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January 19, 1936 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 1936-01-19

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above all else, to erect for society a

N\IE QIUDR Discusses Issue Of
Love In Politics...


Voltaire Preached Concrete And
Vital Love Of One's Fellowmen

AN INTERPRETATION OF CHRIS- cending good beyond us. This ten-I

TIAN ETHICS. By Reinhold
Niebuhr. Harper's. $2.00.
(Of the Philosophy Dept.)
EDITOR'S NOTE: Professor Niebuhr,
who teaches at the Union Theological
Seminary in New York, will lecture
suesday night in the Lydia Mendel-
ssohn Theatre.
In this stimulating volume Profes-
sor Niebuhr contends that the dis-
tinctive contribution of religion toI
morality lies in its comprehension of
the dimension of depth in life. Re-
ligious morality is constrained to seek
a justification of the moral life be-
yond the immediate values and objec-
tives which a secular morality en-
visages. Religion is concerned to
trace., existence to some ultimate
ground and final end, in the hope of
thus endowing mere historical pro-
cess with a transcendent "meaning."
This sense of depth engendered by
religion creates in the moral life of
man a unique tension between the
ideal and the actual, between what
ought to be and what is, such that
feeling an obligation to the ideal,
the moral agent is spurred on to effect
its realization in existence.
The unique contribution of Chris-
tianity to morality is the ideal of per-
fect love embodied in the will and
nature of a God, who is at once the
ground and the final fulfillment of
existence (who is at once creator
and judge of existence - for the gen-
ius of Christianity lies in the myth-
ical presentation of the most precious
truths about metaphysics and man's
physical struggles). All moral en-
deavor seeks to actualize the perfect
love of God in our own lives and in
society. But the perfection of God,
though transcendentally real, is never
historically realized in its pure form.
Yet, the tension established in man's
moral life by a pull upward toward
the real, but transcendent, loving per-
fection of God, and the pull down-
ward toward his imperfect and sinful
selfish nature, saves man from either
a blind optimism or a stupid pessi-
mism. The very nerve of the moral
life is this sensitivity to both the
existing evil about us and the trans-

sion is to save moral man both from
the despair of never improving him-
self and his society, and from thE
vain delusion that perfection is al-
ready or is imminent. The truth
is, paradoxically, according to Pro-
fessor Niebuhr, that man can never
be perfect and yet is not without the
hope of becoming so. Man is the
creature of necessity and freedom;
he can see what he can never reach,
but he can always approximate to it.
This precious truth is expressed in
what is (to me) an awful terminology
as the "impossible possibility" of the
perfect love of God. The ideal is real
only in God, men seek to emulate
The ethics of perfect love and
obedience to God's perfect will, and
the morality of forgiveness, is im-
plicit in the ethical teachings of Jesus
in the gospels. In seeking, however,
to adjust itself to a changing and
recalcitrant world, and in translat-
ing the ideal into practicable pro-
grams, Christianity has frequently
borrowed from current rational eth-
ics. Thus, the program of equal
justice is an approximation of the
law of love in the kind of imperfect
world we know. The law of love is
not directly applicable to politics and
economics. It is yet relevant by way
of avoiding the smug complacency
of endorsing current relative stand-
ards with the air of absoluteness
(this is virtually the program of
modern liberal Christianity); and by
avoiding the dulling effects of con-
stant despair or indifference or banal
conservatism (virtually the program
of orthodox Christianity). A vital
Christianity will never surrender the
ideal for an actual stage of history -
it will neither be a slave to a dead and
dying past, nor a prey to a deceptive
present. Of every significant change
it will believe new possibilities of both
evil and good. Yet it will not relen-
quish hope of eventual attainment.
In the life of the individual, Chris-
tian ethics demands a blend of grati-
tude and contrition, which bears
noble fruit in love and forgiveness-
those refinements of voluntary and

uncoerceed human kindness which no
social or economic system can of it-
self produce, but which do enoble
and enrich society.
Professor Niebuhr has tried in this
study to save the universal element
of Christianethics from the accidents
of particular times and places. The
shades of modern idealistic ethics
or, at times, of Plato, march through
the book, in spite of the author's pro-
tests. (Who could silence the voice
of Plato in any treatment of ethics?)
Yet, as a theologian, Professor Nie-
buhr is interested in the insights and
perspectives, and even (one suspects)
the actual language of traditional
Christian thought. Off in a corner
one could detect all the lumber of
Orthodox Christian terminology, be-
ing neatly made over into a less ob-
jectionable and more universal Chris-
tian ethics. I doubt -whether so many
of the Christian concepts can be so
easily divorced from their mythical
expression. Curiously, the book con-
tains no treatment of revelation or of
immortality, two beliefs which his-
toric Christianity has regarded as in-
dispensable. The author does main-
tain that reason must mediate be-
tween the ideal and the actual in
projecting feasible programs of ac-
tion, but if he does believe that rea-
son also projects the ideal of love -
how then does Christian revelation
differ from the rationalistic natural-
ism except in the contest of its ideal?
I object to the phrase "impossible
possibility," as a description of the
ethical ideal. It offends a critical and
competent reader and will confuse
the layman.
The book shows a unique temper of
mind in any writer on ethics. With a
cool and confident realistic mind the
author treats contemporary social
and political issues. He is well-in-
formed, scholarly, openminded and
pious. The choicest parts of the book
are found in the chapters that con-
trast orthodox and liberal Christian-
ity on the issue of love in politics. As
a teacher of applied Christianity, I
believe Professor Niebuhr fills his
office very well.

H is Virtues And Faults
Are Also Those Of
Walt Whitman
Thomas Wolfe. Scribner's. $2.50.
(Courtesy of The College Bookshop)
(Of the English Dept.)
Thomas Wolfe's latest book con-
tains fourteen stories or story-
sketches, varying in length from five
to over ninety pages. About half of
them have previously appeared in
the magazines. None makes Mr.
Wolfe's range or significance any
more impressive; in fact the book
suggests even more forcefully than
do his novels his now-familiar limi-
tations. Nevertheless, a good many of
us will covet From Death to Morning,
largely because (as one of the kinder
critics has already observed) it is
better to have Mr. Wolfe with all
his faults than not to have him at all.
Two pieces, I think, stand out
beyond all others in the volume.
Most impressive, most like the bet-
ter portions of Look Homeward, Angel
and Of Time and the River, and, of
course, most length, is The Web
of Earth, ninety-some pages of mon-
ologue by Eliza Grant, who is ap-
parently visiting Eugene in New York
City. Its additions to our knowledge
of Mr. Grant, Eliza, the Pentlands,
and the colorful if somewhat raw life
of Altamount are varied and absorb-
ing reading. In this story Mr. Wolfe
seems to have had in mind the charge
of formlessness which has been hurled
at him so often, and although his
frame is perhaps open to criticism
the story as a whole shows unusual
economy and direction. It is, I be-
lieve, a piece to be respected even
by one who does not feel, as I do,
that the Gants and the Pentlands
are about the most unforgettable
clan in contemporary literature.
Mr. Wolfe is at his best, moreover,
in "Death the Proud Brother," a
straightforward description of four
encounters with sudden death on

VOLTAIRE, by Henry Noel Brails-
ford, 256 pp. New York, Henry
Holt Co. $1.25.
(Of the French Dept.)
This book is one of the volumes
lately added to the Home University
Library of Knowledge and has been
written by Mr. Henry N. Brailsfard.
It is a valuable contribution to the
knowledge of Voltaire, the man, the
historian, the wonderful literary
artist in both prose and verse. It
stresses, and we belives this to be
right, the importance of Voltaire as
a great thinker and social moralist.
While primarily written for the gen-
eral public, this book will be of in-
terest to scholars who sometimes lose
themselves in details to the detri-
-ment of the whole.
Contrary to the opinion of mis-
informed persons, Voltaire was a cre-
ative genius of the first order, besides
being a literary artist whose style was
so great and so witty that some of his
sayings have passed into the daily
speech even of other nations. Be-
neath the flippancy and the obvious
sarcasm contained in his pholosoph-
ical tales which won him immortality,
we always find kindly wisdom mixed
with tenderness for suffering hu-
Voltaire, too, was the first histor-
ian of modern Europe and, in this
line, the Essay on Customs is the
greatest of his works. He gave, in it,
the economic interpretation of his-

tory, for he attributed political and
social evolution to economic motives,
and he truly began the science of
history by his modern conception
of causation. On the rationalistic
side, he tried to prove the growing
importance of reason in the world
by describing the fight between
Church and State throughout the
ages. Like all the Anglo-Saxons, Mr.
H. N. Brailsford finds it difficult to
explain truly the reasons for the
excellence of Voltaire as the best
known French poet and dramatist
of his time, and he completely for-
gets to mention the influence of Vol-
taire on literary criticism.
In truth, Voltaire was specially
concerned with the betterment and
happiness of man. His rationalism,
based on physical science, directed
him to the love of humanity. He
sincerely believed that liberty and
science were destined together to
bring an incredible amendment to
human affairs and he wrote accord-
All his life, Voltaire attacked bit-
terly superstition and intolerance, as
may be seen by his constant inter-
ference in the judgement of Calas,
Sirven and the Chevalier de la Barre,
which made him write his famous
Treatise on Tolerance. Unceasingly
he sought to break the fetters that
Church and King had laid upon the
human intellect. He labored to make
a humane and impersonal law su-
preme above a despot's will. He tried,

new scheme of values among the
goods that men desire. He worked
constructively and with all the power
in his command for the common
good. He hated killing and war, and
he had a deep distrust for national-
ism. He saw, across wars and
schisms, the great cosmopolitan so-
ciety. He preached, as the one suffi-
cient commandment, the love of one's
fellowmen, and made it concrete and
vital, by his relentless assaults upon
every form of cruelty, be it secular
or ecclesiastic.
Mr. H. N. Brailsford is to be con-
gratulated for having brought thes-
facts out in an interesting and con-
vincing fashion, and he does not over-
state when he writes of Voltaire:
"Rarely in any age has there lived
on this earth a man possessed by
this consuming and disinterested
passion for justice." (p. 202). We
do not wish, therefore, to question
overmuch a few unimportant points
discussed by Mr. H. N. Brailsford
which smack somewhat of anglo-
saxonism, such as: the mention of
the battle of Blenheim without
strong reason, the supposed lack of
intelligence of Louis XV, the fact
that French liberalism - which is
far from the truth- originated in
England, and the so-called repub-
lican sentiment of Voltaire. There is,
too. in the otherwise fine work of
Mr. H; N. Brailsford, a tendency to
pass quickly over the numerous de-
fects in the character-personality of
Voltaire in order to make him stand
before us with a kind of apostolic
dignity which he, certainly, had not.
But, and we are glad to reiterate the
statement, the fine work of Mr. H; N.
Brailsford is worthy to be admired
and to be . . . read!





DIAL 6363

Pays the Highest Prices for USED

Forthcoming Books

New York streets. A traffic acci-
dent, an alcoholic's accidental self-
destruction, a riveter's fall into the

For EXAMS - Use

A Few of the January Books
In Our Lending Library
CAREERb...............................by Phil Stong
THE LORENZO BUNCH .......... by Booth Tarkington
DUST OVER THE RUINS.............. by Helen Ashton
STOKER BUSH ................... by James Hanley
THE JEW OF ROME ............ by Lion Feuchtwanger
MEN AND BRETHREN........ by James Gould Cozzens
THE LUCK OF THE BODKINS... . by P. G. Wodehouse
WE WHO ARE ABOUT, TO DIE......by David Lamson
Corner South University and Forest

The MacMillan Company will pub- street, and a heart failure in the
lish on Jan. 21st two books by F. L. subway -these and the crowds they
Lucas: Four Plays and Poems, 1935. gather are presented with the meticu-
The book of poems is a rebellion lous detail and poetic interpretation
against the up-to-date view that art which Mr. Wolfe can sometimes
must be up-to-date. Mr. Lucas handle in almost unbelievable bal-
claims that art is not a matter of ance. And yet for me the power of
spring-fashions, and that if a writer the material is lessened considerably
is original, he does not need to ad- by a conclusion in the poetic peri-
vertise the fact by painting poetry's ods which Mr. Wolfe likes so well
bay-tree red or flood-lighting it possibly because somebody once told
purple. If he is not original, antics him he had an Elizabethan gusto.
will not save him. The remainder of the stories are
Charles Nordhoff, co-author of Mu- relatively inferior, even when the
tiny en The Bounty has arrived in Gants or Mr. Wolfe's personal ex-
i t f. iitf hi f il perience enter in. The short pieces


All Subjects - 75c




Supplies Of All Kinds

Lths country or a vsiL L s1 o izamuy
in Santa Barbara, Calif. His trip
was planned some time ago, but was
delayed in order that the two au-
thors might finish their forthcoming
novel, The Hurricane which will be
published in February.



BOOKS by Reinhold Niebuhr
Mr. Niebuhr Lecturers At Mendelssohn Theatre, Jan. 21st-
An Interpretation of Christian Ethics. . . $2.00
Moral Man and Immoral Society . . . . . $2.00

of five or six pages, praised by the
blurb-writer as a new aspect of the
author, seem to me de'cidely sopho-
moric, further evidence of his in-
ability to create convicing characters
beyond the range of his intimate
On his title-page Mr. Wolfe lends
support to the comparison which has
been made by some of his crtics by
using as his motto, "Vigil strange I
kept on the field one night." It is
valuable to think of him as an ad-
mirer of Walt Whitman and to think
of his work in terms of Whitman. In
a very real way, it seems to me, his
virtues and fault are the virtues and
faults of Whitman, and his work,
both accomplished and projected, bids
fair to being a gigantic "Song of
Myself" in prose. Mr. Wolfe too is
untamable and untranslatable, and
he too likes the sound of the belched
words of his voice loosed to the eddies
of the wind. And sometime, too,
he is dull, but he is dull far less
frequently than he is interesting.
Jay Letters Revealed
Frank Monaghan, Yale professor
and author of the recently published
John Jay, Defender of Liberty, re-
sorted to modern detective methods
in order to uncover brand new
sources hitherto unknown and un-
used in depicting Revolutionary his-
tory. A collection of papers written
by Jay in invisible ink were studied
for months by a handwriting expert,
who was unable to decipher them.
Dr. L. Bendrickson, of the Hunting-
ton Library, at last succeeded in re-
vealing the messages by means of
ultra-violet radiation.

Escorted Personally by Mr. and Mrs. Frederick S. Randall


And Up, Round Trip From New York
And Up, Round Trip From Ann Arbor


Does Civilization Need Religion ...
Reflections on the End of An Era

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Transfer to Hotel Hamilton
April 13 to 17 - In Bermuda
April 17- Sail on S.S. Queen of Bermuda 3:00 P.M.
April 19 - Arrive New York A.M.
Leave New York."Wolverine" 5:35 P.M.
April 20- Arrive Ann Arbor 8:16 A.M.

PRICE INCLUDES: Minimum steamship accom-
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lower berth.
Price Does Not Include: Meals on the train or in
New York, tips, items of a personal nature such
as laundry, pressing, entertainment, extra
meals, etc.




State Street

Main Street

RESERVATIONS MUST BE MADE BY FEBRU ARY 15th -Accompanied by a $15.00 Deposit
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