This Troubled Age


By J. O. BOYD, President, Board of Trustees, Culver-Stockton College, Keokuk, Iowa

Delivered at Culver-Stockton College, Canton, Missouri, August 23, 1943

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 211-216.


The Problem Stated

IT is impossible for one to pick up a daily paper or turn on the radio without becoming conscious that we are living in a troubled age. There is doubt and confusion everywhere. Writers of magazine articles, discussing home life, indicate that the home of today is not the old-fashioned home it used to be. Those who discuss our schools and school systems deplore many things and insist that it is difficult to shape an educational system with so many pupils coming from uncertain environments. Those who discourse upon criminology deplore the rapid increase in juvenile delinquency. Those who study social sciences deplore "quicky marriages" and speedier divorces. Crime is not confined to any group, age or strata of society.

Those who write about religion and the church deplore the decrease in attendance at church, the lack of interest in things religious, the general failure to attend church on the part of the wealthy and a like absence on the part of the laboring classes. The spiritual lights of the present age are either turned off or are burning very dimly.

When we turn to affairs of state, we find all varieties of pressure groups trying to secure some advantage in legislation or in distributions from the public treasury. We complain of increased taxation, increased bureaucracy, and general regimentation. Many feel that our fundamental freedoms are at stake and that the system of private property and individual enterprise is being weighed in the balance and found wanting. The average citizen looks around and sees wasteful public extravagance, mounting public debt and a future cloudy with fog and mist.

There is confusion in giving directives, and conflict between government agencies. The law-abiding citizen is confused as to where he should find authority and direction. All the while public employees are increasing in number. Thereare today more federal employees in most states than there are state and local municipal employees. The local municipal, state and federal employees all live off the productive citizen and all are engaged in giving him directives and controlling his activities.

When we turn to international affairs, we find that there is suspicion and distrust among the nations of the world. In recent years there has been a rapid increase in failure to perform international obligations. Nations have made treaties of peace and vowed good intentions, only to deceive and prepare for sudden assault. Treaties lie broken on every hand. The pillars of civilization at times appear to be crumbling. We find the world in a war so devastating that hospitals, churches, schools, libraries, public works of art and all those cultural things once held sacred, even by invading barbarous hordes, are being demolished with the same attitude displayed by the proverbial "bull in a china shop."

Destruction is rife on every side. Rules of international conduct are not respected. National leaders seek skill in Machiavellian deceit. The leaders of few nations are willing to trust their citizens and make frank statements with reference to public affairs. Every nation imposes a censorship and maintains a propaganda bureau for the purpose of giving its citizens only that information which the leaders desire the people should receive.

This appears to be of all ages the most troubled age. There is confusion of thought. There is absent an observance of those historic fundamental principles of conduct between nations. The individual standards of right and wrong action are at times very hazy. On every hand confusion and "fuzzy" thinking abound.

Many insist that we are going through a catastrophic social revolution and that, when we emerge from this confused period, there will be a new world wholly different from the old world; that somehow or other we will live in a Shangri-la without private property, without rewards for individual enterprise, without the old incentives, without religion, and in complete abandonment of the ancient heritage assured us by our government.

In Matthew 6, when the Great Teacher of human conduct gave His discourse upon the troubles of that day, He concluded with:

"Oh, ye of little faith! But seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you."

There was in His message the authority of the eternal and the majestic ring of fundamental truth. There was in His words a clear beacon light, lighting man's pathway to higher and better things. His message was built upon the fundamental and the eternal. There was no confusion, there was no doubt—no troubled thought in His words. He realized that His hearers were troubled and confused because of their lack of faith in the eternal verities.

It is my thesis today that we are living in a troubled age and in an era of confused thinking because we have disregarded the eternal and fundamental things that make for enduring life and that crown man with greatness and glory.

In the short space of a Commencement address it is impossible to outline a solution for such a large subject. Perhaps we may for a few minutes consider the problem and consider some of the questions that have to do with the solution of the problem—that in your thinking you may feel a responsibility and a duty to pursue the subject toward a solution.

Every age has had its problems, has had its confused thinkers, has had its trials and experiences, its successes and its failures. The more rapidly we make progress, the more complex our problems become. No age has ever been without its problems, its future has been shaped by the speed with which it solved its problems and whether the solution was the right solution. Many times mankind has thought that it had the correct solution, but after years of trial, has found that it was on the wrong road and has had to go back and get on the right path.

There are hours of decision for every individual that shape his whole future, and there are hours of decision for nations that shape their destiny. As individuals and as nations we cannot evade or avoid making these decisions. We must meet these problems, and our responsibility as citizens is to endeavor to find the right solution.

It is my purpose to present some of the problems that affect us in two or three realms of thought and action.


Education Is Basic in a Democracy

Without going into specific dates and details, it is generally recognized that between 1776 and 1789 we set up in this country a government of rather unique design. Its founders planned for a maximum of those freedoms for the citizen that would encourage initiative, character-building, with their attendant rewards, and the pursuit of happiness through the possession of property and the encouragement of individual growth.

The founders of this government realized that if their experiment proved to be successful, it meant those who participated in the government must be an educated people. It was not a government designed for slaves or a slave-mind, but it was deigned as a government for free men with a free mind.

In order, therefore, to secure the character of citizenship required to assure permanence for the new government, schools and colleges had been established and the founders encouraged the establishment of additional schools and colleges and a general dissemination of education.

At or about this time the following educational institutions were established: Harvard in 1636, College of William and Mary in 1693, Yale in 1701, Columbia in 1754, Brown in 1764, Rutgers in 1766, Dartmouth in 1769, Bowdoin in 1794, and many others. This list alone is very impressive when we consider the population and youth of the country.

Therefore, our educational system presents a problem of prime importance. Schools of all kinds, colleges, universities, including public schools, were fostered and encouraged by the colonies and by the states in the early days of the union. The school system was the bulwark upon which our institutions rested and everything was done to encourage and promote the proper growth and influence of every institution that would educate man.

In the early days and up until approximately fifty years ago, the curriculum of these various schools was rather limited. Emphasis was placed upon what was known as the "liberal arts." The object and purpose was to produce an educated man. The entrance requirements were usually rather high and the accomplishments to be attained were somewhat exacting.

Useless vs. Useful Knowledge

We found that a great many people who might desire to be classed as educated were unable to comprehend the courses prescribed and to meet the requirements for study in those courses. There grew up a school of thought by whom it was argued that so much of the knowledge taught in the colleges and universities was "useless knowledge." The proponents of the new idea emphasized that knowledge should be "useful"—that you couldn't eat Latin, Greek and history—and that one had to make a living.

Some forty or fifty years ago this idea became very influential and the thought of the country was generally turnedtoward an education that was measured in dollars and cents. Emphasis was placed upon the fact that one should be educated for the purpose of making a living. As a result of the growth of these ideas, we began to dilute the courses of study in our high schools, colleges and universities. Forty years ago most standard high schools had only sixteen or eighteen subjects in their entire course of study. Recently it has been stated that there are high schools in some of our larger cities that offer as many as two hundred fifty different subjects of study.

The prime purpose in securing an education became that of helping one make a living, and with the passing of years, more and more emphasis was placed upon training for that purpose. The study of Latin, Greek, history, mathematics and other studies pursued in the liberal arts college became classified as "useless knowledge." We set up in all our schools, including the high schools, courses in business training, manual training, domestic science, stenography, bookkeeping and other special courses. Social science was substituted for history. Our students were taught the "how" of things, welding, woodwork, carving, basket making, vocational training. Latin and the languages, higher mathematics, philosophy, history,—the story of man's trials and errors, his successes and failures became "useless knowledge." The thing to do was to train the man for his particular job.

The next application of this principle was to specialize and become experts. We had special schools for teachers, for lawyers, for doctors, and everyone must secure special training for some special position or place in society.

Must Society Supply Employment?

The natural corollary of this training is that if society trains people for certain duties, then society must supply the demand for that sort of employment. The next step is that it is up to the government, or society, to support those who have been trained by society for duties for which there is no longer a demand. Everyone who takes special training expects employment in that line of work for the purpose of procuring a living. If society is going to specialize in the training of its citizens, society must not take the jobs away from them and leave the trainees helpless derelicts. It is the natural duty of society to support those whom it trains for certain specified tasks in society.

The trouble with this philosophy is that with progress in the pursuit of happiness, we get away from many of the jobs that once were in demand and remunerative. Instead of making garments in the home, we now make them by the dozen in factories. There is little use, therefore, for the seamstress. Instead of making shoes in the home, we make them in quantities and cases in the factories. Therefore, the shoemaker finds it difficult to follow the vocation he once followed. So it is with the more recent and more refined specialties. As progress is made, as changing conditions arise, we may have too many stenographers, too many bookkeepers, too many lawyers, too many teachers, too many doctors, too many specialists.

The idea in an early day was that an educated man had acquired certain creative forces, certain disciplines of the mind, that would enable him to adjust his situation in life to new conditions. When we train a person to do certain things, that person becomes more or less like a trained seal and can perform only those acts for which he is trained.

Training, even in "useful knowledge," is, therefore, no substitute for education. Education in the old style was a process of acquiring the deposited wisdom of former ages. The men who wrote our Constitution and Bill of Rights were men who were educated in the wisdom of ancient experiences,—the story of man in his struggles as disclosed by history.

What Should an Educated Man Know?

Today there is no particular thing that an educated man must know. He is commonly called educated if he has taken any one of the many optional courses offered by our colleges and universities and has put in the requisite hours. There is no specific body of knowledge he has acquired in common with others. He has acquired no culture in common with others.

When the curriculum was confined to literature and languages, mathematics, history, government, philosophy, certain sciences, the student who pursued the course was acquiring the deposited knowledge of former ages, and he was acquiring from the same source the same culture that his fellows acquired. He and his fellows had a culture in common. Each knew what an educated man should know. When the high school courses had sixteen or eighteen subjects, every student who went through the school had a common background of primary education. There was a common knowledge belonging to all the group.

Now, when the student goes through a high school, a college or a university with many different optional courses, there are very few in each individual group who have the same background,—the same common culture. The student has so many optional courses, so many optional subjects for study, the common culture is spread so thin that there are very few of his kind who have the same background of knowledge.

We have, therefore, given up a priceless heritage of having instilled in our student body a common culture that alone can give a common purpose. We have produced a student without many associates having the same common cultural background. There are as many backgrounds as there are students. Each has an isolated culture of his own. There is no common unity.

With the decline in liberal education and the growth in vocational training, we have lost our interest in real knowledge. We have lost much of the art of thinking and have produced illiterate specialists incapable of solving unexpected problems of a rapidly contracting world.

Our leaders are of the same type, and hence we live in a troubled age. Our leaders are confused in their thinking and there is confusion of thought everywhere. One may go into any group and find that there are very few in the group who have any clear well-defined ideas as to the purpose or function of government. They have confused ideas of religion. They are lost in a mysterious universe. The confusion that has existed among those who have the responsibility of educating the youth of society has contributed to the confusion existing today, and this confusion has produced a troubled age.

A Suggested Solution

You may likely ask: "What solution is there for this situation? It serves no helpful purpose to criticize an existing situation unless there is a remedy." Let me suggest:

(1) That those responsible for the preparation of courses of study in our colleges and universities agree upon a definite body of knowledge with which each educated man or woman should have an intimate working acquaintance. This, in my opinion, will be garnered largely from the liberal arts courses of the past. It will include specific studies in higher mathematics, in history, including government, in languages and literature, in basic sciences and psychology. It will have for its purpose the training of the intellect, the development of the mind. Its application to the job of making a living will be merely incidental.

It will be a course of study built for the purpose of making an intellectual man or woman capable of having initiativeand possessing the qualities of leadership found in the study of man's career. It will produce a group that has a common background in the study of the wisdom of the ages. This group, as a result of its studies, will have a perspective of man's history from earliest times down to the present,—man's efforts at trial and error, his successes and failures.

Those who pursue this course of common knowledge, will acquire a common culture, and should alone be those entitled to the rank or degree of bachelor, master and doctor.

In the courses of study pursued, there should be little room for optional subjects. The object should be to develop a social culture which is the outgrowth of man's experience, and which consists of a definite body of knowledge with which an educated man should have a working acquaintance.

(2) Those who want to secure a training for the primary purpose of filling a job or making a living should have a "useful knowledge" curriculum containing those studies deemed advisable in the training of specialists or experts. Even this course or these courses should contain as much of the liberal arts course as possible. Those who accomplish the required proficiency and acquire the background of this specialized culture should receive certificates or degrees appropriate to the special course pursued.

These two conceptions of the approach to education should never be confused, nor should the ideals of either be sacrificed to the other. Both should emphasize thoroughness in instruction and both should be presented with a view to fitting for leadership the students in each group. To each group should be taught and emphasized the principles and duty of thinking, to the end that the maximum of initiative, the maximum of trained ability for leadership be instilled.

The difficulty of the present situation is the absence of some definite background of common culture, of common knowledge required as a prerequisite to the highest thinking and as a binding influence toward unity. We have produced a generation that does not have its feet on the ground, and as a result we have no real leadership. We are all guilty of "fuzzy" thinking—all of which contributes to confusion of purpose and disunity.


The Function of Government

We are confused today in our thinking about the function of government. We are unacquainted with the story of Greece, of Rome, and the ancient and medieval world. The record of man's trials and errors, his failures and successes, is a closed book to an ever-increasing number of people. We, therefore, without knowledge of the experience of the past, proceed with experiments which man has already tried at numerous times and in numerous places.

We are experimenting with the redistribution of wealth through taxation, with procedures that stifle initiative and self-reliance, with the reconstruction of our social order. Without knowledge of the effect of pressure groups in ages past, the degenerating influence of a people looking to the state for the source of their support, and the source of all directives to action, we try again the trial and error procedure. To demonstrate fully the experiment, we acquire a large number of those who look upon our government as a Santa Claus possessing unlimited resources. It takes time to determine just how many public parasites society can with safety carry.

We fail to appreciate the fact that a government is nothing more than the collective action of a group of people, and the story man has written of his past efforts makes dull reading to the experimenters. Man is the only animal that records the story of his successes and failures. We call that record history. We would rather read about some movie actor ormovie star or about Mickey Mouse than read Gibbon or Hume or Wells or any other narrator of man's struggles.

We are dallying with ideas of collectivism. We toy with notions that free us of responsibility and relieve us of all ideas of duty. We seem to have an idea that by pooling the ignorance of many, we can produce wisdom.

We have lost sight of the divine command that by the sweat of our brow should our bread be acquired. We fail to realize that there are only three ways by which we can acquire wealth,—we can earn it, we can steal it, or we can have it given to us.

A Parasitic Society

We join some pressure group through whose organized efforts we are engaged in extracting some wealth by governmental process. We do not realize that a parasite is one who lives off the blood and sweat and tears of another. We may give the situation an euphonious name, but such name will merely be a polite term for pauperism where one lives off the toil of another with no compensating service rendered. Taking one's support through taxes is a form of modern larceny not countenanced in the Ten Commandments. We all want social security—at the expense of the government, little realizing that the government acquires all its resources from the productive forces within the country.

Several years ago Dr. Glenn Frank stated in an address at Sioux City, Iowa, that "the decay of civilization is signalized by a people gone mendicant and demanding alms of the government." He stated that, if the individual citizen is made a thing dependent, the regime that rules such citizens is a failure. Virility, integrity and the genius of individuals for self help are among the imperative materials with which to build an enduring civilization. Where every individual is dependent on the government, none can criticize the government. Freedom of expression is lost.

In an early day, a writer in the Federalist said that "power over man's support is power over his will."

We are facing a crisis in government due to cliques, groups demanding special favors and securing them as a result of organized effort. An organized minority group can effectively impair the welfare of the whole people.

Grover Cleveland once said, in a message vetoing an appropriation for the benefit of a group of citizens, that "government should be supported by the.people, not people supported by the government."

In 1940 when France fell, an old Frenchman who had fought in the wars of 1870 and again in 1914, said of his people:

"We saw no further than the parish pump and were well satisfied when our representatives in Parliament brought home the gravy. We always spoke of our dues and never of our duties; of our rights and not of our responsibilities. We came to regard the state as a cow to be milked and not a watch dog to be fed."

Those who set up our form of government were students of government,—they discussed the function of government,—they were acquainted with the history of all governments of the past and they constructed a system upon the theory as expressed by James Madison that:

"The problem is to set up a government strong enough to control the governed and then to require it to control itself."

The Responsibility of Government

Such an idea of government recognizes that the function of government is to restrain the vicious, the unconscionable, the greedy, the one who regards not justice and right conduct; to protect the weak from the force of the strong, to restrain the

powerful and the power-hungry, to hold the scales measuring each individual opportunity to pursue happiness so that none may hinder and by none may any be hindered in the pursuit of this elusive object.

John Wise at Ipswich, Massachusetts, in 1717 said:

"The end of all good government is to cultivate humanity and to promote the happiness of all, and the good of every man in all his rights, his life, liberty, estate, honor, without injury or abuse to any."

In early life we should strive to build our ideas of the function of government and our relation as citizens to the government, on a firm foundation and not on shifting sands. It is not enough to have a knowledge of what is good, but we must acquire that knowledge in such a way that we will want to uphold the right and find a pleasure in enjoying our own freedom and assuming a responsibility to preserve it. No one can be secure in freedom unless all are free. My rights are not secure while your rights are in jeopardy. No one can be wronged without the act of doing the wrong striking at the whole body of the people. To assure one's own rights, one has a duty and responsibility to assuredly maintain the same rights for everyone.

A government or a state is merely a form of organization set up by a people for the purpose of securing equal rights and just treatment for all, equal opportunities to pursue happiness, equal opportunities to enjoy the rights and privileges of free men. When any individual in a free society is deprived of his rights as a free man and a free citizen, every other citizen should feel a compelling duty and a responsibility to assist the wronged to secure justice. Responsible citizenship cannot do otherwise. We should realize this responsibility and endeavor to make it a part of our thinking, for on the morrow it may be our rights that are destroyed and our opportunities thwarted by one who has wrongfully used power and authority.


A Moral Purpose Must Control

Our confusion in the religious realm has been largely due to the emphasis placed upon creed and ritual and denominational and theological differences. In times past we have argued over theories with reference to miracles and other questions of theological difference and have endeavored to make those ideas vital in the matter of an individual's approach to Deity.

We are willing to tolerate difference of opinion with reference to almost any question except that of religion. When we go into the realm of religion, we try to make all minds think alike. We want everyone to view all religious questions through our glasses, with our background of experience, with our prejudices and our intolerances. We should learn the lesson of the Spanish monarch who, after years of trying to make all people think alike, retired to a cloister and endeavored to make two clocks that would keep time alike. When he found he could not make two clocks operate in unison, he realized the folly of trying to make all minds think alike.

God has never duplicated even so small a creation as a clover seed. There are no two thumb prints alike, and there are no two minds that have bad the same identical background of experience and who think alike on every question.

We should realize that religious teachings should be filled with moral purpose. Much of this so-called religious instruction has no helpful character-building material and oftentimes is void of any valuable helpful thought. Many times it approaches near superstition.

Religion should emphasize worthy ideals rather than miracles, the vague, the indefinite and theoretical opinions.

We should build upon what is known, what is commonly recognized as truth. Has it not been said:

"Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32).

It is important that religious instruction should have a well-established definite moral purpose with a view to inculcating a thorough knowledge of right from wrong. Conduct is shaped by the employment of the mind. Belief in a particular ceremony, a theory of the Trinity or a ritual, has little helpfulness in stabilizing character. We should get the lesson of the miracle rather than try to impress a belief in the fact of the miracle. The lesson may be one of sympathy, of tolerance, of moral purpose.

The story of the immaculate conception is a lesson on the dignity of man, the fatherhood of God, the inherent pride of origin, and that all men should live like sons of God. No man who regards God as his father should live lowly like a beast. No man who takes pride in his origin can live unworthily.

Jesus had a high conception of being a son of God and He lived like a son of God should live. He talked about life in the Kingdom of Heaven because He wanted all men to be sons of God, children of a common father, and they, therefore, should live with each other as brethren. If men would live like sons of God, they would be good neighbors.

God does His ruling by unchangeable laws, and enduring life depends upon obedience to His law. There is no life outside of law. Man using God's law has infinite capacity for growth and enrichment.

Principles of Progress

Let us glimpse briefly some of man's progress: Crude grunts of satisfaction or disapproval, then repeated sounds with recurring meaning, comprehension of this meaning by others, then words, few at first, growing in number with expanding intelligence, growth of thought, mental visions, many shades of meaning expressing shades of emotion, then language and literature,—all constantly growing and expanding with man's progress.

Again: Rude sounds, then rhythm, crude instruments, then music capable of unending improvement and expansion.

Again: Shells, peculiar rocks, crude tokens of a desire to possess, expanded into money, then a system of credit and exchange and trade, buying new desires, new standards of living, all the while the facility constantly growing and expanding for the happiness and pleasure of man.

Every art and every science is capable of infinite expansion, growth and improvement for man's pleasure and progress. A perverted use brings harmful results—punishment. Used aright, they make man more godlike. Working with God in growth and expansion, man becomes the master of his own happiness and shapes his own progress.

A noble conception of God has always wanned the pioneer spirit and given courage to the pioneer soul. Religion is the culture of the spirit of man. It operates in the realm of ideals. It stirs the highest moral purpose of man and leads him along paths to high experience on the mountain-tops of great attainment.


Problems Bring Opportunity

Every age has its problems. A nation without problems is static. It is making no progress. Problems indicate possibilities for progress. This troubled age is full of problems,—problems demanding a solution. We have taken a slight glimpse of some of these problems that are confronting you as you enter the commencement of life's activities. We haveendeavored briefly to sketch some fundamental things in three principal realms of human action for your contemplation.

It is your great opportunity to help solve the perplexing issues of this hour. You are going forth with armor bright and newly acquired implements. May you have a clear conception of the worth of the knowledge gained in your education, a sound notion of the function of government—or the function of the social structure in whose arena you enter into active life, and an inspired and abiding faith in God's everlasting purpose in all the activities of life. I pray that you be not led astray by the confusion of the struggle, but that you bear your part nobly. For you—

"There is glory to be gained,
There are great deeds to be done,
There are goals still unattained,
Waiting some courageous one.
What was finished yesterday|
Merely paves tomorrow's way."