UNIVERSITY PRESS books do not shape public opinion as directly as do the radio, press, and movies. The popularizes on current affairs dramatize contemporary issues to awaken a sense of historical urgency in their audiences.
By comparison, books put out hy the university presses must seem quiet, in tone. For these scholarly books assume, rather than exploit, the sense of historical urgency on the part of their readers: they sometimes understate where they might dramatize, so that their themes seem minor when they are actually major; but they should appeal to the reader who wants thoroughness, historical perspective, and analytic caution.
The West at bay
The political tom-toms have been beaten so loud and often of late in the conflict between East and West that we are grateful for any book that puts Into our hands a .straightforward statement, of the economic facts confronting Western reconstruction.
The European Recovery Elan by Seymour Harris (Harvard University Press, $4.50) illustrates, as well as any recent book I know of, the difference between the serious topical work and the vaporous popularizer.
Where the popularizer is usually already out of date by the time of publication (events always move faster than the radio prognosticator), Professor Harris’s book ought to be useful over the next three years, throughout the duration of the Marshall Plan, and perhaps beyond that. Congressmen, students of international affairs, or the ordinary reader who really wants to know what is going on, will find this a valuable statement-sheet of the economic assets and debits of the Western world, against which the progressive failures or accomplishments of the Marshall Plan can be checked off.
Professor Harris prophesies neither success nor failure for the Plan. He presents, he does not prejudge, his material. The tone of the book is somber only because it does not blink away fundamental economic difficulties. No analysis based on normal economic operations can hope to predict success or failure when, as Professor Harris tells us, “political and military developments are likely to be ’decisive.” This last sentence should be chewed over by Marxists and other thinkers who have always given the primacy, in any and all situations, to economic forces.
On the other hand, Professor Harris has something to say to our more conservative Congressmen who doubted the wisdom of aiding economies that might prove socialist in tendency. One of the most interesting sections, dealing with the question of these controlled economies, concludes with a statement that bears much and forceful repeating: “The vital issue is not between socialism and private enterprise, alternative methods of achieving economic ends, and each appropriate to different economic environments, but rather between the police state and freedom.” Remember that this conclusion is advanced, not by a political theorist riding the hobbyhorse of an ideology, but by an economist examining economic problems from economic data.
The full political background — at least on one side—of the conflict between East and West is ably presented in The Political Tradition of the West by Frederick Watkins (Harvard University Press, $5.00). The tradition of the West is “liberalism”— which, Professor Watkins holds, is not to be understood in any narrowly partisan sense, but as the broad concept of freedom under law.
The origins of Western liberty in Greece, Rome, and early Christianity are discussed in detail. With a good many historians the idea of liberty seems to disappear, or at least go underground, in the long period between Cicero and John Locke. Professor Watkins has a better eye for historical continuity: Medieval Christendom did develop its own liberal concept by distinguishing between the things of Caesar and the things of God, thus subjecting the temporal sovereign and his laws, however absolute in fact these might be, to a higher law. Modern Europe, issuing from the Middle Ages, inherited this dualism of authority, which, by being extended and secularized in the political sphere, became the thing we know as modern liberalism.
What future can liberalism hope for? The two great threats to a liberal future are the rise of totalitarian dictatorships in this century, something which our daily paper does not allow us to forget, and, second, a reality which we sometimes persuade ourselves to forget: the nationalism bequeathed to us by the nineteenth century.
The trouble with the national state. Professor Watkins concludes, is that it is at once too big and too small a unit. Too small because some firm international organization is needed to replace the anarchy of the various sovereign nations; too big because liberalism will survive only if the habits and practice of liberty are developed in relation to smaller organizations — the family, coöperatives, villages and townships.
Indeed, these latter, according to Professor Watkins, may become our great, protection against the spread of totalitarianism. As industrialization extends to the more backward regions, we can expect that these areas will be tempted by dictatorship because it seems to promise a technological speed-up, and we note that it is precisely among the more backward peoples that the simplified promises of Communism have their great appeal.
But private associations like the family and the clan, which are traditional and strong in these regions, may resist an alien and centralized despotism. Communism may be impeded by the sheer recalcitrance of the human material that it must first dehumanize.
War and American education
The war, which many well-intentioned people feared might permanently curtail some democratic rights, actually brought a remarkable extension of democracy in the field of education. The American educational system met a violent crisis, weathered it, and is now engaged in adjusting itself to a changed existence. This story is told with admirable completeness by I. L. Kandel in The Impact of the War upon American Education (University of North Carolina Press, $4.25).
The war revealed nothing less than a major national scandal: the richest democracy in the world had been willing to spend only a pittance on its education. In the smaller and rural communities a great exodus of teachers to the well-paying war industries took place. The situation has been improved, but the problem will not be solved without extensive Federal aid to the backward communities, thus bringing.into another area of our civic life the intervention of government that worries our political theorists.
The war did much better by our higher institutions of learning, bringing into the colleges, through the GI Bill of Rights, students who otherwise would never have known the ivy or the quad, and doubling prewar enrollments. The strain on the material facilities of the colleges has not been the only one, for the new situation has necessitated a thorough soul-searching by educators on the nature, aims, and scope of education in our democracy.
Dr. Kandel presents with impartial sympathy and understanding all the new theories, from the St. John’s to the Harvard Plan, that aim to bring the New Look to American education.
Child of Salem
When his subject is a literary figure, and particularly a great one, the biographer encounters perhaps his most formidable problem, for where the life and the work interpenetrate there is likely to be an accumulation of literary legend that obscures the real man. By allowing the facts to speak for themselves in Nathaniel Hawthorne (Yale University Press, $4.00), Randall Stewart has made some of the murkier legends about Hawthorne vaporize. The witchhaunted child of Salem of the legend, melancholy and morbid in temperament, here gives way to the much more robust, extrovert, and worldly character of real life.
A comparison of Professor Stewart’s with some other recent interpretations of Hawthorne illustrates very aptly the case I have been building up here for the university press kind of book. Compared with these more dramatic and lively images of Hawthorne, Professor Stewart’s book might seem prosaic and uninspired; but by refraining from leaping at any single interpretation, and by presenting the facts relevantly and in the round, Professor Stewart has given us probably the most useful life of Hawthorne to date, on the basis of which much sounder interpretations will become possible.
I cannot say, however, that he has altogether solved the problem out of which the Hawthorne legend grew. Examining in his last chapter the themes and quality of Hawthorne’s writing, Professor Stewart admits, with perhaps too studied understatement, that Hawthorne’s emphasis did fall on the “sombre side” of life — a statement hard to reconcile with the cheerful and robust career presented in earlier pages.
Perhaps Professor Stewart has failed to follow up some of his own clues: facts like Hawthorne’s education or the quality of his conversations with Melville. ’The New England mind, we must remember, was from the start theological in bent, the American colleges were founded largely as divinity schools, and Hawthorne grew up under these influences. Conversing together, Hawthorne and Melville — though the latter had more explicit beliefs which were not Christian — exhibit the tendency of the New England imagination to grasp all experience through the ideas or the metaphors of an apocalyptic theology.
If it is impossible to construct Hawthorne’s morbidity out of his personal biography, we have to understand it in terms of his inherited culture. For this purpose we need to know more about Hawthorne’s actual beliefs, his attitude toward his inherited beliefs, and the intensity of this attitude in his personal life.