Watchman, What of the Night?
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The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 1 Nov 1923, p. 280-295
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Tory, Henry Marshall, Speaker
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Speeches
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Two writers and their theories on race and civilization. The speaker’s asking of a question and his attempt to answer it; and in answering it giving us some reasons why he feels impelled to strike a more optimistic note than that struck by the writers to whom he has referred. The question posed is: “What is civilization?” What civilization is not, and a detailed discussion of what it is proceeds from this point. What would be involved in the destruction of civilization, if the speaker has taken a proper view of what civilization is. The power of the human spirit to assert itself, to face problems which life presents, and to find a solution for them. The speaker’s optimistic view; his belief that there is not the slightest sign that man’s power to produce wealth will not go on increasing. Wondering whether that will be a blessing. The suggestion that man’s power to use knowledge to his own advantage is on the increase. Asking another question: “viewing the world as we see it, is there any real reason to suppose that man is losing that moral stamina which is an absolutely necessary quality for the co-ordination of his intellectual efforts?" The speaker’s response to this question. Looking at history to respond to this question. Asking the question as to whether today we are taking the necessary steps to secure that continuous flow of intellectual men that are required for the development of our civilization, and whether we are doing it any better than it was done a generation ago, with response. The utmost importance that we should select the right kind of minds, prepare them for the higher spheres of life, and see that the channels of opportunity are open to all, from whatever walk of life they come. Optimistic confidence in our progress.
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1 Nov 1923
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English
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WATCHMAN, WHAT OF THE NIGHT? AN ADDRESS BY HENRY MARSHALL TORY, M.A., D.SC., LL.D., PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSITY OF ALBERTA Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto, November 1, 1923

PRESIDENT WILKINSON introduced the speaker, who was received with loud applause.

PRESIDENT TORY

Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen,--I assure you that I appreciate the invitation given me to speak to this Club. I confess that I had some anxiety in finding a suitable topic to discuss. I inferred that I might be expected to speak on something connected with scientific work in Canada, as I have just recently taken the responsibility of the Chairmanship of the Research Council. I am sure you will understand me when I say that I do not feel quite ready to begin a discussion of that very large subject. So I decided to risk your good will and discuss a matter of more general interest. Perhaps at some other time we can deal with the scientific subject.

The subject that I have taken, and the name that I have given to it, I fear suggest a sermon; but, in reality, it is not going to be a sermon.

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Doctor Tory was educated at McGill University (gold medallist) and Cambridge University, England. He was a member of the Executive Committee of the Universities Bureau, British Empire (1919-20), member of the American Commission for the Study of Agricultural Credit in Europe (1913), Colonial Director of Educational Services Canadian Overseas Forces (1917-19) and member of the Imperial Education Committee. He has been President of the University of Alberta since 1908 and is now chairman of the Committee for Research Work in Canada.

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CANON CODY: Never mind; it might be worse than that. (Laughter)

DR. TORY: The name given my subject is a passage from a very old book. It was suggested to me as the result of my reading recently the work of two very important publicists. One of these, a very distinguished Italian scholar, in a series of articles he has recently written, has been presenting a very pessimistic view of the future of civilization, and has raised the question whether it is possible for us, in an outlook upon the world, judging from past experience, to form a judgment as to whether we are drifting towards better things, or whether civilization has reached its zenith and is now beginning to decline. He takes, as an illustration of his reason for his pessimistic view, certain cases that have occurred in human history. In citing the events leading to the rise of the Roman Empire out of the old Roman Republic and to the fall of the Roman Empire some centuries later, he makes the statement--I am not giving you his exact words--that if we were to analyze today the conditions which led to the rise of the Roman Empire out of the Roman Republic, or that later brought about the fall of the Roman Empire, it would be impossible for us to determine in either instance the logical sequence of events or to predict what would happen.

The other author to whom I referred has recently published a book, which many of you have probably read, entitled, "The Revolt Against Civilization." In this book he lays down as a very definite thesis that there are in operation today in the world laws in relation to human progress over which humanity has no control, or appears to have no control; that unless these are recognized and our social and intellectual development brought into harmony with them, civilization will drift slowly but surely towards chaos. Among other things he states that modern psychology has definitely established that the law of personal inequality both as to the individual and the race is a fact of heredity, and whether we like it or not, the capacity to rise above that natural inheritance which the individual or the race may possess is not present. By this, I take it he means that the races as they are distributed, the inferior and the superior, are to remain permanently the superior and inferior, and that if we are to have progress, it must be by seeing that the superior peoples reproduce themselves in due proportion.

He declares further that a great growth of the lower elements in all civilized communities is everywhere going on. The higher stocks, from which the impulse towards civilization has always arisen, are being diminished in proportion to the sum total of the human race, and that unless something is done to impede or direct the operation of this law, we may look forward with certainty to the day when those who find modern civilization too complex, because of their incapacity to grapple with its problems or to understand its meaning, will be in possession of the world, and that a revolt will follow a's naturally as night follows day with resultant calamity. He says the way of salvation lies through the application of the law of eugenics to race propagation, especially as it applies to the least intelligent.

The first of these gentlemen suggests that the human intellect is so uncertain in its quality that in its operation upon any given set of circumstances, we are unable to determine what its action will be, so that, looking out upon the world today, we dare not venture to judge whether man is on the upward or downward grade. This is only another way of saying that the human family being such as it is, our intellectual appreciation of the problems of the world so uncertain, we cannot make sure that mankind will not form a wrong judgment in a critical moment and so start on the downward road.

The other suggests that the law of death 4s already on our tracks, and that the time is not far distant when in its logical operation mankind will cease to be civilized, and will be taking a downward step towards a worse state of affairs than today, so far as civilization is concerned.

Now, I hope you will pardon me if I have the presumption to say that in each of these cases there is a judgment based upon a wrong conception of what civilization is. (Applause) I think I would be justified in saying that any man looking at the case, say, of the rise of the Roman Empire out of the Roman Republic-and I ask the students of history whether or not they agree with me-that the real reason why out of the Roman Republic there arose the Roman Empire with its age of progress was because the same spirit, the fundamental ideas of life, that had their birth in the old Roman Republic found expression in a broader way in the Roman Empire. It was because the fundamental things of Roman life and character remained that ultimately the Empire coming out of the Republic opened up the stream of activity and power that lay dormant in the Roman mind and made possible great days of progress and prosperity.

I venture also to suggest that the fall of the Roman Empire was because external forces came in and destroyed the internal energy of the old Roman race. The peoples who broke up the old Roman world were totally ignorant of civilizing ideals. Their civilization was only beginning. The long period of the Dark Ages is the time record of their evolution to what we in the modern world call civilization.

I said a moment ago that such ideas were based on a wrong conception of civilization. I venture, therefore, to ask a question and to try to answer it; and in answering it I will give you some reasons why I feel impelled to strike a more optimistic note than that struck by the writers to whom I have referred. What is civilization? That is rather a difficult question to answer. Permit me first to say two things that it is not; this will help us to avoid some confusion of thought. It is not the social structure. The social structure is merely a manifestation of civilization, and is not civilization itself. It is not a system of law merely. A system of laws may indicate that the people who originate them have a certain conception of the way civilization should be worked out, but in itself it is not civilization. I hope I am not giving too abstract a definition when I say that civilization is the state, at any moment, of the totality of man's reaction against nature and himself. It is measured by his mastery over nature, and by the development of his powers to use effectively the forces of nature, and the power to conserve that knowledge for the use of future generations. (Applause) In the effort to secure the mastery over nature and to make permanent what man acquires, social structures and systems of laws arise, but these things are mere manifestations of what civilization is; they are not a definition of civilization.

Allow me to put this in another way: to become civilized is to enter into the appreciation of nature and nature's processes; to record, and leave for future use the record of that appreciation; to achieve the power progressively to interpret our growing contact with and understanding of nature and ourselves. I admit that it is an exceedingly difficult thing to define civilization in a short paragraph, but I have tried to condense in that definition what will be comprehensive of these things that we see around us and that we are accustomed to view as part of the progress of civilization.

Take our traditions. We of the Anglo-Saxon race have very powerful racial traditions. We prize them, and we are here today because we prize them. We keep alive great organizations for the promotion of the ideals connected with them. These traditions are part of the totality of that inheritance of experience which has been handed down to us by our fathers; and in so far as we have an appreciation of their significance we are entering into a realization of the civilization of which they are a part.

Then, take our literature. We might define it as a part of the record of our reaction against the world-the reaction of the mentality of our thinking men against the world and against human nature. The same is true of art; while our science is the result of the contact of the human intellect with nature organized around us, operating under laws which we are trying to discover. Man's mastery over nature as expressed in the laws of nature which he uses, is the measure of man's right to call himself civilized.

When you compare ancient and modern civilizations, a thing so frequently done, you will find how completely they differ. To begin with, the ancients had no amount of accumulated experience upon which to base their conceptions of life. They were in the initial stages; they were at the beginnings of things. They were at such a stage that it was almost impossible for more than one empire, more than one civilized community, to live in the world without of necessity subjecting all others to its control. So we find in the ancient world, one after another, great Empires rising and falling, each one adding something to human experience of the world upon which others might draw. Ultimately the Roman world entered, to a very large extent, into the result of that accumulated experience.

Then the knowledge which ancients had as compared with ourselves was exceedingly simple, and what knowledge they had was guarded from the many and made advantageous only to the few. When we think of the old Roman World or the old Grecian World, and speak of the democracies of that period, we are very apt to forget that nine-tenths of the people of those great Empires were slaves. When you read Demosthenes speaking of the people's rights in language that fits well into the movements of modern time, remember he is speaking only for ten per cent., the few at the top, the annihilation of whom meant the annihilation of civilization. Whenever the power of those small groups at the top was broken, there was no great background of knowledge on the part of humanity as a whole, out of which the new civilization could spring. (Applause)

Then there was no stable government based upon public opinion. Institutions rose on the strength of individuals. Now, whatever we have to say, however we may feel about modern democracy, and however anxious we may be with respect to it, the fact remains that it has built for itself a political conscience which makes stability possible. This was largely wanting in the ancient world. Civilization rested too much on the individual who rose because of his own qualities or who inherited his position. There was wanting a great public opinion of world significance as a foundation for civilization to rest upon.

Further, the accumulated knowledge that they had in that day was as nothing compared with ours. The basis of our modern progress rests on the growth of knowledge. The civilization of today rests on the accumulated experience of knowledge that has come to us since the passage of the Dark Ages--in the last thousand years. And this knowledge today is in full view; it is wide-spread; it is made use of by all; it is used in the interests of all; so that the passing of a man out of the public life of our country today, be he great scholar or great statesman, means nothing as compared with the passing of great men in past ages. It is possible for the weak today to succeed the strong without danger to the state, because our civilization, our government, and our laws rest on a mass of accumulated knowledge, which controls and gives stability to public opinion.

Now, I ask you what would be involved in the destruction of civilization, if I have taken a proper view of what civilization is? Well, in the first place it would mean the destruction of our traditions. Lenin and Trotsky saw the significance of that. One of the very first things done by the Revolutionary Government in Russia, was to destroy, if possible, the traditions on which the life of the old Russian Nation had been built. They did it in two or three ways. They did it by closing the churches, by breaking men from their faith; they did it by destroying that great body of men representing the intelligence of Russia, putting them absolutely out of the way, and removing the ancient leaders in order that the influence of the old traditions might become dormant and ultimately die out of Russia. That they have not succeeded indicates the impossibility of the task, because if there was one country in the world where tradition might have been destroyed it was Russia. Ninety-five percent of the Russian people were illiterate, and the small group at the top had the Government in their hands. But even at that the revolutionaries found it impossible to destroy the civilization of Russia in the sense that they destroyed its traditions, and today they are falling back on the old traditions of Russia in order to make sure of the position which they themselves occupy. (Applause)

Anybody who knows the significance of the tradition of life that has characterized peoples of the Western World, and which we ourselves have inherited as part of the common heritage, will agree with me that any effort to break clear of that tradition and start de novo as if no tradition had existed, is an impossible undertaking. (Applause) The man who conceives that a new civilization can spring up in that way has a wrong conception of that internal urge that has been driving men forward through the ages; a wrong conception of the power of the human mind in its grappling with the things in which it is interested. (Applause)

Not only would tradition have to be destroyed, but there would have to be a destruction of knowledge as well. Now, knowledge has become fairly broadcast in the world. We have learned to weigh the rights and wrongs of things pretty well. Of course there is a reactionary movement going on in our modern civilization that suggests that some knowledge is unwelcome. In some States of the Union legislatures have had put before them Bills for passing into Acts that would prevent the teaching of a certain kind of knowledge, saying it is not knowledge. This is really not a new thing. It has occurred repeatedly in human history, knowledge in conflict with tradition. In other words, the strength of tradition is so great in the minds of some men that they are trying to use tradition to destroy knowledge, and they say we must not use knowledge, that a thing that is contrary to tradition cannot be right. Well, Mr. Chairman, I suggest that after Mr. Bryan has passed away (laughter)-and others who are following the same line of thought have passed away, knowledge will still abide; men will still be seeking it with all their hearts, and its accumulation will make the civilization in which we live all the more secure.

Then again, the suggestions made by the distinguished publicists to whom I have referred-disr play an absolutely wrong conception of what I may call the power of the human spirit to assert itself, to face problems which life presents, and to find a solution for them. I am rather an optimist, especially optimistic, when I think of this phase of the subject. I recall to your minds what the last few hundred years has brought to us in the way of knowledge. I remind you that it is not long since we emerged out of the darkness of the Middle Ages, when the free spirit of the ancient world-the Greek and Roman World-once more found expression amongst men. Since that time man has demanded of the universe its whole story and will be content with nothing less. You would have thought he would have been content to work in the world in which he lived, and to say, "If I can master the things that are here, I will be satisfied." But the human spirit has not been satisfied. Out into the unknown it has gone; it has measured the distance of the stars: it is now calculating what the size of the universe is. By self-devised processes it has brought to our knowledge the content of the whole external universe which lies at distances so great from us that one is almost appalled in the contemplation of the distance. And do you tell me that the race of men that in a short period of time accomplished so much--and the last 100 years have seen more than the preceding 900--is likely to be deficient in that quality that will enable them to face the problems of life and find solutions for them? I cannot conceive of the state of mind, the pessimistic view of life, that leads a man to believe that we must face the future with the human intellect futile as it confronts the problems which we will have to face in the development of our civilization. (Applause) I ask you to look out upon the world today, and see if there is any indication that the human intellect is not sufficient to make provision for the needs of mankind as now organized. I am not going to discuss the war and the destruction that it has brought about. Without question that episode is one of the darkest in our civilization, in that man allowed his selfishness to so dominate him that he put to destructive uses that which his mind had mastered for his good. But I ask you if there is anything in the world today to show that the human mind is not still capable of grappling with and solving the problems of the needs of man. Let us inquire for a moment. Man's mastery over nature still goes on. We have done more in the last 75 years than in any preceding period nine times as long in the world's history. The memory of some present today will go back to the beginning of some of the great forward movements in science. When I was a student in the University some men then living had the great names in the world's history in the progress of science. (Applause) Look at what has happened since.

A few years ago I was looking for a professor for the University of Alberta to take up a certain department, the very title that I was giving him being only three years old so far as Canada was concerned. A new science had been brought into existence. In 1908 there were only two published papers in the scientific journals of the world on the subject that that man was going to teach. In 1914 there were 8,000 papers on that subject that had been published. People sometimes get the impression that University Professors have an easy time of it; short hours of teaching, and short terms of teaching as well. Well, I do not know how it is in the University of Toronto, but in the University of Alberta I expect every Professor to keep himself abreast of the movement of knowledge of the literature of the subject which he is teaching, and I know it is utterly impossible for him to do more than he is doing and keep abreast of the times. I know also that if I impose on him the burden of longer hours or longer terms I am weakening the fabric of the institution which I am building, because I will make him a mere teacher and not a man capable of keeping in contact with recent developments. (Applause) I merely mention this as an indication that there is not one sign, as I see it, that the human intellect is not still in a position to compete with nature in the process of man taking care of himself.

In my judgment there is not the slightest sign that man's power to produce wealth will not go on increasing. Sometimes I wonder whether that will be a blessing. If it results in developing in us greater selfishness, a greater love for the material things of life, it may be a curse instead of a blessing-I will refer to another phase of that in a moment-but I will say this, and make this prediction, that in the next twenty-five years the use of the knowledge now in possession of mankind, applied in the spheres of human activity, will add more to the wealth of the world than all we lost during the war, and as much as the last seventy-five years gave to us. I venture to suggest that if the Governments of the world were seized with the significance of the relation of industry and science and knowledge to man's material progress, we would not be going around among our friends begging for a little money to promote scientific research. (Hear, hear, and applause)

Then, in addition to my prediction of increase of wealth, I suggest that man's power to use knowledge to his own advantage is on the increase. It is a geometrical progression, not an arithmetical; it rolls up with the passing of the years, and everywhere man's mastery over nature is giving him possession of such secrets as enable him to use that knowledge to lighten his own burdens and to make life a more agreeable thing to him.

Let me ask another question--and here I am touching on very dangerous ground-viewing the world as we see it, is there any real reason to suppose that man is losing that moral stamina which is an absolutely necessary quality for the co-ordination of his intellectual efforts. That is a difficult question to answer. Some men say we are. Well, again I am rather inclined to deal with the matter in a very concrete way, for I have accustomed myself to look not so much in philosophy as in the practical aspects of life for evidence; and I say that if you can judge by what men endured during the war there is no loss of moral stamina. (Applause) I say, with some little knowledge of history, that never before in the history of the world would it have been possible for men to have stood up against the distresses that the great war brought upon them. I was an observer in France, and I always rejoice in the fact that I was honoured at least by being an observer. I saw men go into the battle line, and I saw them come out, and it will always remain a wonder in my mind how men stood up under the punishment on the great battlefields of Europe. If that is any indication, then the world is not losing its moral stamina, its power to endure for a moral ideal. For whatever dissatisfaction we may have with the outcome of the war, however much we may feel that we went in with an ideal and came out without one--at least we did not secure all for which we fought-the fact remains that so far as the Anglo-Saxon Nations were concerned, it was a moral impulse that sent us to the battlefield. (Applause) We can build up a scheme of mixed motives today as we look back-men's motives are always mixed--but it is still true, however, that when the British Government declared war, the great determining factor was an ideal. I speak of the impulse that lay in the minds of the mass of the people which permitted the Government to say, "A great dishonour has been done our name, and we go in and take our share." (Applause)

Then if you look at it from the point of view of service that men are seeking to render to one another, I do not see any indication that we are losing our grip. Let me give you a little illustration. When the war began there was a group of professors in Germany who had had great friendship with a group of men in England. When I first went to England, in 1917, I met an old friend in the University of Oxford, who told me this story. He said: "I got a letter shortly after the war directed from a friend in Germany who told me that the German army would come into England, and advised me to take my wife and family and go to America, because, he said, 'If we land in England we will carry destruction in our path."' I think some of us ought to remember that. (A voice--"Yes.") The rest of the story he did not tell me; it comes out of my own experience. I was in England at the great meeting of the University Congress of the British Empire in 1921, and I found out that this little group of Oxford professors had not only forgiven, but were digging their hands deep into their pockets and helping to support the very men that had written to them with threats of vengeance, and with assurances that friendship would not be permitted to stop the work of destruction. And I recall to you today that even among the younger people that applies. I listened to Sir Michael Sadler speaking out of his heart at that Conference on the question of supporting the student life of Europe, the perishing students of Central and Eastern Europe in enemy countries, and there were tears in his eyes-he was thinking it out on his feet--and this, in substance, is what he said: "I suppose, as human beings, we would be expected to hate them, but I cannot. They are in need; I am a Christian, and I regard it as a Christian duty that I shall do my part to relieve their suffering." .In that year England raised £130,000 among the young people of the Universities of England to help support students in enemy countries--men and women they had been fighting just a little time before. (Applause)

I ask you to put such acts as these against the pessimistic view, as to the real measure of the moral culture and the spiritual feeling that still lies in the minds of men as an actuating force.

Then I ask you to look abroad again. Was there ever a time in the world's history when men of wealth were feeling to a greater degree their stewardship than at the present? Sometimes we rail against men who make money-perhaps to a considerable extent because we ourselves do not possess it; but the fact remains that if you look out upon the world today you will find everywhere that that sense of stewardship prevails in spite of taxes, in spite of difficulties in the making of wealth. In the United States of America last year they doubled their private givings to the support of education and public institutions as compared with any other year in their history; and the men of heart in old Britain, with all their taxes are still giving magnificently for the support of charitable institutions. I give you these as indications of the mental and spiritual attitude of our time, and as showing in some degree the manner in which civilization is expressing itself. We may not appear to be what we were, but I suggest that there is every indication that in the soul of man, down below the superficial elements of life, there still remains that power, that internal urge, that made our British civilization what it is. (Applause) And it is there as a sure foundation upon which the future will be built; I am not worrying about its destruction at all.

Then I ask, are we today taking the necessary steps to secure that continuous flow of intellectual men that are required for the development of our civilization, and are we doing it any better than it was done a generation ago? I looked up the statistics of one or two American States, because they publish better statistics than we do, and I find that in the United States as a whole today there are in the High Schools ten boys and girls for every one of a generation ago, in proportion to population. (Applause) The same thing is going on in our colleges. There is a generous spirit abroad in regard to our processes for the selection of men to get intellectual advantages. In 1921 the President of the Board of Education in England said to a body of University men, "Under the new schemes which we have in England for the education of our youth, there is no longer anything to prevent all boys and girls who have proven their capacity to think, from going forward to a high school and if necessary to a University education." (Applause) The most elaborate provision has been made for selecting out from among the people here and there the bright lad or the bright girl of quality and to give them a chance to press forward. Therein to my mind lies the great hope of the future. It is of the utmost importance that we should select the right kind of minds, prepare them for the higher spheres of life, and see that the channels of opportunity are open to all, from whatever walk of life they come.

Now, I think you will agree with me that I have not struck a pessimistic note. I am a firm believer in human progress. We may change our forms of government some day; we may change some of our social structure, which is an expression of our civilization; but I am confident that there is not a single indication in the world today amongst civilized nations that justifies any man in saying other than that, step by step, we are making progress towards a higher end. (Loud and continued applause)

REV. DR. CODY expressed the thanks of the Club to Dr. Tory for his most interesting and powerful address.

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Watchman, What of the Night?


Two writers and their theories on race and civilization. The speaker’s asking of a question and his attempt to answer it; and in answering it giving us some reasons why he feels impelled to strike a more optimistic note than that struck by the writers to whom he has referred. The question posed is: “What is civilization?” What civilization is not, and a detailed discussion of what it is proceeds from this point. What would be involved in the destruction of civilization, if the speaker has taken a proper view of what civilization is. The power of the human spirit to assert itself, to face problems which life presents, and to find a solution for them. The speaker’s optimistic view; his belief that there is not the slightest sign that man’s power to produce wealth will not go on increasing. Wondering whether that will be a blessing. The suggestion that man’s power to use knowledge to his own advantage is on the increase. Asking another question: “viewing the world as we see it, is there any real reason to suppose that man is losing that moral stamina which is an absolutely necessary quality for the co-ordination of his intellectual efforts?" The speaker’s response to this question. Looking at history to respond to this question. Asking the question as to whether today we are taking the necessary steps to secure that continuous flow of intellectual men that are required for the development of our civilization, and whether we are doing it any better than it was done a generation ago, with response. The utmost importance that we should select the right kind of minds, prepare them for the higher spheres of life, and see that the channels of opportunity are open to all, from whatever walk of life they come. Optimistic confidence in our progress.