The Search for the Democratic Man



THE Twentieth Century Fund reports that 110 agencies, public and private, are engaged in some form of post-war planning. The movement toward planning appears to have reached popular dimensions. The pendulum has swung. America apparently is embarked upon a program based upon the idea of the perfectibility of environment. Time was, not so long ago, when America was animated by the idea of the perfectibility of the human individual. Between these two ideas and these t wo programs there is a chasm immeasurably deep.

For whom is this planning to be done? Human nature may not change, but ideas about human nature change. The Catholic man of the Middle Ages became the Economic man of the twentieth century. Who will come next? Will it be the Democratic man? The hard, recalcitrant human being at the moment has the floor. Is this because men cannot do much to themselves, and because it is easier to change external institutions than to shape the hard being who is to inhabit them?

There was a time when America determinedly moved upon the idea of the perfectibility of human nature. Our whole public school system attests to this fact. Horace Mann in his closing admonition to students and disciples said: “Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.” Apparently Mann died in the conviction that, given a free school system, the normal man will emerge with a crowning achievement, service to humanity — that is, a social point of view.

Certainly Horace Mann, being a practical statesman, was not philosophically a Transcendentalist, but he expressed well the same faith in human nature that Emerson, Channing, ami Thoreau felt. The Transcendentalists had vigorously rebelled against the clour views of John Calvin and Cotton Mather. Their faith was immunizing, but it left a surprising impress upon their generation; for without it, and without them, the slaves could not have been freed, and the economic revolution involved in the Civil War could not have taken place.

What we miss usually in the picture is the fact that, though Emerson and his group lived to slay the Calvinistic dragon, they themselves were only more mellow and engaging Calvinists. The Transcendentalists never surrendered the inner truth of self-discipline which made Puritanism the commanding point of view of a developing republic for two centuries. Moral law was a reality to the sages of Concord. It set as difficult limitations upon their own conduct as did the Calvinists. Probably the only actual difference between the two schools was a difference of experience.

Alexander Smith speaks of Emerson’s ‘"cold, cheerless glitter.” But the cpiict lawns of Concord and Boston, the arriving prosperity, were vastly different from the bleak shores and dark forests and ubiquitous savages, the famine and the struggle, that Cotton Mather and bis circle knew intimately. Americans arc rightly reputed to be a complacent and generous people, but too infrequently this geniality is traced to a complacent and generous environment, to a continent rich in natural resources, and to the certitude of an economy of plenty for all.

Strange to say, the self-disciplined man of Emerson, who chose simple living (on ambrosia), knew kinship with the superman of Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche, son of a clergyman, was influenced by Emerson and even gave praise to the leader of the Transcendentalists. With one of those leaps across time and distance that human nature frequently takes, the Olympian of Concord found a response in the superman of Weimar who abandoned moral law to the pigs. And still more strangely, Nietzsche’s philosophy has its physical embodiment in an Austrian paperhanger, who sought by the sword, a la Nietzsche, to fasten t he sovereignty of a gang of hypocritical supermen upon a reluctant world.


HITLERISM poses to the modern world the old, old problem of evil. The moral contained in the present world drama engulfs all other issues. Economic determinism offers little or no explanation for the rape of Poland, for the butchering of the Czechs, the assassination of Holland, the humiliation of Denmark and France, and the slow torturing of Norway. When frantic women and children, refugees on familiar roads of home, looked up at troubled skies, to be greeted by a rain of machinegun bullets from well-protected, indomitable supermen in aeroplanes, there were human beings in those planes, organisms in human form, gleefully pressing automatic triggers and spraying wholesale death on defenseless fellows. On defenseless fellows! On other human beings, thereby denying their own humanity, their blood relationship to other members of the human family.

Is this not evil? Is there anything else that can be called evil? And is there any other explanation than that there is a hard, cruel core to human nature itself that must be curbed or this propensity for cruelty will flare out at any time, at any place on this globe? When the mind and the sensibilities hold this basic fact up against the dim light of history, all other issues are dwarfed in magnitude, and seem poor and trivial.

If world events, then, force us to a revaluation of human nature, how can we avoid a conclusion somewhere near the old Calvinistic doctrine of the depravity of man? ITarsh as this view is, we must acknowledge that men are like that. We may take refuge hi the more genial assumption of this democracy that human beings, over this contracting globe, are in various stages of development. We may, therefore, increase man-hour exposure of barbarians to democratic education and institutions, and hope to produce the good citizen. Still, caught as we are in a desperately tragic situation, the conclusion remains t hat there are profound antisocial propensities in all of us.

What confuses the intellectual picture is the fact that the modern tool of advancement, scientific organization, has been used to promote perversity. Hitlerism and Nipponism lay claim to modernism, to belonging to the wave of the future, simply because a Messerschmitt can climb to an altitude of 40,000 feet, or Zero planes arc produced on a mass-production basis. Hitler bases his system on the antisocial instincts — on treachery, deceit, and the will to kill. But this fact is not so significant as the fact that Hitler is willing to have it so — he and millions like him.

Somewhere in his omnibus of works, Balzac sagely remarks that few of us coidd resist the wish, if we could by nodding, to destroy a mandarin in China and to inherit his sumptuous wealth; that is, if we could do so and remain undetected.

Perhaps this is actually what the realists of this decade—the Hemingways, the Cains, the Steinbecks— have been trying to say to us: Men are like that. Men arc willing killers. Men arc devious anti cruel. Everyone is a sadist or a potential sadist.

It is not a palatable doctrine. It carries further. Nazi world strategy is based on t he assurance that Nazis and potential Nazis reside in every country of the world. Nazi tactics of world conquest banked on fifth columns strong enough and unscrupulous enough to precipitate civil war in democratic countries. Democracies must see that Nazism arises not only out of external institutions, but out of propensities in human nature itself. In building a new world, therefore, the kinds of institutions which are built must be designed to aid the individual toward what used to be called conquest of himself.

The old Calvinism believed in “grace” — wdiich, I take it, if the term be translated into modern concepts, means self-discipline. No maximum amount of external control by government, by law, by decree, can take the place of self-limitation upon an individual’s conduct. This is what education has actually meant in the development of the republic: the setting of limits by the individual upon his own actions, and this is what social means.

Not long ago the chairman of a large public agency said to me, “No amount of legislation can bring us through. Somehow man must want the good life badly enough to refrain from doing certain antisocial things.” While Nazism gives the world the shocking picture of human beings divested of their own humanity, exercising force to the extreme, Nazism also presents the picture of its own failure. Violence — hideous and intolerable violence — has not enslaved the minds of Norwegians, Frenchmen, Czechs, and Dutchmen.

So the old Calvinism frankly faced the problem of the savage depths in all men. The old Calvinism did not divide the world between capitalists and labor, Nazis and free men, fascists and communists, but between the self-disciplined and the wayward. If this working concept is nearer to truth than the others, then a nice problem in administration is posed to social planners and administrators everywhere. A new equilibrium must be established in the state, a new balance, as between force and freedom.

Even a quiet, studious man like Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes knew and stated frankly that physical force, in the last analysis, controls the world: “The foundation of jurisdiction is physical power.” “I used to say, when T was young, that truth was the majority vote of that nation that would lick all others. . . . One test of truth is a reference to either a present or an imagined future majority in favor of our view.”

“We or they” — the simplification of the foregoing formula heard so frequently in this hour of the world’s peril — dramatizes the choice every man, every organization, and every nation must make at some time. Hitler and Hitlerism, and the global war of 1943, have laid forever the doctrines of pacifism, passive resistance, complacent commercialism, and meekness. Man is a fighting animal. In the last analysis physical force rules the world, but physical force is not force, is not potent, unless it is the expression of moral force — unless it can unite itself somehow with collective effort, unconscious though it be, for humanity’s preservation.

The interplay of force on the international scene is duplicated in the domestic arena. Americans, as is often remarked, have a childlike faith in lawr. “There ought to be a lawr” is almost a national shibboleth. And yet Americans are peculiarly a lawless people. Bootleggers, racketeers, lynchers, black-market operators, and fifth columnists arc but signs of those who believe that force is more important than law. Corporation lawyers are facetiously described as skilled men who show their clients not how to keep but how to circumvent the law. Our Western movies glorify physical force. We are a nation of anarchists. Our respect for lawmaking coupled with our flouting of law makes us a mystery to most aliens. The indescribable energy, the will to do, which expresses itself in our great technological exploits drives us easily across well-defined lines of law and order.


F„K question before all of us is how to build the Personalized State. Can operation of the state develop enough historical perspective, and keep enough sensitivity to humanism, and have enough wisdom to exercise force in behalf of freedom? Can areas of freedom, of experimentation, governed by rules of the game, where the individual citizen, the individual organization, and on the wider international scene the individual nation, may practice self-discipline, be permitted while the state suppresses those that would mutilate and destroy freedom? Can the state (which is pure, unadulterated force) be made strong without making the individual citizen weak?

It would appear, therefore, that if the state is to be kept personal it must grapple with the central problem of government in the twentieth century. The state must take on the aspects of the parent or guardian, rather than the aspects of the policeman or the thug. The state must constantly strive to divest itself of its own power. Moreover, in the planned world of the future, the state must create instrumentalities within itself to do its principal task better.

It may well bo that a Bureau of Human Relations will be established to carry on the principal business of adjusting disputes between economic groups and to extend understanding between “classes.” The state will strive to get each group, each industry, to play an orderly and harmonious part in the national whole. Faint outlines of this department may be detected in the National War Labor Board, the National Labor Relations Board, and the Conciliation Service.

It is likely that partisanship as it is practiced today will wither and be less vocative. Endless time is wasted by jockeying of private vested interests for advantage. This is probably due to the fact that the state, as now conceived, is not a selfassured instrumentality at all, but a battleground, a mere territory, where strong private interests struggle to carve out a larger share in the national income. When men come into a view of Personalized State — the national good — as the controlling concept in conduct, mere local interests, mere state interests, and mere class interests will not seem so important — mere politicians will disappear.

It may well be that a Bureau of Psychology will come to be looked upon as indispensable. Analysts will be constantly at work to discover and to evaluate currents of public opinion. Faint outlines of this function are already apparent in private institutions which poll public sentiment.

Under the ministration of such a government, it is plain that that cooperative society which has been the conscious aspiration of labor unionists for more than a century will move toward realization.

However this may be, it appears plain that global war and the specter of totalitarianism have administered a sharp defeat to the idealist. Pure force - yes, physical force — plays a greater part in human affairs than the idealist has ever been willing to admit. Men are not good, but good and evil together. The duty of the state is to find ways of getting “grace” to flourish, and to reward “good ” citizens. The problem of planners in the international field is no different.

When the peace comes and there is an opportunity to put “plans” into effect on an international scale, few men will take the position that the clock of the world may be wound up and left to tick away while soldier citizens return to the precincts of their own communities, there to pass their years in getting and spending, and in partisan conflict. Opinion in the United States in our day differs from opinion in the United States after World War I in one fundamental respect: force is to be given some orderly international materialization.

Contacts with workers, businessmen, and government officials, high and low, indicate that America has come to visualize already the kind of world which will follow the armistice — a world in which force will play a part. Soldiers, too, are concerned with this question, quite frankly. The agenda for the post-war world certainly include: —

1. An international commission with sovereignty to .suppress ai^ disturber of the peace anywhere upon the globe.

2. An international police force governed by the commission, to do the suppressing.

3. Armies of occupation for a long period following the armistice.

4. Some new type of democratic army that will be developed with the dual purpose of training youth for peaceful production and for war.

The concept of national planning in the United States is about ten years old. In fact, the exact date of the rise of (his movement may be set with certitude. When this concept began to take hold of the imagination of a few men, a decade ago, the term “planning” was in disrepute. Many Americans considered planning as a derivative of the Russian Revolution, and viewed it as a synonym for regimentation.

It is apparent now that instead of planning’s being a derivative of the Russian Revolution, the Russian Revolution is best understood as one aspect of a world movement to personalize government and to move government nearer to the people. The era has been called the age of the people’s revolution. As soon as Americans perceived these relationships, their attitude toward planning changed. Now planning is accepted, perhaps too freely, and men are turning to it almost pathetically as an escape from a disturbing present.

When public opinion changes rapidly, as it has done in the United States in regard to planning, it rides in upon a ground swell, surging up from the depth. There is some profound compulsion beneath the faith of Americans in planning. For that matter, there is profound compulsion in the world’s new faith in planning. Whence came this compulsion?


THE paroxysm of war marks the breakup of an old order. Certainly one aspect of this old order, as I have shown, has been its amoral character, reaching a climax in the willingness of Nazis to bomb and machine-gun defenseless women and children. The Nazi war machine is the glorious expression of the anti-humanistic forces pervading the old world, now in its death throes. And the Nazi state is the Mechanized State (the magnificent fruition of materialism), in contrast to the Personalized State, toward which planners strive. But just as the Nazis expected to find fifth columnists to do their bidding in all democratic countries, so they also expected the Mechanized State to win converts in all countries, for they rightly discerned at work in all other countries the same forces of materialism undermining humanity.

Indeed, it can be shown that the worship of the machine has been a motive in American as well as German life. The movement for rationalization in industry, the speed-up system of Bedaux, the sacrifice of the human element to mechanized production, the disappearance of security, the spread of poverty, the loss of respect for personality, have their counterpart in every industrial country.

The goose-stepping German soldier is the counterpart of the industrial robot. The German war machine is the climacteric development of mechanized industrial organization. The war of machines records the ebbing life of humanity. Even the counter-revolutionary order of a Karl Marx was founded on the mechanized theories of a Hegel, and Hitlerism sprang from the same source.

In a mechanized world, things take on supreme value. The struggles of the past century, both within nations and between nations, have been principally over land and goods. The class struggle is a struggle over things. The modern world — the one being done to death in Italy, on the steppes of Russia, in the Solomons—was a world divided against itself. A deep cleft ran down the center of every community, between those who have and those who have not. The hunger of modern man in the dying order was primarily for unity. The cry of modern man was for fellowship. The goal of all panaceas was the re-creation of the community. And the supreme task of planners is to find a way to attain unity.

The irony lies in the fact that the mere creation of a plan, or the adoption of new technique, will not bring unity. Unity must be achieved before a plan has a chance for success. And so it comes about that, given a world where men are rational and wise, all men —at least all civilians — would consider their principal task the search for a rallying point round which all men of good will might assemble and unite.

The planners believe that full employment — or, as Ernest Bevin says, social security — is such a unifying concept. It certainly has potency. It would give labor one of its long-sought goals, that of stability and purchasing power. Full employment would give businessmen and farmers markets for their goods. Such a goal as full employment would transfer the aim of every community from material to human production. It would personalize and humanize the economic system.

But the economic system as we now have it is still pretty much at war over things. Laissez faire may be dead among individuals, but in economic groups it is still a reality. The War Production Board has only mirrored the economic struggle — the class struggle, if you will.

Too long Americans have neglected the area of human relations. Breaking down barriers between economic groups must precede the winning of unity. In this sense Karl Marx, Nietzsche, Hegel, Lenin, and all other prophets of struggle should be scrapped with the dying order. Americans could do -well to open the works of the itinerant carpenter, Walt Whitman. He alone grasped the full meaning of democracy. What a commentary it is upon our common life that Walt Whitman has so long been looked upon chiefly as a barbarian, a fool, and a clown!

Planning, then, rests upon the profound compulsion of preserving humanity. For the twentieth century, planning is another word for humanism. Il represents a movement to place man above the sterile system of materialism, which reaches its climax and death in Hit ler’s global war.

Planning appears to be the one chance left for humanity in a robot world. Will humanity win? Who knows! The odds are against man. Human institutions created for freedom appear to have a way of enslaving the men for whom they were created. Moreover, it is man’s destiny to be preoccupied with material things and to overvalue them.

And finally, within man’s own make-up are forces of dissolution. Man’s willingness to enslave and to exploit his fellows tethers man to a slave order. The struggle is old and familiar. The odds are enormous, the stage gigantic. This time the drama has prodigious proportions. It is drawn to world scale. The action is lurid, dramatic, and, to sensitive persons, terrifying.