A Prophet of the Middle Class
by N. W. - 1934
THIS new volume from the pen of Ludwig Lewisohn exemplifies the growing tendency for specialists in other fields, when they comment upon the larger social problems of our day, to designate the education of youth as the lever by which the ideal aims of civilization may be attained.
The Permanent Horizon, by Ludwig Lewisohn. Harpers, New York, 1934. $2.50.
THIS new volume from the pen of Ludwig Lewisohn exemplifies the growing tendency for specialists in other fields, when they comment upon the larger social problems of our day, to designate the education of youth as the lever by which the ideal aims of civilization may be attained. The book is essentially trivial because in eloquently pleading for humane values of which broad and tolerant understanding is certainly one of the first, the author has allowed his mind to be so poisoned by the creative and the critical antics of certain young neurotics of pseudo-literary circles that he misrepresents both the importance and the meaning of the Marxist point of view. The Permanent Horizon, however, may prove of considerable influence in crystallizing the cultural orientation of many educators who are just beginning to realize the social significance of their profession. To this end Lewisohn has acutely timed his remarks. He is hell-bent to inform educators who have begun to inquire what all the fuss over Communism and Fascism is about that there is an easy answer, which, by virtue of a middle class background and a non-partisan tradition, they are well prepared to accept. This answer is that Communism and Fascism are devilish devices compounded out of half-truths and mistaken inferences which Western man in his rather childish pre-occupation with the material developments of the modern age, has allowed to grow to alarming proportions.
Communism and Fascism are not distinguished from one another beyond being referred to as opposites; rather are they lumped together as illustrating a resurgence of barbarian human nature. Brutality and regimentation in Germany and in Russia are cited in evidence of the inherent determination of both systems of social life to kill everything in the social inheritance that sensitive men over countless ages have treasured. The time has come, says Lewisohn, for the bourgeois, the man of the middle, to set his foot down solidly, do proud obeisance to the great cultural geniuses of history who have always been men of the middle, to rout in decisive fashion the barbarians of the left and right, and finally to make education the vicarious re-experiencing by the young of the classic periods in human history.
It apparently means nothing to Lewisohn that many philosophic, religious, and artistic leaders in the Western World who have made open-minded inquiries about the state of culture under capitalism incline to re-orient their loyalties in the direction of the underlying theses of such men as Karl Marx or John Dewey, namely toward a socialized and planned economy, genuine cultural freedom, and a social order in which class lines shall have been abolished. It means everything to Lewisohn that proletarians (necessarily without benefit of a classical education) fumbling in the realm of abstract social speculation for the first time in human history have produced a multitude of absurd and extreme inferences and a modicum of unfortunate practices. The lowly are by nature stuporous, incapable, unreliable, and brutal; their very lowliness proves the worth of those more fortunately situated on the social scale. With what justifiable pride would Reichsfuehrer Hitler assent when Lewisohn goes on to say "Blood, in the sound old adage, tells."
It would be an utter error, however, to accuse Mr. Lewisohn of having fascist tendencies. He is a righteous affirmer of the virtues of bourgeois culture. Shocked by the degrading excesses and the vacuous groupings in contemporary life, he asks us to return in our individual lives to the fundamental religious truths of all time and he points to the classical artistic traditions as the permanent horizon of culture. Naturally, he cannot be bothered by the irrelevant philosophic or artistic strivings of those misguided individuals who believe that a solution of the economic problem must be found before modem man can produce a classic age. The realistic solution to all present economic and cultural evils, he would say, is to be found in the contrite heart, which only a religious understanding of classical literature can give.
One cannot but deeply regret that a book frequently so rich in wisdom and spiritual insight about man and man's psychological problems bears also the marks of inexcusable misunderstanding and downright vindictiveness.