I haven’t been completely inert over the past few months.
I have resumed my research into late 19th century / early 20th century intellectual history. I traced the roots of our current cultural decline back to this period a few years ago.
There is a tendency in our circles to blame everything on the Jews or to blame it all on the Yankees or to blame it all on liberalism. We should take a closer look though at the Northern WASP elite who triumphed in the War Between the States and who ruled the country until around the Great Depression. They were the ones who fumbled the ball and lost control of America in the days of Madison Grant.
The following excerpt comes from the chapter “The Intellectual Counterattack on Caste” in E. Digby Baltzell’s book The Protestant Establishment: Aristocracy & Caste in America
“The rise of the New Social Science paralleled the development of the Social Gospel, Settlement House and political reform movements during the closing decades of the nineteenth century. Many of the early sociologists, like William Graham Sumner, started out to become clergymen. In describing his own intellectual development, the sociologist Charles Horton Cooley recorded his debt to “Jane Addams and other philanthropic writers.” Both Charles A. Beard and John Dewey were at one time associated with Hull House. The alliance between reform and the New Social Science was nicely symbolized when the National Institute of Social Science awarded its Gold Medal to Lillian Ward in 1912. And finally the close relationship between the Social Gospel and the New Social Science was brought out when the American Economic Association was founded in 1885. Washington Gladden and twenty-two other ministers were among the charter members of the Association, whose original platform, drawn up by Richard T. Ely, declared:
“We hold that the conflict of labor and capital has brought into prominence a vast number of social problems, whose solution requires the united efforts, each in its own sphere, of the church, of the state, and of science.”
The need for institutional reform on the part of both the church and the state, as urged in the platform of the American Economic Association, was a basic assumption of the New Social Science which was outlined in the works of such leaders as William James and John Dewey in philosophy and social psychology, Frederick Jackson Turner in history, Thorstein Veblen in economics, Lester F. Ward and Charles H. Cooley in sociology, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., in the law, and Franz Boas in anthropology. All were opposed to racism, Social Darwinism, imperialism, and all forms of hereditary determinism; and all assumed the malleability of human nature which was capable of responding to improved social conditions; Dewey stated the aims of the New Science in very much the same terms as the Social Gospel movement when he wrote that “there must be a change in objective arrangements and institutions; we must work on the environment, not merely in the hearts of men.”
It is important to emphasize the fact that most of the prominent leaders of the New Social Science, like the leaders of the Social Gospel and Settlement House movements, came from within the old stock and Protestant establishment. Thus Veblen’s bitter assaults on the establishment may have been partly grounded in his position as the son of Norwegian immigrants at a time when “Norskie” ranked with “kike” and “dago” as a sneer word; and Boas might have been influenced in his thinking by the fact that he was a German Jew. Yet, on the other hand, Holmes was an impeccable Boston brahmin; Beard’s father was the First Citizen of Knightstown, Indiana, where he owned the local bank, the newspaper, the mill, and land which spread out to the horizon; Cooley’s father was of old Yankee stock, for twenty years a member of the Michigan Supreme Court, first chairman of the First Interstate Commerce Commission, first dean of the Michigan Law School, and one of the First Family Founders of Ann Arbor; and John Dewey, of solid middle class Yankee stock, grew up in Burlington, Vermont. “Where I was raised,” he once remarked, “the Hoovers and the Mellons would have had a hard time passing for Americans.”
As it illustrates so well the relationship between ideas and social structure, it is significant that this New Social Science took shape at the height of the Spencerian vogue within the establishment, and that its most important ideas – which still lie at the core of social science today – were worked out and published before the First World War. Thus Holmes’ Common Law came out in 1881 and Dewey made his first philosophical contribution the next year; James’ famous Principles of Psychology was finally completed in 1890; Turner published his essay on the “Significance of the Frontier in American History” in 1893; Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class and Dewey’s most widely read book and the earliest statement of his theory of progressive education, The School and Society, were both published in 1899; James’ Pragmatism came out in 1907; Cooley’s Social Organization, in which he developed the idea of the primary group, appeared in 1909; Boas’s most influential book, The Mind of Primitive Man was published in 1911 and Beard’s notorious Economic Interpretation of the Constitution in 1913.”
I’m sure many of our readers are familiar with Franz Boas and the contribution that he made in anthropology in the shift away from hereditarianism and toward cultural relativism. Boas was hardly alone in sowing the seeds that undermined hereditarianism and Victorian morals though.
Note: Baltzell was a sociologist, historian and a cheerleader for the decline of his own social class. If you read his book, you will get a lot of insight into how WASPs lost control of America.