- Historic Sites
The Unending Task
August 1963 | Volume 14, Issue 5
The point of all of which is that the development of this American Leviathan is a continuing process. The events of the 1860’s are interlocked with the events of the 1960’s; to understand one period is to understand the other. Hear Mr. Nichols:
“Is the republic in the throes of constructing, quite unconsciously perhaps, a new Leviathan, which no one has yet described? Is this a Leviathan of another sort, being designed by a people who are becoming preoccupied with such concepts as international insecurity, the welfare state, the new conservatism, social conformity, racial antagonism? In this period of mid-twentieth-century reconstruction it is well to remember that there are times in the history of men when they release force and accumulate energy that it seems beyond their intellectual power to control. Mankind today stands in all probability in such an age. Men have learned some of the secrets of genetic information, they have released the energy in the atom, they have created the atomic bomb and they are poised on the edge of space. It may well be questioned whether human intellectual power as at present developed is equal to the challenge. This does not mean that humanity does not have the intellectual potential; it does not mean that if society is to survive all concerned must work tirelessly to increase and mobilize it.
“A century ago Americans stood in a somewhat similar position. They had a vast continent largely unpossessed but very rich in unrealized resources and opportunities. They had new sources of power, new population and a new treasure. They had a neat but old-fashioned system of control. They had a newly released set of motions, driven wild by recently unbridled imaginations. This situation created a confusion almost certain to create conflict, which in Whitman’s phrase was ‘significant of a grand upheaval of ideas and reconstruction of many things on new bases.’ If people are truly to comprehend and account for the conflict of 1861-1865 and to apply their knowledge to the tasks of the twentieth century, they must do it in some such grand frame, summoning all they can of the available knowledge of why men behave as they do, as still a century later the process of adjusting Leviathan continues …
“The draftsmen who continue to work on the structure of the American Leviathan represent one of man’s most significant achievements. In seeking to solve such basic problems of human association as the prescription of government by the formulation of constitutions and statutes, they carry the ideal of rational thought to one of its highest culminations. By substituting writing for fighting, they have overcome one of the most destructive of human urges and have established the fact that the control of impulses dangerous to human welfare by scientific thought is possible. Such a capacity is one of the greatest achievements of the human race. May it always be cherished and perfected.”