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836 The Journal of American History

veat should not be allowed to obscure a disagreement upon a fundamental

point: was there a distinct and identifiable progressive movement? The edi-
tor prefaces the term with the adjective "so-called." One contributor cate-
gorically insists upon its "very real existence" .(p. 249); another questions
"its very existence" (p. 260) .
A refreshing anthology of this kind, addressing itself to a central and
theoretical theme, is both a useful contribution and exemplary model for
future scholarship. It is also a challenge. As the writing of American his-

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tory moves painstakingly to incorporate more social theory, perhaps it is
now necessary to move beyond derivative concepts such as the ·'commu-
nity-society" continuum that integrates this book to seek more inclusive and
powerful theoretical formulations.

The Crisis of Democratic Theory: Scientific Naturalism & the Problem of

Value. By Edward A. Purcell, Jr. (Lexington: University Press of Ken-
tucky, 1973. xii + 331 pp. Notes, a note on sources, and index. $11.50.)
In the twentieth century Americans have come to think of themselves as
relativists. William James used to exclaim, "Damn the absolute!", Oliver
Wendell Holmes dismissed natural law as a brooding omniscience in the
sky, and William Graham Sumner said the mores could make anything
right. When Thomas Mann suggested during World War II that the
United States in taking on Hitler was fighting for the absolute, Max East-
man promptly assured him it was doing no such thing and that Americans
had gotten along very nicely for years without the absolute. Still, American
democracy was founded on absolutes: the laws of nature and nature's God.
Was it possible to relativize democratic theory without demolishing it? In
his absorbing study, The Crisis of Democratic Theory, Edward A. Purcell,
Jr., has described in careful detail the tensions between absolutism and rela-
tivism in American thought since the turn of the century and examined the
implications of the latter for traditional American values. His analysis is
lucid, informative, perceptive, and commendably fair-minded, though his
sympathies seem to lie with relativism.
In the first part of his book, Purcell traces the rise of scientific naturalism
to a place of ascendancy in law faculties and in the social science professori-
ate in this country. The naturalistic philosophy took various forms. In law it
produced legal realism; in psychology, Watsonian behaviorism; in anthro-
pology, a cultural approach which stressed the plasticity of human nature
and the social origin of all values; in political science, close empirical stud-
ies of political behavior; in philosophy, logical positivism and linguistic
analysis; in ethics, the view that statements of value are simply expressions
of subjective preferences. Non-Euclidean geometry inspired the belief
Book Reviews 837
among social scientists that given a presupposition or two one could build a
new self-contained system that was as convincing as any conventional one.
The goals of scholars were ethical neutrality, scientific objectivity, statistical
probability, and empirical validity. But these goals, Purcell demonstrates,
destroyed the foundations of traditional democratic theory without replac-
ing them with new ones. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, in fact, some
academics cheerfully abandoned democracy as a viable system, citing as rea-
sons the low scores most people made on I.Q. tests and the inability of the

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American government to cope with the Great Depression. It took Hitler to
change their minds,
The rise of totalitarianism in the 1930s, particularly Nazism, forced the
professoriate to take a second look at its values. In the second part of his
book, Purcell shows how the absolutists blamed the relativisits, with their
ethical nihilism, for the rise of totalitarianism, while the relativists, singling
out dogmatic elements in Fascism and Communism, held the absolutists
largely responsible for the decline of democracy in the world. In the end,
however, as the Nazi terror expanded, absolutists and relativists united in
singing the virtues of democracy in general and of American democracy in
particular. Nazism and Stalinism did, however, force relativists to make ex-
plicit the values they had taken for granted all along, and they found a
new, non-absolutist basis for democracy in pluralism, diversity, novelty, tol-
erance, flexibility, compromise, and experimentalism.
In the final section of his book, Purcell shows how relativism won the
great debate with absolutism in the academic world by the 1950s. He also
shows how relativists, once considered iconoclastic, became increasingly
conservative, complacent, self-congratulatory, bureaucratic, and elitist after
World War II. Extracting pluralistic values from the American social
scene, they erected them into norms for democracy everywhere and made
American society the ideal standard by which to judge all societies in the
world. Complacency among relativists during the Cold War finally pro-
voked dissent from younger scholars in the 1960s; but the academic dissen-
ters were themselves in the main naturalistic in orientation.
Purcell's study casts searching light on American thought in its deepest
reaches and reveals the twentieth-century academic mind in rich and color-
ful detail. And yet his analysis leaves one important question largely unan-
swered: what is the connection between basic presuppositions and practical
attitudes toward life? Throughout, Purcell makes clear that although abso-
lutists and relativists fought fiercely over fundamental assumptions about
the nature of things, many of them agreed heartily with each other on vital
practical issues and that within their own respective ranks there were often
violent differences of opinion on pressing matters. Does this mean that
there is no essential relation between basic philosophy and everyday living
and that the struggle Purcell describes was largely verbal? Surely not. Wil-
838 The Journal of American History
liam James was unquestionably right in thinking that the absolutist temper
colors all of one's thinking and behavior (whether one is liberal, conserva-
tive, or radical) and that the same is true of the relativistic, pluralistic,
provisional frame of mind. But it is also probably true that most people are
partly absolutist and partly relativist in outlook and that when it comes to
things they feel the most deeply about the most inveterate relativists are
likely to turn absolutist. Not all of the intolerance and dogmatism of Amer-
ican intellectual life, as Purcell makes clear, is to be found among the asser-

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tors of old-fashioned values.

The Oriental Americans. By H. Brett Melendy. (New York: Twayne Pub-

lishers, 1972. 235 pp. Tables, appendix, notes, references, bibliography,
and index. $6.95.)
This is a compact and competent survey of Chinese and Japanese immi-
gration. Unlike most recent writing on the subject, The Oriental Americans
is a simple historical narrative; it makes little if any use of sociological in-
sights or psychological interpretations or even historical analysis. Again un-
like most recent writing, it surveys the whole of its large subject instead of
concentrating on some particular aspect, such as the role of the labor unions
in anti -Oriental agitation or the problems of the second generation.
What H. Brett Melendy presents is a book that is useful and informative
but one that will strike most readers as being old-style history. It seems
somewhat surprising that the volume should turn out that way, for both the
chapters on the Chinese and those on the Japanese are prefaced by good
introductory summaries of the history and culture of the two Asiatic coun-
tries concerned. But having carefully developed the cultural characteristics
of the Chinese and Japanese as displayed in their native lands, Melendy
drops that approach when he brings his subjects to the United States as irn-
rriigrants. Thereafter the story is the familiar blend of anti-Oriental dema-
goguery, hostile legislation, and agitation by labor unions, on the one hand,
and economic achievement under adversity, on the other.
One of the more notable contributions of the book is its careful descrip-
tion of the various types of labor contracts and ticket indentures by which
Chinese and Japanese financed their transportation to mainland America or
Hawaii. An equally helpful feature is the author's detailed summary of the
legislative history of the principal anti-Oriental statutes. On these topics
Melendy is more complete and up-to-date than other scholars. But in this
day in which our thinking is so pervasively influenced by the social sciences,
it is difficult to understand why more is not said about the cultural shock of
moving to so drastically different a civilization, or of what must have been