Honey Mixed With Aloes

By John Hertz: (some of this appeared in No Direction Home 8-9) As a Philosophy major I’d liked Will Durant’s 1926 Story of Philosophy. I might have read his magnum opus, The Story of Civilization, had he called it The Story of a Civilization; what a difference an a makes.

Its eleven volumes are Our Oriental Heritage (1935), The Life of Greece (1939), Caesar and Christ (1944), The Age of Faith (1950), The Renaissance (1953), The Reformation (1957); The Age of Reason Begins (1961), The Age of Louis XIV (1963), The Age of Voltaire (1965), Rousseau and Revolution (1967), The Age of Napoleon (1975) — four million words, ten thousand pages.

He (1885-1981) was 28 when in 1913 he married his Ferrer School pupil Ida Kaufman (1898-1981). He nicknamed her “Ariel”, which stuck; she adopted it legally. She became his lifelong collaborator, helping with The Story of Philosophy and everything else; he got co-author credit for her at last beginning with Reason.

Philosophy sold two million copies in its first three years. For decades Will’s lectures drew hundreds, thousands, across the country. In 1977 the Durants were given the Medal of Freedom. On the dust jacket of their 1978 memoir, Will & Ariel Durant is an inch and a half high, A Dual Autobiography half an inch. I recommend it.

Bernard Baruch, Bernard Berenson, Charlie Chaplin, Maurice Maeterlinck, H.L. Mencken, Will Rogers were Durant fans; so were university presidents; Richard Simon and Max Schuster were the Durants’ publishers, fans, and friends.

The Durant strengths are synthesis, fluency, address to the general reader. Underrating these has hurt philosophy. You know I applaud these strengths. From the titles of Civilization you can see, and the really very fine Autobiography confirms, what I think its weakness. What’s this “begins”?

Will says (p. 402), “I … prefer a moral code independent of supernatural belief, but I am far from sure that our ingrained individualistic impulses of greed, hatred, pugnacity, and violence can be controlled without the inculcation of supernatural hopes and fears.”

Never mind that he seems not to know inculcate means grind in with the heel, or that he seems to think control means suppress. Or maybe we should mind.

To misquote Shakespeare, what’s religion to him, or he to religion?

My point is not, of course, whether he believes or disbelieves. For all his labors, which were huge and may have been great – and even his successes likewise – and his applause, which he has certainly earned – what story of civilization can he tell without at least waving his hat at this boat as it goes by?

What lesson is here for us in our labors, which may have to be huge and I hope may be great, toward diversity?

In April 1944 two men consulted him seeking “some constructive enterprise that could give their social ardor some work and wings. I proposed that they do something to mitigate racial and religious animosity in America…. a Declaration of Interdependence” (Autobiography pp. 236-37; emphasis in original).

On July 4th “eighteen thousand people — Catholics, Protestants, Jews, agnostics, Negroes, Mexican Americans — each with a copy of our Declaration in his hands” (p. 240) gathered at the Hollywood Bowl.

There was a “Jewish choir under the direction of Cantor Leib Glantz, [a] Catholic choir under Roger Wagner … [a] Protestant choir under Halsted McCormack, and [a] Negro choir directed by Lavinia Nash”.

Mayor Fletcher Bowron and Archbishop John Cantwell [alas, what a name for a prelate] were present; the Archbishop gave an invocation; United States Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy gave the principal address.

Will goes on, “I asked the audience to recite the Declaration with me, sentence by sentence, as a solemn pledge taken before a Justice of the Supreme Court. It was done…. Rabbi Magnin spoke eloquently … Señora Consuelo de Bonza for the Mexican community, Dr. Harold Kingsley for the blacks…. The four choirs united symbolically to sing ‘America the Beautiful’. Choirs and audience together sang a stanza” (pp. 240-241).

This was an achievement.

Edgar F. Magnin was the rabbi of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, the leading Reform Jewish synagogue in Los Angeles; Leib Glantz was Chief Cantor at Sinai Temple (Conservative [Reform Jews {as I am} often, Conservative Jews sometimes, use temple for their synagogues, Orthodox Jews reserving it for the two historical Temples in Jerusalem and the third to be built by the Messiah]).

They might not have, but if as I expect the choirs included women, that would have made attendance very difficult for Orthodox Jews.

If I agreed with such rules I might be Orthodox myself. But when and where does one disagree in the course of trying to be inclusive?

Later, Bishop Timothy Manning wrote (p. 252),

I have devoted much conscientious consideration to the separate points of the Declaration of Interdependence. What it says of race and color I can most heartily subscribe to.

The religious implications, however, are such that I cannot agree to them without compromising … [my ellipsis] my faith…. [Autobiography’s ellipsis] It would do no good service were we to create the impression that truth in religious matters is something relative…. [my ellipsis] we are bound by the law of charity to regard all our fellow men with brother-like love. However, the tenets implied in the Declaration are more basic.

The Declaration included a clause (p. 237) “That since no individual can express the whole truth, it is essential to treat with understanding and good will those whose views differ from our own”. Angels and ministers of grace defend us! What required the 2nd through 8th words?


Extra credit for anyone who recognizes the title from J. Blish, Doctor Mirabilis (1964).

Update 05/05/2019: Changed 9th to 8th per comment.

6 thoughts on “Honey Mixed With Aloes

  1. Will says (p. 402), “I … prefer a moral code independent of supernatural belief, but I am far from sure that our ingrained individualistic impulses of greed, hatred, pugnacity, and violence can be controlled without the inculcation of supernatural hopes and fears.”

    Never mind that he seems not to know inculcate means grind in with the heel, or that he seems to think control means suppress. Or maybe we should mind.

    I’m…not sure those are mistakes. “Grind in with the heel” seems like the exact definition he meant in context. He also may well have meant control, not suppress. A lot of people believe that greed, hatred, etc. can be used for good if properly controlled. I for one don’t believe that emotions can be suppressed, just sublimated.

    Angels and ministers of grace defend us! What required the 2nd through 9th words?

    First of all, it’s the second through eighth words; second of all, that clause is saying that tolerance is necessary because everybody is wrong about some things. Diversity gives perspective that homogeneity lacks. I understand the author may not agree that this is WHY diversity and tolerance are important, but I’m confused as to why this requires defense from angels and ministers of grace.

    This article seems like it has a lot of editorializing that isn’t fully explained. I’m pretty confused what the author’s point is (although I agree the A Story of a Civilization would have been a much better name for the book).

  2. “it’s the second through eighth words”

    So it should have begun “That truth, it is essential …”? Huh? What am I missing?

  3. I wonder if eighth is a typo or not? It works either way:

    “since no individual can express the whole truth”
    vs
    “since no individual can express the whole”

  4. John Hertz replies by carrier pigeon:

    I wish the Declaration had said “That it is essential to treat with understanding and good will those whose views differ from our own”, not “That since no individual can express the whole truth, it is essential –”.

    Treating others with understanding and good will is not based upon one’s own uncertainty or incompleteness, or one’s belief that everyone is necessarily uncertain or incomplete.

    If that were the basis, anyone who happened not to feel uncertain or incomplete could say “Well, I don’t have to.”

    We should treat other people with understanding and good will because they’re people.

    Bishop Manning in his letter calls this the law of charity.

  5. John Hertz adds by carrier pigeon:

    My point was, “What lesson is here for us in our labors, which may have to be huge and I hope may be great, toward diversity?”

    To U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, one of history’s great wise-guys, is attributed “There’s always all the freedom of speech in the world for everyone who agrees with me.”

    If diversity means “You have to include me” and not also “I have to include you”, it’s a bad joke.

    Will Durant, under the banner of interdependence, and indeed of understanding and good will, managed to exclude people whom it would appear he should have included. He does not appear to have excluded them on principle, but only – I use the word “only” with bitterness – by not looking and, I fear, not thinking.

    In a way we might be proud of ourselves if we did even a fraction of what he did.

    In another way, we had better improve upon him.

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