restricted access Views and Reviews [I]
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[ 249 Views and Reviews [I] The New English Weekly, 7 (6 June 1935) 151-52 I propose to use the occasional liberty of this page, which the Editor has allowed me, for random comments on my current reading, whether of new books or old ones.1 If I sometimes commit the error of discussing a book reviewed elsewhere in the paper, I shall excuse myself in advance, on the ground that comment of this kind differs from reviewing proper – in that the book itself is primarily a point of departure for the commentator’s reflexions. It may be treated irrelevantly and irreverently, without the reviewer’s solemn responsibilities; and the reader of these comments may know as little about the book at the end as he knew at the beginning. My choice, furthermore, may be governed largely by chance, and by a momentary curiosity in one rather than another of the numerous books in bright new jackets with which I come into brief contact. The one subject which I am certain not to bring up is that of contemporary poetry. My reason for looking with some curiosity at A Short Introduction to the History of Human Stupidity, by Walter B. Pitkin, a book of 574 pages, including bibliography and index, was that I had come across the work of Professor Pitkin in 1912.2 The Six Realists whose co-operative work, The New Realism made a considerable stir in the philosophical departments of American universities in that year – and I was then in the philosophical department of an American university – were animated by a missionary zeal against the Hegelian Idealism which was the orthodox doctrine of the philosophical departments of American universities at the time, and which had begun to turn manifestly mouldy.3 This Idealism was an inheritance from the times in which philosophy was generally taught by retired nonconformist ministers, the better qualified of whom had passed some years in German universities, and who accepted the Ethics of Kant and the Mysticism of Schleiermacher. It is handled with tender reverence and admirable restraint by George Santayana in his essay on “The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy.”4 The Six Realists were un-Teutonised, and on the whole anti-religious, which was refreshing; they were ascetically , even gloomily, scientific; and they professed considerable respect for Mr. Bertrand Russell and his Cambridge friends. All this was to the good; Essays, Reviews, Commentaries, and Public Letters: 1935 250 ] but it must be admitted that the New Realism, like most pre-War philosophies , seems now as demoded as ladies’ hats of the same period. In 1911, for instance, Professor Pitkin was writing like this (page 429 of The New Realism): Take the adaptation of the flatfish. We would be setting up a one-toone correspondence between the phenomenal and the noumenal orders, if we were to declare only that each discernible peculiarity in the flatfish’s adaptive reaction resulted from some peculiarity in its noumenal environment. Schematically, this relation would be: S 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 . . . . S1 a b c d e f g h i . . . . etc., etc. I felt strong grievance against Professor Pitkin and colleagues – including my good friend Professor Ralph Barton Perry – because it was necessary in order to pass examinations to acquire a good deal of this vocabulary, as well as the psychological vocabulary of Professor Münsterberg, which was a different , and still less tasty kettle of fish.5 But my own feelings, having mellowed with the years, I was interested to see whether Mr. Pitkin’s style had mellowed too; and am I glad to report that it has. In Human Stupidity he has a lively subject; and although the divisions of the book are headed with fearful words like Pseudopatheia and Psychagnoia, the writing is bright and readable.6 Readers of The New English Weekly hardly need reminding of the economic stupidities of mankind, or need to be told that “While the Texas cotton grower starves because his fields cannot feed him by reason of their abundance, the Hankow coolie goes naked” [1]; but Mr. Pitkin is concerned with any kind of stupidity, and he has anecdotes of all varieties, including a nice little collection of stupidities of all armies during the last war, and of the rulers of all countries at all times. But I am not so much concerned with Mr. Pitkin’s diagnosis, which is very convincing, as with his suggestions as to what is to be...