« PreviousContinue »
an alteration in a single part to adapt it to an outside situation may necessitate a whole series of adjustments between this part and all the others. The worry and friction until the machinery is again in good running order accounts for the stiffness of all intricate human organization. The more complex a structure the greater the pressure needed to keep it near its point of greatest usefulness. It requires much more intellectual effort or ability to redirect the work of a school system, a bureau, or a charity than to continue on established lines. To go on doing the same thing in the same way is the line of least resistance. A growing sense of its futility will rarely rouse one to the exertion of studying the task afresh and devising new ways of tackling it. Often indeed mediocre minds are utterly incapable of originating a better adaptation of the structure to its opportunity, so that, unless able men are put in charge and given a free hand, the adaptation will not take place.
Finally an old, imposing social structure comes to have an atmosphere which in time soaks into and affects nearly everyone in it. One's subconsciousness becomes saturated with suggestions of the excellence of everything "we" do and the way "we" do it; of the greatness of the "institution" or "service" and its right to one's loyalty; of the bothersomeness of the pupils, orphans, patients, citizens, or enlisted men the organization serves and their ungratefulness for what "we" do for them; and of the ignorance, stupidity, and malice of the outsiders, who actually criticize "us" and want to change "our" ways. Steeped in this atmosphere, the man who is progressive in principle stands like a rock against reform in his organization; the man who pounces like a hawk on inefficiency anywhere else has no eyes for the red tape and circumlocution in his office; and the man with a keen sense of the absurd feels no twinge as he stores the gift toys to the orphan asylum in the loft, "where they won't get broken," or provides for a furnace in the plans of a government building in the cane belt!
Absolutism is a disease of social structures absolved from obedience to the judgment and wishes of their time. No doubt the instrument devised for carrying on some great and beneficent work of
public benefit ought to be withdrawn from the meddling of later generations in case tomorrow will be more stupid than today and will not know it. But if tomorrow bids fair to be as wise as today or, if not, will realize the fact and cling to today's decisions, nothing is gained by putting what we devise today beyond the reach of tomorrow's judgment. To be sure, carefully framed and timetested establishments should not be changed at the passing whim of a single generation, but unless there is reason to suppose that a people is degenerating they ought to be subject to its settled will.
The living wills to which every social structure should be made obedient are of such as know and care most about its problem. The policy of an endowed charity hospital, for example, ought to reflect the judgment not only of the dead founder, but also of the living, who best understand and are concerned about the relief of the ailing poor. This of course is altogether different from subjection to the state or to majority rule. It is quite possible that the educational foundations of minor religious bodies would not survive a popular vote, while in a time of bitter class strife a research institute in economics or sociology would be perverted or suppressed, whichever party were dominant. The power to redirect or modify a social structure should therefore lie, not with the political organization, but with some section of the intellectual-moral élite.
An unendowed institution will be kept in sympathy with its time by its need of current contributions. It is the financially independent establishment that is liable to be caught in an eddy. Ever since the church lost general control of charities, the favorite form of government for a foundation has been the board of trustees which fills vacancies in its membership, i.e., the co-optative or self-constituted board. The only alternative has been the board chosen by the religious body-which admits the sectarian biasor by the state-which lets in the taint of "politics."
But the self-constituted board easily gets out of step with its generation. Any special tendency which may develop in it is likely to become intensified and fixed. The element which happens to be in the majority when a vacancy is to be filled picks a man of its way of thinking. He in turn helps to get in others of the same kidney, so that a passing bias becomes chronic. Just as the shifting of
portions of the cargo in a listing ship hinders her righting herself and increases the list, so a mistaken temporary leaning in a board may be made lasting. It would be hard to invent a system surer to bring the institution under a clique and set it at odds with intellectual advance, moral progress, or social development. What has prevented our private foundations from becoming ossified has been the necessity of wooing givers, owing to the fact that few of them were rich enough to be able to take full advantage of their opportunities in a rapidly growing society. It is to be feared that foundations of ample means, like those of Carnegie, Sage, and Rockefeller, will in time show the unadaptedness to be expected of self-continuing boards.
Then too the rivalry of public hospitals, charities, and universities has often obliged the private foundations to be more progressive than they wished to be. It needs but little acquaintance with the tendencies in well-endowed and therefore financially independent institutions of learning to convince one that but for the state universities-which are obliged to make their work a broad social service-they would have persisted in excluding women, requiring the classics, stressing the "culture" or enjoyment studies dear to the leisure class, and equipping youth for "success" rather than for usefulness.
The problem of the close corporation has been often met. We know what happened to the English rotten boroughs in 1832 and to the old governing bodies of the English municipalities in 1833. In 1853 England subjected the boards in charge of her thousands of endowed charities to a government body, the Board of Charity Commissioners. The French Revolution ended the autonomous establishments for public benefit in France and put education, poor relief, and other social-welfare concerns under the direct control of the state. In Germany the communities, corporations, and proprietors which carry on charities originally in charge of the church have been gradually losing their autonomy, since the state more and more interferes in their action or takes over their resources and responsibilities. 1
In this country the state has not asserted itself, but the public is becoming enlightened enough to resent the type of government
provided for the great foundations of recent years. Such oligarchic control is the less excusable now that we know of a better way of choosing trustees. Recently one of our greatest universities provided that the faculty, the alumni association, and the board itself shall take turns in filling vacancies in the board of trustees. The only security that a public-service institution shall constantly reflect in its ideals and policies the best thought of its time is to found it on the intellectual-moral apexes in society. Thus interest in the advancement of natural science apexes chiefly in universities, the government scientific bureaus, and the national scientific associations. Here then are given the groups that should share in selecting the trustees of a scientific-research institute. Enlightened concern about public health comes to a head in public-health associations, anti-tuberculosis associations, medical societies and colleges, and like groups. Where are better sources of judgment as to who should have a hand in governing a medical-research foundation? There is little intelligent solicitude for the poor that does not express itself in charitable societies, charity-organization societies, and a host of other philanthropic groups. Generally those included in such groups work with a deep and unselfish interest and are ahead of, rather than behind, their time. If boards in charge of endowed orphanages, rescue homes, and free hospitals filled vacancies from names submitted in turn by these groups, it would be impossible for the management to continue long at odds with the best contemporary knowledge and ideals. No doubt the board itself should fill every third or fourth vacancy in its membership in order that unorganized or minor interests should not go unrepresented. Moreover, when a nominee is personally obnoxious to a part of its members a board should have the right to call for another nomination.
Here then is a means of recruiting the governing boards of quasipublic institutions which insures their ready response to the best forces of their time and yet does not entangle them with the political organization and open the door to "politics." If the ultimate authority over the enormous blocks of wealth being left for public purposes is not linked in some such way with the living élite of society, it is absolutely certain that in a century, perhaps in much
less time, the stately foundations rising about us will be cursed by our posterity as citadels of stupidity, prejudice, and perhaps even of political conservatism and class self-interest.
Founders cherish the pathetic delusion that their college, charity, or religious house may be kept to the charted course; that what they launch with enthusiasm will look sunward through all time. This vain hope inspires the endeavors of the friends of a beneficent organization so to fortify it by means of irrepealable charter, autonomy, and gifts in perpetuity that no meddling hand may ever interfere with its blessed work.
But alas, no human foresight can save from degeneration a structure that has high aims and puts a strain on ordinary human nature. Despite your checks and safeguards, in a few generations perhaps it will have become the exact opposite of what was intended. Your beacon is now a will-o'-the-wisp, your rock of salvation a quicksand, your healing spring an infected pool. There is indeed no way to keep it true to its purpose save to make it responsive to those in each generation who are spiritual brothers of the founder.
In the higher realm nothing perverts like quick success. A furore floods a movement with enthusiasts incapable of rising to the plane of the founders. The warmer the reception of a new art, the sooner it will be discredited by imitators and quacks. The wider the response to the appeal of a young religious order, the sooner its impure fire dies in the rush of the unspiritual. With rapid expansion the membership grades down, and after the pioneers and their disciples are gone the character of the organization changes. Thus three centuries after St. Francis his "Little Brothers" were "arrogant mendicants, often of loose morals, begging with forged testimonials, haunting the palaces of the rich, forcing themselves into families, selling the Franciscan habit to wealthy dying sinners as a funeral cloak to cover many sins." Erasmus dreamed that St. Francis came to thank him for chastising the Franciscans.
As a body expands, the man of organizing ability is called to the helm rather than the inspirer and prophet. A university which has grown rapidly owing to the rare learning and zeal of its teachers