Book Review of 'Individualism' by Professor Warner Fite

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"Individualism."<ref>By Warner Fite, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy, Indiana University. Longmans, Green and Co.</ref>

That is not an attractive title nor a new one, but the book has a new idea that cannot fail to interest anyone who cares to understand what he does and why he does it. The author undertakes to reconcile by logic the opposing theories of Altruism and Hedonism and their natural consequences. Socialism and Anarchism, Philanthrophy and Self-interest, by showing from a scientific point of view that enlightened self interest is Beneficence.

The same conclusion may be reached from the sociological standpoint as well as from the religious standpoint, for the fundamental teaching of all true religion is that "the way of transgressors is hard," that the wicked man is the fool; that narrow selfishness is stupid, and that hate is the only sin; or as the original of the New Testament calls it "missing the mark."

The book is radical if not revolutionary, and is a most important and timely work. Beginning with proof of the supreme importance of the individual, it attacks the doctrine of " the common good," showing that the interests and rights of beings are harmonious, just in proportion to their intelligence.

Professor Fite has a hard word for such slop-shop social reformers as hold that reform is to be effected by them and not by the individuals to be reformed. Naturally he has no confidence in "natural rights" nor in the taking the kingdom of heaven by force, even of votes. There is not space to consider Fite's contrasting of the Greek ideal with the Hebrew ideal which we have so largely adopted, and which he wishes to supplant with the scientific ideal of "justice, or love become real through technical adjustment"; nor can we here summarize his illuminating solution of the problem of heredity.

Free communication, free speech, free will, even free trade (whisper it low, although he stops short), free love he shows must follow from the perception of the Thinking Man as distinguished from the Automatic creature that unthinkingly responds to external stimulus.

Professor Fite derives "rights" from consciousness, which he makes out as knowing what one is doing, and thinks that rights are not "natural," but are proportioned to the degree of consciousness and can not be bestowed, nor effectively asserted except by those who exercise them.

As he sees it, a being becomes an Individual having "rights" with regard to others only by attaining consciousness. Only through this consciousness a personality is created; when it is created, it becomes a new centre of forces in social evolution.

"Consciousness" or Intelligence is measured by the extent to which the Individual perceives the relations of others to himself. We become free then just to the extent that this social consciousness enables us to adjust ourselves with things and with one another.

Gravity is a part of the nature of things whether we know of it or not ; but until we do know at least of its existence and its effects, we have no relation to it other than that which inanimate things have. If we have "rights" before we come to know and demand them, they are, at best, only theoretical rights which we did not get. These of course are radically different from "rights" which we accord out of our sympathy.

The author defines Socialism, for he defines even the indefinite, as a comprehensive organization of society; that is Socialism as it ought to be. But for this organization, contrary to the spirit of the book, he trusts too much to law, as it seems to this reviewer, and not enough to voluntary co-operation. His fundamental democracy would lead us to expect to find him a single taxer, but except for a slight but intelligent discussion of unearned increment in the chapter on Natural Rights he hardly touches upon that theme.

The style is clear and captivating, and not without humour, but its three hundred pages are written somewhat more than is necessary for those who are familiar with scholastic and professional terms and thought.

Bolton Hall.

  • Bolton Hall, “Book Review of ‘Individualism’ by Professor Warner Fite,” The New Freewoman 1, no. 6 (September 1, 1913): 117-118.