Contemporary Western society, despite its unique instruments of communication, despite its enormous self-concern and its passion for the disclosure of fact, is peculiarly elusive subject matter. The age of opinion polls, interviews, and forums, of endless autobiographies, confessions, digests, and investigations, ironically resists understanding and compels us to dig deeply with complex tools. Largely upon the academic community (the community supposed by popular myth to be concealed from the real world) falls the responsibility of finding or devising the best of the answers and the best of the perspectives, however incomplete they may prove to be. These two volumes of readings on Man in Contemporary Society make no pretense of definitive social diagnosis; still less are they concerned with prognosis. They are concerned mainly to accumulate and organize pronouncements that are truly relevant to the understanding of the present.
The "present," when closely scrutinized, inevitably expands into the present not only of this year but of this decade, this generation, and this century. Among the writings here invoked for their bearing on the present, one originated as recently as 1954, another as far back as 1861. Each in its own way helps to illuminate the contemporary world. Just what writings, and how many, and of what kind, are included in any collection depends upon the purpose for which the collection is intended, upon space, time, and fallible judgment. The present body of readings has been prepared with the needs of the second (sophomore) year of the two-year Columbia College Contemporary Civilization sequence primarily in view. Like the previously published Introduction to Contemporary Civilization in the West and Chapters in Western Civilization, used in the first year's work, these "source books" provide the reading matter of an established course of study. The materials included in them were brought together during some five years of experimentation, during which time they were issued, for use by Columbia College students exclusively, in less permanent, unbound form. While the decision to publish them in a printed edition at this time was made with the requirements of Contemporary Civilization primarily in mind, in part that decision rested upon the conviction that the materials might also be found useful in other institutions, in other courses. The Editorial Committee has sought to assemble readings exhibiting great diversity and yet at the same time a high degree of interrelatedness and thematic continuity, materials which in collective . . .