Philosophic Thought in France and the United States: Essays Representing Major Trends in Contemporary French and American Philosophy

By Marvin Farber | Go to book overview

THE MAIN TREND OF SOCIAL PHILOSOPHY IN AMERICA

V. J. McGill*


INTRODUCTION

Alexis de Tocqueville could see, even 108 years ago, that democracy in America was committed to progress and individualism. Its dynamism he traced to the spirit of the people, the lack of orders and feudal restraints, and the vast untapped resources of the continent. The impact of the frontier was pointed out by Hegel, and was later to be described at length by the historian, F. J. Turner.

American resilience and expansiveness was expressed by Emerson. While praising great men as the raison d'être of life, he is quick to add that there is no such thing as masses or common men. "True art is only possible on the conviction that every talent has its apotheosis somewhere. . . Each is uneasy until he has produced his private ray into the concave sphere, and beheld his talent also in its last nobility and exaltation."1 William James's famous essay, "The Energies of Men," was also typical. As a rule, he concluded, "men habitually use only a small part of the powers which they actually possess and which they might use under appropriate conditions."2 The teeming wealth of the rivers and fields and of the people of the country is always the theme of Walt Whitman. For example:

Fecund America--today
Thou art all over set in births and joys!
Thou groan'st with riches, thy wealth clothes thee as a swathing garment,
Thou laughest loud with ache of great possessions, . . .

The great American novelist Herman Melville thought self love had gone

____________________
*
Born in 1897. Ph.D., Harvard University, 1925. Studied under Sheldon Fellowship ( Harvard University) 1925-26, at Cambridge and Freiburg. Associate Professor of psychology and philosophy, Hunter College. Author of biographical studies of Strindberg and Schopenhauer and of a book of philosophical-literary essays, and of various articles on philosophy and psychology. An editor of Science and Society, and Secretary-Treasurer, International Phenomenological Society.
1
Ralph Waldo Emerson, "Uses of Great Men" in Representative Men ( New York, Thomast Y. Crowell & Co.), p. 29.
2
Essays on Faith and Morals ( New York, Longmans Green & Co., 1943).

-679-

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