Page 15 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 11 (1952-1952)

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C O H E N ----GREAT JEWI SH BOOKS AND CIVILIZATION 9
spirit threatens our basic ideals of personal freedom and the dignity
of the human spirit. I t is not the gadgets th a t we love to trifle
with th a t confound us. Nor dare we reject the countless tools and
instrumentalities tha t modern science has invented to make life
easier and more comfortable for us. I t is rather the creation of
social machines which regiment our thoughts, our education.
Men are reduced to saying “Yes!” or “No!” as the superior wills
who operate the social machinery would have them answer.
Thought-control, censorship, cultural boycotts, inquisitorial com-
mittees — all are manifestations of one common determination,
namely, the determination to reduce men mentally and spiritually
to cogs in a machine.
We have entered such an advanced stage of the mechanization
of life where indeed in one great country of the world, Russia,
man may not think his thoughts nor write his thoughts. In our
own United States committees are set up to see th a t men’s
thoughts follow the proper line. And woe unto the man or the
woman who does not think according to the line th a t is set up
by the state.
The enemy of our world is the threatened mechanization of
man, his total dehumanization. I t is making him “unpersoned.”
He is being reduced to a robot.
The dangerous books of our times are the books th a t are fighting
against this. One cannot mention all of these books, bu t I want to
mention one — the most dangerous book tha t has recently ap-
peared. I t may not be recognized as such. Most of us have not
even read it.
We have had the pleasure of having in our midst during these
past few months a great spiritual teacher, Martin Buber. In his
book called
I and Thou
(and in his later volume,
Between Man
and Man
), Buber has not taught an escape from this world, bu t a
confrontation of the machine world tha t is crowding in around us
by the human spirit. In this book Dr. Buber writes, and I tried
to reduce it to two or three sentences (I know th a t this is in-
adequate to express his rich contribution to our thinking) th a t
there are two possible relations between the person and the world
about him. He summarizes these two relations in simple terms:
The I- I t and the I-Thou relationships.
The I - I t or the thing relation requires in no way th a t the I
should interpenetrate into the thing. A chair is a chair and it is
accepted as such, I and I t . For me to know the great universe as
a scientist, I need only the I - I t relationship, bu t when I meet a
human being, a kindred spirit, the I - I t relationship which is
purely surface and superficial no longer has validity.