Print More

(HOST) Much has been said lately about the conflicting value systems of scientific discovery and religious faith. Commentator Edith Hunter recalls a writer who thought he had found a way to reconcile the two.

(HUNTER) I recently reread Joseph Wood Krutch’s The Modern Temper which was published in the spring of 1929. I first read it when I was a student in the 1940s.

It was considered a socially significant book whose message was that “science has exposed as delusions those convictions and standards upon which Western civilization was founded.” Krutch considered the human situation to be hopeless. He believed that the three thinkers who had brought about the devaluation of religion, ethics and aesthetics were Darwin, Marx, and Freud.

The author was only thirty-six when he wrote this book, a drama critic for the then-left-leaning magazine “The Nation.” He was also professor of drama at Columbia University, briefly in 1917, and then from 1937-1952.

In 1954 he published, The Measure of Man, a kind of revaluation of his earlier book, The Modern Temper. His thesis was that although he still believed that he was correct in his earlier diagnosis of the devastating effect of the sciences on our belief and value systems, he no longer believed that the human situation was hopeless.

What caused his change of heart? He had discovered Nature, and man’s place in the natural universe. In 1930 he first read Thoreau’s Walden, and in 1946 wrote a highly regarded biography of Thoreau. Beginning in 1937, he and his wife owned a home in rural Connecticut and he commuted to New York City.

In 1962 he wrote his autobiography, More Lives Than One, which traced his passage from drama critic to “naturalist.” In that book he wrote that while living in the country and becoming more and more exposed to nature, “I found something more than merely a relief from the pressures of city life; [I found] that there was something very positive in a consoling, indeed a quasi-mystical sense of being a part of something larger than myself or my society.”

Joseph Wood Krutch died in Arizona in 1970 at the age of 77.

I wonder how he would feel about the human situation in 2006?

Would he still feel something consoling in his relationship with the natural world?

Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center.

Comments are closed.