Man's Share in Civilization


IN an article on ‘Woman and Civilization’ in the Atlantic Monthly of September 1923, the suggestion was made that woman’s genius lies in organization, administration, and social effort, while man’s is rather individual, abstract, and imaginative. This view is not by any means new; many students, both of mind and of body, hold that some such distinction between the sexes can reasonably be made, bearing always in mind the degree to which men and women share in each other’s characteristics. We may put it that there is a common stock of human nature from which individual men and women vary; the men on the whole tend toward the abstract and individual virtues, the women toward the social and practical. We are then justified in speaking of a ‘man’s culture’ or a ‘woman’s culture’ according as the social organization of a country encourages one of these directions at the expense of the other. Whichever direction the culture may take will be shared in by both sexes to the disadvantage of one of them. The ideal culture would be one in which the two tendencies were evenly balanced, but we know that such a balance is rarely attained and then held only for a short time.

On this continent of North America there can be little doubt which culture we possess at present. We pride ourselves upon the practical qualities of our civilization. We ‘get things done,’ often with good results, often without sufficient consideration of what the results will be.

Abstract science, the fine arts, and religion are indeed valued by thoughtful men, but they are on the whole valued for their practical and social worth, not as things in themselves. They are valued for their effect on the community, not for their effect on the individual. It is indeed rare to hear any theory of reform or of social amelioration put forward which is not based upon organized action by one part of the community upon another part. The individual tends to be ignored. Indeed the extensive schemes of reform which are from time to time forced, or threatened, upon us are all based upon the idea that men who live in a virtuous community will be virtuous. Action is therefore aimed at the entire community, both good and bad. Our habits are to be controlled or altered because they are supposed to have an ultimately bad effect upon the community, not because they are bad in themselves. We are to ‘set a good example.’ The opposite idea, that a virtuous community is one composed of virtuous individuals, is rarely heard. The reformer insists that the individual must suffer for the good of the community; the individual may well answer that reforms which make the individual suffer are themselves bad for the community.

Our purpose at present is to show that the abstract and individual life, the life of the man, has a value in itself, and that this value is largely ignored in the cultural life of North America.

It is convenient to consider this abstract life under the three divisions of science, art, and religion, each of them a well-recognized activity with a bearing upon the other two.

Abstract science, pure research, is valued by farseeing men in America; it is even endowed by rich ones, but usually upon the assumption that the practical applications of science can be reached only through pure research. We are continually hearing that wireless telegraphy rose almost incidentally out of purely scientific investigations, and so scientific study is commended as a means to a practical end, as an instrument for some world-wide reform, not as a thing good in itself. Our Utopias of to-day are applied-science paradises.

In the same way the fine arts are to be encouraged for their elevating social qualities, or for their effect in adding to our reputation as a wealthy and cultured people. This was the old Roman idea, and we are very like the old Romans in many ways. To possess great museums and picture galleries is one of the marks of a great nation; every Rembrandt or Velasquez brought across the Atlantic gives a thrill of patriotic pride. It is true that the masterpiece may merely pass from one private collection to another. It may, as is rumored of certain Shakespeare folios, merely pass into a millionaire’s cellar; but such purchases create an atmosphere of connoisseurship. We cannot say that our leading citizens are indifferent to art, or that art has no value. Some art evidently has a very large value. If that value accrues to the art-dealer rather than to the artist, we have long ago agreed that the distributor is more worthy than the producer.

It would be absurd to assert that the social value of art is not a very real thing; it would be absurd to ignore entirely its financial value. The point, to be made is that the fine arts have an inherent value which is neither social nor commercial, but rather individual. A great country produces great, artists rather than great collections.

Religion is similarly valued because we consider that it tends to make people act rightly toward one another. So we find that the churches lay great stress upon philanthropy, upon social endeavor and organization, and upon reform. We would all agree that, a religion which did not tend to make its people morally better was a very poor religion; we would agree, too, that our own religion does, in the main, have this effect. A very great number of church adherents frankly support the churches upon social grounds, holding that their main value is that they are a steadying influence for good in a society which is all too easily disrupted. This is all true, nor would one attempt to minimize its importance, but it is only one half of the truth. Religion has a value to the individual which is quite apart from its social value.


Now let us turn from these abstract elements of life to the preëminent activity of the modern American world.

The conduct of commercial life is supposed to be the peculiar province of the man. America leads in ‘ big business ‘; the ambition of the American young man, if we are to judge by fiction, literature, and the advertisement column, is to become an employee in big business. The ‘highly paid executive,’ the trusted servant of a great corporation, at an equivalent salary — these are the ideals of success. Yet there was a time when most men longed for a business of their own, even a small business. It was perhaps the better loved because it was small and private and struggling. We are told, of course, that the day of small business is over, that economically the little man must give way to or be absorbed in the great organization. So long as size — impersonal, unindividual size — is our ideal this must be so. If our ideal gave more value to the individual and less to the organization, it would not be so. The question is not whether such business is more or less efficient, not whether it produces more goods at a less cost — but: Would we as individuals be happier, would we have more scope for development if we paid less attention to efficiency and more to living, less attention to ‘getting together’ and more to individuality?

Professor Mavor, of Toronto, in his recently published memoirs, says, ‘To the Scot’s mind not “getting together” but getting decisively separate on fundamental contradictions is the right plan.’ We need occasionally to be reminded of the advantages of separation, and to realize that union is not always strength — it is often merely a symptom of weakness. Sheep flock together.

Man is not a solitary animal, but neither is he a flock animal. He needs both organizations. To me the social type appears essentially that of the woman, the individual that of the man; and I venture to think that the case for the man’s culture has not been sufficiently brought forward. But whose fault is that? Certainly not the woman’s.

We cannot blame active, publicspirited, and capable women if they do things their own way. They have captured our elementary education, our art, and our intellectual culture. Where they do not actually practise these things they influence them. Meanwhile our men play politics or poker or golf in the intervals of commerce, and submit their intellectual and emotional lives to the rule of their wives. The traditional picture of the American Family in Europe has the foundation of truth usual in caricatures; so have the adventures of Mr. Jiggs. Woman is the culturally active member of American civilization, and she drags man, feebly protesting, in her wake.

But now, as to the value of pure science, art, and religion, that is, their value apart from their practical or social uses.

Scientific work is disinterested; it is concerned only with the discovery of truth and the increase of knowledge, not in any way with its effect upon society. The value of science lies in this disinterested quality, and in its insistence upon accuracy, so far as that can be attained. Pure science has no respect for old established traditions, beliefs, or superstitions, except in so far as they can stand the test of accurate investigation; it insists upon honest thought. Science is therefore cathartic; it cleanses our thought from sloppy, half-realized ideas and beliefs. The first essential of the scientific attitude is that our thoughts and our beliefs, whatever may be their nature, shall be perfectly clear and definite; the second is that they shall not be in conflict with facts, so far as we know them. As a consequence we must, never fear a new truth because it appears to be in conflict with a former belief. We need more men who will insist upon truth though the heavens fall.

But what is truth? This is an important point upon which the practical mind attacks science.

No scientific man ever supposes that he will or can attain to ultimate truth. That is a question for metaphysics rather than for natural science. The most that the scientist can do is to attain to a slightly more accurate description of and a slightly closer approximation to the structure of nature. He does not even know whether there is any such thing as ultimate truth or ultimate reality. As a scientist he works on ‘verifiable hypotheses with an extending fringe of theory,’ to be verified in its turn. So at any moment he may say, ‘This, which I have hitherto believed to be true, I now find is only partially so. Accordingly I change my belief.’

The whole idea of unchangeable truth and of pure dogma is, in fact, unscientific. Recently, for instance, our ideas upon the constitution of matter and the ‘law of gravitation’ have been subjected to severe revision. Popular protests were actually published against Professor Einstein on the ground that he was wrong (apparently morally wrong) to disturb the Newtonian law; but every scientific man knew that Newton’s ‘ law’ was as much subject to revision as any other socalled ‘law’ of nature. These ‘laws’ are only human approximations to an unknowable reality. Science can have no dogmas. But such a condition of flux in belief is very unpleasant to many men. They demand nice clear facts! ‘This is true, that is false; this is good, that is bad.’ And these values are to be the same forever. One function of pure science is to destroy this simple attitude, and to substitute for it the divine curiosity, the endless desire to know, by which alone the mind can develop.

Science insists that there is no opinion which may not be subject to criticism; even more, that every opinion must be subjected to the severest criticism, provided only that the criticism is sincere. It is by continual criticism that our knowledge is increased. Yet how many men to-day are willing to submit their political opinions to radical criticism, or to consider radical opinions as worthy of rational criticism. Most of us make efforts toward a more scientific attitude of mind, and we know how difficult is the scientific attitute toward a ‘cherished opinion.’ But we know also how great is the reward when we persist in such an attitude. It is firm ground beneath our feet.

The scientific attitude is more than the investigation of nature: it is the attitude of moral and intellectual honesty.

We value the artist to-day less than the scientist, because it is more difficult to find a practical use for him. We have already indicated some of the uses commonly assigned to art, and a little rationalizing will produce further practical virtues even in the fine arts. So long as department stores and banks find a commercial value in imposing buildings, so long will the architect be allowed to be, or to hire, an artist. So long as well-drawn advertisements are considered to be profitable, so long will commercial artists be supported: and so long as the possession of pictures is looked upon as a social asset, so long will 4art-lovers’ who cannot afford old masters make a virtue of buying the products of to-day. There are and will always be a few to whom art is a part of life; but, in the main, art, literature, and music are to-day regarded as embellishments to be rated according to their commercial or social value.

But just as science frees the intellect, so art frees and cleanses the emotions. The artist is the emotional expert whose function is to expose false or outworn emotions, passions, and prejudices, to show what is noble and what is base in life without regard for the feelings of any man. All fine and noble art is as cathartic emotionally as science is intellectually.

This is a value of pure art, yet even with this value the artist is not concerned except in so far as it compels him to sincerity. For the one social crime which the artist can commit is insincerity, and sentimental art is the only real immoral art. The artist is the man who feels deeply and sincerely, and who can convey these feelings to others; and if he is to do his best work he must be concerned with no other end than art. Art for art’s sake does not mean art abstracted from life, but art valuable as itself, independent of utility, economy, or morality. And such art should pervade life, making for honest workmanship and honest design in everything we have or use. We can feel rightly about even the shape of a spoon or a chair, just as we can feel rightly about the destiny of a nation.

In this view ‘old masters’ cease to have any very great value. They were once the fresh vision’of a prophet, they are still interesting and beautiful expressions of eternal humanity, but they are not of that intense and immediate importance to us which is possessed by the artistic vision of to-day.

The ordinary man, however, in so far as he thinks about the matter at all, prefers to rest content with those visions of beauty which satisfied his great-grandmother. So, when a painter or a writer produces work which has an immediate bearing upon present-day life, particularly if it exposes some comfortable emotion inherited from his great-grandmother, or if it considers life from some point of view unseen by that lady, the average man is flicked in the raw. A fresh vision in art is even more irritating than a fresh knowledge in science. Fresh views in anything are indeed usually branded as ‘immoral.’

Art is the cleanser of emotion, science is that of intellect; what place is then left for religion?

The churches to-day are devoted to social endeavor, a most necessary and useful work, and they are full of activity. They perform a very necessary part in our social organization; yet it is notorious that scientific men and artists do not attend their services very regularly. For this the churches naturally blame the scientists and artists — regarding them as ‘irreligious.’ The scientists and artists say very little about it; they seem to find their lives complete without the aid of the churches. Yet they are probably a very highly religious body of men. For religion is not belief in any body of dogma, it is effort of man to bring himself into sympathy with the universe. It is therefore intensely personal.

It seems a pity that the beauty of our own religion should be obscured by quarrels regarding the historic truth of this or that narrative. Historic truth is a matter for scientific inquiry ending in a verdict of proved or not proved. It should be kept apart from religion.

‘The kingdom of God is within you.’ ‘But rather seek ye the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you.’

Whoever seeks sincerely and faithfully that which he believes to be true and right; whoever schools his intellect in the sharp discipline of science, and his emotions in the equally sharp discipline of art, is not far from the kingdom. Not only is there no opposition between science, art, and religion, but I would venture to assert that no man can be deeply religious who is not in sympathy with science and art. It cannot be contrary to religion to seek a further knowledge of nature or a further insight into human emotion. Science and art are deeply religious in themselves; for the better we know ourselves and the universe of which we are a part the nearer we shall be to God. This is perhaps mysticism, nowadays rather out of fashion, yet many have questioned whether religion can exist without mysticism.

To many of us the churches to-day appear to be chiefly instruments of moral compulsion. Every faddist who chooses to denounce woman’s clothes, the way she cuts her hair, dancing, smoking, literature, sculpture, painting, evolution, any form of social or moral freedom, finds support in the churches. This view may be very unfair, but until some decisive body of church opinion speaks out. boldly on behalf of freedom, of the right of the individual man to choose right or wrong, and to be responsible for his own choice, such a judgment will be made. The churches at present raise a chorus of denunciation. the ordinary man meekly accepts their expert opinion, and then pays no further attention to what he regards merely as a professional declamation.

Yet religion is a necessity for mankind not because it gives a supernatural sanction to some code of morals, but. because it binds man and the universe in sympathy. Coercion and repression are police functions and no proper part of religion. Indeed these coercive moral measures are simply confessions of failure. The reformer must needs regard his fellow creatures as either too weak or too wicked to lead decent lives, so he must forbid every natural pleasure lest it might be turned to evil.

But there is no need to pursue the ‘reformer’ further, though he is one of the saddest results of our over-socialized society. He is one result of thinking only in terms of the community and ignoring the individual, and he is at present doing infinite harm, for, by his insistence on evil, he is breaking down the barriers between real evil and good. He is a negative creature.


Science is the cleanser of thought, art is the cleanser of emotion, and religion is the effort of man to bring himself into unity with the universe. We cannot live without all three, and in all three there is a common feature. Their reward is not in the end accomplished, but in the effort. The scientist’s work is unending — as he attains one step the next is before him. When the artist has completed a work it. has to him no further value; he looks forward to a finer view. Religion is without end, and must deepen in harmony with a deeper appreciation of the Universe. To this deeper appreciation both science and art must contribute.

To all men the joy of work should be the joy of life, work without regard to economics or efficiency or organization; for, if we have the right attitude to our work, a sufficiency of these things will be added to it. At present our humanity is in danger of being choked by efficiency, and work is too often a thing to be endured for the sake of its end instead of loved for its own sake.

It is the business of the men to set these things right, and to bring back into our lives some measure of the abstract and disinterested virtues. I sincerely hope that, women may in time be successful in business and in administration, and that, they may in part drive out men from these occupations, compelling them at last to attend to those important matters which they are best able to undertake. Then perhaps we may have a revaluation.

Meanwhile of course the first reform required is that boys should be educated by men, not by underpaid girls. The Boy Scout movement is in the right direction in that it is at any rate an effort by men to influence boys. But the virtues inculcated in the Boy Scouts are the general human virtues such as bravery, endurance, kindness, and courtesy. Perhaps young boys are hardly capable of learning the manly virtues of abstract science and art, or the necessity of doing their own thinking. I am afraid, too, that boys are sometimes taught to be docile, and that is not a virtue at all. However, they rarely learn.

The next step is possibly to get a good deal of the prevailing utilitarianism out of our universities. At present these are mostly technical schools, very useful and necessary institutions, but of very little help to the active mind.

But the only reform which will ever do any permanent good is a change in public opinion. When the thinker, the scientist, the artist, and the mystic are respected regardless of their wealth or of their economic value — then our civilization may hope to match even that of war-scarred Europe.

These reforms will not be brought about, if ever they come, by organizations or by campaigns or by slogans, but by a stirring in each man’s mind impelling him to seek freedom. This is a man’s business. But the men seem to be all asleep.