In this brief essay, Max Lerner bemoans the loss of moral character (integrity) and sense of calling in the professions, caused in part by "gigantism," specialization, and the impersonalism of the modern professions. He castigates the "ethics of the bottom line" and the divorce that has taken place between an individual's professional life and the same individual's personal life. Applications of these concerns to "square-filling," "careerism," and attempts to separate off-duty behavior from one's public conduct in the military profession are easy to discern.
The story about the professions in America in recent years is not a proud one. In the wake of Watergate, there have been press stories almost daily about government officials, politicians, lawyers, judges, accountants, therapists, financiers, corporate executives. It is pretty clear now that, except for the attendant constitutional crisis of swollen power, Watergate was only the tip of the iceberg. The issues of corruption and of distorted values reach deeply into the daily arts and artifices by which we live. Lincoln Steffens, writing at the start of the century, focused his studies of corruption on "the shame of the cities." A Steffens writing today might take as his theme the shame of the professions.
Fundamentally, this topic raises the question of what kind of society we are. Every profession has its own history, its unique problems, its own forms of training, its own heroes and villains, its own way of policing itself (usually pretty inadequately). Each of them today
Reprinted from Saturday Review, Vol. 3: pp. 10-12, Nov. 1, 1975. © 1975 by Saturday Review magazine. Reprinted by permission.