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[The Relationship between Politics and Metaphysics] is evidently the reading text of a second address to the Harvard Philosophical Club, given in spring 1914 when Eliot served as club president.

I have no learning in political economy, and with political theory as such the present paper has nothing to do. I am not concerned to advocate any particular theory of government. But the critic of human affairs may justly concern himself with the varieties of emotional attitude toward government and its forms; and when these attitudes pretend to a metaphysic, or claim affinities with some philosophy in vogue or out, he is brought face to face with a problem in which metaphysical competence is more pertinent than political; for the problem of the relation between metaphysics and political theory is itself a metaphysical problem. So the question I would lay before you is this: what need and what right has politics to a metaphysic; and when a political theory has such philosophical affiliations, of what sort is the relationship; is it logical or purely emotional? May the same generalisations lie at the basis of both structures?

This is a time of philosophies which lend themselves, or at least offer themselves, with great facility to emotional consequences. A time of what a pragmatist friend of mine has called lyric philosophies. James’s philosophical writings constitute an emotional attitude more than a body of dogma; 1 the neo-realistic movement appears to the uninitiated, at least, a spontaneous outburst of feeling, a song without words; 2 and we observe Mr. Bertrand Russell directing with passionate enthusiasm his unearthly ballet of bloodless alphabets. 3 Professor Bosanquet is the prophet who has put off his shoes and talks with the Absolute in a burning bush; 4 to Professor Royce we owe the resuscitation of Christianity by the method of last aid to the dead. 5 And the landscape is decorated with Bergsonians in various degrees of recovery from intellect.

The present, furthermore, is a time of lively agitation of political theory. Radicalism is become conventional. Socialism has settled down on Beacon Street; 6 but no radical is so radical as to be a conservative. Where are the conservatives? They have all gone into hiding. All the old ladies with cozy shares of telephone stock, all the clergymen of subsidised goodness–now socialists waiting not for the millennium, but for the minimum wage which shall abolish prostitution; all our millionaires are socialistic theorists who will dispose of their incomes–later–according to their own theories. And there are of course books and books with theories to account for the present misery–biological, sociological, economic–causes, and to hymn the coming liberation and the fundamental goodness of man. All this is natural enough. What interests me is not the uncritical character of this cerebration, but its uncritical attempt to be critical, its feeling of the need for law at the same that it denies law; its demand for a philosophy of the lawless, an intellectual justification for anti-intellectualism, a metaphysical justification of its blind enthusiasm. Whole theories of knowledge are directed into political platforms, and biological theory is diverted into ethics.

These thoughts have crystallised themselves around a volume which I have lately been reading by an able contemporary of my own, whom I regret not having known while in college. Mr. Walter Lippmann’s A Preface to Politicsis a notable contribution to the contemporary literature of social enthusiasm. 7 Mr. Lippmann is a student of philosophy and a keen critic of the present situation. He presents his book as a preface and not a programme; with much that he says I find myself in warm sympathy. It is a much better book than I was led to expect from the captious review in the Nation. 8 And because I liked the book and yet found it at last the symbol for philosophical and political chaos, I think it worthy of some detailed attention.

Mr. Lippmann is a pragmatist, and a social radical. He believes in change, and in adapting ourselves...

Published By:   Johns Hopkins University Press