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Author(s): Rene de Visme Williamson

Review by: Rene de Visme Williamson
Source: Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, Vol. 17, No. 1 (
Winter, 1976), p. 107
Published by: Louisiana Historical Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4231571
Accessed: 26-02-2016 07:26 UTC

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the Problem of Value. By Edward A. Purcell, Jr. (Lexington: The
University Press of Kentucky, 1973. ix, 331 pp. Notes, index.
This is a significant book, well worth reading. It is really a history of the
intellectual life of American scholars from World War I to the middle of
the nineteen sixties. As such, it is extraordinarily comprehensive, includ-
ing the fields of philosophy, psychology, social science, and law. It re-
views a common thread in all of these fields and finds a common relativism
and denial of absolute values, though opposing points of view are ably
presented. It covers the impact of two world wars, the Great Depression,
and the rise of Nazism and Communism.
Democracy assumes that man is rational and moral. Can this assump-
tion be kept in the light of the stream of thought from 1920 to 1970?
Purcell thinks it can in that science is the supreme form of reason and
morality can be defended and defined in cultural terms. He seems to
believe that a belief in absolute values is fatal to democracy and leads to
totalitarianism. There is a basic flaw in this reasoning: it is the insecure,
not the secure, who try to impose their values on others. The secure can
afford to be tolerant and magnanimous. And yet, Purcell proves that
relativists and absolutists have been equally divided on foreign-policy
issues, thereby suggesting that these differences have no political
significance. In his last chapter, Purcell comes close to a cynical position,
namely that relativism is just as ideological as absolutism. Nevertheless,
he believes that democracy can be justified on the basis of moral values
tentatively adhered to.
As a survey of thought, Purcell's book is admirable: lucid, clear, com-
prehensive, faithful to the record. As a contribution to the problem of
explaining how democracy can retain its belief that man is rational and
moral, the book is stimulating but unconvincing.
Louisiana State University, RENE DE VISME WILLIAMSON
Baton Rouge
PILLS, PEN & POLITICS: The Story of General Leon Jastremski,
1843-1907. By Edward Pinkowski. (Wilmington, Delaware: Captain
Stanislaus Mlotkowski Memorial Brigade Society, 1974. 172 pp.
Preface, appendices, bibliographical notes, index, illustrations.
Confederate Army Captain Leon Jastremski spent some five months a
prisoner of war at Fort Delaware. He could not have imagined then that

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