—the cosmos had generated soul. A new chapter then began, a chapter in which we all are characters. Matter had flowered in soul. Soul has now to mould matter.

That moulding of matter by spirit is, under one aspect: Science; under another, Art; under still another, religion. No one of these is enough, we need all.

For about forty years the fixed girders of society have been loosening. Belief in anything has been dubbed the characteristic of a low-brow. Relativity in the physical world has been matched by relativity in dignity and hope through some phases of modern psychology. Modern man has been compelled by science, and persuaded by half science, to regard himself as but a very little thing. It is only natural therefore that he should act often in accordance with his beliefs about himself.

Never before our time has there been declared open warfare on the intellect of man and at the same time upon that intrinsic goodness which is the jewel of each individual, be he beggar, thief or king. The substitution of "dynamic action" for "knowing" and "believing" is a brutality thrusting us backwards in our evolutionary striving for Good and is imposed on our senses by all the technical means of science. This brutalizing of our standards makes us less than were our fathers, They had their standards and codes, and deviation from them carried immediate penalty. In our days we have allowed ourselves, and we are constantly being encouraged to become so pliable, so flexible, so "relative" to all things, in a current phrase so "broad-minded", that we are in danger of having no ethic, no vision, no hope.

All things in the physical, chemical, or biological world exist in terms of a more or less unstable equilibrium between opposing forces. We ourselves maintain health and well-being in this manner and, since Law runs absolute in the universe, there must also be in the realm of morals and ethical behavior the same opposition of positive and negative power. We are therefore forced to believe in an ultimate good and an ultimate bad. We are swimming in a solution of relativity in these matters and because we have weakened in our critical judgment regarding them we have become, some nations more than others, the prey and ready victims of the constant impact of evil counsel. Through our lowered power of personal judgment, we have vacillated for years on the knife-edge of indecision. But indecision locks up energy; it stabs the heart. Whereas decision, clearly taken, brings calmness, strength, the quiet mind, and a flow of power. It is so in every man's experience, and since men make nations, it is so in national life. It is so on the field of battle and it is so in the more complex battlefield of civil living.

If one be unaware of the stream of history, of the fall and rise of energy in peoples, then one can be, by successive crises, shaken and made frail. But each good man has in himself a quiet place wherein he lives, however torn seemingly by the passions of the world. That is his citadel, which must be kept inviolate against assaults. That quiet place must be founded upon a rock, and the rock must be a belief, a fervent and passionate belief, in the existence of the ultimate good, and a willingness to put forth his strength against the ultimate evil. Only by so doing can he tap the flow of power needed to produce, between one nation and another, the same kindness and natural impulse for helping each other, the same natural acceptance of law, that obtains at present between people walking together in a city street. We must transfer to national units, as the United States of the World, the same reign of law and helpfulness that now exists between individuals, for as was said by Spinoza "there is nothing more serviceable to man than man." It is evidence of impoverished growth that we can tolerate an ethic for national behaviorthat we would not think of tolerating in personal conduct. But until the decision to work for this end is made both by those who lead and those who are led, energy for this high adventure will not be forthcoming. Again one must say, through decision comes power.

But there is no old world to go back to—a new one must be made; and there are lions in the way. So there must be bred and nurtured a robust vigor to resist the vicious assertion that a state is an entity in its own right; that it need have no morals nor obligations and that its members are creatures to do its bidding regardless of their own dignity and kindliness.

Mankind has always been fear-ridden. But as President Conant of Harvard said the other day the fear of war cannot be made the basis of national policy. In part the fear of war comes from the fear of death. We tend to dramatize death in war, but a few days ago I read that in the last eight months there have been sixty-one thousand accidental deaths in the United States, more than the dead of the American Expeditionary Forces in the last war at the hands of the enemy. Why do we not wring our hands over these dead civilians? Because these dead are expected by us as part of the natural attrition of existence. The ancients had no fear of dying. They took death as a natural part of life; it is better to die young than to outlive zest. You remember Rupert Brooke's words of death in battle:

Safe shall be my going,
Secretly armed against all death's endeavor;
Safe though all safety's lost; safe where men fall;
And if these poor limbs die, safest of all."

It is harder to have the courage of decision than courage of body which is possessed by nearly all. We must try to cultivate the quiet mind through letting our minds function through a fairly large arc of experience, a quality of the mind that balances intelligence with energy and gentleness with fortitude. Its coping stone is control, and its foundation stone, integrity.

In olden times the witches rode abroad, and simple folk felt themselves surrounded by dark forces against which they had no protection. Today science, because misapprehended, has made man feel a reduction of personal importance. We know for instance that there is a vast universe we cannot touch, that we cannot even imagine. We can only surmise in abstract thought, by speculative projection through the poetry of mathematics and emotional aspiration, that it exists at all.

But religion has always served us in this purpose. It is the earliest Art-Form, giving a frame to the unknowable. At first, man made religion as a shield against his ignorance of the appalling happenings by which he found himself surrounded. But the notion of geological Time and light-years of Space has given us a Cosmos occupied in constantly turning itself inside out, and at the same time constantly expanding to infinity. It was not for nothing that the ancient symbol of infinity was a serpent swallowing its own tail. So, as man first made religion as a shield against his ignorance, he now needs more than ever the Arch-Pattern of Religion as a shield against his knowledge. The foundation of religious pattern has been weakened and indeed rudely jumbled by the as yet unintegrated discoveries of science. The old Gods are uncertain at their altars and some of them upon their faces have been cast down. This has weakened us before the forces of anarchy and the radioed voices of Ahriman. The ancient fear of the next world has been replaced by an anxiety neurosis regarding this one, and as confidence in our own individual judgments, in our personal opinion, has been so reduced, we can be played upon by threatening tongues. Our union with the herd is strength when we decide to resist and are imbued with action, but it is weakness when we cannot or do not have either decision or faith. The excess of adrenal substance which would armor us for battle, in the absence of battle fills us with fears.

We are all suggestible. As was said to Alice in Wonderland, "anything that I say three times is true," and our critical faculty has become so enfeebled that for most of us indeed this is taken for fact.

This lowering of the standard of critical judgment, then, has been brought about in the first place by the weakening of respect for intellect, in the second by the notion of general relativity in all things and in the third by the permeation of our near intellectuals by modern psychological dogmas. These last tend to reduce man to his lowest and commonest denominator and while they do explain the stratification of his culture, they also assert that his highest aspirations are sublimates of his lowest and most primitive urges. All this unbelief in belief, this replacement of trust in intellect and sterilization of emotion for trust in "dynamism" and "action", is a reversal of man's onward progress.

But we may believe in ourselves—for there is a hard virtue somewhere still within us.

It must have been a murderous necessity that forced our ancient forebear, a superior water-creature, to take to the land, but it was a fiery thought out of his intellect that made man take to the air. And how far he might yet project his power and personality we cannot even guess. We think of all these things in far too small units of time. Because we ourselves live only seventy years, we imagine twenty-five of them must be indeed very important, yet they are not even an instant in the absolute. Mankind is only departing from the nursery. He stands bright eyed with new knowledge of his past and for the first time with the power and zest to mould—if he will—his own future. We may be indeed certain that we will be strong to endure, and when the seals of wrath have been finally placed upon the forehead of the Beast, we will make a new world, robustly believing in our power for Reason and in our power for Virtue.

Wendell Willkie


By CHARLES A. HALLECK, Congressman from Indiana

Nominating Speech, made at the Republican Convention in Philadelphia, June 26, 1940

R. CHAIRMAN, fellow delegates, men and women of America: This is a free and independent convention of a great political party. It's one convention in which the delegates are going to choose the candidate.

It is representative government in action. It is proof that democracy is yet alive and efficient.

If any one were to ask me what job in this convention VA like best to have I would choose the job I've got right now,