All Commentary
Tuesday, June 1, 1965

The Flight from Reality: 9. The New Reality

Dr. Carson is Professor of American History at Grove City College, Pennsylvania. Among his earlier writings in THE FREEMAN were his series on The Fateful Turn and The American Tradition, both of which are now available as books. 

 [T]he characteristic mood of our own age [is] that the historical con­dition determines the human situation. Man’s existence is history; or “life and reality are history, and history alone,” as Croce said.

-Hans Meyerhoff, 1959

From the perspective of the post-Second World War era, the work of the generation of the 1890′s can be viewed as a “first attempt” at accommoda­tion to a “new conception of reality.”… In this process of concession and adaptation, the “activity of human consciousness” for the first time became of paramount importance.                                 —H. Stuart Hughes, ¹958

We invoked what we believed to be the three constitutive facts in the consciousness of Western man: knowledge of death, knowledge of freedom, knowledge of society…. The third revelation came to us through living in an industrial society…. It is the constitutive element in modern man’s consciousness.        -Karl Polanyi, 1944

It has been said that man is in­curably religious. It may be said with equal validity that man is in­curably metaphysical in his thought processes. The flight from reality of intellectuals commenced with the cutting loose of ideas from their foundations in an un­derlying order. This was an at­tempt to slough off metaphysics, for metaphysics is the philosophi­cal study which treats of the un­derlying order. In the course of time, it became (and still is) com­monplace in intellectual circles to denounce conceptions—any that happened not to be considered worthy of consideration—as be­ing “metaphysical.” In short, met­aphysics was laughed out of court; scorn and abuse were heaped upon this mode of thought.

Pragmatists boldly proclaimed a philosophy that was supposed to be shorn of metaphysical as­sumptions. They proposed to operate upon a basis of continuous experimentation to find successful methods within an ever shifting context. Rigorous adherence to pragmatism, however, would re­sult in some surprises for prag­matists. They would begin to dis­cover that there are regularities, that actions essentially the same will result in predictable conse­quences.

In brief, if the pragmatists ad­hered strictly to their method, they would begin to acquire knowl­edge. If they probed a bit deeper, they would discover that there are laws which account for these reg­ularities and predictabilities. At the point that they discovered and believed in laws and principles they would return most likely to a truly metaphysical outlook.

In general, this has not hap­pened. It certainly has not hap­pened among ameliorative reform­ers, and these generally like to think of themselves as pragmatic. The reason is not far to seek. At the time of the setting forth of pragmatism, thinkers were al­ready coming under the sway of a “new reality.” This new reality was based upon assumptions which served in lieu of and could be used in somewhat the same manner as metaphysics. This is not to say that the conceptions were indeed metaphysical. There is no need to corrupt the language by so denominating them. Rather, they served in this capacity; they rested upon conceptions of an un­derlying order. Explanations were made in terms of this “order.” Pragmatism became largely a phi­losophy to justify the expediency of men operating on the basis of the “new reality.”

Though the conceptions drawn from this new reality are used metaphysically, the fact is not generally recognized. Moreover, they are not subjected to rational examination. The decline of philos­ophy and the growth of irration­alism have made this state of af­fairs possible. Even ideologies in America have not usually been ex­plicit. In consequence, assump­tions have to be deduced from cas­ually thrown phrases and the fag ends of ideas which one encoun­ters. Still, the conceptions are there.

Three Basic Constituents: Change, Society, and Psyche

There are three basic constit­uents of the “new reality.” They are: change, society, and psyche. These are not separate realities but interrelated parts of a single reality. Historically, each of them, as a metaphysic-like entity, can be traced back to its origins in nineteenth century European thought. Change was “reafied” in the thought of Hegel, Marx, Spen­cer, and Darwin. Society was “thingified” by a line of thinkers that includes Burke, Comte, Marx, and Mosca. Psyche began to as­sume its modern proportions for Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Freud, Adler, and Jung. These ideas were picked up and extended by such Americans as Frederick Jackson Turner, James Harvey Robinson, William Graham Sumner, Charles A. Beard, Lester Frank Ward, John Dewey, William James, Thor-stein Veblen, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

The story of this transmigra­tion of ideas—of Americans traveling to Europe, of their be­coming enamored particularly with German thought, of the visits of European scholars in America, of the founding of schools in America based upon European ideas—is much too extended and complex even to be summarized here. Suf­fice it to say that such events oc­curred, and that American think­ers frequently followed paths very similar to their European counter­parts. As a result of this inter­change, American intellectuals embraced and expounded a “new reality.”

Three sorts of explanations can be made from the vantage point of this new reality: historical, so­ciological, and psychological.

Three specialized intellectual “dis­ciplines” were developed in the nineteenth and twentieth centur­ies to make these explanations: history, sociology, and psychology.

History a Tool for Change

Of course, history was not new to the nineteenth century. It had been consciously written since the time of Herodotus in ancient Greece, and had in fact been writ­ten and told long before that. Stu­dents had studied and learned it through the ages—but not as a separate “discipline.” Prior to sometime in the nineteenth cen­tury, students learned history as a kind of bonus from the study of literature or “grammar,” and men read and wrote it as the spirit moved them to do so. There was no distinct profession which had history in its keeping or was re­sponsible for it. In the course of the nineteenth century, the study and writing of history was spe­cialized and professionalized. And, as we have seen, in the early twentieth century the older his­tory was defamed and a New His­tory advanced. History was cut loose from its foundation in an enduring order and turned into an instrument for reshaping the so­ciety for the future.

There was no problem of re­making sociology. There had been no such study or discipline for traditional scholarship. It was only developed after some think­ers began to believe in the reality of society. Its founding is usually ascribed to Auguste Comte, but it can be traced through a host of thinkers in its development. At any rate, sociology became the “discipline” to deal with society.

Psychology was a traditional study; it was a branch of phi­losophy historically. It has already been noted that the house of phi­losophy fell apart in the wake of the labors of Hume and Kant. Even so, psychology had to be wrested from the hands of phi­losophers who tried to cling to it before it could be “independent.” The assault was upon introspec­tive psychology (which was, in turn, innate psychology), and the effort was to make psychology sci­entific, or so its proponents claimed. The New Psychology was shaped by Wilhelm Wundt, Sig­mund Freud, William James, John B. Watson, and others. Many dif­ferent schools of psychology e­merged, but they all shared a com­mon faith in the New Psychology.

The initial effort, then, was to make history, sociology, and psy­chology separate intellectual dis­ciplines, to get them recognized as a part of the curriculum of edu­cation, and, usually, to get them recognized as sciences in their own right. But in the twentieth century there has been a consider­able movement to “integrate” these studies. Those who want this have probably had their greatest success in the public schools, where, in some instances, they have been merged into social studies courses. But where they have retained some separation, as is usual, a great deal of “integra­tion” has taken place. For ex­ample, sociological and psychologi­cal explanations now pervade much of the writing of history. There is a kind of inherent logic to this movement to merge these studies. If they could be joined, a New Philosophy might emerge to deal with the “new reality.” Actually, of course, this New Phi­losophy has already emerged and is used to make explanations of developments. Such explanations are, of course, historical, sociologi­cal, and psychological.

All Social Science Affected

It may be objected at this point that history, sociology, and psy­chology do not deal with the whole of reality for contemporary intel­lectuals, even if they are supposed to deal with part of it. There are, after all, a great many other stud­ies and approaches to learning. The above named do not even in­clude all of the “social sciences.” What of economics, of political science, of anthropology? It is in order to point out that these have been historicized, sociologized, and psychologized, if one may employ somewhat facetiously a barbar­ized language. Note that this is precisely what Thorstein Veblen did to economics. My impression is that European economists regu­larly write in a way that we would call sociological. The critic may observe that the economic tail often wags the sociological dog in practice. This is only a surface observation, however, for econom­ics is first permeated with socio­logical assumptions. Economic de­terminism, for example, is a so­ciological or psychological, not an economic, idea. As for political science, it is usually filled to over­flowing with the above ideas. An­thropology is largely the result of the application of historical, so­ciological, and psychological meth­ods to the study of primitive so­cieties.

That group of studies known as the humanities may be disposed of quickly. Language has come to be thought of increasingly as an “instrument of communication.” Literature is not only arranged chronologically but quite often taught historically. Philosophy, deprived of its content (except the history of philosophy and a few esoteric subjects such as ethics and esthetics) has tended to wither on the vine. My main point, however, is that the humanities—or rather, those who teach and speak for them—do not speak authoritatively of any reality other than the historical, socio­logical, and psychological.

But surely, it may be argued, contemporary thinkers believe that the material realm, that realm with which the sciences are supposed to deal, is real. It is fre­quently asserted, by those who dis­agree with them, that reformist intellectuals are materialists. Nothing can be more readily dem­onstrated than their perpetual con­cern with material things, with better housing, with better diets, with higher standards of living, and so on. Yet these things are not real, in the sense we have been employing the word, to reformists. The natural world has no endur­ing form which would make it real. It is something brute, to be made over according to human will. The sciences are instruments to this end.


Actually, the sciences have not been subdued as yet to this new conception of reality. The speciali­zation that has occurred there plus the complex techniques now em­ployed, make them largely terra incognita to nonscientists. The “social sciences” were born out of a desire to make the study of social phenomena scientific. Prag­matism was a more general ap­plication of an abstracted scien­tific method. The respect for the Sciences (personified) has con­tinued, but there has been much talk of bringing them under con­trol. But the sciences, too, have been largely severed from their philosophical roots; and since they are restricted to the world of na­ture, they pose no real threat to the “new reality.” If and when reformist intellectuals achieve so­cial controls, they are, of course, in control of scientists, too.

The sciences have played a duel role within the framework of the “new reality.” In the first place, they are instruments for reshap­ing the physical environment to the needs and purposes of man. Second, they provided the method which was to be used for reshap­ing society and man. Lester Frank Ward, the American catalyst for so many of these ideas, stated the matter bluntly:

… We saw in the last chapter that most individual achievement had been due to invention and scien­tific discovery in the domain of the physical forces. The parallel con­sists in the fact that social achieve­ment consists in invention and dis­covery in the domain of the social forces….

If we carefully analyze an inven­tion we shall find that it consists first in recognizing a property or force and secondly in making mate­rial adjustments calculated to cause that property or force to act in the manner desired by the inventor…. Now the desires and wants of men constitute the forces of society, com­plicated, as they are in the higher stages, by the directive agent in all its manifold aspects. Social inven­tion consists in making such adjust­ments as will induce men to act in the manner most advantageous to society.’

The story of the deactivation and instrumentation of the sci­ences deserves a separate chapter, or book. It was one of the most momentous developments of the modern era. Unfortunately, it must be reduced here to a few sentences. The sciences were once conceived as a method for getting truth about the universe, truth which provided a key to the pur­pose of God for man.² So conceived and employed, they provided much information about an underlying order in the universe. Techniques were instruments, within this framework, for the discovery of truth.

But in the course of the nine­teenth century, intellectuals (and everybody else, I suspect) began to confuse science with tech­nology. When science came to be identified with technology, it had been “instrumented”; its truths became important as they were renderable into techniques. By the middle of the twentieth cen­tury, there was much voiced con­cern about the need for a revival of “pure” research. The justifica­tion was that this would lead to the discovery of laws which would, in turn, be renderable into tech­niques for technological purposes. In short, the sciences had become the handmaidens of technology.

The point of this discussion needs to be spelled out so that misunderstanding will be avoided, if that is possible. Nothing said is intended to disparage technol­ogy or to deny the connection be­tween the sciences and technology. (Benjamin Franklin felicitously demonstrated the connection be­tween science and technology around 200 years ago. He reasoned that lightning is electricity. He performed his famous kite ex­periment to prove his hypothesis. Since lightning is electricity, since electricity is a natural phenom­enon, it behaves in predictable ways. In consequence of these con­clusions, he made the technologi­cal application—e., invented the lightning rod.) My point is that when the scientist became identi­fied with technology, he ceased largely to speak authoritatively about the nature of the universe and, instead, provided means for manipulating things within it. He ceased to provide information about an enduring reality, or rather, he no longer made avail­able information which was un­derstood in this way. The treat­ment of reality was left to the proponents of the “new reality.”

Instruments of Reform

Not only were the sciences “in­strumented,” then, but also they provided the method by which so­cial reform was to be undertaken. Lester Frank Ward was enamored of the analogy between the social and the physical, and he treated the analogy as if it were a one-to-one relationship. “The sociolo­gist,” he said, “who really believes there is such a science has a right to claim that all the social forces may be utilized as the physical ones have been. He classes those who maintain the contrary along with those who once believed that the thunders were only engines of destruction, the winds powers of evil, and the gases demoniacal spirits.”³

Ward’s is the underlying pre­conception of contemporary amel­iorative reform. It should be noted that several strange equa­tions were made: science with technology, the physical with the social, things with people. Ward saw nothing untoward, at that point, in recommending that peo­ple be manipulated according to the prescriptions of sociologists, in the same manner as physical scientists prescribe the manipula­tion of things. Neither has many another reformer.

The Personification of History

Before examining further the import of the “new reality,” how­ever, it is in order to give some demonstrations to substantiate the assertion that these conceptions of change, society, and psyche are used in a metaphysic-like man­ner. What does it mean to treat change as if it were real? It means to treat it as if it were an entity, a being with properties, attributes, and characteristics. Actually, this has frequently been done with change by personifying (thingi­fying, reafying, anthropomorphi­cizing) it as History.

Let us take a simple and not very significant example first. One often hears some such statement as this: History will decide whether so and so was a great President or not. This is palpable nonsense. There is no such being as History to render any such de­cision. It may be objected that I am taking a figure of speech liter­ally, that those who make such statements really mean that his­torians will decide whether or not someone was a great man. If this latter were indeed the meaning to be attached to the initial state­ment, it would make sense, but it would be in error. historians do not assemble in a great parliament to render the final verdict upon the characters of the past (for which oversight we should all be grate­ful). If they were to do so, they would only be playing at being gods. Those who have insufficient knowledge about such matters may suppose that historians come to a consensus about important figures of the past. This is not really the case. Vigorous contro­versies still go on about figures in the most distant past. In short, there is no reality which conforms to the view that History reaches final decisions.

But there is much reason to suspect that this usage is derived from a much more serious per­sonifying of history. The usage to which I refer is the treatment of history as force or as a vehicle for a number of forces. The con­ception involved is that the past shapes the future, that the past contains trends, movements, developmental directions which act as forces upon the present and the future. These forces are thought of as acting ineluctably and in­evitably to bring about certain developments.

The most famous of such theses was that of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, but the idea in­forms all reformist thought in the contemporary era. Progressiv­ism is deeply embued with the idea of history as a progressive force. It becomes apparent in such notions as the following: you can’t turn back the clock; the latest is the best; it is necessary to adjust to changing times. Such words and phrases as the following, when they are used to refer to ideas, draw their sustenance from this view of history: reac­tionary, backlash, neanderthal, anachronistic, and so on.

Sir Isaiah Berlin says, “The notion that history obeys laws, whether natural or supernatural, that every event of human life is an element in a necessary pattern has deep metaphysical origins.”4 The matter goes deeper than this, however. When history is dealt with as a being, it has itself be­come metaphysic-like. It has been made into a constituent part of un­derlying reality. If anyone objects that the word “history” is only being employed as a metaphor, he should be ready to explain why we can’t turn back the clock then. Surely, no metaphor would prevent it, or could cause all that has oc­curred. Whether History only stands for the forces or is itself the force is largely irrelevant. The forces themselves are treated by those who think in this way as metaphysic-like beings.

Is Society Real?

The second ingredient of the “new reality” is society. The be­lief in the reality of society was a precondition to the development of sociology, no doubt, and a con­tinuing assumption of those who pursue the study. At any rate, that is the way it was and generally has been. But before going further with this analysis some distinc­tions should be made. There are social phenomena. Such phenom­ena include institutions, customs, traditions, folkways, habits, be­havior patterns, and so on. More­over, it may be descriptively use­ful to refer to those who share a preponderance of these as living in a society.

The development with which I wish to deal hinges, philosophical­ly, upon whether society is a phenomenon or a noumenon. Or, somewhat more familiar lan­guage may be used in describing the basis upon which a distinction might be made: Is society an ap­pearance or is it real? Is the word “society” a convenient designation for certain phenomena or does it refer to a real being in its own right? Do social phenomena stem from society or do they stem from people? Are individuals real or are they products (extensions) of society?

An Organic Whole

The above questions may make the development to be described clearer than it would otherwise be. My point is that thinkers began to treat society as if it were real. This does not mean that they explicitly treated it as a being distinct from those who were supposed to com­pose it. Lester Frank Ward said, “Society is simply a compound organism whose acts exhibit the resultant of all the individual forces which its members exert.” Yet he went on to say, “These acts, whether individual or collective, obey fixed laws. Objectively viewed, society is a natural object, present­ing a variety of complicated move­ments produced by a particular class of natural forces.”5 But, one may ask, whence come these laws? Do they come from individuals? Strictly speaking, this would have to mean that individuals create laws. This could not be, for such would not be laws.

Actually, Ward’s confusion arose from the contradictory premises upon which he was oper­ating. On the one hand he treated society as if it were real, spoke of social laws and forces, and worked to develop a sociology that would describe these laws of society.6 On the other, he wanted men to take over the direction of society and control the forces to desirable ends. For example, “The social forces only need to be investigated as the rest have been, in order to discover ways in which their utili­ty can be demonstrated. Here is a vast field of true scientific ex­ploitation as yet untracked…. To just what extent the present evil tendencies of society may be turned to good, under the man­agement of truly enlightened legis­lation, it is impossible to predict.”7 What does social force refer to, if not to men? And if they are forces acting upon men, how can men act upon and direct them?

Ward’s thought lies athwart the path of two different modes of thought—the deterministic and melioristic—at the point of di­vergence. It was filled with the conclusions of nineteenth century deterministic thought—the talk of forces, progressive laws, social evolution—which were the intel­lectual currency of the time. He suggested the idea that mentality had evolved to the point that men could consciously guide further evolution. But his position was philosophically vague and intern­ally contradictory.8 These contra­dictions have gone into reformist thought, for explanations have continued to be made in terms of social forces; whereas, reformers have exhorted their followers to conscious reformist efforts. Ward was the fount of this confusion.

Society was real to Ward, as it was to John Dewey, and as it has been to a host of other reformers. They speak of society as if it had a distinct being and use the word “social” as derived from it in this sense. The following usages by Ward, taken from the second vol­ume of Dynamic Sociology, will illustrate the point. He refers to “social forces” (p. 161), “social progress” (p. 161), “social ad­vancement” (p. 163), “the life of a society” (p. 163), “state of society” (p. 165), “protection of society” (p. 214), “social growth” (p. 224), “will of society” (p. 230), “servant of society” (p. 242), “Society, possessed for the first time of a completely integrated consciousness” (p. 249), “agencies of society” (p. 250), “duty of society” (p. 251), “duties of so­ciety toward itself” (p. 467), “how to bring society to consciousness” (p. 467), “members of society” (p. 544), “superficiality of soclety” (p. 552), “the exclusive work of society” (p. 571), “the welfare of society” (p. 583), “responsible solely to society” (p. 589), “better for society” (p. 591) “society” as having “burden on its shoulders” (p. 595), and a “sphere prescribed by society” (p. 617). If phrase­ology be accepted as a good indi­cation of underlying assumptions, and it should be, there should be no doubt that Lester Frank Ward believed in the reality of society. John Dewey followed a similar pattern in his language. The fol­lowing instances are taken from his Problems of Men.9 He refers to “socially necessary” (p. 32), “social control” (p. 35), “mem­bers of our society” (p. 37), “so­cially helpful” (p. 49), “social forces” (p. 52), “society” as “de­prived of what they might contrib­ute” (p. 61), “the interests and activities of a society” (p. 62), “social enterprise” (p. 76), “so­cial pressure” (p. 85), “social breakdown” (p. 90), “social au­thority” (p. 94), “socially justi­fied” (p. 101), “benefit to society” (p. 102), “social vacuum” (p. 104), “society… itself” (p. 131), “so­cial power” (p. 132), “social knowledge” (p. 179), “social ma­terials” (p. 180) “society” as “suf­fering” (p. 182), and “socially au­thorized” (p. 185). These are, of course, metaphysic-like usages. Such usage derives most of its meaning from the conception of society as an organism, which be­came common after the presenta­tion of Darwinian evolution.

The Emphasis on Feelings

The third ingredient in the “new reality” was the psyche. More specifically, it was psychic phenomena thingified, made into positive active forces. Lester Frank Ward referred constantly to social forces. One may well won­der where these forces come from. They are operative in society, ac­cording to him, but they do not come from society. Instead, they arise from within men. Ward put it this way: “The motive of all ac­tion is feeling. All great move­ments in history are preceded and accompanied by strong feelings.”¹º Again, “Feeling alone can drive on the social train, whether for weal or woe.”¹¹ Moreover, “Egoism is the feeling which de­mands for self an increase of en­joyment and diminution of discom­fort. Altruism is… a kind of feel­ing which results from the con­templation of suffering in others….”¹²

Ward indicates in the following that feeling is his fundamental conception:

The root-idea to which I will here confine myself is the true supremacy which must be accorded in any just system of philosophy to the feelings as the real end toward which all ef­forts designed to secure the advance­ment of society must be directed. Al­though it is upon the intellect that we can alone rely to secure such a control of the social forces as shall successfully harmonize them with human advantage, it is feeling that must be alone consulted in deter­mining what constitutes such advan­tage. Every true system must regard intellect as the means and feeling as the end of all its operations….

The practical work which soci­ology demands is, when reduced to its lowest terms, the organization of feeling. The human body is a reser­voir of feeling which, when wholly unobstructed, is all pleasurable.¹³

The concentration upon the psy­chological has led in many direc­tions in the twentieth century. Some have followed Ward’s lead in emphasizing the primacy of feeling. Need and desire have been virtually deified as realities by some writers. Others have focused upon motive as the most important area for knowledge and in terms of which to make explanations. Professional psychoanalysts have focused attention upon removing the obstructions to free expression and action. The arts and educa­tion fell under the spell of “self-expression.” Many people came to believe that intention was more important than action.

Taken together, change, society, and the psyche provided a new conception of reality. The psyche provided the impetus, or force, so­ciety the framework within which and upon which the force was ex­erted, and history the plane upon which movement took place. This attributes greater clarity to these ideas than they have, however. By the early twentieth century, Amer­ican thinkers were sloughing off the framework of natural (or so­cial) law within which Ward cast his thought. They continued to use concepts, such as environmental­ism, drawn from this framework but quite often without avowing it. The theoretical framework be­came much vaguer than it had been, even though this might not appear possible.

Most American reformist intel­lectuals have adopted a pragmatic stance, disavowed conscious the­ory, and ostensibly acted in terms of each situation as it arose. They have not really done this, and it is doubtful whether anyone could. They have, instead, acted on the basis of assumptions and ideolo­gies. Both of these are founded, insofar as they are founded, in the “new reality.” Men who have no theory, metaphysics, or principles generally act upon the basis of the fag ends of those they picked up unawares.

Constantly Changing

The most important feature of this new reality is that it is con­stantly changing. Change is em­bedded in it as one of its con­stituents. The other constituents change, too. Few things can be more readily demonstrated than that social structures are greatly altered during the passage of time. As for the psyche, it is the root or origin of important changes, ac­cording to the above formulation. It is a force for change. There was an article of faith that re­formers brought to the new con­ception of reality, namely, that it is changeable. The point of Ward’s work was to establish the proposi­tion that social change can be con­sciously directed, that it can be planned.

He asserted it over and over again, from a great variety of angles. He called the conscious planning of social action meliorism. “Now, meliorism,” Ward said, “is a dynamic principle. It implies the improvement of the social condition through cold cal­culation…. It is not content merely to alleviate present suffer­ing, it aims to create conditions under which no suffering can ex­ist. It is ready even to sacrifice temporary enjoyment for greater future enjoyment—the pleasure of a few for that of the mass.”¹4 He proposed that this should be ac­complished by legislation. “Legis­lation (I use the term in its most general sense) is nothing else but social invention. It is an effort so to control the forces of a state as to secure the greatest benefits to its people.”¹5 He admits that gov­ernments have usually made a mess in most of their interventions in society. But this has been oc­casioned, he declares, by the ig­norance of those who made the laws heretofore. The science of sociology will change all this.

Before progressive legislation can become a success, every legislature must become, as it were, a polytech­nic school, a laboratory of philo­sophical research into the laws of society and of human nature. No leg­islator is qualified to propose or vote on measures designed to affect the destinies of millions of social units until he masters all that is known of the science of society. Every true legislator must be a sociologist….¹6

The means by which the changes in society should be brought about, according to Ward, were social in­vention and collectivization. So­cial invention will be devoted to discovering ways of exercising so­cial pressure by legislation for the good of society. “Social invention consists in making such adjust­ments as will induce men to act in the manner most advantageous to society.”¹7 He did not hold with prohibitions and punishments as a rule. These things restrict the liberty of some of the people. “But the contention is that only the most obdurate offenders require to have their liberty restricted, since they, too, have wants, and the social inventor should devise means by which such wants shall be spontaneously satisfied through wholly innocuous or even socially beneficial action.”¹8

These actions were to be taken by the collective action of the pop­ulace (whatever such ideas may mean). The great collective prob­lem, Ward thought, was of the proper distribution of goods. “This is an exclusively social problem and can only be solved by so­cial action. It is to-day the most important of all social problems, because its complete solution would accomplish nothing less than the abolition of poverty and want from society.””

The “new reality,” then, was the metaphysic-like foundation for social reform. It was, to speak metaphorically, the space station built by intellectuals on their flight from reality from which to launch their reformist experi­ments upon the earth.

The next article in this series will treat of “The New Creativity.”

Foot Notes

¹ Lester F. Ward, Pure Sociology (New York: Macmillan, 1909, 2nd edi­tion), pp. 568-69. Italics mine.

2 See Edwin A. Burtt, The Meta­physical Foundations of Modern Physi­cal Science (Garden City: Doubleday, an Anchor Book, 1954), passim.

3 Lester F. Ward, Dynamic Sociology, I (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1920, 2 volumes), 43.

4 Isaiah Berlin, Historical Inevitability (London: Oxford University Press, 1954), p. 13.

5 Ward, Dynamic Sociology, I, 35.

6 See ibid., pp. 1-2.

7 Ibid., p. 43.

8 Note his embroilment in the contra­dictions. “Although every act must in strict science be recognized as the re­sultant of all the forces, internal and external, acting upon the agent, still it remains true that achievement is the work of individuals thus acting… ” (Ward, Pure Sociology, p. 41.) With about as much sense, one may say: The spokes only turn when the wheel turns; still it is the spokes turning.


9 New York: Philosophical Library, 1946.

¹º Ward, Dynamic Sociology, I, 11.

¹¹ Ibid., p. 12.

¹2 Ibid., p. 14.

¹3 Ibid., pp. 67-68.

¹4 Ibid., II, 468.

15 Ibid., I, 36.

16 Ibid., p. 37.

17 Ward, Pure Sociology, p. 569.

18 Ibid., p. 570.

19 Ibid., p. 571.

  • Clarence Carson (1926-2003) was a historian who taught at Eaton College, Grove City College, and Hillsdale College. His primary publication venue was the Foundation for Economic Education. Among his many works is the six-volume A Basic History of the United States.