Milton Eisenhower Lecture at Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore, MD | October 24, 1969

...I believe that our sickness is not in our biology but in our politics. Not in our synapses but in our system. Not in our genes but our governing. We have the intelligence, the mastery of resources to feed, clothe, shelter and rationality to control the populations of the world..."But, have we the political will?"

I am honored to be associated with an enterprise which bears the name of Milton Eisenhower.

In a nation with a unique tradition of public service, Milton Eisenhower's life and work are themselves unique. Certainly few, if any, men today, can claim an unbroken and unblemished record of service to the nation, extending back to the days of Calvin Coolidge and continuing either in the government or on special assignment under every subsequent president.

Another visitor from France, Alexis de Tocqueville, observed more than 100 years ago that Americans, beyond all other people, are motivated by an unusual patriotism which combines strangely with their acquisitiveness and desire for personal success. "An American attends to his private concerns as if he were alone in the world, " said deTocqueville, "and the next minute he gives himself up to the common welfare as if he had forgotten them."

Milton Eisenhower seems never to have considered his own private concerns. As a Foreign Service Officer, civil servant, chairman of delegations, special ambassador, member of federal commissions, and the president of three major universities, he has, through his active 70 years, made contributions equal to those of at least three ordinary men: Incredibly, during his varied career, he has never, to my knowledge, been faulted for the quality of his work, or the strength of his faith that rational men can find rational answers to the difficulties which beset them. Above all, he has demonstrated private steadfastness in pursuit of the public good. One might characterize him as a true patriot, at a time when this designation might seem old-fashioned if not obsolete. In his book, "Growing Up Absurd," Paul Goodman notes with genuine regret the passing of this traditional virtue: "Our case is astounding," he says. "For the first time in recorded history the mention of country, community has lost its power to animate." Ironically, this loss of national faith has come at a time when in many significant areas our national accomplishments are among the greatest the world has ever seen. "The United States has conquered man's economic problem," according to London's famous magazine, "The Economist." "And this may be the most momentous news story in the history of the world: " But despite a victory of these proportions, we nevertheless seem to feel that the goals we have pursued and the triumphs we have achieved are empty. Our new problems seem unsolvable. And we cruelly punish ourselves for our failures. In fact, the "Economist" calls us "The Neurotic Trillionaire."

Indeed, the symptoms of this public paranoia are everywhere. They torment us at home and are clearly observable to our friends abroad. But the fact is that Europeans -- or at least Frenchmen – do not share the depressing and dismal view we seem to have of ourselves. Much of the evidence appears to be just the other way around. In France, Americans are more popular today than they have been at least for a decade. 35% of the French adults and 40% of the French youth regard America as the best friend France has. Canada is a distant second and Russia is far down the list. Even among those Frenchmen who voted Communist in the last election, fully 1/4 believe that the United States is their country's best friend!

Because of this contrast between what we see in our own mirror and how many others see us, I asked the head of France's respected Opinion Research Institute if he could tell me what elements in American life Frenchmen most admire and which ones they most dislike. His answers were unhesitating and incisive. We are disliked, he said, because we are at war. We are feared because we are a violent people. And we are disdained because the French think of us as becoming cold, impersonal ciphers in a faceless society.

He hastened to add that there are many things for which we are admired. We are respected for our amazing prosperity. We are liked for our generosity and altruism towards the nations of the world. And we are admired for our new culture which, even as it pervades the world, is greeted for the most part with warm acceptance. By the new culture the French do not mean Coca Cola and shiny cars. "What we admire", he said, is le cerveau -- "The Brain" -- the amazing outpouring of American intelligence which is producing moon rockets and computers, productivity and management skills, as well as the most exciting and creative art, music and social experimentation in the world today.

The productivity of the "Neurotic Trillionaire" is overwhelming when observed in the closer confines of Europe. Even the casual tourist cannot avoid colliding with it. On the glittering Champs-Elysées, before the plush movie houses, the crowds are lined up to see "Midnight Cowboy". On television the same evening, there is a discussion of the Paris ballet led by its American Director. On the way to the airport the visitor passes by the new Hilton Hotel, the Mobil and Esso Service Stations, the billboards advertising U.S. computers, American cigarettes and Florida orange juice. At the airport itself, the ramp is crowded with planes bearing the flags of many nations. But most of them also carry the smaller letters of Boeing and Douglas.

In short, the European marvels at a nation which, with only 15 million more people, can generate a gross national product more than twice that of the six Common Market countries, the world's number two economic power.

What then, is the source of the sickness which is causing us such spiritual anguish and social pain -- despite our successes! There are many who place the entire blame on Vietnam. They insist that when war ends the poison will leave our system. Some feel that when we have fully absorbed the Negro into our economic mainstream, the immense burden of guilt will be lifted from our conscience, and we will be restored to health and serenity! But from the vantage point of Europe, it seems obvious that these problems are not endemic to our nation alone! To us they appear more difficult because our entire life is played out on a vaster stage. But our neurosis is part of a disease sweeping the world, and our pains from that disease should not blind us to our capacity not only to analyze and cure the disease in America, but to bring our resources and intelligence to bear in helping to cure it everywhere.

Arthur Koestler, the famed author of "Darkness At Noon", believes that this sickness of mankind is the result of a biological malfunctioning which has created a specific disorder of behavior, setting man on an inevitable course of self-destruction. And his argument has some superficial appeal when he points out that the sixth century before Christ-saw the birth of Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism, whereas the twentieth century after Christ has seen the birth of Stalinism, Hitlerism and Maoism. One can hardly be faulted for asking, "Is that progress?"

But, despite Koestler's erudition and perception, I believe that our sickness is not in our biology but in our politics. Not in our synapses but in our system. Not in our genes but our governing. We have the intelligence, the mastery of resources to feed, clothe, shelter and rationally to control the populations of the world -- "If we put our minds to it," as Barbara Ward has said, "we could have a program for the 70's and 80's which would be of the utmost relevance and at the same time would have a touch of that vivid redication without which society becomes, if not dangerous, remarkably boring." "But," she adds, "have we the political will?" And I might add, the political imagination and the political courage!

Winston Churchill once said that the United States Constitution is the greatest political document ever struck off at one time by the hand of man. The truth of his observation has been borne in on me many times in recent months, as I've seen the intellectual and political leaders of Europe struggling to create on that continent, what the Constitution has long since made possible for us on ours. The Constitution gave us not only a common economic market which the Europeans are now laboring to develop, but a common tariff policy, a common currency, a common foreign policy and a common defense. It is to these developments -- these specific creations of the past that we Americans today owe much, if not all of our prosperity and national strength.

Not only our friends in the free world have been impressed by the political imagination and courage of our forefathers. In 1945, Ho Chi Minh, the Communist creator of Vietnam, set down on paper the constitution for his new country. He began his document with the following words: "All men are created equal. They are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." In other words, in 1945, 165 years after Jefferson, Ho Chi Minh could find no more stirring or hopeful vision to hold out to the people of Southeast Asia than the words written so long ago in Philadelphia.

But grand and universal though this rhetoric is, we should not be deterred from trying to express a vision for the future, worthy of Jefferson's vision in the past. Universities like Johns Hopkins, with their great faculties of Political Science, Philosophy and the Liberal Arts should be in the forefront of this quest. The halls of our legislatures and of our Congress in Washington should be the scene of great debates on the compelling issues of the future -- not forums preoccupied only with mundane conflicts between partisan and competing pressure groups.

For example, it is becoming increasingly clear, that by the year 2000, if not sooner, there will be five great conglomerates in the world -- the USA, Europe, USSR, China and Japan. What thinking are we doing now, what vision do we have of a structure which would provide for peace between these behemoths?

A United Nations is certainly not enough. We don't need a union merely of nations, we need a union of men.

No one speaker, no one man, could presume to delineate even the broad outlines of such a union. But tonight we could at least consider some of the questions we must study and find answers for. We could indicate some of the research from which an ultimate union of man might flow; To create a new world order, a new union of man, I suggest we agree that the place to start is at home -- not just in the United States in general -- but right here on the campuses of our universities. But, you may ask, how can this be done?

One way to begin might be by postulating that our greatest weakness as a nation may well be our restricted sense of the scope of politics. We have left politics to the politicians and they have practiced their art in the formal machinery of government -- federal, state, country, municipal. Yet, if we are to help create a new humanity for a new generation, the universities, where youth now wait restlessly to be born into the world, must become part of the political process! How this can be brought about and financed is not easy. There are hard questions to be faced, studied and answered.

Could universities become the centers of new cities, contributing to, even becoming, part of the direct political progress? Would it not be better to start new towns around a university which would be a humanistic center for the entire community than around a factory or industrial complex which can supply nothing but the material needs of life?

Could the universities now in our cities become the political centers of their neighborhood? What excuse is there for Columbia versus Harlem, Stanford versus Palo Alto, Yale versus New Haven. Separate and hostile. United, all would be better.

Could knowledge, research and power flow from the same entity? Could a criminologist in the Sociology Department become the Police Commissioner -- or better yet, could the Chairman of the Philosophy Department fill that job?

Could the head of the Medical School direct the community health activities?

Could the Dean of the Law School be the chief public legal officer? And could the students of those departments become the practical practitioners in the neighborhood, bringing health, justice, moral law and moral order to an environment they would be helping to create because they themselves were integral parts of it -- not strangers to it?

Could a national endowment be established for every university, which would provide for education a permanent source of funds removed from annual legislative struggles or genteel begging? We endowed the land grant colleges of America by giving them, outright, one sixteenth of all the land acquired in the Northwest Territory by Lewis and Clark but now they, too, seem to have been reduced to the annual scramble for subsistence. Thus college presidents, when they are not marshals or mediators have become fund raisers instead of educators.

Could not college entrance for all who qualify be underwritten and guaranteed by the total financing of permanent programs like the National Merit Scholarship?

If free and unfettered funding took place, what structural changes would the universities consider and accept? Would they alter their charters to include representation from all segments of the community -- even the poor and uneducated?

How many presidents would follow Kingman Brewster's example and offer to lay their sacred tenures on the line?

How many professors?

One of the encouraging signs that the universities may be preparing themselves seriously to play this kind of role and to struggle -- imaginatively -- to help us create a new union of men -- came just last week when Michigan State University selected Dr. Clifton R. Wharton, Jr., as its new President. After his election, Dr. Wharton responded to a question asking him how he felt about his long list of accomplishments as a Negro.

"I am a man first, an American second and a black man third, " said Dr. Wharton. He added that in his work overseas in Malaysia he had learned lessons he believed could be applied in the United States: "Mankind is heterogeneous in race, religion and culture, and that's the beauty of it. The problem is to find ways of living with this heterogeneity and of not letting it destroy us." Dr. Wharton is 100% right.

Because of my experience in the Peace Corps which enabled me to meet, talk to, and listen to people of all races, of all cultures, in all parts of the world, especially students, I have frequently thought of mankind as a great orchestra. It would be a paltry instrument at best (the Baltimore Orchestra) if it were composed only of violins. But the glory of it comes from the variety of voices, the brass, percussion, woodwinds, strings, working together to produce a music more beautiful and more profound than any one instrument could ever make alone. This is why we choose a rich and resonant word to describe the result of a great orchestra's achievement. We call it a symphony.

Today, when we are harassed by discordant notes within our own country -- the cacophony of automobile horns, whistles, sirens, jackhammers, punctuated by the bursts of bombs and molotov cocktails, mankind longs, throughout the world, for a new harmony, a new symphony.

Archibald MacLeish, writing on the occasion of man's first circumnavigation of the moon, and struck by the vision of earth, which Frank Borman sent back from outer space, spoke these words:

"The medieval notion of the earth put man at the center of everything. The nuclear notion of the earth put him nowhere ... This latest notion may have many consequences ... To see the earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the earth together, brothers on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold -- brothers who know now they are truly brothers. "

That is what youth wants. That is what the old yearn for. That is what the whole world seeks.

Let us resolve tonight that Americans should participate through the labors of their minds -- in universities like Johns Hopkins -- through debates in the political forums of our nation -- to dedicate ourselves, in the spirit of our forefathers at Philadelphia, to the noble task of creating not only a new politics for America, but a new political structure for the world. A new union -- not of nations, but of man.

Perhaps we will only know we have succeeded when some future astronaut sets foot on a distant planet. And in addition to setting up a solar wind experiment, he takes out a guitar. And in addition to transmitting technical data, he sings for all the universe to hear, "This is the age of Aquarius, the age of Aquarius." Then he might hear that answering voice for which man has yearned for so long. "Thou art man and I am mindful of thee. For thou has not set up false gods before me."

And that giant step for mankind, bridging our science and our soul, but touching both, will make us whole and set us free.