This episode is from the WNYC archives. It may contain language which is no longer politically or socially appropriate.
5th of the season. WNYC announcer introduces program.
Van Doren introduces Highet, who talks about his book, "Man's Unconquerable Mind," and other broad aspects of history and American culture.
Van Doren introduces Clarke, who talks about his book "Prelude to Space" and America's interest in space travel, the space race.
Van Doren introduces Davis, who talks about both previous speakers.
WNYC announcer closes the program.
Audio courtesy of the NYC Municipal Archives WNYC Collection
WNYC archives id: 71199
Municipal archives id: LT7298
This is a machine-generated transcript. Text is unformatted and may contain errors.
We bring you the fifth of this season's book and author luncheons transcribed earlier this afternoon at the Grand Ballroom of the Hotel Astor Times Square New York City these affairs a mainstay of the city's cultural life are co-sponsored on a nonprofit basis by the New York Herald Tribune and the American Booksellers Association among our distinguished speakers today are Elmer Davis Gilbert Hyatt and Arthur C. Clarke here now is a reader Vandoren literary editor of The New York Herald Tribune and mistress of ceremonies of these books and author luncheon Miss Van Doren first. Just today our first speaker is your book title. Some of you may have been here four years ago I think it was a boy years ago when Gilbert higher positively electrified this audience I have talked on the traffic of tradition as it is preserved in the world around us in our art our politics our top story does your special gift to be able to make knowledge exciting and relevant to our lives this gift is better known to you today probably than it was him but since that time has become the chief book critic for Harper's magazine and I'm quick to Heroes has been heard once a week in a series of radio talks on literature these talks sponsored by Oxford University Press and we're going on a small New York station have attracted a wider and wider audience so that now they go out over W Q X our network in New York and New England and I heard through the C.B.S. C.B.C. in Canada and through local stations in Chicago Washington Los Angeles Seattle no avail and other cities. Born in Scotland and educated at Glasgow and Oxford universities Mr Hyatt came to New York when he was only thirty one for a one year visit to Columbia University at the end of that year Columbia apparently like Mr hiring is to Hired like Columbia with the result that he accepted the university's invitation to become professor of Greek and Latin and with the exception of the years spent in world work of various sorts he has been at Columbia ever since in addition to his book on the classical tradition he has written a trench and lively discussion of the art of teaching and has collected some of his radio talks into a little book called people places and books man's unconquerable mind the present book is Mr Hiatt contribution to the celebration of Columbia's two hundredth anniversary in it he asks and suggest answers to such questions as what limitations are there to the development of the human mind is any censorship justifiable but does Education me he points out that it is the thinking mind that carries man both to evil and to good that all history is the process of learning that knowledge is power and power and tell us responsibility and he brilliantly describes the fate of the Western University in the short discourse with which with its eloquence its deep sincerity there is a constant awareness of the urgent March of the mind throughout the ages I'm happy to introduce to you its author himself a stimulating example of the unaccountable mind till the time I. Mrs Van Dorn ladies and gentlemen it's always an honor to be your guest and after such a kind welcome it's also a pleasure I've been thinking for a long time now about history what is it. There are lots of definitions many epigrams many broad attempts to delimit it's often hard to find. In a sense history is all we experience and think. The Herald Tribune whose guests we are is in fact engaged in writing history every day it attempts to select the important events which will prove to have been important in twenty years one hundred years or two hundred. Yet it's terribly hard to tell what are the important events that is what it actually makes history what is worth putting down sometimes I see my colleagues who are in the field wondering a little for lonely through the library stacks looking at the mountains of facts which are accumulating in the moment or two since I rubes here another million facts and some of them have to be chosen for records and in the moment since I started that sentence another million and another million which are the facts which matter which the facts that make history. Well it's awfully hard to say but to begin with history appears to be. About the relations between groups of people. Individuals coming toward only insofar as the affect the relations between groups suppose you're writing history of the United States for instance you would begin by leap the great event with which the group who were to call themselves Americans broke loose from the other group which represented the British Empire then I suppose you would describe that particular group calling themselves Americans as they spread over the continent and came into contact with other groups contacts of different kinds their contact with the Red Indians their contact with the African negroes and then the eruption and appearance of other groups still the immigrants from Europe and someone from the Far East observe you would if you were writing such a history you wouldn't treat them merely as events affecting individuals you would describe the sand coming over as a family we would describe Lutheran Swedes Irish Catholics Polish Jews southern Italian. Protestant scotch and so forth it would be a story would it not of the interaction of groups of people then if you continued this trip you would sketch the developing relations off the group called Americans with other groups in this continent the Canadians the Mexicans the Central Americans in the south and I am now the most recent fish about history is the American groups involvement with others all over the world with whom to begin with it had no contact whatever with South Africans with Indians in India with Pakistanis and so forth suppose you agree so far ladies and gentlemen supposed history is a story of the relations between groups now what kind of relations. The usual answer when I was taught history it was always relations involving power that is the history One read of the of medieval Europe was always about the battles between various nations the battles between dynasties to gain power the struggle between the pope and the Holy Roman Empire and so forth these were power relationships Well I suppose we attempt to define history only as power relationships between groups does that cover it all you know it doesn't it isn't gentleman it doesn't stall for instance the events of our lifetime have been marked off for us very clearly by two enormous power struggles over and a third still continuing within the life most of us we have seen two enormous wars both of them called World Wars both of them essentially power struggles these have changed history they've changed all our lives and the lives of all the inhabitants of the planet but other changes have ensued other changes transformations of happened which have apparently nothing to do with the past travelled all for instance within the last forty years the literacy rate has gone up all over the world the infant mortality rate is going down new transport routes have been opened up all over the world the world's output of mechanical energy is increasing enormously and. In fact civilization is altering in another positive direction not to be understood simply through the struggle for power between groups there must be some other kind of history as well historian say yes there is another kind this is a kind of relationship between groups which is definable in terms of wealth what matters they say is how one group extracts well from another how it exploits how one class exploits another class how to groups exchange goods and services and so forth. True that's the actually the work of the economic historians and you will agree it's absolutely vital also and yet and yet is that enough we know as soon as we ask the question that that also is not it's only an idiot such as a Marxist who would think that their whole explanation of history was economic many of the greatest events in our in our own history and in human affairs can not be explained without the grievous distortion by economic terms alone the crusades for example the career of Napoleon the career of Mr Lincoln the creator of Mr Jefferson all these things cannot be explained even largely in economic terms must be some other kind of is just a look and some other sort of relationship between groups well I suggest ladies and gentlemen that there is a third and that it is educational I suggest that we might understand a great deal of history by looking at groups of people as learners and teachers I believe that much of the most drastic and important change in our own public lives and in the history of the last two or three thousand years has been an educational and intellectual change not a power change and not a wealth change except in direct Let's take some examples. The most drastic example I can think of at present is one where a nation of thirty million people deliberately put itself to school and by doing so changed its own history and history of the world that was Japan in eight hundred sixty eight or say in the eight hundred sixty S. Japan had been sealed off from the rest of the world almost completely for many generations that is it had refused to learn anything from the rest of the world or to teach anything to the rest of the world and there had been no communication now you and I all know the tremendous effects of what is called the opening up of to Pat but what was that opening up that we imposed power on them not that chiefly nor did they on us at that time did we begin to extract wealth from them are to exchange goods and services with them yes but that wasn't the most important thing the most important thing was that they suddenly decided to learn from the all the rest of the world by a conscious policy in eight hundred sixty eight the emperor took an oath which was the beginning of a modern Japan is called the charter oath it ended with this extraordinary phrase imagine this as part of the constitution of a country this is the last phrase quote knowledge shall be sought for throughout the world. And that was the real meaning after bands opening up from then on they had no constitution no army no navy no money no calendar they had no. Debt they had no sciences except the most primitive kind and between eight hundred sixty eight and roughly eight hundred ninety they sent out dozens of missions to learn from the rest of the world and imported no less than five thousand teachers into Japan to teach them all these things they had no constitution they sent out a commission which toured the United States and Europe and came back with a constitution learned from the kingdom of the very they had no banker no money system quite soon found the disadvantage of that when the Westerners got in so they sent out another commission which came back with a model for the Bank of Japan from the from the bank of Belgium they learnt how to have a bank and a finance system the they had no army they had a collection of clams they sent over as you would expect to Germany and brought back a German military mission which created within a matter of ten years an army powerful enough to win a dangerous civil war they had no navy they sent mission over to Britain which at that time was the leading naval power and you know the subsequent effects of the Japanese navy they had no proper calendar they don't know the Chinese calendar they learnt that also from Western nations and so forth. That was you see ladies and gentlemen not really a political move not an economic move it was an intellectual and that changed history. If you wish to think how much it changed history ask yourself what would happen if other nations of the same approximate size and strategic position say Burma or Java or Egypt had determined as strongly to learn from Western nations. There are other examples of this the greatest example which touches me most of course is Rome the Romans found themselves almost by accident in the possession of enormous material power and wealth in the second century B.C. in not most empire of stop there and just continued to consume the wealth and enjoy the power which they had accumulated the Romans for some reason did not they went to the Greeks nearby and said we are stupid teach us we have no literature choice how to write books we have no arts help us to make art we know little about science tell us about that the Greeks are always willing of course always ready to hear or to tell some new thing charge and said Yes I was and from then on a new kind of civilization was created the sort of civilization on which you and I parted then because it was through the Romans that you and I got the marvelous and essential intellectual discoveries of the Greeks. Japan Rome and ourselves but that is our real relationship as a group to the Greeks and Romans ladies and gentlemen we are in fact their pupils our relationship to them is and should be consciously an intellectual relationship of teacher and pupil some examples who is the greatest living English poet it's Eliot and Eliot in his most notable poem pictured himself and said so in loudly picture themselves as the Greek Tyreese Yes What is the most famous of all recent novels James Joyce's Ulysses modeled on Houma in which Joyce pictures themselves as the son after them a few deceased himself who is the greatest English playwright Six-Pack and Shakespeare have made his career on imitating and ultimately surpassing the tragedies of the Roman writer Seneca and drawing material from Plutarch's Lives of the Greeks and Romans. You may think that's only literature well remember when you visit Washington next that the center of the United States government is held in a Graeco-Roman building named after the governmental center of it's called the capital and the senior but it is called the Senate remember also that democracy did not exist for many centuries in Europe nor here until right remember also that the peculiar problem of our own democracy. But most powerfully on the founding fathers was how to keep it stable and level and they took as their model the idea of checks and balances the balance of powers we didn't invent that that was passed to the founding fathers by the French philosopher moved here I notice you got it from the Greek philosopher Libyans who got it from inspection and admiration of the Roman Republic and system in fact ladies and gentlemen a nation cannot grow without roots deep in the past these are just a few only a few examples of this strange phenomenon the movement of ideas through space and through time it's an odd phenomenon it haunts me one of the oddest things about it is the you can never be sure the ideas and the movement of ideas will be especially good it may be dangerous to take one of the simplest of all the radio radio sounds like an awfully good idea because it helps communication. And so it may be amo