Page 125 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 39

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MEIR BEN-HORIN
Horace Meyer Kallen
On the Centenary of His Birth
O
v e r t o n e s
o f
P
s a lm
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and of Matthew Arnold resound in these
lines by John Dewey:
Individuals flourish and wither away like grass of the fields.
But the fruits o f their work endure and make possible the
development of further activities having fuller significance.
It is of grace not ourselves that we lead civilized lives . . . The
best we can accomplish for posterity is to transmit unim­
paired and with some increment of meaning the environ­
ment that makes it possible to maintain the habit of decent
and refined life.
To this Dewey added, to ensure understanding: “Piety to the past
is not for its own sake nor for the sake of the past, but for the sake
of a present so secure and enriched that it will create a yet better
future.”1
Horace M. Kallen’s life (1882-1974) as a philosopher, an Amer­
ican, aJew, and a teacher, incarnates this commitment to “the best
we can accomplish for posterity”: to transmit “unimpaired” what
he called “the American Idea,” the Jewish Idea, as he understood
it, the philosophical idea, as he thought of it, and the idea of
education, as he taught it. But “transmission” for him was what
for Dewey was piety to the past. It had to serve a purpose other
than itself. It had to make the present “secure” in its status as heir
of past victories won in man’smillenial struggle to capture a better
future. It had to make the present the span between two eternities
whereon to consolidate the gains of the past and to plan the
assault on the unknown not-yet. This invasion of the there-and-
1 John Dewey,
Human Nature and Conduct
(New York, 1922), p. 21.
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