Up@dawn 2.0

Monday, June 26, 2017

Why Mill's prefered the educated and people with higher authority jobs to have more than one vote.

J.S. Mill is by far  one of the most interesting characters and greatest minds I have read about in my life.He believed in the abolishment of slavery , equal rights for woman ,birth control, all the issues we have 200 years later now in our own times he was talking about in the 19th century how amazing and ground breaking was this. It is revoloutionary thinking.Mills' thinking compared to no other , and no thers' mind compared to his. In our reading it talked of Mills' own run for parlimaent . Where he stated that maybe the people with a university degree should have more than one vote, but was this thinking really that radical? In fact Plato belived the voters should be locked away from any major influence that might corrupt their way of  thinking hence their way of voting. Locked away from money , women , etc.. anything to corrupt a man's mind.In the USA they had voter repression all the way up until 1975, proving you had to at least have an 8th grade education. I would , and maybe could see why this may matter in a true democracy , but America in fact is not a true democracy , America is a republic. We as citizens vote on representitives such as local , state and federal. Congressmen and women , Senaters, and the President of the USA to make our decisions for us. They write and vote for most of the laws we as citizens do not.What do you guys think?

The Message - June 26

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness are unalienable rights given to all Americans by the Declaration of Independence. A document that is considered one of the pillars of the American way of life, also known as the American philosophy. Yet, this philosophy has not always been shared equally in America. From minorities to women to sexual orientation, America has failed on numerous occasions to live up to its own creed. How can that be?

How can a country full of smart people be so slow to equity and equality? Just like any real change in the world, real change is not always lead by the smartest, but rather the bravest ones. So while the smartest ones can speak to the "will of the people." It is the bravest ones who dare to challenge "the tyranny of the majority." Simply put, actions talk and b*llsh*t walks!

This is the message that we find ourselves left with on this beautiful day. The acutalization that true change in this world does not come from the smartest of us, but rather from those of us willing to brave our fears to do the right thing. The thing that may never be seen by the masses, read by the thousands, or even discussed by the philosophers. Yet, the legacy of their actions will live on forever. Not because the scholars told us so, but rather because the heart led us to believe it so.

P.S. - I am the proud father of two identical twin girls, Braelynn & Brooklyn.

INVITATION for the class!!!

Hello Class. If anyone would like to come , you are welcome to come to my home next week . We may all decide on a time to get together and I have a farm we can walk and sit in the countryside by my large pond .If anyone is interested just tell me what day next week and we can arrage it ,
your friend,
Josh Ledford.

Week three comment 3 June 26, 2017

                When I read the following, I found myself asking how many believers could honestly contest what Mill states and I found myself more than a little embarrassed knowing that I fell into this group. “To what an extent doctrines intrinsically fitted to make the deepest impression upon the mind may remain in it as dead beliefs, without being ever realized in the imagination, the feelings, or the understanding, is exemplified by the manner in which the majority of believers hold the doctrines of Christianity. By Christianity I here mean what is accounted such by all churches and sects – the maxims and precepts contained in the New Testament. These are considered sacred, and accepted as laws, by all professing Christians. Yet it is scarcely too much to say that not one Christian in a thousand guides or tests his individual conduct by reference to those laws. The standard to which he does refer it, is the custom of his nation, his class, or his religious profession. He has thus, on the one hand, a collection of ethical maxims, which he believes to have been vouchsafed to him by infallible wisdom as rules for his government; and on the other, a set of every day judgments and practices, which go a certain length with some of those maxims, not so great a length with others, stand in direct opposition to some, and are, on the whole, a compromise between the Christian creed and the interests and suggestions of worldly life. To the first of these standards he gives his homage; to the other his real allegiance. All Christians believe that the blessed are the poor and humble, and those who are ill-used by the world; that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven; that they should judge not, lest they be judged; that they should swear not at all; that they should love their neighbor as themselves; that if one take their cloak, they should give him their coat also; that they should take no thought for the morrow; that if they would be perfect, they should sell all that they have and give it to the poor. They are not insincere when they say that they believe these things. They do believe them, as people believe what they have always heard lauded and never discussed. But in the sense of that living belief which regulates conduct, they believe these doctrines just up to the point to which it is usual to act upon them.

                It is a sobering response to your question, “Is our society still more hostile to non-believers than to alternative-believers,” when one considers that by Mill’s estimates that nine hundred and ninety nine out of a thousand Christians don’t adhere to the standards established by their founder. Perhaps most of us are guilty of talking the talk and not walking the walk. The cliché “actions speak louder than words,” applies, since it is easier to talk about cleaning up a manure pile than picking up a pitch fork and shoveling it into a spreader; Mill would have understood this analogy.

Week 4 Post

But isn't it a necessary presumption of those who advocate political freedom that the individual will is free to choose, and be responsible for those choices?

While it is common for those who advocate political freedom for individuals to assume that the individual’s will is free to choose, it is equally common for that free will to be influenced by society. Societal influence is a real occurrence and is continually changing and shifting as generations grow, learn, and adapt. For example, an individual’s views on weighted topics such as slavery, interracial marriage, gay marriage, abortions, or vaccinations can change depending on the mood of society. Although people have free will it is much more common to find people that side with the majority rather than to stand on their own individual feelings and thoughts. As slavery began to be less popular globally, more people in America picked up the banner for abolition. The same is true for the gay rights movement in America. Twenty- years ago it was taboo to be gay or rumored to be gay, and many people if asked would have outright denounced it. But now that gay relationships and the gay lifestyle is more common and accepted by society, many individuals that more than likely sided against it are willing to side with it. So with the ability to have free will comes the responsibility for the choices that you make. But I still think that most choice is based on society and even when poor decisions are made people will explain it away as “everyone was doing it at the time”. So for example, if an old video surfaced of a popular politician yelling “Nigger” at a student trying to integrate a public school, the politician can shift the blame on society and the way he/she was raised, and they are no longer that person. 

Week three comment 1 June 26, 2017

What do you think of Mill’s proposal to “give extra votes to citizens with university degrees or intellectually demanding jobs”?
After watching Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking Citizenship Test” on Youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WJlY9C7YWzI it would be easy to make an argument that few citizens should be allowed to vote whether they have a college degree or not.  I have taken the Citizenship test several times to be able to help immigrants who want to become citizens and personally, I would not object if all citizens were required to retake the citizenship test before they would be allowed to vote. In fact, I believe that anyone running for an elected office should be required to take it and score no less than ninety-five percent and in case of federally elected officials, I believe that they should be required to complete a six-month course on the Constitution before being allowed to run for office and failure to pass an independently prepared exam with at least a score of ninety percent would disqualify them for that election and mandate that if they wanted to run again, they would be required to retake the six-month course and successfully past it.

                I know that most citizens would object to this, but I sincerely wonder how many citizens could pass the citizenship test and if they at least had to study for it, then they would be better citizens. Here is a link to just twenty questions. Try it and see how you do. https://my.uscis.gov/en/prep/test/civics/view

Week three essay June 26, 2017

                In On Liberty, Mill stated, “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.” He elaborates by explaining that it is not enough to receive approval from individuals who agree with you, it is more important to search out those who disagree to “be able to hear them (arguments) from persons who actually believe them; who defend them in earnest, and do their very utmost for them. He must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form; he must feel the whole force of the difficulty which the true view of the subject has to encounter and dispose of, else he will never really possess himself of the portion of truth which meets and removes that difficulty.” This wisdom should be shared with our elected officials.
                Currently a select group of thirteen Republican Senators met in secret to draft a health care bill. I seriously doubt that they sought any input from Democratic members of the Senate who might have raised questions that needed to be addressed before the bill was presented to the full Senate. Sadly, if the roles were reversed and the Democrats controlled the Senate, they may have followed similar procedures; neither would be good for the country.

                Mill’s reasoning is perfectly logical. Abraham Lincoln was said to prepare for his legal cases by spending more time preparing for the case as if he were the opposing lawyer. Once he had determined what his opponent’s strategy would be, he would prepare his case by attacking each of the opponent’s points. If the Republican Senators really wanted to craft a successful healthcare bill, they would have invited every Democratic Senator into the room and understood what their reasons were for wanting to keep and modify the Affordable Care Act. Then they could have made reasoned arguments, point by point, on why it should be repealed. They didn’t do that because they didn’t want to learn the truth. As Mill says, “they have never thrown themselves into the mental position of those who think differently from them, and considered what such persons may have to say; and consequently, they do not, in any sense of the word, know the doctrine which they themselves profess.”

P.S. I emailed my essay to Senator Corker and encouraged him to read On Liberty over the 4th of July break.

Week 4 - June 26 - Liberty

         In the introduction to his book, On Liberty, Mill states that “The struggle between Liberty and Authority is the most conspicuous feature in the portions of history with which we are earliest familiar….” He then defines liberty as protection against the tyranny of the political rulers.[1] Though the power of government was and currently is considered necessary, it is also extremely dangerous. Government, Mill contends, is all too often used as a weapon against those under its governing power. “The aim, therefore, of patriots, was [and is] to set limits to the power which the ruler should be suffered to exercise over the community; and this limitation was what they meant by liberty.”[2] Liberty, as defined by Mill, was attempted to be secured by two methods. “First by obtaining a recognition of certain immunities, called political liberties or rights…” and second by constitutional checks by which the consent of the community, or of a body of some sort supposed to represent its interests, was made a necessary condition…” Though Mill was not necessarily talking about the United States, but about Greece, Rome and England, the narrative fits well with America also. Governments tend toward increasing their power and ours is no different. Even with the constitutional checks and balances, government grows its power over the citizens and it limits their liberties in favor of more and bigger government control. Just as the natural tendency of government is to want more power, “the principal object of the “lovers of liberty” is to limit government to its bare necessities. Rather than government being an “independent power opposed in interest to themselves,” people came to believe that it would be better if government in general and government officials, more specifically, “should be their tenants or delegates, revocable at their pleasure.”[3]  This is a description, to some extent, of self-governance, although neither Mill nor the Founding Fathers desired a democracy where the majority ruled. Mill was not necessarily describing the government of the United States, but a general yearning of many humans in their desire for liberty. And even with this type of government where the officials are subject to recall and disfavor in elections, government grows and becomes more and more oppressive. It is its nature. When “lovers of liberty” are absent, a benevolent government will, by means of a natural process, morph into a tyrannical and oppressive totalitarian government.   

[1] John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, Dover Thrift Editions (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2002), 4.
[2] Ibid, 4
[3] Ibid, 4

Discussion Questions July 3

On Liberty III-V. If you guys have pre-holiday travel plans, feel free to post later in the week-if that's what "independence" requires!
Looking ahead to the week of July 10 and Henry James's English Hours: if you have the edition with Colm Toibin's foreword and Leon Edel's Introduction, I suggest reading them. Otherwise, just read to "Wells & Salisbury"... for comparison/contrast, and for FUN, pair Henry with Bill Bryson (The Road to Little Dribbling: Adventures of an American in Britain... Notes from a Small Island... I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America After Twenty Years Away- a contemporary of ours who, like Henry, spent much of his adult life in England and developed a sensibility that wasn't quite purely British OR American but sheds light on both. Also of interest: Henry's American Scene, recording his impressions on returning to visit the U.S.A. after many years living in England.
  • COMMENT: What forms of "active interference" by other individuals and by the state are compatible with the liberty of individuals who make themselves a public nuisance? "No one pretends that actions should be as free as opinions... Acts, of whatever kind, which, without justifiable cause, do harm to others, may be, and in the more important cases absolutely require to be, controlled by the unfavourable sentiments, and, when needful, by the active interference of mankind. The liberty of the individual must be thus far limited; he must not make himself a nuisance to other people." 
  • Mill says our "truths, for the most part, are only half-truths" requiring correction by "the fullest and freest comparison of opposite opinions" and exposure to "all sides of the truth" and to various "experiments of living." What kinds of personal and social "experiments" are needed, in our time, to bring out all sides of the truth? 
  • Mill praises "individual spontaneity" and "originality," but says most of us do not sufficiently value the non-conformists in our midst. Agree? How do we correct our bias for conformity?
  • COMMENT: Do we rely too heavily on custom, and in so doing sacrifice liberty? Does this passage again suggest a crucial connection between political/social liberty and metaphysical free will?  "...to conform to custom, merely as custom, does not educate or develop in him any of the qualities[Pg 109] which are the distinctive endowment of a human being. The human faculties of perception, judgment, discriminative feeling, mental activity, and even moral preference, are exercised only in making a choice." 
  • COMMENT: "He who lets the world, or his own portion of it, choose his plan of life for him, has no need of any other faculty than the ape-like one of imitation... Human nature is not a machine to be built after a model, and set to do exactly the work prescribed for it, but a tree, which requires to grow and[Pg 111] develop itself on all sides, according to the tendency of the inward forces which make it a living thing."
  • What do you think of Mill's critique of "Calvinistic theory" and the idea that "you have no choice... whatever is not a duty is a sin"?
  • William James would have been struck by this rhetorical question. Are you? How? "...there are but few persons, in comparison with the whole of mankind, whose experiments, if adopted by others, would be likely to be any improvement on established practice. But these few are the salt of the earth; without them, human life would become a stagnant pool. Not only is it they who introduce good things which did not before exist; it is they who keep the life in those which already existed. If there were nothing new to be done, would human intellect cease to be necessary
  • What passages of Mill's speak to you most directly of the "pragmatic openness of mind" James said he found in his predecessor? Can you say now, more distinctly, what you think James meant?
  • Mill praises the "plurality of paths" leading to different valuable results for individuals and nations, but deplores their mutual intolerance. If you read James's "On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings," do you see there an antidote to that intolerance?
  • COMMENT: "The demand that all other people shall resemble ourselves, grows by what it feeds on... Mankind speedily become unable to conceive diversity, when they have been for some time unaccustomed to see it."
  • "Human beings owe to each other help to distinguish the better from the worse, and encouragement to choose the[Pg 143]former and avoid the latter. They should be for ever stimulating each other to increased exercise of their higher faculties, and increased direction of their feelings and aims towards wise instead of foolish, elevating instead of degrading, objects and contemplations." How far can we go in offering one another such "help," before we begin to overstep and meddle?
  • "We[Pg 146] have a right, and it may be our duty, to caution others against him, if we think his example or conversation likely to have a pernicious effect on those with whom he associataes" - again, how far can we go in this regard without going too far?
  • "There are many who consider as an injury to themselves any conduct which they have a distaste for, and resent it as an outrage to their feelings; as a religious bigot, when charged with disregarding the religious feelings of others, has been known to retort that they disregard his feelings, by persisting in their abominable worship or creed." Does this remind you of any recent "freedom of religion" debates in our country?
  • Post yours

"I think he would be displeased by the lack of a moral consensus... his perception of politics today would be that it had become too partisan and shrill... no longer the practice of gentlemen..."

An old post-
Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Rambling freely with Mill

John Stuart Mill, of his own free will, was a committed walker. His journal conveys extensive, detailed accounts of nearly his every step (it seems) in the British Isles from 1827-1832. They must have been thrilling walks, though I must confess they're less than thrilling merely to read about.
To the right there were rich meadows and gentlemen’s houses between the river and the hills. This continued for some time, with the exception that the hills on the left approached the river, and then receded when the hills on the right approached it, forming a fine line of beech wood, to which the last gleams of the setting sun gave a rich yellow colour. We here left the punt in which we had ascended thus far, and took the towing path on the Oxfordshire side. The hills on the right now receded and appeared gradually to drop down, while on the left they grew high and steep, and came close to the river, leaving scarcely room for a pretty house and small pleasure ground between the river and the steep part of the ascent. Near the end of these hills are the villages of Goring and Streatley, the former on the north, the latter on the south side of the river: we crossed by a ferry, and took up our abode at the upper extremity of Streatley, which is a very neat village, and the main street of which, by a gentle declivity, ascends the chalk hill.

 This is surely an example of how much better a single image of natural and civilized beauty can be, than a few thousand of even the most accurately measured words. We might have wished for something a little racier from the guy who declared, among other things, "I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it."

He was a crusader for social justice and the rights of minorities and women. (What do you suppose he'd say about Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law?) He was Bertrand Russell's godfather and William James's hero. Must walk his walk.
Another old post-
Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Becoming J.S. Mill
It's John Stuart Mill today in Happiness. “Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.” Sounds simple, but most of us are not the most adept promoters. Nor was Mill, as a twenty-something just getting over a mental collapse precipitated by his father's pressure-cooker experiment in utilitarian pedagogy.

We may actually have regressed, since Mill's time: many of us, it has emerged in class, are uncomfortable with the promotional program. We don't want to seem too happy, or too interested in being happy. Could some of that attitude be swayed by Mill's civic-minded emphasis on promoting the general happiness, and not merely one's own? Maybe it's less uncool to take an interest in others' flourishing?

And maybe Mill was right when he said most of us do better not to pursue happiness so actively at all, that it is
only to be attained by not making it the direct end. Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way. The enjoyments of life are sufficient to make it a pleasant thing, when they are taken en passant, without being made a principal object. Once make them so, and they are immediately felt to be insufficient. They will not bear a scrutinizing examination. Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so. The only chance is to treat, not happiness, but some end external to it, as the purpose of life. Let your self-consciousness, your scrutiny, your self-interrogation, exhaust themselves on that; and if otherwise fortunately circumstanced you will inhale happiness with the air you breathe, without dwelling on it or thinking about it, without either forestalling it in imagination, or putting it to flight by fatal questioning. This theory now became the basis of my philosophy of life. And I still hold to it as the best theory for the great majority of mankind.If he's right about this, and about the danger of too much outward "analysis" uncompensated by sufficient inward "cultivation" of enjoyment via music, literature, and other sources of personal delight, we must beware the shoals of academia. 
Young Mill was a prodigy, and a recovering analyst. He found music and poetry just in time.

But isn't it amusing, he worried that he and we would eventually weary of Mozart and music generally. "I was seriously tormented by the thought of the exhaustibility of musical combinations." I recall thinking the same thing in my own youthful enthusiasm for the Beatles. The inveterate and perennial habit of youth is to imagine it has discovered the transient apex of possibility, soon to be lost and lamented.

Wordsworth's poetry seems to have been Mill's greater salvation, not because he was the greatest poet but because he was the right one, at the right time, for the overstressed homeschooled utilitarian-in-utero.
What made Wordsworth's poems a medicine for my state of mind, was that they expressed, not mere outward beauty, but states of feeling, and of thought coloured by feeling, under the excitement of beauty. They seemed to be the very culture of the feelings, which I was in quest of. In them I seemed to draw from a source of inward joy, of sympathetic and imaginative pleasure, which could be shared in by all human beings; which had no connection with struggle or imperfection, but would be made richer by every improvement in the physical or social condition of mankind. From them I seemed to learn what would be the perennial sources of happiness, when all the greater evils of life shall have been removed. And I felt myself at once better and happier as I came under their influence.
In a word (or two), Wordsworth taught Mill the value of subjectivity and feeling. Objective analysis and dispassion have their place in life, but a happy life also cultivates its own enthusiastic delights. The greatest happiness for the greatest number is good, but must not be allowed to displace one's own capacity for joy.
My mentor John Lachs greatly admires Mill. See his Meddling: On the Virtue of Leaving Others Alone... and Freedom and Limits...
Those, like John Stuart Mill, who have not embraced metaphysical obscurities in their account of freedom, have always known that it consists of the coincidence of desire and ability to act in a single person. In order to achieve self-determination, we must want or welcome what we do and, in turn, do what we desire...
Richardson, redux. "James was reading, with high enthusiasm, John Stuart Mill's autobiography..."

Week 4 - June 26 - Liberty of Thought and Discussion

           In last week’s post I criticized James’ communication skills saying that he could have done a better job with word selection and sentence structure. This week I praise John Stuart Mill for his concise presentation, his accurate analysis and excellent examples. On Liberty is much more readable and communicable than the lectures of last week, though the content of both is riveting and enlightening. It was enjoyable to read. His discourse on liberty of thought and discussion and his wisdom on the suppression of opinion could not have been more precise. But then, that is only my opinion…isn’t it [pun intended J].

Had there been television news coverage in Mill’s day, I’m quite sure he would have included the current alphabet soup of TV stations, both airwaves and cable, in his comment: “…government…will often attempt to control the expression of opinion….” If he were writing today in the current political atmosphere, he might say, “Certain factions of government, in collusion with the news media, are attempting to control opinion through news cast.” Though Mill was talking about government controlling the narrative through the power of legislation and/or force, the attempt to influence opinion through news media today, as in the past, is real. “High ranking government officials, both current and former,” supposedly leak anonymously to the media at an unprecedented rate. There are three problems with believing what anonymous sources say: 1) there may not be an anonymous source at all. News reporters are certainly not above making it up [Jayson Blair, NY Times, Dan Rather, CBS Evening News], 2) if there is a real anonymous source, she may be lying, and 3) it is illegal and against the oath of office to reveal classified information. There is a legal process in place to help and to  protect real “whistle blowers.” But the leaks by anonymous sources are not intended to help and to protect the public from government, but to hurt individuals. Nevertheless, the public must endure it. And as Mill contends, the idea that the truth will eventually come out is not always accurate.

Mill did not believed the “Dr. Johnson theory” that the truth would eventually prevail, regardless of persecution and suppression. Mill believed “…indeed, the dictum that truth always triumphs over persecution is one of those pleasant falsehoods which men repeat after one another till they pass into commonplaces, but which all experience refutes.”[1] He contends that suppression of truth has two possible results, “If not suppressed forever, it may be thrown back for centuries.”

The ideas and opinions that Mill elaborated on in our reading assignment for this week were neither new nor profound; but they were put together in a clear, orderly and understandable way with good examples.

[1] John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, Dover Thrift Editions (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2002), 29.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


Image result for happy summer solstice 2017

Gertrude Stein recalled that on the copy of her final exam for a class taught by William James she wrote, “Dear Professor James, I am so sorry but really I do not feel a bit like an examination paper in philosophy today.” She then left the room. The next day a note arrived from Professor James that said, “Dear Miss Stein, I understand perfectly how you feel. I often feel like that myself”—and then awarded her the highest mark in the course.
Not a recommended strategy, and possibly apocryphal... but true to the spirit of William James!

(And that reminds me of a book by his student R.B. Perry... and of another by Jacques Barzun... but I'll stop now. To Mill!
Image result for j s mill caricature

Okay, one more relevant diversion: America the Philosophical...

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Du Bois and James

William James (1842-1910), one of the most influential American philosophers and psychologists, is best known for his contributions to the philosophy of pragmatism, philosophy of religion, and psychology. From 1873 until to his retirement in 1907, James taught at Harvard University, where many of the students he mentored later became prominent thinkers and writers, including W.E.B. Du Bois.

Describing himself as “a devoted follower of James at the time he was developing his pragmatic philosophy,” Du Bois studied under William James during his time at Harvard from 1888-1890. Du Bois recalls repeatedly dining with James at his home and sharing with him his own aspirations for pursuing an academic career in philosophy. James dissuaded him from doing so, however, warning Du Bois that there is “not much chance for anyone earning a living as a philosopher.”

Du Bois’s connection with James did not end after he graduated from Harvard, indeed James continued to keep in touch with Du Bois and watched the progression of his career. In 1907 James wrote to Du Bois: “I have just looked through the last installment of your studies on the American Negro. I wish the portraits might have been better printed. But it is splendid scientific work.” Just two years later in 1909, Du Bois asked James to serve on the board of an Encyclopedia Africana, and James agreed. The following year William James died. Decades later when Du Bois wrote his Autobiography, he remembered James as one of his most influential professors at Harvard, and consequently as an important influence on his early career.

Du Bois, W.E.B. (1968). The Autobiography of W.E.B. Du Bois. New York: International Publishers.
Goodman, Russell, “William James”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

Heart and Souls
The Strange Education of W. E. B. Du Bois.

by Sean Wilentz
Du Bois was a pioneer race relations rhetorician, who straddled the integrationist tradition of Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass and the emerging separatist-nationalist movement. His concepts of Black American cultural identity are analyzed.
In his mysterious Education, first printed in 1907, the aging Henry Adams belatedly ushered out the nineteenth century with a scientific prophecy of expanding chaos and accelerated historical time. A few years earlier his fellow New Englander, the young W. E. B. Du Bois, ushered in the new century with his poetic, equally mysterious The Souls of Black Folk, and with a prophecy of his own: "The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line." Both prophecies still live; and some recent commentaries have suggested that Adams's and Du Bois's observations carry as many portents for the coming century as they did for the one now ending.
The two men apparently never met or corresponded. (Adams left the Harvard history department eleven years before Du Bois arrived, though Du Bois did wind up studying with Adams's disciple, Albert Bushnell Hart.) Their temperaments and their generational experiences, let alone their family backgrounds, were utterly different: the one was the chronicler of insider-hood, the other was the chronicler of marginality. Yet their careers and their legacies bear comparison. Both trained in Berlin as well as at Harvard, absorbing the new spirit of Germanic scholarship without completely enslaving themselves to its ponderous prose style. (In this respect Du Bois was the more successful of the two.) Neither intended to become a historian, and both wrote masterworks of American history, fixed on what each believed was the crucial passage in the nation's democratic development (for Adams, the administrations of Jefferson and Madison; for Du Bois, Reconstruction). Both wrote novels in which a woman was the major protagonist. More famously, both were men of autobiographical imagination, who wrote achingly of leading doubled lives, grandly equating the burdens of that doubleness with America itself.
Long after his death, Adams was remembered as an important historian, but was read mainly by professionals. His reputation revived, achieving cultic proportions, roughly forty years ago, mainly because of The Education. The postwar vogue for American studies picked up Adams as the great ironist of the Gilded Age; and The Education became an undergraduate talisman of bookish sensitivity in the beat 1950s, a declaration of alienated sophistication and the quest for an illumination--the refined sophomore's On the Road.
Du Bois, who lived until 1963, is now enjoying a different sort of revival. Always admired by liberals as the architect of the modern civil rights movement, Du Bois suffered in America for his fellow traveling (capped by his formal enlistment, at age 93, in the Communist Party) as well as his Pan-African nationalism. By a cosmic coincidence he died in Ghana on the eve of the famous March on Washington; and the next day, when Roy Wilkins respectfully informed the marchers of the news, he prefaced his announcement with a careful remark that "in his later years Dr. Du Bois chose another path" from theirs. (Less measured tributes arrived in Accra from Gus Hall, Jomo Kenyatta, Walter Ulbricht and Mao Zedong.) It took the upheavals of the later 1960s and two decades of continuing racial turmoil for a new generation of professors and critics to repair Du Bois's reputation, not simply as a propagandist and organizer but as an intellectual. Whatever else it has done, the black studies movement deserves credit for retrieving The Souls of Black Folk and Black Reconstruction in America, which belong in any collection of American classics.
Indeed, on campus and off, Du Bois and his writings have become so respectable that they are almost impossible to avoid. Du Bois's major books and essays (although not, curiously, Black Reconstruction) are enshrined in the Library of America. There are endless conferences, symposia and lectures dedicated to race, race consciousness and the color line, often with Du Bois's work as their touchstone. The United States Postal Service has even issued a first-class stamp in his memory, something unthinkable even thirty years ago. And now has come the impressive first installment of the first full-dress biography, written by a well-known scholar and greeted with acclaim.
David Levering Lewis's greatest strengths are his thoroughness and his tone. Because Du Bois lived so long and wrote so often about himself--in three full-length autobiographies, one briefer memoir and numerous shorter pieces--his biographer is faced with an unusually large amount of detective work. He must first gather the facts and then judge them against his subject's own not always reliable accounts. Lewis is an expert gatherer; he presents more details than the average reader needs to know, right down to Du Bois's college courses and grades. The trickier task, which Lewis performs well, is to avoid either debunking or apologizing. His Du Bois is a man of stark polarities and huge contradictions, not least the double standards of his Victorian private life and his genuine commitments to sexual as well as racial equality. Lewis reports faithfully, often gracefully, keeping as his main narrative line Du Bois's complex rise to political and intellectual leadership, first as a scholar and agitator, then as the editor of the NAACP monthly, The Crisis and as a budding Pan-Africanist.
Lewis's account of Du Bois's central writings is less energetic. Theirappearance is noted, as is their reception and their connection to Du Bois'spersonal formation and political views; their main points are explicated alongside some interesting judgments (not always friendly). Lewis pays ample tribute to the prodigious range of Du Bois's output, from the pioneering sociological study The Philadelphia Negro to poems and short stories. But Lewis prefers not to dally too long or to pull together his thoughts on this large body of work before picking up his narration of Du Bois's life. His contribution, in this first volume, lies not so much in advancing the case for Du Bois as a major American thinker (which Lewis plainly believes he was) as in helping his readers approach Du Bois's thinking historically. Given the superheated air that surrounds racial conversation these days, and the frequency with which Du Bois's observations on race (especially in The Souls of Black Folk) are invoked as timeless and authoritative, that contribution is not small.
From the moment it appeared in April 1903, The Souls of Black Folk caused a sensation. Among black readers, James Weldon Johnson later claimed, it had sensation. Among black readers, James Weldon Johnson later claimed, it had the greatest impact of any single book since Uncle Tom's Cabin. William James, Du Bois' undergraduate mentor at Harvard, dispatched a copy to his brother Henry, who privately praised it (a little backhandedly) as "the only `Southern' book of any distinction published in many a year." In Germany Max "splendid" effort and went to work finding a translator. Within two months the publishers had to arrange for a third printing, as the book became the subject of discussion in periodicals across the country, with the conspicuous exception of most white Southern newspapers and those controlled by the friends and allies of Du Bois' nemesis, Booker T. Washington. For a collection consisting mainly of reworked, previously published essays on race relations and the Negro by a young sociologist and historian at Atlanta University, it was an extraordinary success, unprecedented in the history of American letters.
The flashpoint of controversy was the book's third essay, "Of Mr. Booker T. Washington and Others." Du Bois had once been an admirer of Washington--he had praised him for his famous Atlanta Compromise speech urging racial accommodation in 1895--but he had moved in a more radical direction over the previous five years. Du Bois's objections were political: he was scornful of Washington's circumspection about civil rights for blacks. But they were also cultural (l.) Like Washington, Du Bois was appalled by the debased condition of the Negro masses, barely one generation out of bondage; but Washington's view was tainted by a fundamental pessimism about the worth of black people's cultural resources. He had little faith that black people's potential extended beyond gaining the most practical know-how about raising pigs and getting on in the world. To Du Bois, who was all for practical knowledge, Washington's pessimism was a lie, vaunting a philistine materialism that denied the black man's soul.
Or more precisely, the black man's "souls." The plural was critical to the book's larger purpose of establishing black America's cultural presence and identity. Du Bois, who as Lewis points out mounted his essays with a jeweler's precision, was very exact about his title: The Souls of Black Folk, not The Soul of Black Folks. "After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian," he asserted in the book's most cited passage, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world--a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,--an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,--his longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.
These are heartfelt, brave and seductive words, an anatomy of racial alienation unlike any that preceded it, and they thrilled and persuaded DuBois's admirers. Indeed, the words are so seductive that even today it is easy to miss their intense ambiguity--and how they blend a painful self-consciousness with a muddled late-Victorian mysticism.
At the core of Du Bois's thinking was the fiction of the folk--"the unifying ideal of Race" that would elevate the Negro people and redeem America. In his early writings, Du Bois's racialist categories were deeply beholden to racial science, reinforced by his reading in the Anglo-Saxon school of American historiography and in the German romantic nationalists from Herder to Treitschke, his teacher in Berlin. His first important foray into the subject, in an address to the newly founded American Negro Academy in 1897, posited the existence of no fewer than three primordial and eight historic races; by the time he wrote Souls, he had reduced the number to seven.
White racism, he acknowledged, had led many blacks to minimize race distinctions and to seek instead full participation in a reformed, color-blind American democracy. But Du Bois thought it was absurd for Negroes in America, no less than for Mongolians on the Asian steppes, to deny the realities of race. "The history of the world is the history not of individuals but of groups, not of nations but of races," he stated emphatically. American blacks could, however, undo the unjust and unnatural subordination of their race. And for the purpose of such a transformation, Du Bois espoused, as Kwame Anthony Appiah has observed, "what Sartre once called ... an `anti-racist racism.'"
The themes of racial solidarity and pride, and the rejection of assimilationism, were hardly new at the turn of the twentieth century. As Lewis notes, Du Bois's remarks belonged to "an old love-hate tradition" among black writers and activists that stretched back before the Civil War and that had become, by Du Bois's time, two distinct tendencies: an integrationist tendency, upheld most eloquently by the aging Frederick Douglass, and an emerging nationalist tendency, associated with Martin Delany, James Holly and one of Du Bois's mentors, the Rev. Alexander Crummell. (Washington, with his outward placating of whites and his ideology of self-help for blacks, seemed, in contrast to both tendencies, an exemplary moderate.) In his declarations on the indissolubility of race, DuBois aligned himself with the nationalists, gathering their scattered perceptions into a statement of racial theory, raising that theory to the level of conventional racial philosophy and then overturning all conventions by celebrating the Negro race's capacities, achievements and strivings.
It was in these celebrations that the prose of The Souls of Black Folk reached its lyrical heights, foreshadowed by the pairing, as the epigram of each chapter, of a portion of "high" verse (from Byron, the Bible and so on) with a musical transcription from the black spirituals. Writing in a mélange of genres--history, fiction, biography, autobiography--Du Bois turned the everyday racist characterizations of the black peasantry on their heads. Where white Americans (and some blacks) saw indolence, mindless sensuality and an imitative culture, Du Bois discerned deep spirituality, historical purpose and sublime artistic gifts, especially in the Negro's religious music--"the rhythmic cry of the slave" and the plaintive melody of the spirituals (or Sorrow Songs), which, despite caricature and defilement, remained "the most beautiful expression of human experience born this side of the seas."
Not that Du Bois romanticized black people's condition, either in the South or in the North. Slavery, he wrote, had bred a "dark fatalism" and "a spirit of revolt and revenge" in the Negro. After Reconstruction's demise, the despair reappeared, driving the black masses into dissipated self-destructiveness while goading the better-off to flee from any sense of consanguinity and responsibility. It would take extraordinary, cultivated, prophetic heroes such as Crummell (to whom he devoted an essay in Souls) to raise the race. This notion of individual leadership was in tune with Du Bois's German philosophical proclivities (especially as translated into Anglo-American letters by one of his intellectual heroes, Thomas Carlyle), and it would quickly develop into his doctrine of the Talented Tenth. Yet without turning sentimental, Du Bois's retrieval of the cultural gifts of the most ordinary of the folk underwrote his case for their cultural potential and their essential unity and separateness.
Separateness, however, was not the only fact of racial life in Du Bois's America. Instead of settling for a choice of nationalism over assimilationism, Du Bois offered up a dialectic of doubleness; he wrote of a divided American Negro soul, part American, part Negro, the two parts ever in conflict with each other but headed toward an eventual merging. Although the intellectual origins of the doubleness idea remain obscure in the text, various scholars have had little difficulty in recovering them.

Emerson's essay "The Transcendentalist," written in 1843, had fixed the term "double consciousness" in New England letters as a division between contemplation and the clatter of everyday thought. A more direct influence on Du Bois was almost certainly his beloved William James, whose lectures and writings on psychology used the term in a medical sense (borrowed from the French psychologist Binet) to denote the simultaneous existence of more than one consciousness in a single brain--what today is known familiarly as a split personality. And in college Du Bois would have encountered the word "consciousness," used interchangeably with "soul," in any number of idealist philosophical works. But none of his teachers and predecessors applied the idea to the social psychology of race relations; nor did they fully anticipate Du Bois's stress on the intense and constant awareness of the Negro of his doubleness.


Harvard in the Last Decades of the 19th Century

Harvard University in 1888 was a great institution of learning. It was 236 years old and on its governing board were AlexanderAgassiz, Phillip Brooks, Henry Cabot Lodge and Charles FrancisAdams; and a John Quincy Adams, but not the ex-President. CharlesWilliam Eliot, a gentleman by training and a scholar by broadstudy and travel, was president. Among its teachers emeriti were Oliver Wendell Holmes and James Russell Lowell. Among theactive teachers were Francis Child, Charles Eliot Norton, CharlesDunbar, Justin Winsor and John Trowbridge; William Goodwin, FrankTaussig, Nathaniel Shaler, George Palmer, William James, FrancisPeabody, Josiah Royce, Barrett Wendell, Edward Channing, and AlbertBushnell Hart. A young instructor who arrived in 1890 was GeorgeSantayana. Seldom, if ever, has any American university had sucha galaxy of great men and fine teachers as Harvard in the decadebetween 1885 and 1895.

To make my own attitude toward the Harvard of that day clear,it must be remembered that I went to Harvard as a Negro, not simplyby birth, but recognizing myself as a member of a segregated castewhose situation I accepted but was determined to work from withinthat caste to find my way out.

About the Harvard of which most white students conceived I knewlittle. Of fraternities I had not even heard of Phi Beta Kappa,and of such important social organizations as the Hasty PuddingClub, I knew nothing. I was in Harvard for education and notfor high marks, except as marks would insure my staying. I didnot pick out "snap" courses. I was there to enlargemy grasp of the meaning of the universe. We had for instanceno chemical laboratory at Fisk. Our mathematical courses werelimited; above all I wanted to study philosophy! I wanted toget hold of the basis of knowledge, and explore foundations andbeginnings. I chose, therefore, Palmer's course in ethics, but he being on Sabbatical for the year, William James replaced him,and I became a devoted follower of James at the time he was developing his pragmatic philosophy.

Fortunately I did not fall into the mistake of regarding Harvardas the beginning rather than the continuing of my college training. I did not find better teachers at Harvard but teachers betterknown, who had had wider facilities for gaining knowledge andhad a broader atmosphere for approaching truth.

I hoped to pursue philosophy as my life career, with teachingfor support. With this program I studied at Harvard from theFall of 1888 to 1890, as undergraduate. I took a varied coursein chemistry, geology, social science and philosophy. My salvation here was the type of teacher I met rather than the content of the courses. William James guided me out of the sterilities of scholastic philosophy to realist pragmatism; from Peabody's socialreform with a religious tinge, I turned to Albert Bushnell Hart to study history with documentary research; and from Taussig withhis reactionary British economics of the Ricardo school, I approached what was later to become sociology. Meantime Karl Marx was mentioned but only incidentally and as one whose doubtful theories had longsince been refuted. Socialism as dream of philanthropy or as will-o-wisp of hotheads was dismissed as unimportant.

When I arrived at Harvard, the question of board and lodging wasof first importance. Naturally, I could not afford room in thecollege yard in the old and venerable buildings which housed mostof the well-to-do students under the magnificent elms. Neitherdid I think of looking for lodgings among white families, wherenumbers of the ordinary students lived. I tried to find a coloredhome, and finally at 20 Flagg Street, I came upon the neat homeof a colored woman from Nova Scotia, a descendant of those blackJamaican Maroons whom Britain deported after solemnly promisingthem peace if they would surrender. For a very reasonable sum,I rented the second story front room and for four years this wasmy home. I wrote of this abode at the time: "My room is,for a college man's abode, very ordinary indeed. It is quitepleasantly situated--second floor, front, with a bay window andone other window. The door is on the southwest corner. As youenter you will perceive the bed in the opposite corner, smalland decorated with floral designs calculated to puzzle a botanist. It is a good comfortable bed, however, and my landlady keepsit neat. On the left hand is a bureau with a mirror of doubtfulaccuracy. In front of the bay window is a stand with three shelvesof books, and on the left of the bureau is an improvised bookcasemade of unpainted boards and uprights, containing most of my libraryof which I am growing quite proud. Over the heat register, nearthe door, is a mantle with a plaster of Paris pug-dog and a calendar,and the usual array of odds and ends. A sofa, commode, trunk,table and chairs complete the floor furniture. On the wall area few quite ordinary pictures. In this commonplace den I am quitecontent."

Later I became a boarder at Memorial Hall, which was the greatdining hall of the University, and after that a member of theFoxcraft Club, where many students of moderate means boarded.

Following the attitudes which I had adopted in the South, I soughtno friendships among my white fellow students, nor even acquaintanceships. Of course I wanted friends, but I could not seek them. My classwas large, with some 300 students. I doubt if I knew a dozenof them. I did not seek them, and naturally they did not seekme. I made no attempt to contribute to the college periodicals,since the editors were not interested in my major interests. Only one organization did I try to enter, and I ought to haveknown better than to make this attempt. But I did have a goodsinging voice and loved music, so I entered the competition forthe Glee Club I ought to have known that Harvard could not affordto have a Negro on its Glee Club traveling about the country. Quite naturally I was rejected.

I was happy at Harvard, but for unusual reasons. One of thesecircumstances was my acceptance of racial segregation. Had Igone from Great Barrington high school directly to Harvard, Iwould have sought companionship with my white fellows and beendisappointed and embittered by a discovery of social limitationsto which I had not been used. But I came by way of Fisk and theSouth and there I had accepted color caste and embraced eagerlythe companionship of those of my own color. This was, of course,no final solution. Eventually with them and in mass assault,led by culture, we Negroes were going to break down the boundariesof race; but at present we were banded together in a great crusadeand happily so. Indeed, I suspect that the prospect of ultimatefull human intercourse without reservations and annoying distinctions,made me all too willing to consort now with my own and to disdainand forget as far as was possible that outer, whiter world.

In general, I asked nothing of Harvard but the tutelage of teachersand the freedom of the laboratory and library. I was quite voluntarilyand willingly outside its social life. I sought only such contactswith white teachers as lay directly in the line of my work. Ijoined certain clubs like the Philosophical Club; I was a memberof the Foxcraft dining club because it was cheap. James and oneor two other teachers had me at their homes at meal and reception. I found friends, and most interesting and inspiring friends,among the colored folk of Boston and surrounding places. Naturallysocial intercourse with whites could not be entirely forgotten,so that now and then I joined its currents and rose or fell withthem. I escorted colored girls to various gatherings, and aspretty ones as I could find to the vesper exercises, and laterto the class day and commencement social functions. Naturallywe attracted attention and the Crimson noted my girl friends;on the other part came sometimes the shadow of insult, as whenat one reception a white woman seemed determined to mistake mefor a waiter.

In general, I was encased in a completely colored world, self-sufficientand provincial, and ignoring just as far as possible the whiteworld which conditioned it. This was self-protective coloration,with perhaps an inferiority complex, but with belief in the abilityand future of black folk.

My friends and companions were taken mainly from the colored studentsof Harvard and neighboring institutions, and the colored folkof Boston and surrounding towns. With them I led a happy andinspiring life. There were among them many educated and well-to-dofolk; many young people studying or planning to study; many charmingyoung women. We met and ate, danced and argued and planned anew world.

Toward whites I was not arrogant; I was simply not obsequious,and to a white Harvard student of my day, a Negro student whodid not seek recognition was trying to be more than a Negro. The same Harvard man had much the same attitude toward Jews andIrishmen.

I was, however, exceptional among Negroes in my ideas on voluntaryrace segregation; they for the most part saw salvation only inintegration at the earliest moment and on almost any terms inwhite culture; I was firm in my criticism of white folk and inmy dream of a Negro self-sufficient culture even in America.

This cutting off of myself from my white fellows, or being cutoff, did not mean unhappiness or resentment. I was in my earlymanhood, unusually full of high spirits and humor. I thoroughlyenjoyed life. I was conscious of understanding and power, andconceited enough still to imagine, as in high school, that theywho did not know me were the losers, not I. On the other hand,I do not think that my white classmates found me personally objectionable. I was clean, not well-dressed but decently clothed. Manners Iregarded as more less superfluous, and deliberately cultivateda certain brusquerie. Personal adornment I regarded as pleasantbut not important. I was in Harvard, but not of it, and realizedall the irony of my singing "Fair Harvard." I sangit because I liked the music, and not from any pride in the Pilgrims.

With my colored friends I carried on lively social intercourse,but necessarily one which involved little expenditure of money. I called at their homes and ate at their tables. We danced atprivate parties. We went on excursions down the Bay. Once, witha group of colored students gathered from surrounding institutions,we gave Aristophanes' The Birds in a Boston colored church. The rendition was good, but not outstanding; not quite appreciatedby the colored audience, but well worth doing. Even though itworked me near to death, I was proud of it.

Thus this group of professional men, students, white collar workersand upper servants, whose common bond was color of skin in themselvesor in their fathers, together with a common history and currentexperience of discrimination, formed a unit which like many tensof thousands of like units across the nation had or were gettingto have a common culture pattern which made them an interlockingmass; so that increasingly a colored person in Boston was moreneighbor to a colored person in Chicago than to the white personacross the street.

Mrs. Ruffin of Charles Street, Boston, and her daughter Birdiewere often hostesses to this colored group. She was a widow ofthe first colored judge appointed in Massachusetts, an aristocraticlady, with olive skin and high piled masses of white hair. Oncea Boston white lady said to Mrs. Ruffin ingratiatingly: "Ihave always been interested in your race." Mrs. Ruffin flared: "Which race?" She began a national organization ofcolored women and published the Courant, a type of smallcolored weekly paper which was spreading over the nation. Inthis I published many of my Harvard daily themes.

Naturally in this close group there grew up among the young peoplefriendships ending in marriages. I myself, outgrowing the youthfulattractions of Fisk, began serious dreams of love and marriage. There, however, were still my study plans to hold me back andthere were curious other reasons. For instance, it happened thattwo of the girls whom I particularly liked had what was to methen the insuperable handicap of looking like whites; while theyhad enough black ancestry to make them "Negroes" inAmerica. Yet these girls were intelligent and companionable. One went to Vassar College which then refused entrance to Negroes. Years later when I went there to lecture I remember disagreeingviolently with a teacher who thought the girl ought not to have"deceived" the college by graduating before it knewher Negro descent! Another favorite of mine was Deenie Pindell. She was a fine forthright woman, blonde, blue-eyed and fragile. In the end I had no chance to choose her, for she married MonroeTrotter.

Trotter was the son of a well-to-do colored father and enteredHarvard in my first year in the Graduate School. He was thick-set,yellow, with close-cut dark hair. He was stubborn and straight-lacedand an influential member of his class. He organized the firstTotal Abstinence club in the Yard. I came to know him and joinedthe company when he and other colored students took a trip toAmherst to see George Forbes and William H. Lewis graduate inthe class with Calvin Coolidge.

Lewis afterward entered the Harvard Law School and became thecelebrated center of the Harvard football team. He married thebeautiful Bessie Baker who had been with us on that Amherst trip. Forbes, a brilliant, cynical dark man, later joined with Trotterin publishing the Guardian, the first Negro paper to attackBooker T. Washington with open opposition. Washington's friendsretorted by sending Trotter to jail when he dared to heckle Washingtonin a public Boston meeting on his political views. I was notpresent nor privy to this occurrence, but the unfairness of thejail sentence helped lead me eventually to form the Niagara Movement,which later became a founding part of the NAACP.

Thus I lived near to life, love and tragedy; and when I met MaudCuney, I became doubly interested. She was a tall imperious brunette,with gold-bronze skin, brilliant eyes and coils of black hair;daughter of the Collector of Customs at Galveston, Texas. Shecame to study music and was a skilled performer. When the NewEngland Conservatory of Music tried to "jim-crow" herin the dormitory, we students rushed to her defense and we won. I fell deeply in love with her, and we were engaged.

Thus it is clear how in the general social intercourse on thecampus I consciously missed nothing. Some white students madethemselves known to me and a few, a very few, became life-longfriends. Most of my classmates, I knew neither by sight nor name. Among them many made their mark in life: Norman Hapgood, RobertHerrick, Herbert Croly, George Dorsey, Homer Folks, Augustus Hand,James Brown Scott and others. I knew none of these intimately. For the most part I do not doubt that I was voted a somewhatselfish and self-centered "grind" with a chip on myshoulder and a sharp tongue.

Something of a certain inferiority complex was possibly a causeof this. I was desperately afraid of intruding where I was notwanted; appearing without invitation; of showing a desire forthe company of those who had no desire for me. I should in facthave been pleased if most of my fellow students had wanted toassociate with me; if I had been popular and envied. But theabsence of this made me neither unhappy nor morose. I had my"island within" and it was a fair country.

Only once or twice did I come to the surface of college life. First I found by careful calculation that I needed the cash ofone of the Boylston prizes in oratory to piece out my year's expenses. I got it through winning a second oratorical prize. The occasionwas noteworthy by the fact that another black student, ClementMorgan, got first prize at the same contest.

With the new increase at Harvard of students who grew up outsideof New England, there arose at this time a certain resentmentat the way New England students were dominating and conductingcollege affairs. The class marshal on commencement day was alwaysa Saltonstall, a Cabot, a Lowell, or some such New England family. The crew and most of the other heads of athletic teams were selectedfrom similarly limited social groups. The class poet, class oratorand other commencement officials invariably were selected becauseof family and not for merit. It so happened that when the officialsof the class of 1890 were being selected in early spring, a plotripened. Personally, I knew nothing of it, and was not greatlyinterested. But in Boston and in the Harvard Yard the resultof the elections was of tremendous significance; for this conspiratorialclique selected Clement Morgan as class orator. New England andindeed the whole country reverberated.

Morgan was a black man. He was working in a barber shop in St.Louis at the time when he ought to have been in school. Withthe encouragement and help of a colored teacher whom he latermarried, he came to Boston and entered the Latin School. Thismeant that when he finally entered Harvard, he entered as freshmanin the orthodox way and was well acquainted with his classmates. He was fairly well received, considering his color. He was apleasant unassuming person and one of the, best speakers of clearlyenunciated English on the campus. In his junior year, he hadearned the first Boylston prize for oratory, in the same contestwhere I won second prize. It was, then, logical for him to becomeclass orator and yet this was against all the traditions of America. There were editorials in the leading newspapers, and the Southespecially raged and sneered at the audience of "black washerwomen"who would replace Boston society at the next Harvard commencement.

At the same time, the action was contagious and that year andthe next in several leading Northern colleges colored studentsbecame the class orators. Ex-President Hayes, as I shall relatelater, sneered at this fact. While, as I have said, I had nothingto do with this plot, and was not even present at the electionwhich chose Morgan, I was greatly pleased at this breaking ofthe color line. Morgan and I became fast friends and spent asummer giving readings along the North Shore to help our collegecosts.

Harvard of this day was a great opportunity for a young man anda young American Negro and I realized it. I formed habits ofwork rather different from those of most of the other students. I burned no midnight oil. I did my studying in the daytime andhad my day parceled out almost to the minute. I spent a greatdeal of time in the library and did my assignments with thoroughnessand with prevision of the kind of work I wanted to do later. From the beginning my relations with most of the teachers at Harvardwere pleasant. They were on the whole glad to receive a seriousstudent, to whom extra-curricular activities were not of paramountimportance and one who in a general way knew what he wanted.

Harvard had in the social sciences no such leadership of thoughtand breadth of learning as in philosophy, literature and physicalscience. She was then groping and is still groping toward a scientifictreatment of human action. She was facing at the end of the centurya tremendous economic era. In the United States, finance wassucceeding in monopolizing transportation, and raw materials likesugar, coal and oil. The power of the trust and combine was sogreat that the Sherman Act was passed in 1890. On the other hand,the tariff at the demand of manufacturers continued to rise inheight from the McKinley to the indefensible Wilson tariff makingthat domination easier. The understanding between the industrialNorth and the New South was being perfected and in 1890 the seriesof disfranchising laws began to be enacted by the Southern statesdestined in the next 16 years to make voting by Southern Negroespractically impossible. A financial crisis shook the land in1893 and popular discontent showed itself in the Populist movementand Coxey's Army. The whole question of the burden of taxationbegan to be discussed.

These things we discussed with some clearness and factual understandingat Harvard. The tendency was toward English free trade and againstthe American tariff policy. We reverenced Ricardo and wastedlong hours on the "Wages-fund." I remember Frank Taussig'scourse supporting dying Ricardean economics. Wages came fromwhat employers had left for labor after they had subtracted theirown reward. Suppose that this profit was too small to attractthe employer, what would the poor worker do but starve? The trustsand monopolies were viewed frankly as dangerous enemies of democracies,but at the same time as inevitable methods of industry. We werestrong for the gold standard and fearful of silver. The attitudeof Harvard toward labor was on the whole contemptuous and condemnatory. Strikes like the railway strikes of 1886 and the terrible Homesteadstrike of 1892, as well as Coxey's Army of 1894, were picturedas ignorant lawlessness, lurching against conditions largely inevitable.

Karl Marx was mentioned, only to point out how thoroughly histheses had been disproven; of his theory itself almost nothingwas said. Henry George was given but tolerant notice. The anarchistsof Spain, the nihilists of Russia, the British miners--all thesewere viewed not as part of the political development and the tremendouseconomic organization but as sporadic evils. This was natural. Harvard was the child of its era. The intellectual freedom andflowering of the late 18th and early 19th centuries were yieldingto the deadening economic pressure which would make Harvard richand reactionary. This defender of wealth and capital, alreadyhalf ashamed of Charles Sumner and Wendell Phillips, was willingfinally to replace an Eliot with a manufacturer and a nervouswarmonger. [8] The social community that mobbed Garrison, easilyelectrocuted Sacco and Vanzetti.

It was not until I was long out of college that I realized thefundamental influence man's efforts to earn a living had uponall his other efforts. The politics which we studied in collegewere conventional, especially when it came to describing and elucidatingthe current scene in Europe. The Queen's Jubilee in June 1887,while I was still at Fisk, set the pattern of our thinking. Thelittle old woman at Windsor became a magnificent symbol of Empire. Here was England with her flag draped around the world, rulingmore black folk than white and leading the colored peoples ofthe earth to Christian baptism, and as we assumed, to civilizationand eventual self-rule.

In 1885, Stanley, the traveling American reporter, became a heroand symbol of white world leadership in Africa. The wild, fiercefight of the Mahdi and the driving of the English out of the Sudanfor 13 years did not reveal its inner truth to me. I heard onlyof the martyrdom of the drunken Bible-reader and freebooter, ChineseGordon.

The Congo Free State was established and the Berlin Conferenceof 1885 was reported to be an act of civilization against theslave trade and liquor. French, English and Germans pushed onin Africa, but I did not question the interpretation which picturedthis as the advance of civilization and the benevolent tutelageof barbarians. I read of the confirmation of the Triple Alliancein 1891. Later I saw the celebration of the renewed Triple Allianceon the Tempelhofer Feld, with the new young Emperor William II,who, fresh from his dismissal of Bismarck, led the splendid pageantry;and finally the year I left Germany, Nicholas II became Tsar ofall the Russias. In all this I had not yet linked the politicaldevelopment of Europe with the race problem in America.

I was repeatedly a guest in the home of William James; he was my friend and guide to clear thinking; I was a member of the Philosophical Club and talked with Josiah Royce and George Palmer; I remember vividly once standing beside Mrs. Royce at a small reception. We ceased conversation for a moment and both glanced across the room. Professor Royce was opposite talking excitedly. He was an extraordinary sight: a little body; indifferently clothed;a big red-thatched head and blazing blue eyes. Mrs. Royce put my thoughts into words: "Funny-looking man, isn't he?" I nearly fainted; yet I knew how she worshipped him.

I sat in an upper room and read Kant's Critique with Santayana;Shaler invited a Southerner, who objected to sitting beside me,out of his class; he said he wasn't doing very well, anyway. I became one of Hart's favorite pupils and was afterwards guidedby him through my graduate course and started on my work in Germany. Most of my courses of study went well. It was in English thatI came nearest my Waterloo at Harvard. I had unwittingly arrivedat Harvard in the midst of a violent controversy about poor Englishamong students. A number of fastidious Englishmen like BarrettWendell had come to Harvard about this time; moreover New Englanditself was getting sensitive over Western slang and Southern drawlsand general ignorance of grammar. Freshmen at this time couldelect nearly all their courses except English; that was compulsory,with theses, daily themes and tough examinations.

On the other hand, I was at the point in my intellectual developmentwhen the content rather than the form of my writing was to meof prime importance. Words and ideas surged in my mind and spilledout with disregard of exact accuracy in grammar, taste in wordor restraint in style. I knew the Negro problem and this wasmore important to me than literary form. I knew grammar fairlywell, and I had a pretty wide vocabulary; but I was bitter, angryand intemperate in my first thesis. Naturally my English instructorshad no idea of nor interest in the way in which Southern attackson the Negro were scratching me on the raw flesh. Ben Tillmanwas raging in the Senate like a beast and literary clubs, especiallyrich and well-dressed women, engaged his services eagerly andlistened avidly. Senator Morgan of Alabama had just publisheda scathing attack on "niggers" in a leading magazine,when my first Harvard thesis was due. I let go at him with noholds barred. My long and blazing effort came back marked "E"--notpassed!

It was the first time in my scholastic career that I had encounteredsuch a failure. I was aghast, but I was not a fool. I did notdoubt but what my instructors were fair in judging my Englishtechnically even if they did not understand the Negro problem. I went to work at my English and by the end of that term hadraised it to a "C". I realized that while style issubordinate to content, and that no real literature can be composedsimply of meticulous and fastidious phrases, nevertheless thatsolid content with literary style carries a message further thanpoor grammar and muddled syntax. I elected the best course onthe campus for English composition, English 12.

I have before me a theme which I wrote October 3, 1890, for BarrettWendell, then the great pundit of Harvard English. I wrote: "Spurred by my circumstances, I have always been given tosystematically planning my future, not indeed without many mistakesand frequent alterations, but always with what I now conceiveto have been a strangely early and deep appreciation of the factthat to live is a serious thing. I determined while in high schoolto go to college-- partly because other men did, partly becauseI foresaw that such discipline would best fit me for life. . .. I believe, foolishly perhaps, but sincerely, that I have somethingto say to the world, and I have taken English 12 in order to sayit well." Barrett Wendell liked that last sentence. Outof 50 essays, he picked this out to read to the class.

Commencement was approaching, when one day I found myself at midnighton one of the swaggering streetcars that used to roll out fromBoston on its way to Cambridge. It was in the Spring of 1890,and quite accidentally I was sitting by a classmate who wouldgraduate with me in June. As I dimly remember, he was a nicelooking young man, almost dapper; well dressed, charming in manner.Probably he was rich or at least well-to-do, and doubtless belongedto an exclusive fraternity, although that did not interest me. Indeed I have even forgotten his name. But one thing I shallnever forget and that was his rather regretful admission (whichslipped out as we gossiped) that he had no idea as to what hislife work would be, because, as he added, "There's nothingin which I am particularly interested!"

I was more than astonished; I was almost outraged to meet anyhuman being of the mature age of 22 who did not have his lifeall planned before him--at least in general outline; and who wasnot supremely, if not desperately, interested in what he plannedto do.

Since then, my wonder has left my classmate, and been turned inand backward upon myself: how long had I been so sure of my life-workand how had I come so confidently to survey and plan it? I nowrealize that most college seniors are by no means certain of whatthey want to do or can do with life; but stand rather upon a hesitatingthreshold, awaiting will, chance or opportunity. Because I hadnot mingled intimately or understandingly with my white Harvardclassmates, I did not at the time realize this, but thought myunusual attitude was general.

In June 1890, I received my bachelor's degree from Harvard cumlaude in philosophy. I was one of the five graduating studentsselected to speak at commencement. My subject was "JeffersonDavis." I chose it with deliberate intent of facing Harvardand the nation with a discussion of slavery as illustrated inthe person of the president of the Confederate States of America. Naturally, my effort made a sensation. I said, among other things: "I wish to consider not the man, but the type of civilizationwhich his life represented: its foundation is the idea of thestrong man--Individualism coupled with the rule of might--andit is this idea that has made the logic of even modern history,the cool logic of the Club. It made a naturally brave and generousman, Jefferson Davis: now advancing civilization by murderingIndians, now hero of a national disgrace, called by courtesy theMexican War; and finally as the crowning absurdity, the peculiarchampion of a people fighting to be free in order that anotherpeople should not be free. Whenever this idea has for a momentescaped from the individual realm, it has found an even more securefoot-hold in the policy and philosophy of the State. The strongman and his mighty Right Arm has become the Strong Nation withits armies. Under whatever guise, however a Jefferson Davis mayappear as man, as race, or as a nation, his life can only logicallymean this: the advance of a part of the world at the expenseof the whole; the overwhelming sense of the I, and the consequentforgetting of the Thou. It has thus happened that advance incivilization has always been handicapped by shortsighted nationalselfishness. The vital principle of division of labor has beenstifled not only in industry, but also in civilization; so asto render it well nigh impossible for a new race to introducea new idea into the world except by means of the cudgel. To saythat a nation is in the way of civilization is a contradictionin terms and a system of human culture whose principle is therise of one race on the ruins of another is a farce and a lie. Yet this is the type of civilization which Jefferson Davis represented;it represents a field for stalwart manhood and heroic character,and at the same time for moral obtuseness and refined brutality. These striking contradictions of character always arise whena people seemingly become convinced that the object of the worldis not civilization, but Teutonic civilization."

A Harvard professor wrote to Kate Field's Washington, thena leading periodical: "Du Bois, the colored orator of thecommencement stage, made a ten-strike. It is agreed upon by allthe people I have seen that he was the star of the occasion. His paper was on 'Jefferson Davis,' and you would have been surprisedto hear a colored man deal with him so generously. Such phrasesas a 'great man,' a 'keen thinker,' a strong leader,' and othersakin occurred in the address. One of the trustees of the Universitytold me yesterday that the paper was considered masterly in everyway. Du Bois is from Great Barrington, Massachusetts, and doubtlesshas some white blood in his veins. He, too, has been in my classesthe past year. If he did not head the class, he came pretty nearthe head, for he is an excellent scholar in every way, and altogetherthe best black man that has come to Cambridge."

Bishop Potter of New York wrote in the Boston Herald: "When at the last commencement of Harvard University, I sawa young colored man appear . . . and heard his brilliant and eloquentaddress, I said to myself: 'Here is what an historic race cando if they have a clear field, a high purpose, and a resolutewill.' "

The New York Nation commented editorially: "Whenthe name of William Edward Du Bois was called and a slender, intellectual-lookingmulatto ascended on the platform and made his bow to the Presidentof the University, the Governor of Massachusetts, the Bishop ofNew York, and a hundred other notables, the applause burst outheartily as if in recognition of the strange significance of hisappearance there. His theme . . . . heightened this significance. Du Bois handled his difficult and hazardous subject with absolutegood taste, great moderation, and almost contemptuous fairness."

Already I had now received more education than most young whitemen, having been almost continuously in school from the age ofsix to the age of 22. But I did not yet feel prepared. I feltthat to cope with the new and extraordinary situations then developingin the United States and the world, I needed to go further andthat as a matter of fact I had just well begun my training inknowledge of social conditions.

I revelled in the keen analysis of William James, Josiah Royce and young George Santayana. But it was James with his pragmatism and Albert Bushnell Hart with his research method, that turned me back from the lovely but sterile land of philosophic speculation,to the social sciences as the field for gathering and interpreting that body of fact which would apply to my program for the Negro. As undergraduate, I had talked frankly with William James about teaching philosophy, my major subject. He discouraged me, not by any means because of my record in his classes. He used to give me A's and even A-plus, but as he said candidly, there is"not much chance for anyone earning a living as a philosopher."

And, on the subject of race and American philosophy, Cornel West is an indispensable voice:

Taking Emerson as his starting point, Cornel West’s basic task in this ambitious enterprise is to chart the emergence, development, decline, and recent resurgence of American pragmatism. John Dewey is the central figure in West’s pantheon of pragmatists, but he treats as well such varied mid-century representatives of the tradition as Sidney Hook, C. Wright Mills, W. E. B. Du Bois, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Lionel Trilling. West’s "genealogy" is, ultimately, a very personal work, for it is imbued throughout with the author’s conviction that a thorough reexamination of American pragmatism may help inspire and instruct contemporary efforts to remake and reform American society and culture.
"West . . . may well be the pre-eminent African American intellectual of our generation."—The Nation
"The American Evasion of Philosophy is a highly intelligent and provocative book. Cornel West gives us illuminating readings of the political thought of Emerson and James; provides a penetrating critical assessment of Dewey, his central figure; and offers a brilliant interpretation—appreciative yet far from uncritical—of the contemporary philosopher and neo-pragmatist Richard Rorty. . . . What shines through, throughout the work, is West's firm commitment to a radical vision of a philosophic discourse as inextricably linked to cultural criticism and political engagement."—Paul S. Boyer, professor emeritus of history, University of Wisconsin–Madison. amazon
My MTSU colleague  Clarence Johnson has written of West that he's at heart a secular humanist, notwithstanding his strong affinity with the African-American religious sensibility.