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May 03, 1941 - Image 11

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The Michigan Daily, 1941-05-03

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'P ERSPECTI V ES

Pale Eleven

BOOKS IN SEASON

The City of Man (collected essays),
Viking Press, New York, 1940. $1.00
A New Testament of Democracy
For those without faith, here is a
book to believe in. For those who see
only the problems of the modern crisis,
here is a possible answer, couched
neither in the selfish sermonizing of
of capitalism nor in the stale scholasti-
cism of communism. A -brief book, little
more than a pamphlet, it appeared
last fall among many another discus-
sion of democracy and the present
crisis. Most of these exercises in apol-
ogetic had only the epileptic strength
of a galvanic chauvinism. The City of
Man has a strength and clarity of its
own. Scattered through its pages' are
such strange sentences as: "This earth
of ours is a laboratory where the validity
of eternal ideas is tested under the
limits of space and time." Stranger
still, the words of Good and Evil, those
forgotten dwellers in our dictionaries,
occur with astonishing frequency, -
and with refreshing clarity. The banner
broidered with such strange devices is
a joint statement of some seventeen
intellectuals struggling to redefine the
essential tradition and meaning of civ-
ilization. Regarding the past as the Old
Testament of Man's eternal desire for
Good, the authors testify anew to the
strength and divinity of that desire. And
of that inner desire Democracy is the
outward symbol, for without democratic
forms through which to operate, man's
impulse toward Good will, of necessity,
be thwarted. The, City of Man, if it is
to endure, must be patterned on the
City of God, for nil nisi divinum stabile
est, caetera fumus.
There is much wisdom in this little
book. Many heads have proved better
than one. From Agar's regionalism,
from Mann's humanism, from Mum-
ford'$ mysticism, from Niebuhr's pro-
testant catholicism comes a blended
compound unified by a single belief
in the spiritual forces that underlie
man's development, The fool has said
in his heart, There is no purpose to life
beyond that of immediate pleasure, be-
yond that of material gain. And to the
fool in us all the fascist, the capitalist,
the communist have appealed. The fool
has said, There is really neither good nor
evil. And to the fool in us the Gauleiters
of modern Machiavelism have replied,
Here is good, here evil, not in terms of
some impossible Absolute, but here
around you in Race, in Class, in State,
in Leader. That these narrow and in-
human values have been so eagerly

adopted is testimony not only to man's
vestigial brutality, but also to man's
deep need for faith in something, in
anything. Against such faiths, that
make a paradox of Good and Evil, our
authors would oppose once more a mili-
tant belief
that a divine intention governs the
universe -- be it called God or Deity
or the Holy Ghost or the Absolute
or even Evolution. The direction of
this intention is from matter to life
and from life to the spirit, from chaos
to order, from blind strife and ran-
dom impulse to conscience and moral
law, from darkness to light.
The strength of civilization must finally
lie in its religious ceritudes, - re-
ligious according to the exploded etym-
ology, in the sense of tying man not to
his race, his state, his leader, but to all
men of whatever race or color by the
common recognition of comrAon good.
Civilization, then, implies a republican
federation of democratic states where-
in .man's impulse toward good may find
due outlet.
This modern theism, drawing upon
tradition and affirming a belief in some
"power, not ourselves, which makes for
righteousness," is not a momentary
aberration from our current materialism.
On all sides there are evidences of a re-
ligious revival. Cynicism and disillusion
there has been in plenty, and with
much reason. But as disillusion is im-
possible without a previous belief in
values, so may the present affirmation
be the stronger for past nihilism. For
even in the wasteland of modern ma-
terialism the obstinate questionings
would be stilled:
What are the roots that clutch,
what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish?
Whether this revival will continue as
a mere reaction against materialism, or
whether it be a positive affirmation
so that "morals will have the primacy
over economics, not economics over
morals," will depend largely upon the
intelligence and courage of the Amer-
ican people. For in this country alone
is there still time and freedom to assert
the primacy of Good over Evil. In this
country alone it is still possible to de-
clare: "The emergency of democracy
must be the emergence of democracy."
The City of Man is a courageous book.
The warmth of its reception should be
a test of man's spiritual courage.
It is the clear recognition of spiritual
imperatives that gives substance, mean-
ing and unity to the book and makes it
an adequate New Testament of demo-
cracy. Yet it is not the religious affirma-
tion alone that should recommend it for
wide reading. The economic, political.

and social aspects of this spiritual im- -4.pA1 j f f
pulse are dealt wth, and more concrete --
programs of action are promised in the
future. The book demands rereading Mark Twain n Eruption, Edited b
from many points of view. The identifi-
cation of emergent belief with demo- Bernard De Voto. Harper and
cratic internationalism, for example, Brothers, 1940. $3.35.
poses a difficult problem. It is a sign of Mark Twain spent month of the last
our troublous times that the destined
manifestation of this renascent faith years of his life dictating a book which
will appear as manifest destiny. Yet, he thought would last a thousand year
better a manifest destiny based upon This book he called his Autobiography,
a clear recognition of Good and Evil, and into it he poured his doubts and
than surrender to the forms of irra- fears, his ridicule, sarcasm, and sple-
tional nihilism. The Old Testament of netic utterances about persons, states,
democracy recorded the stumbling steps and ideals. Because the book was not
of men toward justice and equality for to be published until long after his
all; the purpose of the New Testament death he fancied that his private beliefs
must be to fulfill the law. In the path would, when thus spoken from the
of its fulfillment lie the obstructive ty- grav, sh ndtus spo rd.tPoe
rannes f or da, hre n Amric as grave, shock and startle the world: Poor
rannies of our day, here in America as Mark: he could not know that the mod-
well as abroad. Yet, habent sua fata ty--
ranni. And if books have to have their ern spirit would be more shocking and
fortunes, may The City of Man have startling than he ever dreamed of being,
an auspicious one. that his doubts would become everyone'
- F. R. White doubts, that his confusions would be
everyone's confusions. Two volumes
(about half of the dictated materials)
of the Autobiography were published in
Pe t1924. To Twain lovers and scholars
alike they were a disappointment. Now,
Sapphira and the Slave Girl Mr. De Veto edits half of the remaining
Willa Cather material and again nothing is added to
Alfred A. Knopf the stature of Twain.
Mark Twain was an uncritical critic;
Willa Cather's newest book Sapphira he could neither understand nor analyze
and the Slave Girl is not the novel tb be basic trends and forces. He was a petu-
expected of her after a five year period lant, irritable old man who insisted
of retirement, even though it is delight- on voicing indiscriminate resentments
ful to read any tale written in Miss against those persons and ideals which
Cather's gracefully vivid style. he felt had betrayed him. His resent-
Miss Cather has accepted an old leg- ments were well grounded in personal
end which she heard as a child living in disasters: the failure of his numerous
Virginia. It is the story of a southern business enterprises and his nkrupt
slave-owning household in 1856. Henry at sixty, the death of two daughters and
Colbert owns a plantation and a mill. the invalidism of his wife, the loss of
The house servants and field hands are his own health. Add to these his eal-
negro slaves and the property of Sap- ization that the whole individualist,
phira, his invalid wife. Sapphir is a democratic order in which he had ris
self-esteeming woman, petty but indom- to heights unmeasured was collapsing,
inatable. She has begun a jealous per- that the Republic through corruption
secution of the gentle mulatto slave and debauchery was decaying, that
girl, Nancy. Her malignant plan is to America in achieving material great-
ruin the girl by keeping her unpro- ness had somehow lost its soul and the
tected from a ne'er-do-well nephew, reason for his ranting, helpless indigna-
Martin Colbert. Balanced against these tion is clear
two agents of evil oppression are Sap- His scathing attacks on Roosevelt I
phira's husband and their daughter, His ating ata o Revel
Mrs.Blae, ho ngotateNanc 'ses- for assuming dictatorial power remind
Mrs. Slake, who negotiate Nancy s es-
cape to Canada. In an anti-climatic one of the equally, emotional and, irra-
epilogue-twenty-five years later--Nan- tional diatribes of H. L. Mencken on
cy returns. She has evidently "lived Roosevelt II. He rightly pointed out
happily ever after." that the monarchy of wealth, under
This thread of a story has the ingredi- corrupt Republican auspices, was sup-
ents of a much better novel than Miss ported by favor, privilege, and govern-
Cather has written. Its theme of strug- ment subsidy-yet he voted for Taft
gle between oppressor and oppressed is and the monarchy. He could not be-
always adequately important. Its peo- lieve that Rockefeller or Rogers, or even
pe are strongly and clearly conceived Carnegie were bad men; he judged their
and there is great contrst between
them as individuals and as groups. Par- public acts by their private virtues be-
ticularly fine is the stamp of individual- cause he knew they were good men. But
ity upon each portrait of its negro char- 'rich men that he did not know person-
acters. ally, and the politicians-there were the
But in retrospect the book is thin. hell hounds besetting the paradise
It lacks strength and completion in its where printers' devils became national
treatment of idealogical and psycho- idols.
logical oppositions. The novel is un- Twain did not know why his world
usually short, and so much of it is con had toppled. He only knew that it ha
fined to charming poesy about Virginia and he cursed and damned the stupid
in the summertime that we suspect Miss human race for the fact, himself in-
Cather of nostalgia. cluded. That "noisome bacillus," man.
Scattered through the beautifully with his perverted "moral sense" in-
graphic passages are hints of strong eitbhyswprked "morahesenestin-
characters in powerful conflict. But evitabily worked out the same destin-
the characters remain shadowy and the , tive cyclical pattern of civilization.
conflict is simply and easily resolved. Hence What Is Man?, The Mysterious
Sapphira and the Slave Girl reads Stranger, and the Autobiography. In
like the draft of a novel with undevel- sum, these books, representative of "the
oped possibilities. If Willa Cather other" Mark Twain, demonstrate one
meant to speak encouragement to those pathetic thesis best stated in Mark's
who believe right ultimately conquers own words: "The human race is a race
wrong, she should have spoken louder of cowards; and I am not only marching
and with more assurance. in that procession but carrying a ban-
-Francis Patterson ner." -M. . Williams

/9erpeclive3
E ditor . ... . .. .. .. .. . ... .. . .. .. . . . ... .. .. ... . .. . . . . ... . E llen R h ea
Fiction Editor ................. ...:............. Jay W . McCormick
Joanne Cohen, Gilberta Rothstein, Emile Gele, Barbara Richards,
Gerald Burns.
Essay Editor ............................... Richard M. Ludwig
John Baker, Betty Whitehead, Frances Patterson, Laurence
Spingarn, M. M. Lipper, Bruce W. Forbes.
Poetry Editor ......................................... . Irving Weiss
Bertha Klein, Joan Clement, Lynne Bell.

Book Review Editor ..............................
Edwin Burrows, Frank Tinker, Hervie Haufler.

Joan Outhwaite

Art Editor .. .. . .. . ... .. .. .. .. . .. ... . .. .. . ... .. .. . .. ... Clif f G r aham
Publications Editor ............... ....................... Carol Bundy
Joan Doris Jean Mullins, Erath Gutekunst, Rose. Ann Kornblume,
Barbara DeFries.
Advisory Board:
Arno L. Bader, Herbert Weisinger, J. L. Davis, Morris Greenhut.
Allan Seager, Emil Weddige.

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