John Jay Chapman (1862-1933)

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A Man Out of Season

One of reading's pleasures is discovering a provocative author worthy of attention who has fallen off the cultural map. Such is the case with John Jay Chapman. Although a prolific writer, having published numerous magazine articles and books criticizing late nineteenth and early twentieth century political, social, and moral values, Chapman is little known today. Adding to the mystery of his obscurity, is the extensive and powerful connections he had. John Jay, the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court was his grandfather, Chapman counted William James as a friend, and he considered Theodore Roosevelt, Judas. Chapman was a member of that segment of the northeastern intellectual elite alarmed at the cupidity, stupidity, and injustice the Gilded Age unleashed. Equally threatening to Chapman and his circle was the possibility of popular revolt ignited by the Age's toxic combination of laissez-faire capitalism and social darwinism. Chapman's disquiet prompted him to critique the moral, political, and social excesses of the day and the corruption which co-opted and silenced those who promoted radical reform. His silence could not be bought. Chapman along with Ida B. Wells was among the first writers to chronicle and criticize lynching. In his essay,Coatesville, Chapman dissected the cultural pathology that permitted "upstanding" citizens to treat torture and lynching as acts delivering swift justice.[1]

So why is John Jay Chapman lost from the pantheon of American letters? My hypothesis -- academics and the public have difficulty categorizing him. Chapman wrote as a citizen about the issues he found interesting not as an expert specializing in a particular field. He exemplified that much praised individual -- the Renaissance man. Americans, while ardently proclaiming the virtues of Da Vinci, are generally made uneasy by the Renaissance man's protean interests and accomplishments. They harbor a deep seated mistrust of a mind that is "...immersed creatively in practical doings and fine art but also pertains to the highest human interests, from morals and religion to the political state and social rights, and thence to the study of the individual self in life and literature."[2] Americans mistrust the Renaissance quality of mind because they perceive it as characteristic of the amateur and not to be taken seriously.

Although the amateur is currently regarded with bemused indulgence that was not always the case. If one called Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson an amateur scientist, statesmen, or writer they would not take offense. Their understanding of the word was based on its original meaning, "one who loves of is fond of; one who has a taste of anything."[3] Franklin and Jefferson were amateurs because learning was their love not their profession. Just as the lover seeks to discover all there is to know about the beloved, the amateur brings the same passion to experience. By the time John Jay Chapman began writing the amateur's relationship to knowledge was beginning to be supplanted by the professional's. No longer was love of learning an adequate justification for seeking knowledge. The amateur became synonymous with the dabbler. In part, academics resented the amateur's quest for knowledge because it was not motivated by the need to make a living, therefore it could not be taken seriously. By the end of the nineteenth century, a legitimate quest for knowledge increasingly demanded an academic imprimatur. Chapman, not interested in currying an academic position from which to advance his learning and air his views, cast his lot as a public intellectual, writing books, magazine articles, and lecturing to gain an audience.

Labels like public intellectual or critic do not capture the man's complexity. Chapman is a man of contradictions. A fierce defender of intellect and a person often dominated by his passions. A progressive reformer who writes about the consequences of wantonly jettisoning tradition. A citizen who was among the first to raise his voice against lynching and later wrote vitriolic anti-catholic attacks. A man intimately acquainted with the dark night of the soul, but used humor to diagnose the pathologies of his day. The malcontent, as described by Randolph Bourne, best captures the twists and turns of Chapman's character. In his essay, Twilight of Idols Bourne described this type. "They (malcontents) are quite through with the professional critics and classicists who have let cultural values die through their own personal ineptitude. Yet these malcontents have no intention of being cultural vandals, only to slay. They are not barbarians, but seek the vital and sincere everywhere...They will be harsh and often bad-tempered, and they feel that the break-up of things is no time for mellowness. They will have a taste for spiritual adventure, and for sinister imaginative excursions. It will not be Puritanism so much as complacency that they will fight...Something more mocking, more irreverent, they will constantly want. They will take institutions very lightly, indeed will never fail to be surprised at the seriousness with which good radicals take the stated offices and systems. Their own contempt will be scarcely veiled, and they will be glad if they can tease, provoke, irritate thought on any subject...They will give offense to their elders who cannot see what all the concern is about, and they will hurt the more middle-aged sense of adventure upon which the better integrated minds of the younger generation will have compromised. Optimism is often compensatory, and the optimistic mood in American thought may mean merely that American life is too terrible to face. A more skeptical, malicious,- desperate, ironical mood may actually be the sign of more vivid and more stirring life fermenting in America today. It may be a sign of hope. That thirst for more of the intellectual "war and laughter" that we find Nietzsche calling us to may bring us satisfactions that optimism-haunted philosophies could never bring. Malcontentedness may be the beginning of promise." [4]

Regarded as an amateur and a malcontent, Chapman has not taken his place in America's literary pantheon. It is our loss. The quality of Chapman's prose and thought make apparent the need to correct that oversight. To acquaint readers with Chapman's work I have provided links to his essays about education and will explore Chapman's essay, Learning, in depth.

In Learning, Chapman articulated the theme he revisited in his other educational essays; the influences which undermine learning's pursuit.[5]Paramount among those influences is commercialism. In a letter to his wife, Chapman explained the link between commercialism's power to corrupt character and its ability to control public opinion. "The hand of Commerce has been upon the brain of the United States. Our public life is debased by it, our literature ruined by it, our social life rendered ridiculous. It has been the suppression of the individual character involved in the development of our continent which has destroyed our public life. It has been the booksellers' rage to make money that has ruined our literature. That rage was developed by the commercialism of the era. The syndicating of literature is a part of the syndicating of opinion which commerce found it necessary to encourage in order to control politics." [6] Writing in 1900, Chapman was one of the first critics to warn against the wedding of culture and capital that was beginning to occur within the academy. For Chapman, business's influence on education corrupted it's purpose and distorted learning's meaning."The real evil that follows in the wake of a commercial dishonesty so general as ours is the intellectual dishonesty it generates. One need not mind stealing, but one must cry out at people whose minds are so befuddled that they do not know theft when they see it."[7] Learning can be read as an opening salvo against the current trend towards corporatization of the university.[8] In the ensuing century, the academic transformations Chapman observed have become more ubiquitous and stronger. He wrote, "It has thus come about in America that our universities are beginning to be run as business colleges. They advertise, they compete with each other, they pretend to give good value to their customers. They desire to increase their trade, they offer social advantages and business openings to their patrons. In some cases they boldly conduct intelligence offices, and guarantee that no hard work done by the student shall be done in vain: a record of work is kept during the student's college life, and the college undertakes to furnish him at any time thereafter with the references and a character which shall help him in the struggle for life."[9]

Chapman's mission was not to demonize the business man nor to create elegies for America's pre-industrial past. His purpose was to illustrate the cost of allowing commercial values to dominate education and politics. The cost was to induce cultural amnesia. Americans afflicted with this memory loss cannot remember the values associated with learning before the bottom line became their culture's standard of worth -- values like curiosity, mutuality, precision, or imagination. Cultural amnesia, Chapman cautioned, created a society populated with half-men. "The dandy at Newport who conscientiously follows his leaders and observes the cab rule, the glove ordinance, and the mystery of the oyster fork, is governed by the law, is fettered by the same force, as the labor man who fears to tell his fellows that he approves of Waring's clean streets. Each is a half-man, each is afraid of his fellows, and for the same reason. Each is commercial, keeps his place by conciliatory methods, and will be punished for contumacy by the loss of his job. Neither of them has an independent opinion on any subject." [10] Adding insult to injury, cultural amnesia was instigated and welcomed by those who suffered from it. Convinced that commercial values fermented progress and material well being, most of Chapman's compatriots considered it a waste of time to question whether this assumption was valid or whether other cultural values were needed to live the good life. As for academics, Chapman accused them of abdicating their responsibility for critically examining this assumption. "The natural custodians of education in any age are the learned men of the land, including the professors and schoolmasters. Now these men have, at the present time in America, no conception of their responsibility." [11]

In 1900 Chapman warned that "learning recognized as a search for truth or the vehicle of spiritual expression" was fading from public consciousness.[12] He was particularly angered by educators who were all too eager to divorce learning from its intellectual tradition by acting as matchmakers -- smoothing the way for capital's courting of culture. He argued against the philosophy of learning they promoted. "The underlying philosophy of these men," Chapman wrote, "might be stated as follows: There is nothing in life nobler than for a man to improve his condition and the condition of his children. Learning is a means to this end."[13] Reading this statement, today, most Americans would consider it an accurate description of education's purpose. A case could be made that by 1900 the description Chapman championed, "learning as a search for truth or the vehicle of spiritual expression," had already been relegated to a cultural curio. A high minded curio certainly, but hopelessly vague, exceedingly utopian, and laughingly impractical. Chapman's contemporaries, who advocated vocational training for workers, would argue that business values and practices like accountability, efficiency, reliance on quantifiable data and standards, brought learning down from Mt. Parnassus, where denizens endlessly contemplated the good life, to the classroom and shop floor, where students seriously pursued marketable skills. [14]

By the start of the twentieth century, many would consider Chapman's definition of learning, "a search for truth or the vehicle of spiritual expression," fine for young ladies attending finishing schools but not for citizens building the modern state. Imagine Chapman defending his interpretation of learning at a gathering of contemporary educators. The response would be politely chilling. He would be cautioned not to make truth an absolute. As for the spiritual, well that gets into the whole church and state dilemma. Finally, truth and spiritual expression are niceties American education can ill afford, now that the Chinese are breathing down our economic necks. After listening to his critics, Chapman would remind them that his definition of learning makes it possible for an individual to ask, "What's in it for me?" and answer, "Nothing except life according to principle." [15] He would then turn to his critics and ask if this answer would be possible for an individual who defined learning as they did, the means to improve his condition.

What defense did learning have against commercialism's dominance? For Chapman it was intellect. He defines intellect as "a living and intimate tradition." It is the tradition that creates the rules and standards by which the cultural contributions individual intelligences make are created and judged. In The House of Intellect Jacques Barzun provides Chapman's definition with more detail and analysis. Barzun explains, "Intellect is the capitalized and communal form of live intelligence; it is intelligence stored up and made into habits of discipline, signs and symbols of meaning, chains of reasoning and spurs to emotion--a shorthand and a wireless by which the mind can skip connectives, recognize ability, and communicate truth. Intellect is at once a body of common knowledge and the channels through which the right particle of it can be brought to bear quickly, without the effort of redemonstration, on the matter in hand. "[16] Chapman's and Barzun's definitions enable us to identify those attributes that make intellect a bulwark against commercialism's co-option of learning; they are tradition, common knowledge, and unselfishness.

Intellect is a culture's tradition of mind; it illuminates the ways human beings, across the millenniums, have thought about and responded to the question, how shall I conduct my life? For that reason appreciation of intellect necessitates appreciation of the long view, the time frame most conducive to learning. It takes a life time for an individual to learn and to perfect the necessary skills that enable her to contribute to intellect's record or to acquaint herself with its content. Learning has a different relationship with time than business; it is not a short term investment yielding immediate returns. Study, the activity individuals undertake to stake their claims to an intellectual tradition, is an act of open and long duration. Externally imposed deadlines cannot determine the appropriate amount of time a student needs to answer the questions her curiosity and lived circumstances generate. Chapman makes this point in a letter to Dr. Samuel S. Drury, headmaster of St. Paul's School, he wrote: "Let 'em alone. Don't worry about them. Give them a chance but don't try to cram them-don't want to. This is the besetting sin of educators-to want to do too much-to think that they have got to do something and work over and pull wires in people." [17] Study offers an alternative to commercialism's fixation on the immediate. As Drew Gilpin Faust argued in her installation speech at Harvard, intellect sets its clock according to ongoing conversations spanning centuries not by the sputterings of instant messaging.

Common knowledge is another attribute that makes intellect resistant to commercialism's dominance. Whereas commercialism's values are founded on private property, intellectual values are rooted in the public domain. However it would be erroneous to portray the life of the mind as solely public property. Rather, that life is one in which intelligence and intellect are reciprocally related. As Barzun described it, "...intelligence wherever found is an individual and private possession; it dies with the owner unless he embodies it in more or less lasting form. Intellect is on the contrary a product of social effort and an acquirement. A man cannot help being intelligent, but he can easily help becoming an intellectual. Intellect is an institution; it stands up as it were by itself, apart from the possessors of intelligence, even though they alone could rebuild it if it should be destroyed."[18] Intelligence provides intellect's foundation. For better or worse, modern society has designated schools as the institutions responsible for cultivating a student's intelligence. Ideally, the means towards this end is teaching skills and content that initiate a student into her intellectual tradition.

To hone students' intelligences, educators use a variety of extrinsic rewards -- gold stars, good grades, getting into the most selective colleges. Most Americans define learning as the process whereby extrinsic rewards and standards are used to form intelligence; one that conforms to current cultural norms and satisfies an individual's self interest. Tension between commercial and intellectual values arises over the use of extrinsic rewards to shape intelligence. A student, dependent on external assessments about her intelligence, conducts herself according to the values contemporary culture promotes, and in the process, loses the autonomy to shape her intelligence. For most, this loss is worth the the trade-off. A lucrative job, a stockpile luxuries, and good odds that one's children will enjoy an even higher standard of living, compensate for any loss of independence.

For Chapman, defining learning as the means "to better one's condition," drains its power; it restricts learning's purpose to serving temporal expediences and a student's transitory desires . To affirm learning as an intellectual activity, it must provide a student with knowledge to craft a self emerging from her struggle to understand her circumstances, rather than accept a self fashioned from the expectations of others. This is the work embodied in Chapman's definition of learning -- "a search for truth and or a vehicle for spiritual expression." To undertake this task a student needs to believe "...that somewhere in the world there exist(s) ideas, art, enthusiasm, unselfishness, inspiring activity."[19] Where is this place? It is anywhere the intellectual tradition's stock of common knowledge can be studied. There, whether in a formal classroom, a library, or surfing the net, the student finds resources sustaining her struggle to shape both a private and a public self. The private self she molds we recognize as her character; bringing that character to bear on public matters we recognize as citizenship.

The frame of mind needed to build a self out of one's emerging circumstances, Chapman called practical agitation. Practical agitation acts as the catalyst for an individual's search for truth and for the language to express the meaning of that quest. For Chapman conducting that search is an individual's life work. "It (the search for truth) seems to involve a certain focusing and concentration of the attention that brings all life within us into harmony. When this happens to us, we discover that truth is the only thing we had ever really cared about in the world. The thing seems to be the same thing, no matter which avenue we reach it by. At whatever point we are touched, we respond. A quartet, a cathedral, a sonnet, an exhibition of juggling, anything well done -- we are at the mercy of it. But as the whole of us responds to it, so it takes a whole man to do it. What ever cracks men up and obliterates parts of them, makes them powerless to give out this vibration. This is about all we know of individualism and the integrity of the individual. The sum of all the philosophies in the history of the world can be packed back into it. All the tyrannies and abuses in the world are only bad because they injure this integrity. We desire truth. It is the only thing we desire. To have it, we must develop the individual." [20]

Let's examine practical agitation's influence on human development. We do not begin life in a state of practical agitation. It requires a consciousness able to contemplate one's inner and outer worlds and contend with the tension between them. A child, exuberant at being part of the world, fixes her attention on all that is going on around her. The focus of her attention is evident in the questions she raises: Why is the sky blue? Why do things fall down? Trusting adults to provide her with creditable answers, she gains the self confidence to continue exploring her universe. With the onset of adolescence that trust dissipates. She judges childhood authority figures inept at answering the questions that obsess her: Who am I? How do I conduct myself in the world? Rousseau called adolescence the second birth. One's inner dialogue is born, and with it the possibility of becoming a practical agitator. Even though the adolescent, as practical agitator, uses her inner dialogue to critique her thoughts and actions, she does not automatically trust herself to solve the mystery of who she is. To do that she needs clues and a source that will supply them.

Clues are readily supplied by the entertainment industry. An adolescent is particularly susceptible to the entertainment industry's siren song because it provides her with a ready to wear self; all she has to do is try it on. If one self doesn't fit another is available. But by the last years of high school, many adolescents find this donning and discarding of selves fatiguing and uncomfortable. After years of wearing prefabricated designs they recognize that there is no ready made pattern that will illuminate who they are. They must construct selves out of their own experience. Practical agitation begins with this recognition. Now, the student needs resources, other than those offered by the entertainment industry and the commercialism that sustains it. If she attends a high school or college where teaching her intellectual tradition's common knowledge is paramount, then our student will be equipped with the basic skills and content to mine that tradition, seeking clues to discover who she is.

The common knowledge that constitutes our student's intellectual tradition offers a wide variety of clues -- a book, an artwork, an argument, a performance that has reverberated in her memory long after she first encountered it. Clues can come in human forms; individuals, past and present, each embodying, in the student's opinion, a life well lived. These people guide the student's quest through influence, a process Chapman notes,"passes unconsciously from life to life." [21] It generates sympathy of mind in which "...the vibrations of one's formulated thought shall correspond and fall in with the direct and spontaneous vibrations of his audience." [22] Whatever form her clues take, they indicate qualities the student recognizes as the bone and sinew of her best self. Hunting for and recognizing clues contained in her intellectual tradition's common knowledge is a radically different experience than adopting a self proffered by others. For the later the student plays the role of passive consumer. For the former, the student engages in an intellectual undertaking. In seeking clues to her identity, the student is constantly interpreting and evaluating the meaning of what she finds. Chapman observes that this is a demanding task because,"The great truths can only be given in hints, phrases, and parables. They lie in universal experience, and any comment belittles them." [23]

Unselfishness is the third attribute of intellect that works against commercialism. Pairing intellect and unselfishness is likely to give the reader a jolt because conventional opinion consigns intellect to the campus. There amidst turf, tenure, and canon wars, battles over political correctness, the ethos of public or perish, and the scramble for grants, an observer could readily assume unselfishness is a character trait few intellectuals can afford to cultivate. Our observer is mistaken; she has confused an academic with an intellectual. Reading Chapman, one is reminded that the academy often acts more like a Potemkin Village for intellect than its house. By allowing the bonds between unselfishness and intellect to grow slack, Chapman accused academics of weakening intellect's power to critique and to change the status quo. "In America, society has been reorganized since 1870; the old universities have been totally changed and many new ones founded. The money to do this has come from the business world...The colleges during this epoch have each had a "policy" and a directorate... There has been so much necessary business-the business of expanding and planning, of adapting and remodeling-that there has been no time for education. Some big deal has always been pending in each college-some consolidation of departments, some annexation of a new world-something so momentous as to make private opinion a nuisance. In this regard the colleges have resembled everything else in America. The colleges have simply not been different from the rest of American life." [24]


The intellectual tradition's unselfishness sustains the student in her quest to define herself and her relation to the world. Studying it, the student also strengthens the possibility of advancing the world by introducing something new into it. Chapman observed, "It (the advance of the world) is done by men before their minds have been worn into ruts by particular businesses, or their sight shortened by the study of near things. What we love in the young is not their youth but their force. The energy that runs through them makes them sensitive. They feel the importance of remote things, and infer the relations of the present to the future more truly than their elders. They are touched by hints. The direct language of humanity is plain and native to them. The invisible waves of force which do as a matter of fact rule the world, using its fictions and its phrases as mere transmitting-plates, strike keenly upon the heart of the youth, and the vibrations of instinctive passion that shake his frame are the response of a strong creature to the laws of the universe." [25] For something new to be introduced in the world that world must conserve spaces where the young can create themselves amidst "ideas, art, enthusiasm, unselfishness, and inspiring activity."[26]

Andre Schiffrin, in his memior A Political Education, described such a place. After graduating from Yale, in 1957, Schiffern had been granted an exchange fellowship to Cambridge. Writing about that experience, Schiffrin compared the ethos that pervaded both universities. "Most important of all, students (at Yale) had to learn that you never got something for nothing. Of course one did, but the myth worked. I felt in my years at Yale that I was somehow earning my way through college; that I owed a debt, and that my job was in some way to repay it. The whole point of Cambridge then was how much you got for nothing. No one could afford its luxuries-not just the physical surroundings, but the encouragement to live a different life, to discover an altogether unknown style of life...free from the taint of contemporary industrial capitalism, a taste of a society in which there was no profit motive, no productivity, no "publish or perish." ...In a way I had never known, my life was no longer divided or alienated. Work came from leisure, discipline from freedom: the odd paradoxes of Hegel seemed to come to life before my eyes." [27]

Chapman would recognize Schiffrin's Cambridge as representing his vision of the university -- a haven for intellect in a world of commercialism. Chapman's critics would argue that Schiffern's Cambiridge offered an escape from the world and not an education for confronting it. Chapman would argue that if individuals are ever to introduce something new into the world, the university must incubate and cultivate possibilities other than those touted by commercialism. Towards this end, Chapman wrote, "Enthusiasm comes out of the world and goes into the university. Toward this point flow the currents of new talent that bubble up in society: here is the meeting-place of mind. All that a university does is to give the poppy-seed to the soil, the oil to the lamp, the gold to the rod of glass before it cools. A university brings the spirit in touch with its own language, that language through which it has spoken in former days and through which it shall speak again." [28]

Elective Affinities

After her husband died, Mrs. William James wrote two letters to Chapman illuminating the friendship both men shared. In the first she told Chapman: "I doubt whether you know how he valued you, how he delighted in you, how he sympathized with and understood, ah, how he understood,-your nervous temperament." In the second Mrs. James commented on a portrait Chapman wrote about her husband: "The pages about my husband are dear to me -- Even if you don't care for the philosophic passion of his soul, you have felt the man as few have done." [29] In Varieties of Religious Experience, James called Chapman "a profound moralist" and quoted a passage Chapman originally wrote for his journal, The Political Nursery. [30] Writing about James, Chapman declared, "None of us will ever see a man like William James again: there is no doubt about that...I always thought that William James would continue forever; and I relied on his sanctity as if it were sunlight." James shared Chapman's concern about the commercialization of education and the corruption of learning it wrought. In Talks to Students, The Ph.d. Octopus, The True Harvard, and The Social Value of the College-Bred, James, like his friend, battled against commercialism's co-option of intellect. Both men understood the necessity of this undertaking; at stake was the soundness of the American mind.

James, like Chapman, demonstrated his concern for the American mind in its formative years; both wrote about elementary and secondary instruction. Froebel, art schools, the functions of a church school, and finding a pedagogic approach worthy of the classics were topics Chapman explored. Having published The Principles of Psychology, two years earlier, James was asked by the Harvard Corporation, in 1892, to give a series of public lectures to Cambridge's teachers illustrating the impact psychological knowledge could have on their practice. In 1899 these lectures were published and are known as Talks to Teachers on Psychology; and to Students on some of Life's Ideals.

Reading the book, today, one would find it surprising in two ways: First, a reader would not expect James, a scholar at the height of his intellectual power, to talk to teachers as fellow minds and practitioners. Over the years, American society has grown so complacent about the instructional pecking order and the acrimony it generates that the image of James leaving his lab and library to talk to elementary and secondary school teachers seems an altruistic anomaly. For his part, James would see nothing odd or particularly saintly about talking with an audience of teachers; he considered himself one of them, sharing the same responsibilities. As he explained in his first talk, "In whatever sphere of education their (teachers') functions may lie, there is to be seen among them a really inspiring amount of searching of the heart about the highest concerns of their profession. The renovation of nations begins always at the top, among the reflective members of the State, and spreads slowly outward and downward. The teachers of this country , one may say, have its future in its hands." [31]

The second surprise waiting for the reader of Talks to Teachers is James's measured advocacy of educational psychology. He cautioned his audience that, "To know psychology, therefore, is absolutely no guarantee that we shall be good teachers. To advance to that result, we must have an additional endowment altogether, a happy fact and ingenuity to tell us what definite things to say and do when the pupil is before us. That ingenuity in meeting and pursuing the pupil, that tact for the concrete situation, though they are the alpha and omega of the teacher's art, are things to which psychology cannot help us in the least." [32] Even though James was the foremost scholar and researcher in the field, he did not perceive psychology as as a pedagogical magic bullet. His skepticism about its ameliorative effects were based on the difference between science and art. The science of psychology can provide a teacher with the vocabulary and the analytical framework to better understand the life inside her classroom. But that life derives its qualities from the observant and inventive teacher practicing her art. As James reminded his audience, "Psychology is a science, and teaching is an art; and sciences never generate arts directly out of themselves. An intermediary, inventive mind must make the application, by using its originality." [33]


Like Chapman, James recognized the threat commercialism posed to intellect. Specifically, he analyzed the damaging effects industrialized time had on an individual's ability to think. James asked, what imprint does time, primarily experienced as speed, efficiency, routine, and specialization, make on an individual's intelligence and a culture's intellectual tradition. Chapman expressed similar concerns in his essay, "Fatigue and Unrest(1924)." He wrote, "We have lost what out ancestors had: true leisure, contemplation, and the power of attention. In losing these, we moderns have also lost our receptivity-a receptivity which should be-a reliance on some solution which shall swim into our minds without aid from us, a half-consciousness that our own faculties are part of the operations of Nature. This knack of a loose and dreamy attention seems to be lost to the world for the time being.... the eyes loses faculty if rigidly focused." [34]

In their critiques of industrial time, both James and Chapman voiced anxiety about the erosion of leisure in American life. The start of the twentieth century, provided sufficient grounds for their uneasiness. In 1911, Frederick Winslow Taylor published The Principles of Scientific Management. In it he described methods that would make industrial workers more efficient, thereby, increasing profits. Taylor asserted that these methods, based on scientific time/motion studies, would confirm an employer's hunch that any job can be done faster by "proving conclusively how fast the work can be done." [35] It remains a matter of debate whether or not scientific management delivered the effects its promoters promised. What is beyond doubt is where scientific management was implemented it eroded labor's autonomy. This was an insignificant price to pay for transforming a work force of slackers into one of energetic men, Taylor argued. In his opinion, the laborer was incapable of reforming himself because he could not "fully understand this science, without the guidance and help of those who are working with him or over him, either through lack of education or through insufficient mental capacity." [36] In other words, science and professional managers would act as labor's Svengalis; transforming the slothful into streamlined working machines.

Energetic workers would populate America's shop floors and energetic citizens would bring "Zip" and "Bang" to towns across the country. By the twenties, middle class Americans considered Zip and Bang attributes encoded in the national character. Sinclair Lewis illustrated their cultural brand of uplift in his satirical novel, Babbitt. George Babbitt, a fictional insurance salesman, made his class's boosterism palpable in a speech he gave to the city of Zenith's Real Estate Board. "Our Ideal Citizen -- I picture him first and foremost as being busier than a bird-dog, not wasting a lot of time in day-dreaming or going to sassiety teas or kicking about things that are none of his business, but putting the zip into some store or profession or art....But it's here in Zenith, the home for manly men and womanly women and bright kids, that you find the largest proportion of these Regular Guys, and that's what sets it in a class by itself; that's why civilization that shall endure when the old time-killing ways are gone forever and the world of earnest and efficient endeavor shall have dawned all round the world! [37]

Imagine Chapman and James listening to Babbitt's encomium to Zenith. Both would find the good life he touted, threatening. For Chapman, zip and bang were not sounds associated with civilization marching forward; they were noises generated by Babbitt's Regular Guys destroying it. Zip and bang camouflaged their means of destruction -- thinking that had become regimented by and restricted to instrumental concerns. The good citizens of Zenith were eager and adept at figuring out how something should be done but adverse to contemplating why.[38] Kept "busier than bird-dogs" and admonished not to "kick about things that are none of their business," Zenith's ideal citizens went about their business devoid of an inner life. Even more chilling, Babbitt's compatriots perceived their reluctance to ask why, the query that catalyzes the intellect, as a boon and indicative of an upstanding character. Adhering to the bromide that time is money, Zenith's good citizens considered themselves correct in assuming that thinking about anything that would not improve one's material well being was time wasted. In 1913, Chapman described the anti-intellectualism the cultural apotheosis of speed and efficiency generated. "To cut loose, to cast away, to destroy, seems to be our impulse. We do not want the past. This awful loss of all the terms of thought, this beggary of intellect, is shown in the unwillingness of the average man in America to go to the bottom of any subject, his mental inertia, his hatred of impersonal thought, his belief in labor-saving, his indifference to truth." [39]

Like Chapman, James would perceive the vapid inner life of Babbitt's neighbors as alarming. One can imagine James, in his role as psychological researcher, analyzing the effects such a lack had on a person's temperament. Listening to Babbitt's speech, James would have the opportunity to do just that. By studying the audience's expressions, James could observe their reactions. Chances are he would find "...a wild-eyed look...either of too desperate eagerness and anxiety of too intense responsiveness and good-will." [40] James would identify the expression displayed by Babbitt's audience as 'bottled lightning.' Considered a nationally accepted ideal, owing to its association with "intensity, vivacity, and rapidity of appearance," 'bottled lightning' is anything but. For James it created an illusion of unusual energy masking physical, intellectual, and spiritual exhaustion. Although lost from modern consciousness, acedia is the name individuals living in the ancient and medieval worlds would have given to James's bottled lightening. Whereas today we consider leisure a synonym for idleness, citizens of the ancient and medieval worlds defined acedia as "...the lack of leisure, an inability to be at leisure, that went together with idleness; that the restlessness of work-for-work's-sake arose from nothing other than idleness." [41] An individual descends into acedia when "...he does not agree with his own existence, when he has neither the time or intellectual resources to determine what matters.[42] Instead an individual caught in acedia's coils busys himself with everything because he is constantly reacting to the demands, needs, and values of others. James described acedia's effect as "sensations that so incessantly pour in from the over-tense excited body the over-tense and excited habit of mind is kept up; and the sultry, threatening, exhausting, thunderous inner atmosphere never quite clears away." [43] The emotional volatility James would have observed among those attending Babbitt's lecture is the price one paid for being "busier than a bird dog and not wasting a lot of time day dreaming." The good citizens of Zenith cultivated and celebrated acedia. It freed them from thinking about what matters in their lives. By habitually responding to their lived circumstances, they could remain secure, comfortable, and untroubled.

For James and Chapman, civilized life's Scylla and Charybdis, anti-intellectualism and acedia, became more pervasive as leisure became scarcer. Their determination to reaffirm the connection between leisure and culture cast them as men out of season. By the time they turned their attention to this topic, leisure like amateur, had taken on negative connotations. Busyness, productivity, efficiency, speed, diligence, predictability, qualities garnered from the commercial world had become the standards used to gage a culture's health. So we are faced with a conundrum: Given their contemporaries'antipathy towards leisure why were James and Chapman compelled to defend it?

Mention leisure in the course of conversation, and images of laying on a beach, watching a sporting event, or going out to dinner with friends come to mind. We, citizens of the twenty-first century, mistakenly define leisure according to what it is not, time not encumbered by work's constraints. By mistaking leisure for free time, we disavow any intrinsic value it has irrespective of work. Instead, its worth is calculated by the respite and the refreshment it offers from the daily grind. For the modern worker, leisure well spent, enables her to return to the job more energetic, efficient and productive. For most of history this was not leisure's purpose. It was considered "...a state of being in which activity is performed for its own sake or as its own end."[44] In our sisyphean attempts to juggle the numerous demands on our time, most of us would consider leisure's original purpose, absurd. As it is there is not enough time in the day to accomplish the tasks enumerated on our mental check lists. For us, the consistently harried and constantly fatigued, leisure's meaning is simple; it is time free from the list's demands.

Recall leisure's original meaning, "a state of being in which activity is performed for its own sake or as its own end." Notice anything odd about this description? The modern connection between time and leisure is not mentioned. Instead leisure was originally connected to a state of mind. From ancient Athens to Enlightenment France, our cultural predecessors took it for granted that time not regimented by daily routines was necessary to cultivate a mind capable of engaging in activity for its own sake. Although, for most of history, leisure was enjoyed only by elites, by the middle of the nineteenth century hope ran high that leisure, like politics, would be democratized. The abundance created by industrial production and the political power gained by newly enfranchised workers made this possibility appear to be within reach. But as the nineteenth century drew to a close, particularly in the United States, the combination of social darwinism, liberty of contract, and imperialism transformed this possibility into a utopian fantasy. For their parts, Chapman and James feared that the original meaning of leisure was becoming extinct. If this happened, Americans would be incapable of resisting the cultural bait and switch game played during the Gilded Age. The object of that game, according to James and Chapman, was to con individuals into equating acedia, commercialism, and anti-intellectualism with the good life. The only way to resist being conned was to think. For Chapman and James, leisure was essential for developing the type of thinking capable of recognizing and thwarting this cultural swindle.

Leisure is needed to initiate and to sustain thinking that enables a person to conduct a life long dialogue with herself. This dialogue is carried on between the individual and her inner critic. It establishes the habit of examining and of critiquing whatever gains one's attention. Hannah Arendt described the effect this dialogue had on a person's self formation as that which enabled an individual "to live together explicitly with oneself," to live with integrity. [45] Arendt's inner dialogue shares affinities with Chapman's practical agitation. Both describe the state of mind of an individual taking responsibility for building a self, choosing ideals, and finding the language that expresses the significance of those struggles. Like Chapman and Arendt, William James championed thinking that cultivated an ongoing conversation with oneself. He characterized this type of thought as the means to confound our customary values "then our self is riven and its narrow interests fly to pieces, then a new centre and a new perspective must be found." [46]

The thought that James described as rivening the self, and Chapman's practical agitation share a common quality - wonder. Like the words, amateur and leisure, wonder emanates an antique aura. Today, anyone uttering it during a serious discussion of education would be regarded as a fool. Even though professional educators and parents occasionally lament its dissipation, particularly when they observe students metamorphosing from wide-eyed kindergarteners to cynical high school seniors, conventional wisdom expects wonder to disappear along with one's baby teeth. In the real world, so the thinking goes, only adults engaged in artistic or spiritual work can afford to indulge their sense of wonder. The rest of us have to make our way through life with our feet on the ground and rational utility as our compass. James did not think so. For him wonder was an essential element for constructing a significant life. It created the "holidays of life," moments when a person asks a question making it possible to transcend her quotidian understanding of the world. James wrote, "I am sorry for the boy or girl, or man or woman, who has never been touched by the spell of this mysterious sensorial life, with its irrationality, if so you like to call it, but its vigilance and its supreme felicity. The holidays of life are its most vitally significant portions, because they are, or at least should be, covered with just this kind of magically irresponsible spell. [47].

In praising "the holidays of life," James defended a way of knowing that predated the scientific method. For individuals, like James, whose professional lives depended on scientific investigation, it would seem the sooner this earlier way of knowing was consigned to history's dust-bin, the better. So we are faced with a paradox: Why would William James, a renown scientist, scholar, and teacher make the case for a way of knowing that appears to affirm everything he is not? I would argue, the wonder James associated with his holidays of life was the source from which his scientific, scholarly, and pedagogical interests emerged. Wonder, as James and Chapman interpreted it, was not the hunger for the sensational that can only be satisfied by the abnormal or the astonishing. Rather it was an intellectual attitude towards reality characterized by receptive looking or beholding. The ancients called it theoria, the medieval philosophers called this intellectual attitude intellectus. Goethe called it "the highest state to which humanity can aspire," because a person, in this state, comprehends the sum total of things, making it possible to think about ends. [48] Unlike our cultural predecessors, we do not take leisure, wonder, and the frame of mind it makes possible, seriously. We misconstrue James's holidays of life as escapes from reality, rather than an open-ended engagement with it. We have forgotten that it is the state of mind that initiates Arendt's inner dialogue, which in turn, forms a mind capable of understanding the world as a whole and living significantly in it.

For James and Chapman broadening and deepening one's inner dialogue was the purpose of an education. However, as James argued in The Ph.D. Octopus, and The True Harvard, and Chapman illustrated in his portraits of Charles Eliot Norton and Harvard's President Eliot that purpose was undermined within the institutions dedicated to championing it. Reading these four essays, one recognizes that James and Chapman, from their early twentieth century vantage point, were witnessing the growth of the modern research university. What they saw disturbed them. The attributes of higher education they found disquieting, we have come to consider unfortunate, but necessary. The erosion of the bond between leisure and schooling, the pursuit of credentials even at the expense of intellectual substance, the apotheosis of administrators and management skills, and the university's attempt to be all things to all people, we accept as necessary if it is to maintain its cultural power. James and Chapman viewed these attributes with foreboding because they demonstrated a turn the university was making. It was turning away from cultivating students' inner lives to certifying their success in advancing themselves. Both James and Chapman argued that the student and the public would pay a heavy price for this change in direction.

As Chapman abhorred commercialism, James abhorred the commodification of success. In a letter to H.G. Wells, dated September 11, 1906, James wrote, "Scoundrelly, as you say, but understandable, from the point of view of parties interested - but understandable in onlooking citizens only as a symptom of the moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That-with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word success - is our national disease." [49] For James, success pegged to the market caused the national disease and its most obvious symptom was action based on nothing more than opportunism. In the same letter, James made the case that pegging success to the market created a moral vacuum. If opportunism motivated a person's actions than ideals like justice, truth, and the good had to be jettisoned when they impeded self advancement. His compatriots' repeated lack of indignation over heinous miscarriages of justice, convinced James of their scorn for abstract principles that were not self serving. Writing to Wells, James commented, "He (the American) begins to pooh-pooh and minimize and tone down the thing (miscarriage of justice), and breed excuses from his general fund of optimism and respect for expediency." [50] Both, James and Chapman, feared that Americans increasingly condoned, if not celebrated individuals who acted out of expediency and opportunism; their conduct eviscerating any notion of the common good and making a sham of democracy. Both men believed an education committed to initiating an individual's inner dialogue, through immersion in an intellectual tradition, could challenge the hegemony success had over their contemporaries' imaginations. However, much to James's chagrin but not to his surprise, the bitch-goddess of success descended on academe in the guise of the Ph.D. Octopus.

James warned that the price Americans would pay for becoming ensnared by the Ph.D. Octopus was increased susceptibility to the Mandarin disease. He explained, "America is thus as a nation rapidly drifting towards a state of things in which no man of science or letters will be accounted respectable unless some kind of badge or diploma is stamped upon him, and in which bare personality will be a mark of outcast estate. It seems to me high time to rouse ourselves to consciousness, and to cast a critical eye upon this decidedly grotesque tendency. Other nations suffer terribly from the Mandarin disease. Are we doomed to suffer like the rest?" [51] For James, academic inbreeding caused the disease and those taken ill became susceptible to delusions. Having obtained the Ph.D. by completing prescribed course work, passing the requisite exams, and writing an acceptable dissertation, those stricken with the Mandarin disease are deluded into thinking that their successful completion of these academic hurdles demonstrates intellectual excellence. Instead of feeling alarm at having succumbed to this delusion, the infected seek no cure and do nothing to counter the disease's contagious nature. By mistaking academic success with intellectual brillance, Mandarins create their own colony in which they wield the power of exclusion and as James argued, "interfere with the free development of talent, to obstruct the natural play of supply and demand in the teaching profession, to foster academic snobbery by the prestige of certain privileged institutions, to transfer accredited value from essential manhood to an outward badge, to blight the hopes and promote invidious sentiments, to divert the attention of aspiring youth from direct dealings with truth to the passsing of examinations. [52]

Like his friend, James witnessed commercial values supplant intellectual substance at the university. He perceived the increasing fetishism attached to the Ph.D. as "a mere advertising resource;" it advertised an intellect worthy of employment.[53] James illustrated this point by commenting on the reactions parents and students had to reading a list of faculty names in a school's catalogue. He wrote, "they are dazzled by all the titles after the names and say to themselves, this must be a terribly distinguished crowd-their titles shine like the stars in the firmament, PH.D's, S.D.'s, and Litt.D's, bespangle the page as if they were sprinkled over it from a pepper caster." [54] But James cautioned , "in reality it is but a sham, a bauble, a dodge whereby to decorate the catalogues of schools and colleges." [55]

The Ph.D. Octopus represented the commodification of education occurring at the start of the twentieth century. To resist this trend James, like Chapman, reiterated and reaffirmed the values needed to build and sustain the inner life. Lecturing and writing for the general public both men took their fight beyond the confines of academe. If educational institutions did not offer sanctuary for intellectual substance and the inner life, James and Chapman were convinced this renunciation would corrupt their compatriots' understanding and practice of democracy. James observed," ...our universities at least should never cease to regard themselves as jealous custodians of personal and spiritual spontaneity. They are indeed its only organized and recognized custodians in America today. They ought to guard against contributing to the increase of officialism and snobbery and insincerity as against a pestilence; they ought to keep truth and disinterested labor always in the foreground, treat degrees as secondary incidents, and in season and out of season make it plain that what they live for is to help men's souls, and not to decorate their persons with diplomas. [56]

James identified officialism as symptomatic of the rot threatening American life. Chapman agreed, and described the twentieth century as "an age of management not of ideas or of men." [57] Analyzing the difference between the thinker and the administrator, Chapman wrote, "A thinker may reach mankind through his books; he may live in ideas which are never realized at all. He is bound to his age by no ties except metaphysical ties. But an administrator, however able, can accomplish only that which the work-a-day world of his day will permit him to accomplish. If he tries to do more he will be turned out of office." [58] James and Chapman found the increasing numbers of administrators populating school yards and campuses particularly disturbing. Their arrival signified the ascendancy of instrumental reason and rational utility in institutions both regarded as havens for disinterested reason, a sense of possibility, imagination, and wonder. If the thinking cultivated by educational institutions became primarily concerned with how to get things expeditiously done then education would be reduced to serving the status quo, at the expense of its formative power. This seemed a likely possibility to James and Chapman. By the time James had finished "The Ph.D. Octopus," administrators were settling into ivy towers and school rooms. They, along with like minded faculty, worked to adapt educational institutions to their new role as certifying agents. Administrators were needed to manage and co-ordinate the growing number of programs and policies designed to certify a graduate as destined for worldly success. To fulfill this function, educational institutions had to shoulder a wide range of new responsibilities. Chapman illustrated this point when he commented on Harvard's attempt to create a more congenial atmosphere. "This idea (the social idea) was vigorously carried out by the authorities a few years later when they made the discovery that something was wrong at Harvard, that nobody loved anybody there, and that the thing to do was to give weekly teas at Brook's Hall, to ask everyone, to get ladies from Boston, Bishops from anywhere, social people at any cost, social talent to bridge the gulf between instructors and instructed." [59] For his part James worried that in becoming all things to all people, an educational institution jeopardized its role as guardian of the inner life. If that happened then education would become just another means of advancing the self in an age rife with self promotion.

The Significance of Life

Having surveyed his country's cultural landscape and found it wanting, James asked a fundamental question: In an age permeated with commercialism, managers, and besotted with the bitch-goddess success, what makes a life significant? Like amateur, leisure, and wonder, significant is a word commonly used but vaguely understood. Asked to name contemporaries who live significant lives, most individuals would list celebrities and billionaires. Whereas we equate a significant life with celebrity and wealth, James associated it with heroism. He wrote,"If it is idiotic in romanticism to recognize the heroic only when it sees it labeled and dressed-up in books, it is really just as idiotic to see it only in the dirty boots and sweaty shirt of some one in the fields. It is with us really under every disguise: at Chautauqua; here in your college; in the stock-yards and on the freight-trains; and in the czar of Russia's court." [60] This passage begs a question. What type of heroism is found under every disguise? The effort to recognize and to act according to an intrinsic ideal was the heroism James asserted humanity held in common.

To our twenty-first century ears this answer falls flat. For us, living a significant life demands a stronger scaffold than an ideal's flimsiness -- something along the lines of a stock portfolio that provides a good night's sleep. The word, ideal evokes images of muddled headed dreamers or ranting fanatics. To be taken seriously, anyone discussing an ideal, usually keeps an ironic distance from it. In fact, it is not uncommon to see a person simultaneously talking about an ideal and ensconcing her words in imaginary air-borne quotation marks. This gesture reassures the listener that while praising truth, justice, and the good, the speaker recognizes that accountability and the bottom line rule reality.

James, however, would have none of our post-modern equivocation. He considered a person tethered to an inner ideal society's most powerful agent for change. Furthermore, James's contemporaries did not lace their ideals with a drizzle of irony, especially when heroic effort was at issue; their zeitgeist was dripping with it. Through heroic effort Progressives would remake society, through heroic effort the fittest would survive, and through heroic effort America would extend Jefferson's empire of democracy to the farthest reaches of the globe. To get a sense of how novel James's understanding of the ideal was, we first have to examine his era's standard for recognizing and gauging it -- war. Theodore Roosevelt, a fellow Harvard alum wrote an eloquent statement championing war as heroism's and idealism's cultural crucible. [61]

The Strenuous Life, a speech he delivered in 1899, Roosevelt defended America's military actions in Cuba and in the Phillipines. He also argued that heroic effort was an American's patriotic duty and a man ill suited for making that effort was neither a true American or a real man. In his speech, Roosevelt depicted this individual and the threat he posed to America's destiny. "The timid man, the lazy man, the man who distrusts his country, the overcivilized man, who has lost the great fighting, masterful virtues, the ignorant man, and the man of dull mind, whose soul if incapable of feeling the mighty lift that thrills "stern men with empires in their brains"- all these of course shrink from seeing us build a navy and an army adequate to our needs; shrink from seeing us do our share of the world's work, by bringing order out of chaos in the great,fair tropic islands from which the valor of our soldiers and sailors has driven the Spanish flag. These are the men who fear the strenuous life, who fear the only national life which is really worth leading." [62] By linking heroic effort with war, Roosevelt had unwittingly cast James as a person incapable of heroic action or living the strenuous life.

Unlike Roosevelt, James perceived America's military incursions not as demonstrations of its ideals but as an abandonment of them. In an address he gave to the New England Anti-Imperialist League in 1903, James substantiated his view by enumerating the consequences unleashed by this nation's conquest of the Philippines. "The material ruin of the Islands; the transformation of native friendliness to execration; the demoralization of our army, from the war office down - forgery decorated, torture whitewashed, massacre condoned; the creation of a chronic anarchy in the Islands,...and the lives of American travelers and American sympathizers unsafe in the country out of sight of army posts; the deliberate reinflaming on our part of ancient tribal animosities..." [63] Given all of the havoc war wreaks, why does it remain, and not peace, the condition people identify with idealism and heroic effort? That was the question James posed in his essay, The Moral Equivalent of War, written in 1910. Years earlier, James had experienced another occasion that caused him to think about the paradoxical relationship between war, peace, and idealism. The setting that prompted those earlier reflections was not a battleground but the Chautauqua Assembly Grounds.

Upon arriving at Chautauqua, James noted,"The moment one treads that sacred enclosure, one feels one's self in an atmosphere of success. Sobriety and industry, intelligence and goodness, orderliness and ideality, prosperity and cheerfulness, pervade the air. It is a serious and studious picnic on a gigantic scale....You have the best of company, and yet no effort. You have no zymotic diseases, no poverty, no drunkenness, no crime, no police. You have culture, you have kindness...you have the best fruits of what mankind has fought and bled and striven for under the name of civilization for centuries. You have, in short, a foretaste of what human society might be, were it all in the light, with no suffering and no dark corners." [64] James spent a week at this man made paradise. To his astonishment, once his week was finished he left with an overwhelming sense of relief and a hunger to return to "the dark and wicked world." James attributed his aversion to Chautauqua to its timidity, "...this culture too second-rate, this goodness too uninspiring. This human drama without a villain or a pang; this community so refined the ice-cream soda-water is the utmost offering it can make to the brute animal in man; this city simmering in the tepid lakeside sun; this atrocious harmlessness of all things, - I cannot abide with them." [65] Upon leaving, James expressed the personal version of the cultural paradox he would articulate to protest America's invasion of the Philipines. Chautauqua was replete with all the ideals civilized life strives towards. Yet instead of appreciating its perfection, it angered James, a man dedicated to those same ideals. Why? Individuals will say war is humanity's greatest scourge, much time, energy, and treasure are spent trying to avoid it. Yet when war comes these same individuals believe it, not peace, makes self transcendence possible through a mixture of heroic effort and idealism. Why? Analyzing the circumstances that made an ideal significant, James found common ground between his hostile reaction to Chautauqua and the publics' ambivalence towards peace.


James found that both, peace and Chautauqua lacked the element of precipitousness. Precipitousness, he argued, made an ideal significant because a person had to risk something, had to struggle in order to live it. The risk, the struggle suffused life with intensity and seriousness of purpose not usually found in everyday existence. Remembering his Chautauqua experience, James illustrated the deleterious effect a lack of precipitousness had on an ideal. "The ideal was so completely victorious already that no sign of any previous battle remained, the place just resting on its oars. But what our human emotions seem to require is the sight of the struggle going on. The moment the fruits are being merely eaten, things become ignoble." However introduce precipitousness into human affairs, as war does, then an ideal commands all manner of sacrifice. James observed, "Sweat and effort, human nature strained to its utmost and on the rack, yet getting through alive, and then turning its back on its success to pursue another more rare and arduous still-this is the sort of thing the presence or which inspires us, and the reality of which it seems to be the function of all the higher forms of literature and fine art to bring home to us and suggest. At Chautauqua there were no racks, even in the place's historical museum; and no sweat, except possibly the gentle moisture on the brow of some lecturer, or on the sides of some player in the ball-field. [66]

We are faced with a conundrum. Is James, the self proclaimed pacifist, defending the notion that an ideal has meaning only when it goes to war? Or stated another way, is James arguing that living a quotidian life, shielded from life's extreme situations, makes it impossible to conduct oneself according to an ideal? The answer to both questions is no. James does argue, however, that recognizing idealism and heroism is easier for the soldier than the suburbanite. Whereas there are ubiquitous cultural examples of the valiant warrior, people do not readily associate honor, loyalty, self sacrifice, or courage with the daily responsibilities of making a living and raising a family. Americans' inability to recognize the myriad forms idealism and heroism take, James considered a tragic cultural blindness. On a personal and public level, he fought against its impoverished sense of possibility.

On a train headed toward Buffalo, James had an epiphany. He began to see heroic effort and idealism all around. "...Near that city, the sight of a workman doing something on the dizzy edge of a sky-scaling iron construction brought me to my senses very suddenly. And now I perceived, by a flash of insight, that I had been steeping myself in pure ancestral blindness, and looking at life with the eyes of a remote spectator. Wishing for heroism and the spectacle of human nature on the rack, I had never noticed the great fields of heroism lying round about me, I had failed to see it present and alive." [67] Why? By narrowing heroic action's and idealism's meaning to their martial context, James, like most people, was succumbing to a habitual cultural response. "Men are now proud of belonging to a conquering nation, and without a murmur they lay down their persons and their wealth, if by so doing they may fend off subjection. But who can be sure the other aspects of one's country may not, with time and education and suggestion enough, come to be regarded with similarly effective feelings of pride and shame? Why should men not some day feel that it is worth a blood-tax to belong to a collectivity superior in any ideal aspect? (Italics James's) Why should they not blush with indignant shame if the community that owns them is vile in any way whatsoever? [68] James set himself the task of honing his contemporaries' ability to recognize heroic effort and idealism whenever they encountered it. It was a difficult undertaking because as he observed, " To recognize ideal novelty is the task of what we call intelligence. Not every one's intelligence can tell which novelties are ideal." [69] The first step James took towards accomplishing this end was to ask himself: what do we mean when we talk about an ideal?


Recognizing an ideal, using one's experience to create a personal version of it, and acting accordingly, James argued, necessitated a concerted effort of the intelligence, imagination, emotions, and will. He described an ideal as "... something intellectually conceived, something of which we are not unconscious, if we have it; and it must carry with it that sort of outlook, uplift, and brightness that go with all intellectual facts. Secondly, there must be novelty in an ideal,--novelty at least for him whom the ideal grasps. Sodden routine is incompatible with ideality, although what is sodden routine for one person may be ideal novelty for another. This shows that there is nothing absolutely ideal: ideals are relative to the lives that entertain them. To keep out of the gutter is for us here no part of consciousness at all, yet for many of our brethren it is the most legitimately engrossing of ideals." [70] Like an ideal, James's interpretation of it was novel. He perceived it as a process both conscious and critical -- not the reflex reaction of cultural habit. Previously, we identified the process which moves one towards the ideal; it is the ongoing conversation a person has with herself. Hannah Arendt explained what is at risk if a person is incapable of conducting such a conversation. "If he is a thinking being, rooted in his thoughts and remembrances, and hence knowing that he has to live with himself, there will be limits to what he can permit himself to do, and these limits will not be imposed on him from the outside, but will be self-set. These limits can change considerably and uncomfortably from person to person, from country to country, from century to century; but limitless extreme evil is possible only where these self-grown roots, which automatically limit the possibilities are absent. They are absent where men skid only over the surface of events, where they permit themselves to be carried away without ever penetrating into whatever depth they may be capable of." [71] Only when a person takes responsibility for thinking about what she believes, judging what matters, and acting in harmony with those principles, does her life take on significance. That is the heroic effort James considered common to all. It is the effort that creates a a moral conscious and significance is its attribute.

So it comes down to this. For Chapman and James the significance of life is to learn how to talk to oneself. To sustain an evolving conversation that becomes deeper and broader over the course of a lifetime. For that to happen, they believed a person needed the opportunity to lay claim to an intellectual tradition. In doing so, one is more likely to resist the cant spewed out by society's persuaders and, as James observed, "...to know a good man when you see him." [72]


  1. John Jay Chapman, Unbought Spirit, ed. Richard Stone (Urbana: University of Illnois Press), 1-4.
  2. Chapman,Unbought Spirit, x.
  3. CU OED
  4. Randolph Bourne, The Radical Will: Selected Writings 1911-1918, ed. Olaf Hansen (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1992), 346-347.
  5. Jacques Barzun updates and reiterates Chapman's argument in The Enemies of Intellect. Jacques Barzun, The House of Intellect (New York: Perennial Classics, 2002), 1-31.
  6. Richard B. Hovey, John Jay Chapman - An American Mind, (New York: Columbia University Press, 1959) 77.
  7. John Jay Chapman, Causes and Consequences (New York: Moffat, Yard & Co., 1909), 66.
  8. One of the best explorations of this trend can be found in The Hedgehog Review: Critical Reflections on Contemporary Culture Volume 2, Number 3 (Fall 2000).
  9. John Jay Chapman, Learning and Other Essays (New York: Moffat, Yard & Co., 1910), 31. If higher education has succumbed to commercialism, then it should come as no surprise that the admissions process has become an exercise in packaging or branding yourself. The New York Times reports, to distinguish themselves from others applying to highly selective colleges, students can pay $4000 or more to hire a coach who will help them market themselves.
  10. Chapman,Causes and Consequences,71.
  11. Chapman, Unbought Spirit, 101.
  12. Chapman,Learning and Other Essays, 32.
  13. Chapman, Learning and Other Essays, 31 .
  14. Felix Adler's The Workingman's School (1880) and Frederick Taylor's The Principles of Scientific Management (1911) defend this position.
  15. Chapman, Causes and Consequences, 55 as quoted in Melvin H. Bernstein, John Jay Chapman (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1964), 36.
  16. Jacques Barzun,The House of Intellect (New York: Perennial Classics, 2002),4.
  17. Richard B. Hovey, 192.
  18. Barzun, 5.
  19. Chapman, Learning and Other Essays, 32.
  20. Chapman, Causes and Consequences, 68-69.
  21. John Jay Chapman, Practical Agitation (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1900), 82.
  22. Chapman, Practical Agitation, 107.
  23. Chapman, Practical Agitation, 124.
  24. Chapman, Unbought Spirit, 99.
  25. Chapman, Practical Agitation, 150-151.
  26. Chapman, Learning and Other Essays, 32.
  27. Andre Schiffrin, A Political Education (Hoboken, New Jersey: Melville House Publishing, 2007), 174-175.
  28. John Jay Chapman, Unbought Spirit, 92.
  29. Richard B.Hovey, 253.
  30. William James: Writings 1902-1910, ed. Bruce Kuklick (New York: The Library of America, 1987), 297.
  31. William James, Talks to Teachers on Psychology; and to students on some of Life's Ideals, (New York: Norton and Company, 1958), 21.
  32. James, Talks to Teachers, 24.
  33. James, Talks to Teachers, 23-24.
  34. Hovey, 301.
  35. Frederick Winslow Taylor, The Principles of Scientific Management (New York; W.W. Norton and Company, 1911), 22.
  36. Taylor, 26.
  37. Sinclair Lewis, Main Street & Babbitt, (New York: The Library of America, 1992) 650, 653.
  38. Randolph Bourne made a similar observation about the intelligentsia coming of age during World War I. "The war has revealed a younger intelligentsia, trained up in the pragmatic dispensation, immensely ready for the executive ordering of events, pitifully unprepared for the intellectual interpretation or the idealistic focusing of ends." Bourne attributed the strengths and weaknesses of their intelligence to "...the swing in the colleges from a training that emphasized classical studies to one that emphasized political and economic values." Bourne, 342.
  39. Hovey, 217.
  40. James, Talks to Teachers, 137.
  41. Josef Pieper, Leisure The Basis of Culture (South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine Press, 1998), 27.
  42. Pieper, Leisure The Basis of Culture, 28.
  43. James, Talks to Teachers, 139.
  44. Sebastain de Grazia, Of Time, Work, and Leisure (New York: Doubleday and Company, 1964), 13.
  45. Hannah Arendt, Responsibility and Judgment, ed. Jerome Kohn (New York: Schocken Books, 2003), 45.
  46. James, Talks to Teachers," 156.
  47. James, Talks to Teachers, 169
  48. Pieper, Leisure: The Basis of Culture, 103, 24.
  49. William James, The Letters of William James, Vol 2, ed. Henry James 111 (Boston: The Atlantic Monthly Press, 1926), 260.
  50. James, The Letters of William James, 260.
  51. James, William James: Writings 1902-1910, 1113.
  52. James, William James: Writings 1902-1910, 1114.
  53. James, William James: Writings 1902-1910, 1113.
  54. James, William James: Writings 1902-1910, 1112.
  55. James, William James: Writings 1902-1910, 1115.
  56. James, William James: Writings 1902-1910, 1117.
  57. John Jay Chapman, Memories and Milestones (New York: Moffat, Yard, and Company, 1915), 130. Jackson Lears applies Chapman's indictment of the twentieth century to our own in his essay "The Radicalism of Tradition: Teaching The Liberal Arts in a Managerial Age", The Hedgehog Review Volume 2 (Fall 2000):7-23.
  58. Chapman, Memories and Milestones, 177.
  59. Chapman,Memories and Milestones 169.
  60. James, Talks to Teachers, 181.
  61. Invoking the Monroe Doctrine, President Cleveland sent a message to Congress declaring that only the United States had the right to settle a boundary dispute between Venezuela and Great Britain. James was so incensed by the resulting jingoism and Anglophobia that he wrote a letter to his congressman which was printed in the Harvard Crimson. In the letter James protested the "calamity which President Cleveland and Congress together have sprung upon the country." Theodore Roosevelt's response to James's letter was also published in the Crimson. Roosevelt wrote, "If Harvard men wish peace with honor they will heartily support the national executive and the national legislature in the Venezuela matter; will demand that our representatives insist upon the strictest interpretation of the Monroe Doctrine; and will farther demand that immediate preparations be made to build a really first-class navy." Robert D. Richardson, William James In the Maelstrom of American Modernism, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006) 358-359.
  62. Theodore Roosevelt,"A Strenuous Life," Bartleby.com, http://www.bartleby.com/58/1.html.
  63. James, William James: Writings 1902-1910, 1131.
  64. James, Talks to Teachers, 172.
  65. James, Talks to Teachers, 173.
  66. James, Talks to Teachers, 174.
  67. James, Talks to Teachers, 175.
  68. James, William James: Writings 1902-1910, 1290.
  69. James, Talks to Teachers, 187.
  70. James, Talks to Teachers 185-186.
  71. Arendt, Responsibility and Judgment, 101.
  72. James, William James: Writings 1902-1910, 1242.
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