Date of this Version
University of Nebraska Studies, January 1951; NEW SERIES NO. 9
The essays in this volume are concerned with the culture of a period of profound change. They are intended to serve the practical purpose of estimating what is the present state of our culture, what are its potentialities, and what are the major obstacles to the achievement of a good life. They deal above all with the problem of the character and the enemies of our industrial culture, in the hope of counteracting pessimism caused by desire for immediate perfection.
We live in a period of such cultural diversity as man has never known. Within the past half century or less we have participated in the destruction of almost all the social organizations surviving from the Old Regime of the Eighteenth Century; we have seen develop and function the systems of Communism, Fascism and Nazism, together with numerous other authoritarian variants; we have grown acutely aware of the existence of primitive societies in Europe as well as elsewhere, of societies composed of almost self-dependent agricultural localities; we have experienced the unique process of industrialization and seen the elaboration of the social and institutional bases for a culture of freedom such as not even the Athens of Pericles could have imagined. Industrialism, two world wars, and a world economic depression have brought these cultures into such intimate contact that an understanding and evaluation of each type becomes not merely an intellectual exercise but a practical necessity. Supplementing the variety of cultures in the modern period has been the diversity of speed of action. Events have never proceeded at a faster tempo. The machine process, power politics and war and revolution have accelerated the rate of change to a degree to which so far man has been unable to adapt himself and remain in control of the course of events. Some parts of the transformation, like that of the establishment of the Bolshevik regime in Russia, escaped the influence of the overwhelming majority of society; before man was aware of the fact, a new and hostile culture had been founded. Man has acquired his habits of social behavior in the slow, even tempo of an agrarian culture. While crises did occur in that kind of society, they came at infrequent intervals and allowed much more time for adjustment than we have had at our disposal. One of the most startling facts about our age is the contrast between the social implication of the peaceful, steady, slow rate of change of a Victorian England and that of the furious rate of cultural crisis like the one of this century. We have to recognize the basic significance of rate of change in conditioning the character of a situation. There is such a thing as a cultural crisis, and it evokes qualities and types of action different from those of a peaceful period.