The Dial/Volume 15/Number 169/The Social Spirit in America


The Social Spirit in America.[1]


The growing interest in social problems throughout our country, both among scholars and the masses, is a hopeful and wholesome tendency to be welcomed and, fostered. There is here something more than a passing fashion or a mere literary pastime. Every intelligent and earnest mind recognizes that serious tasks of industrial reorganization are upon us. And this widespread consciousness of their existence, and the fertility in the invention of schemes for the bringing in of the millennium, are signs of promise that give us hope.
Pauperism and crime are not new diseases, but the systematic effort to prevent and extirpate these evils is a modern enterprise. The unjust distribution of wordly goods and the great miseries of the toiling masses, these have existed since the beginning of history ; but the encouraging fact is that they are now felt and fought as never before. The magazines overflow with discussions of the innumerable phases of the social problem ; special organs spring into existence to lead attacks upon specific strongholds of the common enemy ; the daily press sends reports of new theories and philanthropic efforts abroad on the wings of the morning ; special organizations spread as by magic to relieve some peculiar distress or repress some particular wrong ; these questions have come to the front in our Universities, and the pulpit begins to occupy itself with the topics and phases of social science. And all this is well. It will make religion more humane, more practical, and more catholic ; it will give us a literature of ethical power as well as of attractive beauty. Above all, it will regenerate human society by the intelligent application of remedial and educative agencies for the purification and enrichment of its corporate life.
Two notable contributions to the discussion of these problems have recently been made by Mr. N. P. Oilman and the Rev. Washington Gladden, the former in "Socialism and the American Spirit," and the latter in "Tools and the Man." The two books, though different in scope and method, have this much in common : they are both earnest in spirit, temperate in the discussion of the problems treated, and preeminently wholesome in their general teachings. Neither Mr. Oilman nor Mr. Oladden is doctrinaire or fanatic, but both men are practical Americans, anxious to learn from the teachings of all experience, and yet deeply conscious (Mr. Oilman more especially) that our social problems must be wrought out by independent thought working through methods designed to fit our peculiar conditions. Both men feel the tremendous sweep of the socialistic sentiment, and yet neither has parted company with that common-sense which keeps close to reality and brings all theoretical schemes to the test of experience. These pages reveal a deep sympathy for the larger aims of socialism, but neither author commits himself to any special socialistic programme, both being evolutionists rather than revolutionists. And here we have ample recognition of the moral aspects of industrial problems, with a clear realization that spiritual forces have a part to play in the ongoing and upbuilding of human society.
Both these books seem to me to be preeminently sane and opportune, spurs to the apathetic and indifferent, and needed correctives of that merely sentimental treatment of social problems which has been so much in vogue recently in and about Boston. Mr. Oilman's is by far the more scientific, original, and important treatise, with a stronger grip on the problem of socialism and a clearer vision of what is possible and expedient. Scholars will find in it a positive contribution to the topics discussed, and its words will do much to win men from flying socialistic kites to the slow but sure tasks of social amelioration. Mr. Gladden has made a little book that will stir many a complacent business man to new thoughts respecting the rights of laborers and the proper uses of his gains ; and it will do immense good by making thousands realize that Christianity, to be worth having, must be penetrated with the ethical passion and devoted to practical ministries of love.
The purpose of Mr. Oilman is not to give a history of socialism, though he weaves the essential facts of its various movements into the texture of his discussion. He does not attempt to expound or refute its principles so much as to bring them into comparison with the American spirit, and in this indirect way he shows how far the spirit of socialism may be welcomed and also how far the socialistic programme conflicts with what is most precious and fundamental in our institutions. The earlier chapters of his book contain a very clear and admirable discussion of the factors at work in American society, the part played by individualism and the part played by corporate and governmental methods. These chapters may well be commended in the strongest terms as a most valuable statement of what constitutes our manifest destiny as a nation, as well as a summary of what is highest in American citizenship.
The author shows how incompatible American institutions are with the socialistic programme, and yet he constantly takes issue with Mr. Herbert Spencer, whom he criticises in a very forcible manner. Mr. Gilman, in his discussion of the functions of the State, follows, it seems to me, the path of the golden mean : the government must be an opportunist, doing whatever is needed by the individual that the individual cannot well do for himself ; and yet the individual must be a living cell in a fluent organism rather than a cog in a mere machine. The two chapters on "The Industrial Future" and "The Way to Utopia" contain a large amount of clear thought and sober judgment which will do much to extend right views in these directions. From the author of "Profit Sharing " we naturally expect something more than an allusion to this subject ; and we are not disappointed.
This work will probably displease many persons, especially the disciples of Mr. Bellamy. Mr. Gilman holds "Looking Backward" up to the light, and shows without much trouble, but better than is done anywhere else, what a frail and gauzy fabric it really is. The severe critic could easily find some fault, here and there, with Mr. Oilman's pages, but I shall not attempt to criticise in detail or describe his work at greater length. I wish rather to commend it heartily as a very able discussion of the American spirit and the relation of socialism to our institutions. Almost every page has words of wisdom which make the path of the American citizen a little plainer. Mr. Gladden has produced a very helpful book for the people who will constitute the majority of his readers. He has not written for scholars or specialists ; but as in his former book, "Applied Christianity," he here tries to carry the authority of Christianity over into social affairs, while he also tries to interest Christians more fully in social problems. He endeavors to point out what changes the application of the Christian Law ought to make in the use of property, the holding of land ; upon industrial organizations, and upon competition in general. His pages stir us to enthusiasm for nobler policies in business, where his arguments seem inconclusive ; his earnestness imparts a moral fervor, where his theories sometimes fail to win the assent of reason. Everyone must join with him in the desire that love and justice gain new power in the shop and on the market. But some of his statements, in their lack of scientific precision and in their intensity of expression, remind us that we are listening to an oration from the pulpit rather than the calm deliverance of a specialist and a philosopher. Especially to be deplored is the loose and expansive way in which the term Christian is used. Mr. Gladden is constantly asking : What does Christian Ethics demand here? and what does Christian Law make necessary here? And yet these terms are nowhere defined ; they are used with little reference to their primitive meaning ; and even the right of Christianity to this supremacy is nowhere established. It seems to me that he construes the Christian Law very much to suit himself (always, however, for noble things), putting into it a great deal that did not belong to original Christianity,—a great deal that is grandly human rather than specifically Christian. In this way the content of Christianity is enlarged and enriched, and people are thus led to accept many new things as Christian and authoritative, upon the supposition that they were a part of original Christianity. But it may well be doubted whether this course is justified by history, or is calculated to give social science the firmest basis, or motives of helpfulness the very greatest and most enduring power. However, the book is the word of an earnest man, and it will do good wherever read.

Joseph Henry Crocker.



  1. Socialism and American Spirit. By N. P. Gilman. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co. Tools and the Man. By Washington Gladden. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co.