This I Believe

MacCracken, H. N. (Henry Noble)


  • Henry MacCracken describes the basic tenants of his personal philosophy--art, science, democracy, and religion--and how these four "points of the compass" are held together by freedom.
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. The fiber of tomorrow’s citizen is woven in those busy workshops, the nation’s schools and colleges. Doctor Henry Noble MacCracken has dedicated his life to introducing the principles of democracy into education. The son, brother and grandson of college presidents, he himself was president of Vassar College for thirty-one years. He designed and was the first director of the Junior Red Cross. He heads the Kosciuszko Foundation, working to bring better recognition in American education to citizens of Polish background. At the age of seventy, Doctor MacCracken has a penetrating view of life.
I put my trust in art and science, democracy, and religion. These are my four guardian angels, four cardinal virtues, four points of my life’s compass. By the better use of them, I hope to reach my desired haven. I wish I could call them, as the Psalmists did, mercy and truth, righteousness, and peace, four attributes of the divine which later writers called the
Four Daughters of God. In a way, even that could be done without exaggeration, for mercy or sympathy is the spirit of art. Truth, one form of it at least, is synonymous with science. Democracy makes justice or righteousness its ideal. And peace is of the essence of religion.
But these older abstractions are goals or ends, while my faith is content with the means, the instruments or directives pointing to those goals. Once set by them on the right road, I try to keep my eyes on that road and give only fleeting glances up to the hills from whence my help may come. I’m made that way.
Please note that like the compass points, my four bases are interrelated. Indeed they exist only as they are related to each other. None could exist without the other three. Even religion is not, to me, conceived without art, science, and democracy. These are the real humanities, the foundation of every liberal education, the principles on which my life, as a teacher, is based.
They are the true disciplines, coordinating the several divisions of learning into which the tree of knowledge has branched out in our time. Art is concerned with the expression of one’s inner life, science with the expression of the natural universe, democracy with human relations, and religion with the will of the Creator. These and all of them are the proper studies of mankind.
Imperfect? Yes, perhaps they are sometimes, but they do not fail me so much as I fail them. I have never attained even to their imperfection. They deviate, as the compass does, from the true north, but that is no reason for throwing the compass away and going orb only by log reckoning.
The material for their correction is to be found in history and in the insights of today. We constantly correct them and go on our way.
Sometimes religion has tried to do without science. Today it seems to me that we are trying to make democracy and science do all the work so that our cities and our countryside are no longer beautiful, and our young people evade religion and have no peace of mind. We cannot be complete without them all.
This and one word more. Freedom is the polarity of my compass, that attraction which in other ages was called love, which guides the sun and the rest of the stars.
Liberty, love. friend, freedom. These historical etymologies give us the clue to their essential meanings. My metaphysics cannot venture much further, but this I believe.
There the philosophy of one of this country’s most distinguished men of letters, Doctor Henry Noble MacCracken who has boxed the compass of life with a true sense of where he is going as a human being.