Law and Politics: Occasional Papers of Felix Frankfurter, 1913-1938

By Archibald MacLeish; E. F. Prichard Jr. et al. | Go to book overview

The Shape of Things to Come

This was the address which Mr. Frankfurterdelivered at the twenty-fifth anniversary dinner of the Survey Associates in December, 1937. It was published in the Survey Graphic for January, 1938.

ON THE Occasion of every important celebration there comes to my mind for some strange reason the sentence I heard in my youth in the last fateful speech of President McKinley at Buffalo. "Expositions," he said, "are the timekeepers of progress." What a typical nineteenth-century sentiment. That fortunate, self-deluding age believed in the idea of progress--a wholesome and robust faith, which generates effort toward its attainment and without which cynicism and defeatism all too easily become dominant. But the nineteenth century not merely talked of progress, it fortunately too readily assumed that progress was inevitable. Now we are in a much more chastened mood. We do not speak so glibly of progress, and certainly do not identify the progress of the machine with the progress of man. Not that the nineteenth century was without its warning voices, both here and abroad. But it is significant that today some of the gravest and most penetrating anxieties regarding the gap between the progress of science and the moral health of society are voiced by the great leaders of science itself. No statesman, I believe, today would venture to find in any exposition of material things satisfying proof of the quality of our contemporary civilization. I do not mean to decry things, the material conquests of man. But the vital issue for any society is what we do with them, what they do for us and to us, and on that issue I do not know a more illuminating, balanced and courageous reporter than The Survey has been during the last twenty-five years which tonight we celebrate.

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