Classic Essays

Which Way Western Man? (PDF)

William_Gayley_Simpson_in_1939A full PDF download of this vitally important book by philosopher William Gayley Simpson is now available. From the author’s Introduction and Foreword:

by William Gayley Simpson (pictured)

YOU MAY FIND in this book ideas or ideals that at first hearing strike you as abhorrent. They may clash with what you have long believed to represent the highest in human experience, or cherish as too holy to be questioned. Or you may find yourself chilled by conclusions that I reach or remedies that I press that you think too drastic. But I would remind you that the disintegration of our whole society is far advanced, that the time allowed us for action is short, and that the peril hanging over us is — fearsome. Extreme emergencies may require extreme measures. Our need is for men of the courage and independence of mind to set aside all taboos, men who will search and reassess the entire experience of our people with discernment and with insight, and will then have the resolution and the dedication to apply to the solution of our problems all the light and the fullest wisdom to which their search has led them — even though it cost them their lives.

Between the covers of this book the world of the West is quietly weighed in the balance, and at many critical points found wanting. As long ago as 1920, I perceived that Western civilization was dying, as Rome was dying at the height of her Empire, and as many another civilization has died. In time I came to see that we people of the West were sick not only in the outward conditions of our social and political life, not only in the decay of our character, in the decline of our intelligence, and in our loss of the control of our destiny, but in many respects in the very values and ideals on which we prided ourselves, by which we long shaped our course and thought to maintain our greatness.

As it happened, it was out of the throes of my own personal experience that I first came to suspect the soundness of some parts of our tradition, which for centuries had been most hallowed and most decisive in our historical development. The experience was quite exceptional and exceedingly searching. In 1920, after five years of relentless questing for the place in our world where I might make my life count for the most, I committed myself without any reserve and without compromise to a course dictated to me by the furthest reaches of my religious insight and devotion, my highest idealism, and my most thoroughly thought-out convictions. With whole-souled abandon, I gave myself over to an effort to put the teaching of Jesus into practice. I took him at his word—with absolute literalness—in the same sense that Francis of Assisi did. The story of this is not to be told here, though bits of it will crop out now and then in my pages to follow. For the present, suffice to say that the undertaking proved to be spiritually arduous in the extreme, as only those can appreciate who comprehend how austere Jesus’ real teaching was. Its requirements tested all I had in me. After nine years of such experience, I came to a dead end. I was left in a state of exhaustion and with a profound suspicion that something was wrong. But the experience of those nine years did more than test me: it tested no less all the foundations I had looked to when I decided on my venture, and which alone and throughout had sustained me—my ardent Christianity, my starry-eyed idealism, and my “liberal” philosophy.

The breakdown of my venture threw me into spiritual and intellectual chaos: for years afterwards, I did not know what I believed about anything. I found myself compelled to make ruthless investigation of all my underpinning. Before I was through, many of the fundamentals of our Western White man’s heritage of wisdom, together with much critically important evidence brought forth by modern scientific investigation, had to pass through the crucible of my relentless search for truth. And my steady reading of Nietzsche blew this to a white heat. This search has lasted ever since, and it will go on as long as I live. It has been absolutely free. No one has paid me for it, and there has been no one to stop me. I soon provided myself with economic independence, largely by the work of my hands. For forty years the best of my free time has gone into this quest. I have ransacked heaven and Earth for honest answers to my questions. Nothing has been taboo. No doors were closed. I could draw any conclusions the evidence seemed to support and to call for. And I was free to say what I thought. For my own very existence—for the very ability to live with any vital meaning and with any deep peace of mind—this was an ineluctable necessity.

I knew full well that I was no specialist, and I was soon to be told that in this specialist age no man—not even any scientist, let alone any layman—could make a synthesis, even of scientific findings, which anyone would consider significant; and that any attempt to cull, not only from science but from religion and history as well, the materials for shaping a wisdom about life would be as foolish as it would be impossible. Of course, to my way of thinking, unless each of the more important specialisms does, sooner or later, render up its meaning for human life, and unless all of these are gathered together to form a wisdom about how man must live if ever he is to come to his fulfillment, science is ultimately useless and must at last be cashiered. But in any case, at the time, I was very little concerned about gaining anyone’s attention or with what the professors might say by way of deprecation. I was too much like a man who has been thrown overboard in mid-ocean: I must find something to sustain me or I should drown. As against this, nothing else mattered. Let people think about me what they liked: before I could ever again know where I was in the universe, I must find ground that I had reason to believe I could stand on, ground that I was sure would support me. Only then could I hold myself together, get my bearings, know in what direction to head, where to draw lines, with whom to take my stand, who were my friends and who my foes. In short, only on this condition could I live. And it was some fifteen years of such research, experience, and reflection that finally resulted in the original manuscript of this book.

As my struggle moved on toward certainty and peace of mind, it began to come to me more and more that, after all, in an age of disintegration and dissolution like ours, when, from one quarter or another, all standards and all values are being not only challenged but rejected, when the old moorings to tie to are being washed away and the stars that for centuries men steered by are falling from our sky, there must be a multitude of other men who are feeling a desperate need of some tested certainties to hold to and to live by. Some of them, in particular, might take great heart to learn of one whose primary concern was with nothing so tawdry as mere human survival, but who on the contrary was concerned above all else with quality in human life, who longed and struggled everlastingly that Man, and especially his own kind, his own race, those with whom he felt the deepest affinity and for whom he recognized his greatest responsibility—should not only go on but go up.

And so on July 1st, 1944, in part to test my own thinking in the light of that of my more thoughtful friends, and in part because I was in hope that my own experience might prove of value to others, I approached some 250 of my friends and acquaintances in this country and abroad, in regard to a series of occasional mimeographed papers that I might write them on a subscription basis. The substance of this letter will form part of the opening chapter, “The Undying Purpose: The Ennobling of Man,” of my present work. I proposed to examine, and to present my thinking on, a number of the problems that I felt must confront every thoughtful and earnest man as he contemplated what science and technology and the impact of two world wars and the dogmas of democracy had done to the spiritual certainty and direction within him, and to the security and tone of the society in which he lived. As the response favored the venture, the papers began to appear that summer, and continued, at irregular intervals, over the next four years, to a total of nineteen. My readers were mostly intellectuals—some of them, in their respective fields, of world-wide reputation. There were some artists and scientists among them, but on the whole they were professors, college presidents, authors, ministers and doctors, with quite a sprinkling of university students.

These papers may in a real sense be looked upon as the nucleus of my present book. In fact, my basic values have remained pretty much unchanged; and even my most trenchant criticisms and my farthest-reaching conclusions, though some of them may have been stated less explicitly in the earlier work, were clearly foreshadowed there. Nevertheless, my experience, my research, my observation and thinking have never stood still, and have so fed this nucleus that in the course of thirty years the manuscript has grown into what is virtually a new work, in which the earlier one is both confirmed and consummated, as the grown man is the fulfillment of his youth. Certainly it is the embodiment of much of my fullest knowledge, clearest vision, firmest judgment and most mature thought. In the light of this, the original manuscript has been thoroughly worked over, brought up to date, expanded, and largely rewritten. But the chapters that perhaps are most revealing of the growth in my thought are Man and The Machine, the one on Pacifism, the two on eugenics, and most of all the two on race. Events in the world in the past twenty-five years, together with the great increase in my knowledge of racial realities and my growing sense of the absolutely pivotal importance of race in the destiny of all peoples, and in particular in that of my own kind, have necessitated the almost complete rewriting of the original chapter. And in the rewriting, one chapter became two.

But I have run a little ahead of my story.

I had proved quite right in my hope and my expectation, before I even approached my prospective readers, that among them I should find some who were responsive. In fact, as the series of papers ran its course I was constantly receiving letters in which my readers expressed their responsiveness in very extreme terms. The letters were understanding, ardent, unequivocal, moving; and those that were most strongly with me came from readers who were most distinguished. Repeatedly they even called for the publication of the series as a book. That this never came to pass seems to have been the result of circumstances that had little to do with the worth of the work, and hence I need not go into them here. But there is one thing further it is important to make clear.

Gradually, and hesitatingly, and only long years after my series of papers had been finished, it began to dawn upon me that perhaps my quest, my struggle, and my achievement had some much wider significance than for my own life or for my readers. Was it not true that in a real sense my experience had given me something by which I was enabled to pass much of what is most representative of the West, its traditions, philosophy, art, religion, principles, ethics, institutions and history, as it were through a filter, and thus to separate the true from the false, the beautiful from the ugly, and the high from the low? Had not I myself—no genius, to be sure, yet possibly a man in some degree distinguished by an unusual combination of concern, purpose, values, dedication and experience—been a balance in which the West stood tried? And had not this man’s admittedly unusual experience perhaps deepened and clarified his insight and vision to a point where he could perceive not only where and why his people had made the monstrous mistakes that have led to their present desperate plight, but also what they must cut from themselves, and what course they have no choice but to follow, if they are to survive the catastrophe that lies ahead of them, and at last come to the fulfillment of the nobility and the greatness that are in them?

But any readers’ appreciation of the significance of such a man’s findings, as of his judgments, must largely depend upon their knowledge of what kind of a man he was when he wrote. If what he has to say was merely culled from books, or put together by a lively brain, or written from an easy chair—if he wrote, let us say, only with ink, then it can have no more value than any modern “liberal’s” theorizing and speculation. But if it was written not with ink but with blood, with his own blood, then the reader may be moved to put himself in the author’s place and live through his experiences with him, so that he comes to sense the reality that the author sees so plainly and the dire calamity ahead of us that he predicts; then perhaps will he too have the full fatefulness of our present days gradually dawn upon him, and at last begin to recognize and to face and to grapple with the fact that the fearful path, which his people must follow if they are to survive, is inescapable.

Read the full text (PDF) of Which Way, Western Man?

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1 Comment

  1. Jerry
    June 8, 2016 at 1:45 am — Reply

    Thank you for making this book available in pdf format.

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