Professor Hoxie and the Community
[A meeting in memory of Professor R. F. Hoxie, who had died in June, was held in Mandel on December 11. Speeches were given by Associate Professor Field on Professor Hoxie as an economist, by Associate Professor Linn on Professor Hoxie as a teacher, and by Professor Mead. That of Professor Mead is reprinted here -- ED.]
The student of Professor Hoxie's twenty-two year adventure in economic doctrine maps out a course beginning with classical theory, passing through many phases, many winds of doctrine, to his final study of Trades Unionism and Scientific Management. There was one constant characteristic of all his changes of theory and shifts of standpoint. They were always moving from what he considered irrelevant theory and description toward the living economic experiences which became the goal of his interest. Perhaps his earliest test of the genuineness of his economic doctrine was found in teaching. It was the pedagogic touch-stone. He was one of the pioneers in finding the materials of instruction in direct economic experiences, in attempting to make the economic problem a flesh and blood reality within the horizon of the student's own living. What he earlier undertook to accomplish for the student, with laborious effort he finally succeeded in doing for his own doctrine. To the student he said "The real problem method is taking some one vital thing and working it out as a problem, drawing into it, and giving substance and application to all your body of knowledge." For the application of his own thinking he found in the labor problem the supreme question whose successful statement was to be its ultimate test, "the storm center of the most universal and vital controversy in existence -- the struggle for a living." And this relation of theory to problem was one of methodology as well. The great undertaking of his social science was to state this living problem as it is, as the result of "the totality of impinging environmental conditions." The purpose of the science was to enable him to analyze the situation into its facts. He recognized that this was the most difficult undertaking, to realize them not as the illustrations of an economic theory, but as a complex of all the elements of custom, prejudice, unthinking interpretation, self and class assertion and struggle and purpose. It was to state this problem in elements that could be verified and must be accepted that economic science came to exist for him. Its function, for his enterprise, was to state the problem rather than to solve it, in the sense of an intellectual explanation. He did not deal with his problems in the historical manner. The solution of the questions with which he was dealing, if they were to be solved, was to be found in the action of the community when the community could comprehend and scientifically appraise the facts and their values. Of this solution he did not at bottom despair, but he felt, with a vividness that came from his own struggle to comprehend, how enormous was the undertaking, that of bringing our society to face and consider impartially, in a genuine scientific spirit, the data of the labor problem. His own attitude is revealed in a passage of a letter written last year about his own effort. "I began working in this labor field more than ten years ago: and even before then, when I was working in the field of theory, I could find little that had been done in a way that seemed to me scientific in the modern sense of social science, or to be very much worth while practically. I felt that there was need for a new set of ideals, a new approach, a new method of research, and a new method of teaching, and I set myself to try to work this new thing
(115) out, in connection with my University courses. It was a long, hard task. There was nothing particular to go upon. What had been written did not fit in, and was of little account. Every course had to be really a piece of research. There was a great deal of discouragement connected with it all . . . . Yet I am sure this new method is bound to prevail, and to have tremendously beneficial influence on all our academic and practical social work." His conception of the function of his science appears in the following quotation from one of his lectures at a point where he had been dealing with strikes.
"It is evident that we are to an extent still not advanced beyond a period of feudalism. We allow private warfare to the detriment of society. I want to define my position to you very briefly once more. I do believe that the public should take a hand in such matters; that this is an absolute necessity if we are ever to have this contests settled in the interest of social welfare, for fifteen years of first hand study have convinced me that mere fighting between employers and workers will never attain this end. I believe, however, if the public have any valid influence it must act not after the strike is on, but before, not passionately as partisans on one side or the other, but calmly with constructive foresight. Otherwise it renders the contest more bitter and gets no tangible result. I believe that to act wisely, it must have standards of judgment, rules of the game, constructive machinery, to apply to these contests, which can only be secured by a clear understanding of the social facts and forces, and the closest study of the groups concerned and the facts of their conditions and relations. I believe that this understanding and knowledge can be secured only by the closest first hand study in the field. I have consequently for fifteen years, devoted my main attention to this first-hand study in the field and I have made this fieldwork a special point for the labor classes. But experience has shown that a certain amount of preliminary orientation is necessary for an intelligent field study, otherwise students get into the same helter-skelter passionate attitude of some reformers. After this preliminary orientation, I believe that a main part of the work in labor classes should be first hand study of the groups and facts, the actual contact with men and things. It is all a matter of doing our work in a calm, orderly, large-minded, far-sighted, constructive and scientific manner."
All who have been at all familiar with Mr. Hoxie know how determinedly he gave himself this instruction, which he attempted to give to his classes and through them and his writings and investigations to the public. He was in immediate personal relations with the leaders of the labor movements and parties, and with many of the rank and file. He attended their conventions. He talked with them in patient questioning, and he listened as patiently. He came to know their attitudes and presuppositions as well as their pronouncements. He heard them at their gatherings and saw and questioned them in their strikes and party-warfare. He came nearer knowing and being able to respond to the minds of the class conscious and self conscious labor groups, than perhaps any man in the country, at least of those who have approached their problems with a scientific intent. And here again I may be permitted to repeat, that for Mr. Hoxie science was a method of understand all the pertinent facts of a problematic situation and formulating that problem. He was trying to understand and he was determined to omit nothing that would help him understand. He knew there was not fact that was an abstract economic fact, that all the indefinite number of conscious and subconscious and unconscious human influences that appear in human conduct must be comprehended if the economic prob-
(116)-lem was to be so realized that we can intelligently advance to its solution. Professor Hamilton in the current number of the Journal of Political Economy has stated that Mr. Hoxie was not a reformer. In the common acceptation of that word this is true. In a more profound sense it does not seem to me to be true. He came indeed with no recipe for the healing of social ills. He was in no sense a partisan in social struggles. He met and comprehended men on both sides as he could not if he had come with a parti pris. But his passionate determination to understand was born of no intellectual curiosity or academic ambition. It sprang from the profound belief that scientific comprehension is the indispenible precondition of intelligent solution of the problems of the social as well as the physical sciences, and his passion was for their solution, not merely for their understanding. Mr. Frey, editor of the International Moulders' Journal, in the same number of the Journal of Political Economy says that Mr. Hoxie had a marvellous psychological insight which enabled him to catch and understand the underlying motives of men, which escaped others. Such a power was due, in Mr. Hoxie as it is in others, to a sympathetic response to those whom he understood. It was because he felt the forces, the impulses, and the subconscious valuations that lay back of the outer conduct and speech of those in the struggle, that he could comprehend them. He had an emotional realization of the issues that were at stake. And as long as these are essential elements of the social problem, no man for whom these elements do not exist can scientifically state the problem, and they cannot exist for the man who does not feel them. That is, the man who does not bring an equipment of emotional response to the study of a social problem cannot get all that goes to make up that problem. Mr. Hoxie had that rare combination of intellectual acumen, scientific conscience, and emotional response which made him able to make his own, the problem of labor, that central problem of our industrial age. For companion figures we must turn to Sidney and Beatrice Webb in England. And perhaps he brought a more simple, direct and profound response to the human situation involved in our labor struggle than they have brought to the struggle in England. It may be due to this that he did not attain the facility and ease of expression that is theirs. He was continually going deeper to get the real facts. He was never satisfied with the formulations. He was almost overwhelmed with the infinite detail of inner and outer factors that go to make up the questions to be stated and answered. It is not a facile nor a happy endowment which attunes a man to such struggles. They do not take a profound hold of most of us. We are in them, but the are not our problems. It is an endowment that wears a man out and renders him prey to a nervous collapse. If Mr. Hoxie had been born with the equipment of the artist instead of that of the scientist, I think he would have presented this problem of our society as a poet, instead of as an economist. Beyond doubt he had the feeling for it which makes the stuff for great poetic production.
Those of us who have known his students know how great was the educative power which he exercised. One of them said the "Graduate students and Sophmores, the brilliant and the stupid, sooner or later felt the shock of his influence and were never quite the same as they had been before. It was the nearest to the real conversion that I have ever seen." To none who have been in his labor classes will the industrial problem be a mere partisan contest, instead of the vast effort of struggling human spirits, nor will economics be a dismal science that abstractly depicts what we dare not feel. We have lost from the University one of its great instructors who gave of
(117) himself freely to his students, who had much to give. And these are carrying to the world an insight and a comprehension of which it has great need. It is impossible to appraise the loss to the community of a man who had the gift of such tireless willingness to understand. He provided a medium in which could appear values that are apt to be suppressed or distorted by the complexes of our social consciousness. His emotional endowment under the control of his scientific conscience was a community asset. There were being wrought out in his uneasy and always dissatisfied spirit, the ideas and the symbols in which to express one group of the community to another where there have been and are only the no-thorough-fares of class concepts, and deep and often unrecognized group-hostilities. And the loss of the community is the greater, because it has as yet so imperfectly realized Hoxie's value.
George H. Mead.