The Course of American Democratic Thought

By Ralph Henry Gabriel; Robert H. Walker | Go to book overview
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Chapter 3
CHRISTIANITY AND THE DEMOCRATIC FAITH

KARL MARX IN ENGLAND and Lewis Henry Morgan in America brought out independently in the middle years of the nineteenth century the theory of economic determinism. Both asserted that economic institutions are of fundamental importance in any culture, and both taught that shifts in the substratum of economics create stresses which cause readjustments throughout the social superstructure. Social beliefs grow out of social institutions and change with them. But social beliefs are affected by other forces than economic change. If man on earth must eat, so also must he adjust his life and thought to the mystery surrounding him. His explanation of the unknown may lead him to people with spirits the darkness encircling the campfire which lights his village. Or his attitude may be that of an astronomer exploring remote space, intent not upon the mystery of interplanetary space but upon the task of accumulating knowledge. The principal purpose of cosmic philosophies, whether they be supernaturalistic or naturalistic, is to give orientation to human life and to evaluate its significance. For this reason the reigning cosmic philosophy is as fundamental to a particular climate of opinion as are its economic foundations to a selected social scene. The social beliefs of a given place and time adjust themselves to the ruling ideas concerning the cosmos in essentially the same manner in which the social institutions of that place and time adapt themselves to their economic substructure. As cosmic philosophies change, social beliefs change with them.

The romantic democratic faith in the Middle Period took form among a vigorous people who were not merely overrunning an

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