Humanism as a Fine Art

It is a common fact of our century—appreciated most by George Orwell—that men who lust after power will distort words to gain their own ends. In 1933, a significant distortion took place. A group of men, John Dewey among them, drafted and published a now famous document, the Humanist Manifesto I, in which they declared their allegiance to a world free of "any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human values." Steadily, this creed has come to define the humanist (or secular humanist) in our day, to the point that "humanism" has become a byword to conservatives, especially conservative Christians.

It was not always so. In the decades immediately preceding the 1933 manifesto, the term "humanist" had been associated with a few isolated scholars, for the most part acting independently of one another, who had developed rather traditional ideas about education, letters, and man's place in the universe. Their ideas, however diverse the application, were based on the premise that "supernatural or cosmic guarantees" had a great deal to do with "human values." One of the main figures to emerge from this circle of scholars was Paul Elmer More, whose thought is the subject of a new book by Stephen L. Tanner.

In one sense, More had something in common with the men who drafted the Humanist Manifesto I. Like all men who claim the title of humanist, he...

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