The Course of American Democratic Thought

By Ralph Henry Gabriel; Robert H. Walker | Go to book overview

Chapter 22
JOSIAH ROYCE REINTERPRETS DEMOCRACY AND CHRISTIANITY

IN THE FIRST DECADE of the twentieth century when the deterministic philosophy of William Graham Sumner was crystallizing into Folkways, Josiah Royce walked quietly each day across the Harvard Yard to his office to pursue further that ethical investigation which resulted in 1908 in a little book, The Philosophy of Loyalty. It contained a reasoned rejection of the pessimistic outlook. It provided new philosophic foundations for the American democratic faith. Royce saw that that faith, in spite of the hopeful conclusions of Morgan and of Powell, was threatened. Its enemy was Darwinism. Sumner was an illustration of the social thinker who, too much persuaded by the evolutionary doctrine, saw in man only an intelligent animal engaged in a struggle for existence, and democracy with all that it implied as to the freedom and the development of the individual moving toward extinction. Royce did not believe that democracy was about to die. Those creeds which Sumner called phantasms Royce made the cornerstones of his philosophical edifice. To a materialistic and money-mad generation he proclaimed again the importance of ideals. "We want not less talk about evolution," he said, as he stood at the threshold of a long professional career, "but more study of human life and destiny, of the nature of men's thought, and the true goal of men's actions. Send us the thinker who can show us just what in life is most worthy of our toil, just what makes man's destiny more than poor and comic, just what is the ideal that we ought to serve; let such a thinker point out to us plainly that ideal, and then say, in a voice that we must hear, 'Work, work for that; it is the highest'--then such a thinker will have saved our age from one-sidedness, and have given it eternal significance."1 In such phrases Royce announced his own aspira

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