William Rainey Harper.

The trend in higher education online

. (page 2 of 24)
Online LibraryWilliam Rainey HarperThe trend in higher education → online text (page 2 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

ignorant. This history must be told over and over
again, and the principles made very plain, that all
who hear may understand.

But democracy has not yet been unified. Un-
mistakable traces exist of past ages. The weight
of the multitude which it must carry renders progress
slow in any case. And without unity the doctrine
of equality may not exert its full force. Spokesmen
who understand this unity and appreciate its ne-
cessity in the economy of democratic progress must
proclaim it far and near, until no ear shall have
failed to hear the proclamation, no heart shall have
failed to heed its clear injunction. The elements
which together make this unity must be drawn
together and held together by influences that shall
outnumber and outweigh those pitted on the other

The truth is, democracy has scarcely yet begun
to understand itself. It is comparatively so young
and untried, and the real experiment has been of
so short a duration that it could not be otherwise.
Democracy needs teachers who shall say. Know


thyself] messengers who shall bring light to shine
upon dark places. There is great danger that the
next step, at any time, may be a wrong step. Some
such have already been taken; and history shows
the terrible cost of being compelled to go back and
start anew. Democracy is now able to walk alone,
but not infrequently something occurs which leads
us to think that there has not yet been time enough
to learn how a fair and even balance may at all times
be maintained.

Democracy seems to be in the ascendency; but
the impartial student of the situation sees many
and great fields not yet occupied, while those already
occupied are hardly more than nominally possessed.
We have democracy in government, to be sure,
but if it is a good thing in government, it must be
equally good in social relations of various kinds, in
art and literature and science. That its influence
has been exerted in these fields no one will dispute.
But of no one of them may it be said to have taken
full possession. And even in the realm of govern-
ment, how slight comparatively among the nations
is the progress of the last century! The occu-
pation of these fields — not by conquest, but by
invitation — would greatly strengthen democracy
in the places now occupied. Who will persuade
the nations to prepare the invitation? Who will
induct democracy into these new fields of arts and
literature and science? There must be teachers
who know democracy and at the same time litera-


ture or science, and who, in due time, will bring
about the union which promises to the world so
much for human welfare.

Democracy has great battles yet to fight. Every
step forward is in the face of deadliest opposition.
Her enemies are those who sit on thrones and com-
mand great armies. Christianity may be demo-
cratic, but the church is too frequently hostile to the
appHcation of democratic principles. These battles,
moreover, must be fought with words, not swords.
The pen is far the more efifective weapon. There
will be many battles; some of them will be long
drawn out. The mutterings of war may now be
heard in many quarters, but in the end prophetic
weapons will win the victory, and "the kings shall
shut their mouths, for that which had not been
told them shall they see, and that which they had
not heard shall they consider'* (Isa. 52:15).

Sometimes, too, democracy grows despondent.
Borne down by the weight of opposition, over-
come by the power of those who for personal ends
would see her humbled in the dust, she cries: "My
way is hid from the Lord; my judgment is passed
over from my God." Discouragement and despair
lead to utter demoralization and failure. Under
such circumstances, the words of the comforter
are needed. Who can measure the density of the
darkness and distress which have settled down upon
the minds and hearts of the great multitude of men
and women in our great cities, for whom, as indi-


viduals, there is no hope in life, save perhaps that
of bare existence until kindly death shall call them
away? Yet these it is who constitute the multi-
tude that is called democracy. "And they look
unto the earth and behold distress and darkness,
the gloom of anguish, and into thick darkness they
are driven away; and they pass through it hardly
bestead and hungry; and it comes to pass that,
when they are hungry, they fret themselves, and
curse their king and their God and turn their faces
upward.'^ But now the prophet's voice is heard:
"But there shall not always be gloom to her that
was in anguish .... the people that have walked
in darkness shall see a great light." And they
shall rejoice; for all oppression shall be removed,
and all war shall cease, and a new government
shall be established — a government of justice and
righteousness which shall endure forever. It is
the prophetic voice speaking to a downcast, down-
trodden people — a democracy despondent.

At times, furthermore, democracy is corrupt.
Under the guise of loyalty to her best interests,
those in whose hands she has intrusted herself in
loving kindness assault and seduce her. Shame
and reproach fall upon her. She must be cleansed
and purified before she may again take up her great
and glorious work for all the world with a certain
hope of success. She has exhibited a fatal weak-
ness; the result will be ruinous. Sharp and stem
words must be spoken by the prophet, whose keen


eye sees the situation and its dangers. No pity
may be extended, no word of sympathy, until the
evil has been mended. The lesson is bitter and
fuU of shame; but the effect will be for good, if
the chastisement is severe enough. The clear voice
of prophetic rebuke must be heard, whenever cor-
ruption rears its head to public gaze.

Democracy surely has a mission; and if so, that
mission, is in a word, righteousness. It is an inter-
esting fact that all the great religious truths were
worked out in the popular mind before they were
formulated by the thinkers. The world is waiting
for the working out of the doctrine of national
righteousness through democracy, and no effort to
formulate the doctrine beforehand will avail. But
the day is coming when the thought will have become
tangible enough to be expressed. The popular
mind will not be able to do this service. The
prophet, whose discerning eye reads the thought
in the heart of democracy itself, expressed in heart-
throbs reaching to the very depths of human ex-
perience — the prophet, I say, will then formulate
the teaching which will make earth indeed a paradise.

The democracy, as an institution, needs in-
terpretation. The past must be interpreted in
order that its lessons may be learned, its mistakes
avoided. The greatest danger is that there shall
be failure to maintain the closest connection with
the past. This is necessary for the sake of com-
parison. Without such comparison we may never


know our own position. Every event of past
history has contained a message. Every life has
been an utterance. These events and lives are to
be treated as object-lessons which we are to con-
template, and by contemplation to learn how
righteousness may be found. The rise and fall
of nations, the growth and decay of institutions,
the temporary influences of great characters as
interpreted in the light of the present, constitute
the basis for all better understanding and all better
execution of the democratic idea.

The present itself must be known and interpreted.
Its currents and cross-currents, while in large
measure the result of forces set in movement far up
the stream, must be estimated anew with each fresh
dawn of day. The shallows and depths are never
the same on two successive days. The charts
noting danger signals must be prepared with each
turn of the tide of pubHc opinion. And, on the
other hand, the slightest turn in the direction of
promise is to be encouraged. It is often the small-
est variation from the ordinary that proves to be
the precursor of greatest reform; for true reform
always begins with the thin edge of the wedge.
If the present be cared for, the future will take care
of itself.

But the future of democracy must be considered.
Mounting the watch-tower of observation, the true
leader of democracy will make a forecast of the
tendencies, in order to encourage his followers by


holding up the glory that awaits them, or, by depict-
ing the disaster that is coming, to turn them aside
from a policy so soon to prove destructive.

In ancient days, the man who interpreted the
past, who measured the present, and who foretold
the future was called a prophet. The university,
I contend, is this prophet of democracy — the agency
established by heaven itself to proclaim the princi-
ples of democracy. It is in the university that the
best opportunity is afforded to investigate the move-
ments of the past and to present the facts and princi-
ples involved before the public. It is the uni-
versity that, as the center of thought, is to maintain
for democracy the unity so essential for its success.
The university is the prophetic school out of which
come the teachers who are to lead democracy in the
true path. It is the university that must guide
democracy into the new fields of arts and literature
and science. It is the university that fights the
battles of democracy, its war-cry being: "Come,
let us reason together." It is the university that,
in these latter days, goes forth with buoyant spirit
to comfort and give help to those who are down-
cast, taking up its dweUing in the very midst of
squalor and distress. It is the university that,
with impartial judgment, condemns in democracy
the spirit of corruption which now and again lifts
up the head, and brings scandal upon democracy's
fair name.

The university is the prophet who is to hold


high the great ideal of democracy, its mission for
righteousness; and by repeated formulation of the
ideal, by repeated presentations of its claims, make
it possible for the people to realize in tangible form
the thought which has come up from their deepest
heart. The university, I maintain, is the prophetic
interpreter of democracy; the prophet of her past,
in all its vicissitudes; the prophet of her present,
in all its complexity; the prophet of her future, in
all its possibiHties.

Among the prophets of olden times, some were
mere soothsayers who resorted to the ministrations
of music in order to arouse themselves to excited
frenzy. Some were dreaming seers, as much awake
when sleep settled down upon their eyes as they
were asleep to all that was about them in their waking
moments. Some were priests whom the prophetic
spirit had aroused, but had not wholly subjugated.
Some were the greatest souls the world ever knew,
whose hearts were touched by the spirit of the living
God, whose eyes were open to visions of divine glory,
whose arms were steeled by the courage born of
close communion with higher powers. It is just
so with universities. Some are universities only
in name; some, forgetting the circumstances of
their birth, may indeed be arrayed against de-
mocracy. But the true university, Hke the true
prophet, will be faithful to its antecedents and,
therefore, faithful to democracy.

But the university is also the priest of the de-


mocracy. But a priest is found only in association
with religion. Is democracy a religion? No.
Has democracy a religion? Yes; a religion with
its god, its altar, and its temple, with its code of
ethics and its creed. Its god is mankind, humanity;
its altar, home; its temple, country. The one
doctrine of democracy's creed is the brotherhood,
and consequently the equality of man; its system
of ethics is contained in a single word, righteousness.

In this rehgion there is much of Judaism, and
likewise much of Christianity. This was to be
expected, for it was Jeremiah of olden time who
first preached the idea of individualism, the idea
that later became the fundamental thought in the
teaching of Jesus Christ, the world's greatest advo-
cate of democracy; while the supplementary idea
of solidarity, the corollary of individualism, was
first preached by Ezekiel, and likewise later de-
veloped into Christianity.

The prophet in history has always been a hero;
he has been applauded for his boldness and for his
idealistic visions. The priest, on the other hand,
has generally been thought a cunning worker, and
while his shrewdness has been appreciated, his
ambition has been feared and dreaded. In modern
times, as in most ancient days, the prophets and
the priests have become more and more closely
identified in spirit and in work; but the difference
is still a marked one.

The religion of democracy is an eclectic religion.


It has absorbed many of the best features of vari-
ous religions and systems of philosophy. It is a
broad religion, including a wide variety of belief
and practice. It is, nevertheless, a definite religion,
representing a clearly defined tendency of expres-
sion, both in feeling and in action. It is a world-
wide religion; but the world in great part must be
changed before its acceptance will be general.

It is the prophet that has to do with creed and
ethics, and these have already been considered.
The priest is concerned with the religious cultus
or practice, and finds his chief occupation in the
upbuilding and preservation of the practice. His
work is the work of service. He is the mediator
between the individual and the ideal, whether
abstract or concrete, which constitutes his God.
For the god of each individual is that individual's
highest conception of man, his ideal man. The
priest of democracy's religion is therefore a medi-
ator between man and man; for man is the con-
stituent element in democracy, and humanity is
the ideal of all its aspirations.

The service of the priest includes, likewise, the
bringing into a close communion, each with the
other, of the individual and his God, the cultiva-
tion of a deep and lasting communion between the
two. This service represents still further the act
of consecration, on the part both of the priest and
the worshiper — consecration to the highest and
holiest conceptions of truth and life. It is the priest


who, himself trained in all the mysteries of a re-
ligious cultus, himself the custodian of the tra-
ditions of the past, inducts those who are of a kindred
feeHng into those strange mysteries and their in-
herited treasures.

The university, as priest, is a mediator between
man and man; between man and man's own self;
between mankind and that ideal inner self of man-
kind which merits and receives man's adoration.
The university, like the priest, leads those who place
themselves under its influence, whether they live
within or without the university walls, to enter into
close communion with their own souls — a com-
munion possible only where opportunity is offered
for meditative leisure. The university guild, of
all the guilds of workingmen, has been the most
successful in securing that leisure for contempla-
tion, consideration of society and of nature, without
which mankind can never become acquainted with
itself. And for this reason the university is in deep
sympathy with every legitimate effort, made by
other guilds of workingmen, to secure shorter hours
of labor and longer hours for self-improvement.
Communion with self, study of self, is, where rightly
understood, communion with God and study of

The university, furthermore, performs priestly
service for democracy in the act of consecration
which is involved in her very constitution. And
here the old and the modern views of education are


combined. The university isolates itself from every-
thing that would tend to draw her from the pre-
determined service which she has undertaken. Her
purpose is a fixed one, and nothing may cause her
to swerve from it. She has devoted herseK with
a consecration received from heaven to the cause
of Hfting up the folk of her environment — an act of
consecration than which none is more holy. But
now, though separated thus from all the world for
the world's sake, she puts herself in touch with this
same "all the world," and no gate or portal fails
to greet her entrance. Set apart, and consecrated
to the service of every kind of man, she leads those
who will follow her to consecrate themselves to the
cause of liberty and truth and righteousness, in
home, in country, and throughout the world.

The university is the keeper, for the church of
the democracy, of holy mysteries, of sacred and
significant traditions. These are of such character
that if touched by profane hands they would be
injured. But the initiated are given free access,
and every man who will may receive initiation. No
effort is made to exclude; every effort is made rather
to include in the list of the initiated the whole world ;
for the mysteries are such only to those who have
not yet been brought to see. Home, country, and
humanity — it is for these and with these that this
priestly activity is put forth.

This service of mediation, of putting self in close
communion with self, of consecration and initiation


into sacred mysteries, is performed in the home,
the altar of democracy, the most sacred altar known
to mankind. The service touches father and mother
long before they are father and mother, and reveals
the nature of fatherhood and motherhood. It takes
the son or daughter, and indirectly touches again
the father and mother. Through the school system,
the character of which, in spite of itself, the uni-
versity determines and in a large measure controls
(whenever the political machine will permit any
good influence to control) — through the school
system every family in this entire broad land of ours
is brought into touch with the university; for from
it proceed the teachers or the teachers' teachers.

The priestly service is Hkewise performed for
and with and in the country as a whole, the great
temple of democracy. EnHghtenment means pure
purpose and holy enthusiasm; these make loyalty
to truth, and true loyalty. That religion which
blindly accepts what is thrust upon it is not religion,
but superstition. That patriotism which knows
not what it serves, or for what it is intended, is not
patriotism, but ignorant servility. Patriotism, to
be a virtue, must be intelligent, must know why it
is exercised and for what. Not every man is equal
in the work of administering the country's business.
Only those who are best can serve best her interests.

Here the priestly service of the university is most
necessary, in mediating between party and party;
in mingling together as in a crucible the widely di-


verging ideas; in holding up the standard of con-
secration to truth and to truth only; in unveiHng
the history of the past with its strange secrets of
successful and unsuccessful experience. Without
such work, the service in the temple would be a
bewildering discord of unattuned elements out of
which no harmonious sound would come to lift
the soul to higher and purer thoughts of patriotic

But greater service yet, if possible, is rendered
by the university in that most profound act of worship
(in the broadest sense) which man performs when
he lifts his thoughts beyond home and country to
humanity at large, mankind. As in ordinary re-
ligion the great majority perhaps do not transcend
the altar, or at all events the temple, their vision
being so limited that God himself is forgotten; so
home and country, for the most part, exhaust the
feelings of most of the adherents of democracy's
religion. But the priest, whose great duty it is to
enlarge the vision of his followers, takes infinite
trouble to teach men that the ties of humanity are
not limited to those of home and country, but extend
to all the world; for all men are brothers. Human-
kind is one. And now the university stands as
mediator between one country and another far
remote. Her service now is to extend to the utmost
limits the bond of connection which will enable
nation to commune closely with nation. More
solemn, sacred, and significant than ever before is


the consecration which now includes republics and
kingdoms and empires. The inner secrets of the
soul of humanity (not a single man), of mankind (not
a nation) are the subjects of study and of procla-

The university is a priest estabHshed to act as
mediator in the religion of democracy, wherever
mediation may be possible; established to lead the
souls of men and nations into close communication
with the common soul of all humanity; established
to stand apart from other institutions, and at the
same time to mingle closely with the constituent
elements of the people; estabHshed to introduce
whosoever will into all the mysteries of the past and
present, whether solved or still unsolved.

Among the priests of olden times some groveled
about in the mire of covetousness and pollution,
encouraging men to sin, that they (the priests)
might have the sin-offering; some were perfunctory
officials with whom the letter of service was all-
sufficient; some were true mediators between man
and God, and teachers of the holiest truths; some
of them in their ministrations of divine things reached
so near to God himself as to exhibit in their lives and
thoughts the very essence of divinity.

It is just so with the universities. Some are
deaf to the cry of suffering humanity; some are
exclusive and shut up within themselves; but the
true university, the university of the future, is one
the motto of which will be: Service for mankind


wherever mankind is, whether within scholastic
walls or without those walls and in the world at

Some, perhaps many, will deny that democracy
has a religion; but no one will deny that democracy
has a philosophy; and the university, I contend, is
the philosopher of democracy. The time that re-
mains permits only the briefest statement of this

It was not always possible, in the Old Testament
economy, to draw a sharp line between the work of
the prophet, the priest, and the philosopher or sage.
The work of the sage entered into that of both the
priest- and the prophet; the prophetic ranks were
often recruited from those of the priests. But, in
spite of some confusion and interchange, there was
a marked distinction. The prophet was the ideal-
ist; the priest, the formalist; the sage, the humanist.
The prophet's thought centered on the nation; the
priest's, on the church; the sage's, on the world.
From our modern point of view, the prophet might
be called the preacher; the priest, the trainer or
teacher; the sage, the thinker.

The situation in which democracy finds herself
today makes serious demands for severe thinking.
By severe thinking I mean the honest and unbiased
consideration of all the facts which relate to de-
mocracy. Valuable contributions toward the criti-
cism of democracy have been made by De Tocque-
ville, by Sir Henry Maine, and by Mr. Lecky. But


in such cases the vision was greatly restricted and
cut short. Only one or two specific statements
concerning democracy have been made which still
pass unchallenged. The philosophical treatment
of the movement has received many important con-
tributions; but, taken altogether, these form but
the beginning of the philosophic work which is
urgently demanded.

This work lies along three lines. The origin of
democracy is still a subject of profound inquiry;
and in connection with the questions of origin are
those of ancient democracies and their connection
with the ancient systems. The history of all this,
so far as it includes the main facts, is tolerably well
known; but the philosophy of this history is still a
subject for investigation. To another division of
the work must be assigned the formulation of the
laws or principles of democracy. With one or two
of these we are fairly famiHar; but in detail the
work is still the work of the future. That which
is immediate and pressing are the special problems
of democracy, which have been immediate and press-

Online LibraryWilliam Rainey HarperThe trend in higher education → online text (page 2 of 24)