14. Twilight of Idols

Alma Mater/Spring 2014
Monday, March 10, 2014

13. Twilight of Idols

Opening decade of 20th C. – Universities had become significant institutions
Links to other major institutions – corporations [businessmen as trustees]

Government – legislative support for state universities/use of academics as
expert consultants/advisers [NMB and TR] – Edwin Seligman and FRSystem

Organized religion less sobut not at odds – Carnegie pension plan requiring
severance of religious affiliations to qualify…

Social reform movement – settlement houses for newly arrived immigrants; prison reform
Settlement houses closely linked with neighboring universities….Jane Addams

The press – active coverage of university activities by  favorably  disposed journalists
Walter Lippmann, Randolph Bourne,

Universities not politically/ideologically monolithic, but lots of consensus among faculty and students:
— decided preference for an educated governing class – unhappy with Wm. Jennings Bryan; TR OK;

1912 presidential election – three elite college graduates – WH Taft/Yale/Yale
Not 1828 – JQA v. AJ or 1988 with GBush sr. hiding his PBK key

— Favored  substituting non-partisan trained experts for political appointees or financial contributors  to local, state and federal positions of authority

— Open to women’s suffrage, but often with an accompanying literacy/educational requirement
Barnard students had their equal suffrage organizations, participated in the marches
CU faculty wives – Beard/Dewey….feminists of a sort….

— Not all university folks socialists but most were wary of corporate claims of doing right by their workers – some identify with labor movement/unions
but others look to more “scientific” ways of organizing the workplace – Henry Fordism/”Taylorism”
Barnard has its Socialist League

Where University community divided:
Race and immigration
Claims of AAs to full citizenship – W.E.B. DuBois and NAACP (Joel Spingarn) – vs. John w. Burgess
Immigration welcomers  vs. immigration restrictionists/eugenicists

Almost universally persuaded that war was no longer an instrument of statecraft – No major war in Europe since Waterloo – Skirmishes of the periphery – Crimea; America; S/American; Boer; Russo-Japanese…. Universities anti-militarist/pacifist

TR – The Strenuous Life
William James – “The Moral Equivalent of War” —  we will learn to make do without the physical challenges of combat…

The shock of August 1914 – some squabble in Serbia explodes into a war pitting the most advanced nations of the planet against each other – Britain and its Commonwealth /France/Russia vs. Germany/Austro-Hungary/Ottoman Empire
New instruments of war – submarines/aircraft /poison gas– but also age-old hand-to-hand combat along a trench stretching hundreds of miles ….
Gallipoli – 200,000
Somme – 1,000,000?

US position in 1914 – Not our war; no skin in it…no military to speak of …


”Neutral in word and deed” —  3000 miles away
Universities/Columbia  similarly persuaded – offsetting Anglophiles (Franklin Giddings; Beard)  and admirers of Germany  (Burgess/Boas)
TR unusual in his open preference for the Allies and his interventionism in 1915 – some CU trustees of a similar disposition – Marcellus Hartley Dodge – Remington Arms (“munitions manufacturer”)

NMB – very much a stay-outer early in the war
Plattsburgh Movement – 1915/prepare collegians for military service; NMB opposed it
Critical of TR’s war mongering….
1916 – Prospect of an Allied defeat/hardening of view about Germans
Treatment of Belgium; intermittent use of submarines on civilian ships (Lusitania)
Which side more likely as winner to advance civilization….

Another issue: Was neutrality a morally defensible posture?
Dewey starts chewing on this à might be better to enter to bring about a quicker end to war and to assure that the Axis powers not be in charge of the peace….
Applied pragmatist’s test/instrumentalist to the war – concluded that intervention was preferable to staying out…. Costs/benefits analysis – no absolutes allowed….
James – Can an intelligent person be a believer??
Dewey – Can a peace-loving person choose to fight??
Much of America – and the White House—moving there, too
Seligman/James Harvey Robinson/

Early 1917 — German renewal of submarine warfare; Wilson moves toward intervention; NMB on board with his trustees and most public sentiment
April – A divided Congress approves – along with punitive legislation making open opposition to the war a criminal offense.

June 6 – NMB to University – “what had been tolerated before became intolerable now. What had been wrongheaded now became sedition. What had been folly now became treason.”

May – Cattell – already under faculty investigation — to support of son and two other CU students – one a Barnard “bright but flighty girl” demonstrating against the draft

October 4, 1917 – Trustees terminate Cattell and one other faculty member (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana) for anti-war activities – looking to clean house/ do the same with others – Seligman/Carleton Hayes/Boas….

October 9 – Beard’s letter of resignation – this from an interventionist/younger faculty/favorite of NMB/had irritated Trustees by his reported remarks at a labor rally….

Campus reaction – revival of the anti-war campus —
Barnard – William P. Montague applauded Beard/Henry Mussey, economist, resigned….

The butcher’s bill:
Cattell — Fired
Dana — Fired
Beard – Resigned – the interwar’s most influential historian
Mussey – BC Resigned
James Harvey Robinson – Historian to New School of Social Research
Discontinued non-tenured appointees?

Dewey – redirects to TC
Boas – redirects to Barnard
Other Columbia faculty – redirect energies to the College…

Columbians actively in war – political analysis/propaganda/wartime research/peace preparations….
James T. Shotwell/Carleton Hayes

Faculty who stay on – Look to NMB to protect them from trustees….careful about whom they appoint
The winner in terms of power acquired – NMB

Long-term effect:
Randolph Bourne – “Twilight of Idols” – no longer able to take/seek guidance from his teachers, from their philosophical perspective – They and Pragmatism failed him in crisis….

“War and the Intellectuals” – cynical detachment becomes his generation’s response to the events of 1914-18
Died in 1918 – Influenza
Universities still important places but their leaders had for a generation lost their moral/ethical  ascendancy; their political agenda no longer commanded support of the young educated — ; distrust of an educated elite (pointy heads – Phd – “Piled high and deep”) and their presumptions – country better off listening  to Henry Ford, Warren G. Harding or Charles Lindbergh – UWisconsin drop out….
At Princeton – F. Scott Fitzgerald/Edmund Wilson à “totally apolitical”
At CU — Whittaker Chambers – His search for guidance takes him to Communism

Last updated: March 8, 2014


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