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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Compulsive “Ethical Obligation” (Part Four)

(Editors note:  This is the fourth and final segment in a four part series under title of The Search for Truth in a Reverent Spirit.  The underlying series theme features the clash between reason and matters of the spirit which defy rigid limitations of scientific calculation, as best told through the political transformation of Theodore Roosevelt.)

What is the mystery food that distinguishes the unselfish citizen from the mere hoarder of gold?

Special Message to Congress, intellectual plaudit and lofty speech on New Nationalism aside, the heart of Theodore Roosevelt’s political transformation occurs in December 1910, when he chooses to publish an extraordinary essay, The Search for Truth in a Reverent Spirit.  It is, for him, almost a religious confession.

To measure the progress of social advances and the elusive search for truth, rigid materialistic standards in science that reject the imaginative or metaphysical are simply too regressive.  Reason, as in evolutionary science, and the accompanying blunt physical force of materialistic pursuits, is alone insufficient.

T.R. has seen that rigid theories, or dogmas, no matter how provable they seemed in the marketplace at a given time, are typically swept away by the currents of historical change.  In other words, today’s “law” might be tomorrow’s superstition, and vice versa.

Important factors such as, for example, the human emotion of love, and common sense, are not sufficiently accounted for.  Similarly, there can be no advancement of knowledge absent the part of wisdom to accept the teachings of experience, and practice humility in the process.  For the first essential requires the willingness of men to say ‘We do not know.”

Moreover, where experience has plainly proven that the intellect has reasoned incorrectly, true wisdom requires that the teachings of experience be accepted.  In such case reason must be humbled --- just under like conditions experience would require theology to be humble.

T.R. feels that any steady scientific or social advance has to give way to “bolder, more self-reliant spirits … men whose unfettered freedom of soul and intellect yields complete fealty only to the great cause of truth, and will not be hindered by any outside control on the search to attain it.”

He is saying that wider recognition must be given to faith, the spiritual qualities inherent in “the narrowness of a shut-in materialism.”  This permits the opening up of a new theory that the principle of group development in human beings is as instinctive and organic as that in biological evolution.  The embrace of both faith and reason is necessary for a person of “conscience” in searching for truth, as something entirely practical, yet divine.

Faith and reason are seen as coefficients, not opposites, in the quest for progress.  Superior wisdom understands “that outside the purely physical lies the psychic, and that the realm of religion stands outside even the purely psychic.”

Those who profess faith while allowing materialism to persuade them are not having philosophy both ways.  On the contrary, they are “in a position of impregnable strength,” rightly holding that religion itself is evolutionary and has to adapt as it progresses.

To them Christianity, the greatest of the religious creations which humanity has seen, rests upon what Christ himself teaches: for, … the performance of duty is faith in action, faith in its highest expression, for duty gives no other reason, and need give no other reason, for its existence than ‘its own incorruptible disinterestedness.’

T.R. sums up his argument concerning duty and the notion of an ethical obligation:

Surely we must all recognize the search for truth as an imperative duty; and we ought all of us likewise to recognize that this search for truth should be carried on not only fearlessly, but also with reverence, with humility of spirit, and with full recognition of our own limitations both of the mind and the soul.    To those who deny the ethical obligation implied in such a faith we who acknowledge the obligation are aliens; and we are brothers to all those who do acknowledge it, whatever their creed or system of philosophy.

All the books he has consulted concern progress from one state of held beliefs to another over the course of history.   All try in vain to deny, and have accepted, that faith (belief) is as transformative a force as reason (materialism), as well as a necessary catalyst.  After a lifetime of rejecting spiritual speculation, in favor of the body electric and the physics of (military) power, T.R. concedes the vitality of faith --- not necessarily Bible-thumping, but at least the compulsive “ethical obligation” that distinguishes the unselfish citizen from the mere hoarder of gold.

lincoln+cartoon.jpg (400×282)If nothing else, T.R. is now sure that whatever he does with the rest of his life will have to have moral purpose.  His efforts will reach an apex with the captivating presidential election of 1912, in which T.R. challenges the democratic process to higher ideals.  With the 2016 election looming, this will be the subject of upcoming articles.

-Michael D’Angelo

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Search for Truth in a Reverent Spirit (Part Three)

(Editors note:  This is the third segment in a continuing series featuring the clash between reason and matters of the spirit which defy rigid limitations of scientific calculation.  The previous segment - Part Two - identifies Theodore Roosevelt’s political transformation as one which neatly highlights this distinction.)

What is the essence of any struggle for healthy liberty and human betterment?  How can we measure the central condition of progress?

Try as he will, Theodore Roosevelt is unable to deny the spiritual qualities inherent in all materialistic pursuits, from science to business to politics.  With the ink barely dry on his 1908 Special Message to Congress, by 1910 T.R. boldly envisions a New Nationalism.  Some label his words “Communistic,” “Socialistic” and “Anarchistic” in various quarters.  Others hail “the greatest oration ever given on American soil.”

T.R. reflects that there have been “two great crises in our country’s history: first, when it was formed, and then, again, when it was perpetuated … .”  The third great crisis is upon us, the struggle “to achieve in large measure equality of opportunity.”

In every wise struggle for human betterment one of the main objects, and often the only object, has been to achieve in large measure equality of opportunity.  In the struggle for this great end, nations rise from barbarism to civilization, and through it people press forward from one stage of enlightenment to the next.  One of the chief factors in progress is the destruction of special privilege.  The essence of any struggle for healthy liberty has always been, and must always be, to take from some one man or class of men the right to enjoy power, or wealth, or position, or immunity, which has not been earned by service to his or their fellows. 

At many stages in the advance of humanity, this conflict between the men who possess more than they have earned and the men who have earned more than they possess is the central condition of progress.  In our day it appears as the struggle of freeman to gain and hold the right of self-government as against the special interests, who twist the methods of free government into machinery for defeating the popular will.  At every stage, and under all circumstances, the essence of the struggle is to equalize opportunity, destroy privilege, and give to the life and citizenship of every individual the highest possible value both to himself and to the commonwealth.  That is nothing new.

New Nationalism envisions “practical equality of opportunity for all citizens” as the socially desirable result.  This will permit every man to

have a fair chance to make of himself all that lies in him; to reach the highest point to which his capacities, unassisted by special privilege of his own and unhampered by the special privilege of others, can carry him, and to get for himself and his family substantially what he has earned.  Second, equality of opportunity means that the commonwealth will get from every citizen the highest service of which he is capable.  No man who carries the burden of the special privileges of another can give to the commonwealth that service to which it is fairly entitled.

Its central tenet is government protection of property rights, the traditional approach.  But New Nationalism elevates human welfare, the second critical component, to a higher priority and the critical measure of any presidential administration.

T.R. insists that only a powerful federal government can regulate the economy and guarantee social justice, to protect the laboring men, women and children from exploitation.  He supports graduated income and inheritance taxes, a social security system, a national health service, a federal securities commission and the direct election of US senators.  The platform also supports the democratic principles of initiative, referendum and recall as means for the people to exert more direct control over government.  In short, it is a platform which inspires much of the social agenda of the future New Deal a generation later:

The man who wrongly holds that every human right is secondary to his profit must now give way to the advocate of human welfare, who rightly maintains that every man holds his property subject to the general right of the community to regulate its use to whatever degree the public welfare may require it.

New Nationalism further admits “the right to regulate the terms and conditions of labor, which is the chief element of wealth, directly in the interest of the common good.”  Wages must be “more than sufficient” to cover the cost of living and hours “short enough” to permit the worker the “time and energy to … help in carrying the general load.”

Moreover, New Nationalism prohibits the use of corporate funds directly or indirectly for political purposes and strictly regulates political lobbyists which is to be “thoroughly enforced.”  Sentiments of this nature will tend to put the political world on notice, if not take it by storm.

 (Editor’s note:  To be continued.  Part Four in the series arrives at the heart of T.R.’s political transformation to spiritual icon …)

 -Michael D'Angelo