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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 56/January 1900/Editor's Table

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 56‎ | January 1900

Editor's Table.


IN a most thoughtful article, in the Modern Education Series of The Cosmopolitan, President Hadley, of Yale, remarks that the conception of a liberal education changes as forms of government change. "It takes one shape," he proceeds to say, "in a military state, and quite another shape in a state ruled by public opinion. In the former case it will teach the sterner virtues of courage and pride. In the latter case it will teach respect for law, progressiveness, and human sympathy. But in either case a liberal education is an education for citizenship; a development of those distinguishing qualities moral, intellectual, and physical by which the people are to be ruled." It is a happy definition of "a liberal education" to say that it is "an education for citizenship." From this point of view the most liberally educated man will be he who is educated to be a citizen of the world and to feel his relation not only to the present but to the past, and the future as well. Comte had much the same idea when he taught that the moral and social education of the individual was accomplished first by the family, then by the state, and finally by the race. In other words, the egoism of the individual is first tamed by family life, then broadened by political life, and, lastly, humanized in the full sense by conscious participation in the age-long progress of mankind. President Hadley has well chosen the qualities which he says a liberal education under a democracy should aim at developing, but we think he might with much advantage have added another. He will remember that when the poet Horace would describe the character of a high-principled citizen, a man just and firm of purpose, he says that his mind is shaken neither by the lowering countenance of a tyrant nor by the frenzy of the populace commanding vicious courses of policy. In our land and time the vultus instantis tyranni is no longer, if it ever was, an object of terror, but the civium ardor prava jubentium is a danger, we fear, which has yet to be reckoned with.

In a state, therefore, which is ruled by public opinion one of the qualities which a liberal education should most distinctly aim to impart is firmness to resist popular pressure when exerted in a wrong direction. In like manner, under an aristocracy a truly liberal education would not be one that would tend to perpetuate in the rising generation the faults of the preceding one, or to shut out all criticism of the established régime; on the contrary, its tendency should be to temper whatever was extreme or one-sided in the views of the ruling class. The liberality of an education comes in just here, in opening out wider views than would probably be acquired in actual contact with private business or public affairs. When William Pitt, while Prime Minister of England, betook himself to the study of Adam Smith's recently published Wealth of Nations, and began to consider how he could apply the enlightened and philosophical views contained therein to the fiscal policy of the British Empire, he was converting his old-fashioned liberal education into a liberal education of the best kind. A liberal education, let it be thoroughly understood, is not one which delivers over an individual to the dominant influences of his place and time, whatever they may be, but one which enables him to react, when necessary, against such influences under the guidance of wider views and deeper principles. It is an illiberal education, let it embrace what it may, which simply equips a man for exploiting for his own benefit the conditions and tendencies which he finds prevailing in the society around him; and too much of what passes for liberal education has, we fear, had no better result. In a country like ours, liable to be swept by gusts of popular excitement, not to say passion, the aim of all higher education should be to create a class of citizens trained for social influence, and yet able to stand on their guard against sensational politics, to distinguish between true and false patriotism, and to uphold the claims of justice and honor when threatened by popular infatuation and tumult. We read in Thucydides that Cleon, the typical demagogue of ancient Athens, did not hesitate to tell his fellow-citizens that republics were not adapted for holding distant territories in subjection. If Cleon was a demagogue, what are we to think of the highly educated men who in our country echo the popular cry for an imperial policy, and say that millions of people beyond sea who ask only for liberty should be compelled by force of arms to be our subjects? Let our colleges and universities see to it that they understand "a liberal education" in the right sense.



Much surprise has been expressed at the unusual prevalence of violence of all kinds in the United States during the past year. It has seemed quite extraordinary that in a nation devoted, as the American nation is, to vast schemes of philanthropy at home and abroad, such atrocious crimes as the mutilation and burning of negroes and the explosion of dynamite under street cars should be committed. From the sympathetic and self-sacrificing spirit manifested in the enthusiastic response to the appeal to arms to free Cuba and Puerto Rico from Spanish cruelty and despotism, and the repression of the insurrection in the Philippine Islands for the purpose of introducing order and civilization, something quite different was expected. There should have been a deeper interest in the welfare of the negro and a greater effort to protect him in the enjoyment of his rights. There should have been created a tie between capital and labor that no differences about wages or hours of toil could have ruptured with murderous animosities. In a word, there should have been a manifestation of fraternal feeling among all classes and in all sections that would have advanced the United States a long step toward the goal of civilization. So general has been the anticipation of these fruits from the war with Spain that one of the most familiar arguments in favor of it has been the subjective regeneration that would follow the attempt at objective regeneration. That is to say, the American people were to find a cure for their own moral disorders in their cure of the moral disorders of their neighbors.

To a student of the social philosophy of Herbert Spencer it will be no surprise nor disappointment that this expectation, so worthy of a generous and self-sacrificing people, has not been and is not likely to be realized. No truth set forth in his works is more firmly established than his profound induction that external aggression always begets internal aggression—that assaults upon the rights of others abroad leads to assaults upon the rights of others at home. "As it is incredible," he says, "that men should be courageous in the face of foes and cowardly in the face of friends, so it is incredible that other feelings fostered by perpetual conflicts abroad should not come into play at home. We have just seen," he adds, alluding to the proofs of this truth that he has given, "that with the pursuit of vengeance outside the society there goes the pursuit of vengeance inside the society, and whatever other habits of thought and action constant war necessitates must show their effects on social life at large." The facts in support of Mr. Spencer's generalization are to be found in the history of every militant people. He mentions himself the Fijian's sacrifice of their own people at their cannibal festivals, and the prevalence of assassination among the Turks from the earliest times down to the present. He mentions also the hideous acts of cruelty that are to be found in the records of Greek and Roman civilization. To these examples may be added the atrocities committed by Italians upon Italians during the last days of the mediæval republics, and those committed by Frenchmen upon Frenchmen during the French Revolution. "The victories of the Plantagenets in France," said Goldwin Smith, pointing out not long ago the futility of war as a cure for national factiousness, "were followed by insurrections and civil wars at home, largely owing to the spirit of violence that the raids in France excited. The victories of Chatham were followed by disgraceful scenes of cabal and faction, as well as corruption, terminating in the prostration of patriotism and the domination of George III and North."

It is impossible to hope that the United States can be an exception to the social law thus established. However pure the motive that may lie at the bottom of a war of aggression, it can not annul the law. The shedding of blood and the seizure of territory produce a callousness of feeling and a perverted view of the rights of others that are certain to turn the hands striking a foreign foe to the work of domestic strife. Already we have seen with what bitterness such men as Prof. Charles Eliot Norton and Mr. Edward Atkinson have been assailed. We have seen, too, how attempts have been made to discredit the principles of the Declaration of Independence, and to show that the Constitution must not be permitted to stand in the way of what has been politely called the fulfillment of the destiny of the United States. We have seen, finally, how proposals for the disfranchisement of American citizens have been listened to in all parts of the country with a toleration that must cause the old abolitionists to turn in their graves. But the spirit thus manifested has not, we may be sure, failed to contribute to the perpetration of the outrages that have shocked every right-minded observer of current events. It is not a difference of kind but only one of degree that separates the slaughter of Spaniards in Cuba and Tagals in Luzon from the slaughter of negroes in the South and the explosion of dynamite under street cars in the North. The inhuman instincts that impel to the one impel to the other.