The Unfinished Business of a Democratic Society

February 05, 1951
 

Louis WirthA lecture at the University of Illinois by Louis Wirth, a sociologist at the University of Chicago, on February 5, 1951. The bulk of Wirth’s lecture is about social issues in the United States, but he frames his lecture in the context of U.S. interests abroad, specifically in relation to Russia and communism. He begins with the question, “ are the vital interests of the United States clearly threatened?” He argues that our interests and values should not be defined in relation to communist or Russian interests, and that the core needs and problems within U.S. society are deferred when we focus on vague threats of communism.

Wirth is concerned that we are not adequately addressing ongoing problems of housing, affordable medical care, employment, education, and civil rights, despite having the resources to do so. One question is the role of government, where he critiques the perspectives of some private, commercial interests who are critical of public subsidies but do not question government intervention in the banking industry. Another question is “how shall progress be made” and he identifies different avenues to address social problems. These include modifying people’s attitudes through education and recognizing the problems of race relations as rooted in tangible problems of employment, housing, education, and justice. Wirth argues that enacting legislation is the most effective and appropriate way in a democracy to change norms and work against prejudice, such as creating laws to deter prejudice in employment and housing.  He references current Congressional and state (Illinois) discussions about a Fair Employment Practices Bill and is skeptical that without such a bill, Congress could not in good faith ratify the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Wirth links U.S. interests in addressing domestic social problems to a global context by invoking Jacob Riis’s book, How the Other Half Lives, and asking us to consider how the other 90% of the word lives. He speaks of President Truman’s Point Four Program as the “most important moral equivalent of war.” He concludes that the U.S.’s moral authority to promote democratic values around the world is at stake when we fail to address our domestic social problems. He calls for his audience (speaking to individuals in higher education) to take action and not succumb to apathy and cynicism.

The question that we must ask ourselves as responsible people is are the vital interest of the United States really threatened?

Are the vital interests of the other power Constellation in the world led by Russia really threatened?

Is it really true that we must fight them on everything and that they must fight us

on every issue? Or could it possibly be ascertained whether there aren’t.

some vital interests of our that are not threatened by the Russians, 

and some vital interests up there that are not threatened by our.

So that we could proceed to compromise all of the non vital issues but hold fast on those that cannot be compromised.

without losing the values that we cherished most.

I do not believe that this has ever been tried.

Finding out what our vital interests are and what the Russian’s vital interests are. Surely we cannot say is that

The Dardanelle are right that we cannot compromise or that the you of the boy or his life of of what the Russians possibly say that our relationship say with her wife or the mower or some other Pacific island. Or our Latin American neighbors our vital interests that that.

I think a thoughtful examination of the situation in which we find ourselves the job of the Russian reveals that there are many points.

Ongoing which we can negotiate and compromise. Without undermining Ingredion of our way of life. And that they too can negotiate and compromise on many issues which will not undermine their particular.

Order.

You may say you can’t trust the right have we did right for a while and for the time being I was not who seriously abused.

They may say they cannot trust what they do rehab.

To that. What I am saying. What of course they have perks. Now today there.

It makes one suspect of being an appeaser. And I want to reaffirm here and now lest I be misunderstood that I would not appease the Russians on any vital interest of our.

And I don’t expect them to appease. Any vite of interest that they like what we have been arguing so far.

As far as I Newberger is not altogether a question of our rights.

Grizzly’s media who raised the question what are are and what our problems are that have been deferred and postponed and only part way next. So far getting that very. They are obviously the problem of an ongoing Qusai.

And the need that had been incorporated into our knitting in a close knit democratic world in which he had that hate has come do I translate it into apatite.

By all.

If it were merely needing the physical needs of man I think we probably could reduce our budget enormous.

It’s been estimated that most of us could live on a decent lucrative diet. For probably less than 25 cents a day.

But nobody would want to eat the stuff.

And certainly no one would want to come to the dinner table to have a ceremony about devouring.

Fat is not obviously what we want.

The kind of diet that is attractive that we have been led to believe is desirable.

That isn’t advertised as. Fascinating and that has made eating something of a player.

When the kids around the dinner table at home in my Grandfather day used to be pretty ravenous.

Used to say to us to us back in our appetites. We don’t need to eat. We eat to live.

Well I think what Fowler We all know is and it is this social definition of our name that counts.

Rather than the mere physiological and the mass.

Our needs are all those things which we have come to recognize as solve problem.

So it is with many other big. So it is with our medical care. And the general welfare.

What about the American people as a rule to live in some kind of shelter which is better than that of caveman people have lived in Haiti wrenches and a hot load and have survived. They didn’t have a housing problem.

Have a housing problem today when we know how to create out of a quality and the standard that we think is good for a man in our.

Form in advancing civilized nation inevitably expands the horizon of dissatisfaction.

And it is upon that dynamic. That our society has to grow and flourish. If that ever stopped you could close schools of journalism and your advertising agencies.

And a lot of other institutions that we now support to create the kind of discontent the kind of problem with Earth Man The rational or non-rationals.

Satisfaction.

And we look around the country.

What are some of the crucial grop for the time being we are still in the Hague where even the problems are still. In.

Fact.

In Name Only by an organized medical lobby that are raised under the most hire this guy we find ourselves confronted by an organization that is spending a lot of money.

One of the largest lobbies in the country is one of the most affluent for the purpose of.

You know short sighted I think and certainly unprofessional manners utterly unworthy of the profession.

Holding back.

An arrangement for the improvement of health of the medical care of the American food all along which of the Chinese and that progress is necessary to realize.

Our resources to the utmost to prevent the contained and crippling of life.

And POWELL-LUNDER order.

And. No one can make what I think.

It will last as long. As the people of the Faith will not understand what is going on about.

There is no question about the fact.

That perhaps our medical care is better today than it was 10 years ago or 50 years ago and 100 years ago and that perhaps the poorest individual had better medical care at that is not the point. Point is that the great potentiality.

Of science. And the advances in medical technology is not restricted to.

You all in accordance with the possibilities and the thinking of our ear we have.

An effort.

Me in a cumbering sort of way.

We eradicate the slums of our great city in the countryside walk by short sighted people.

Who own them that they can sell it for.

To think that any governmental intervention in housing is bad.

The most promising.

Of the development in this world because they do not understand what they are about when I tell my friends in the real estate business that they’re cutting their own throat. They say they simply stop this green card probably up to the.

And then when I point out to them that if it weren’t for the public subsidies they would all be out of business.

They’re on in my city in Chicago.

I have seen all know would go up in the last 10 years which was not in one way or another publicly subsidized publicly subsidized through governmental loan insurance loan and the building and loan associations in various ways.

And many other goods like. That are too remote.

There wouldn’t have been any housing at all private or public. If it had not been for the various forms of government intervention.

Yet the very same people in there who fail to see that they are blocking the next great advantage.

In the improvement of their manner and level of light.

And are in no way crippling that very private enterprise that they feel is correct.

They are crippling here because if all of the various forms of government or aid were wrong there wouldn’t be anything going on in the private what would happen.

Imagine if we suddenly canceled all the deposit insurance and we’re taking that.

If we cancel all the insurance of been building and loan the till they enjoy it. Well that is Saidy.

If we to give the kind of road with now make it possible for a man with the investment of $100000 or less. To undertake a project worth a million dollars.

Obviously enterprise would be completely powered a lot.

We have arrived at a point nowadays.

Where some people feel that government often take all of the risk.

And often turn over the profit to a private entrepreneur their only justification for creating profit is that we’ve got some.

This I’m speaking in an area surrounded by farm. I might say that the same problem homes in the agricultural field with.

And I’m not against agriculture although I think they could be rationalized.

And made more consistent. That is some national problem that they now.

Where every problem that we face whether it be a housing or medical care we find an organized group within our own society.

So again pressure the mobile and often in our road do with private and rational manner. Will block the effort across.

What is true in the case of health. Housing is a fort he went.

So we don’t all sectors in the field of education the whole British equalization of opportunity in education on the part of all of our people and we’re developing the maximum of his happening.

Frustrated not so much by organized opposition to educate the pro-creation but to minors for within the country.

Speculating the tying up of the problem of education literally in the face of our threat of the separation of church and state.

Yet it is a fact.

That this vision within our society at the present moment being rational nationwide program that would have many benefits for all reframing it through of course that the well.

I think we ought to be if we look at the problem in the light of our resources and in the light of our possibilities that unless they are met.

And met promptly. In the domestic field we will be losing one. Of the great magnet.

Draws people elsewhere in the world.

Who an appreciation of them of a free society and the semi-free economy.

But it never really free not from the very beginning answers to the people of other lands is certainly not the problem.

Not really.

I think is very Your But there are some people in the country organized and organized who are trying to do something about it. The only honest answer is that we can.

Anything else would be a fraud and would do the here is an area of life where we have more progress made in the next few years than we have in all the other areas that I have been.

The question is how get out of that problem.

He may in some areas in the provinces who progresses and like it has come in many parts of the south it has come in the armed service.

I agree that it’s come in the Navy and the airport though it is coming low and reluctance to step.

It is coming in the administration have got it coming into higher education.

You’re coming and have come earlier in the field of welfare and not being helped as much to bring it about as the decade of the Depression when the programs.

Were started under federal are really ready for weigh in with an effect that prop one way you modify people to oh I’m not sanguine about that profi because immediately people will tell you this is the task of educating.

And since I’m supposed to be in that field and most of the prior professionally I say I can’t wait for the to the landing as I did were paid to educate people to the point where they would be with our personal prejudices of race color.

So while I’m willing to do my share although I had my doubts about the ethical issues I’m willing to say that is a key being added to people as far as you can bring them back. And by enlightening them and control them then another way that people forget if you see person ever.

They assume that the people who are responsible for the perpetuation of agree ideas are certain pathological people are for two types of personality.

And so they would go about changing the personality.

They would say Hitler was a pathological personality or a mortal enemy was that or they may say golly they are a Jerold OK Smith is that or the Father Coughlin say well I can’t quite that he’s.

Not that I don’t think some of these people are pathological but to Hitler at a certain point in his career after having been given a decent job.

What if he had been able to lead a romantic life of tranquility and satisfaction.

If he had lived in a stable community that offered opportunities an outlet for his restlessness and energy.

I would not be in a position or would anybody else to predict what might come up.

And the same thing is true of every walk. And the point is any way you do it is due to certain kinds of personality which I cannot lose. Then what is the answer.

Well I’ve tried to say where he answered.

In that case would be the turn of half of the population into a psychiatrist. The other half and correct their pathological traits.

And to parody is quite brazen Marshall under those circumstances. The greatest difficulty would be for a good five said psychiatry.

I know that God would come about in our life.

Then there is a third way of dealing with the problem.

And the third way is to modify the situation in which people find themselves after all the problems of race relations and minority problems five and fail. They happen to involve people of different racial and cultural groups.

They are problems of employment promising medical care education welfare and all the things in life that make up our round of fixes.

And if we change the situation in any one of them for the better.

We also accumulated a change in either direction or. So it is in the direction of changing the average two to the core perhaps the pathological personality. But primarily in changing the way. Finally for and that is to change the norm that you.

Live with really by that I mean well when you set up certain standards which we are prepared to accept and to follow and incorporate them into laws and arm our what I’m calling for here is a program.

Which is the most characteristic way of dealing with problems in a democracy program of legislators.

And let me not being understood here when I think about legislation I do not move or say that you can pass a law to abolish prejudice.

I do not entertain such a poorly we do not deal with prejudice or find all we do not deal with private opinion. By law we deal with action by law. We deal particularly with public action.

By law.

It wouldn’t do us any good to pass a law stating that all men shall be gentlemen for a child together.

Some of them no doubt are but we can pass a law and say that when an ice man sells 50 pounds of ice. We will not accept 45000 he.

And if he tries to put it over on I will call the police and put him in the dock.

We can do and Ron is one of the important major earthquake a democratic society can set standards which are the minimum standard for all.

We are however imply he knocked him out of that.

If he is. Injured we have gained from legislating. Their employment practices measures make in those days where it has been adopted and there are about 12 of them has done something to prevent and deal with cases of discrimination in employment have similar things in the field of education.

We are state with one of the pioneers in that.

And as far as I know nobody either the public or the private institute regrets the fact that as a matter of fact the private institutions and I happened to be on the staff of the commission at that time is that we are the private institutions that where we would be willing to do work individually.

The other.

And they with clamoring for a law which would make them all I would do it at the same time and the same thing applies to department stores and to banks and to insurance companies and to everything else when we have arrived at a point where something is important enough for us to insist that it become a minimum standard to with all of us sit here then draw is one natural and.

Appropriate way to exceed that in the Democratic and we have now come to a point where in the world at large we may do the act.

At least if we take our preliminary commitment to various.

Glide through a doctrine which a great many people make areas of get.

And that is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in which we have participated in voting in the General Assembly and in formulating it here the committee that proposed.

When that Universal Declaration of Human Rights comes up for adoption in a covenant by the Senate of the United States.

I expect at least as much difficulty as I’m doing in the Senate treatment of the proposed fair employment practices.

If we cannot get a fair employment practices bill passed by Congress there isn’t a ghost of a kind.

That the Congress can adopt the human rights secularizing of if we were to go back on that.

We would trade the best hope of mankind in the generations to come.

That is why I feel that the passage of laws that their employment practices is wrong in the States as well as in the making.

And thirdly we can’t get it in the nation in as many state that we can get it including Illinois which if we did it now twice is an absolute prerequisite for being able to face the world with it.

Where is your.

I say the proposal will not cause any. And they will gain both economically and they will make out that you’re in a world of growth and we’ll make our profession of a democratic order the more genuine people will now that.

You might ask.

Today and other people at a generation ago as one of our predecessors in the field of act when you wrote how the other half lives.

We might ask ourselves how the other 95 percent of the world or at least 90 percent of them were.

Perhaps if unemployment is real.

And particularly unemployment of people who are college graduate high school graduates are technically competent.

There may be no better way to solve that problem this time than to embark upon the work program of bringing you all 100 percent of the people of the world approximately 2 million of them as many of the advantages.

As we now enjoy.

We would not rest in. Our standard of living we would not lower our own level of life by doing so. You would be implying that talent and the third class of skills which you can share with. Without meaning your own benefit.

The point for a program. Is perhaps they.

Are sifting through their representatives in the United Nations for out earners.

So the most important moral equivalence for war.

And the sooner it is implemented the more genuine it will be on the part of people who may be working.

What we have in mind when there is talk of in here is.

That we stand for the elevation of mankind to the highest level possible under the direct line of world resources.

But aside from all of the things that you see there is something more that we need to do more than anything else.

The mythically as well as in the rest of the world and to insist that others do as well. And that is not to put other people around.

And not to act like when we see others pushing them around particularly from a community that it has the advantages of higher education in larger numbers than any other people in the world.

We need to keep our head. We need to resist hysteria to resist diverging into futile chants. Of our energy into.

Yeah. We need to remember that war means the failure of reason and might mean the end of our liberties of our civilization.

And when it comes to the solution of issues and where we stand let’s not first ask for the Communists. Where do they stand. And let’s not make up our minds where we stand.

Until after we have heard of her let’s not before something because the communists are against us.

Let’s not be against something because the communists are there for our if we do then we will that’s a country.

OK I’ll follow through on Kerber young Americans particularly an educated young American in this highly precarious spot should be a sexually sensitive.

To the anguish of their troubles were.

And. They should be especially effective in calling attention to the threat. Got you down the road.

Thank you. Very much.

Dodd in our own communities must be in touch with one another and with their movement upon with the hope of men everywhere.

We. To be sure they may not enjoy very much for each of them but potentially they enjoy it greatly.

And in directly who are typical having the advantage of a higher education above all they must be the interpreters to their fellow citizens wherever they live that they think fears and hopes of men.

Everywhere.

I go you realize the ideals of freedom justice and equality of opportunity. And the significance of man. They need greater courage in Haiti and they need to find apathy and it.

When I say ideal. That we ought to keep in mind. That a democracy and that unfinished business means they realize they can always get unrealized ideals. I don’t mean to be a