The Enlightenment and Its Problems. Harmony. Excerpts from Paul Tillich.

(Originally posted in 2017. The text was revised.)


Keywords: History of ideas. The Enlightenment. Paul Tillich. Civic education. Child labor. Providence. Harmony. Invisible hand.


“The Enlightenment and Its Problems”. “The Concept of Harmony”. Excerpts from Paul Tillich.

Part I.
These excerpts from Paul Tillich’s “A History of Christian Thought” have perennial interest and value. They are not, however, presented as the final word on the concept of “harmony” in the Enlightenment. The acceptance here is provisional. Material is taken from his particular presentation of this critical idea, and rather long excerpts used to suggest the range of treatment. Parts might be familiar to some readers, but the overall pattern is worth repeated attention and consideration. It is this pattern of related concepts, of harmony, providence, in economics “the invisible hand”; gathering these in a historical setting and stressing the process of secularization has particular value. Substantial parts were omitted here, however. The treatment of Leibniz is central in the full version. It is hoped this group of excerpts will encourage those with interests in the history of ideas to consult the original text.

There are comments and additional materials after the Tillich excerpts. These are given under the heading of Part II, Tillich’s “harmony” idea…, and are about child labor.

(Tillich, Paul. A History of Christian Thought. Print version: Simon & Schuster, 1968. New York. ISBN: 0671214268. Text here: Kindle Edition.)


Part 2, chapter 2: The Enlightenment and Its Problems. From p. 332-339 (print version).

4. ”The Concept of Harmony“

“Now we come to a fourth concept, the concept of harmony. This concept is part of the fundamental faith of the Enlightenment. In my terminology we could call harmony its ultimate concern. All the philosophers of the Enlightenment use this concept directly or indirectly, explicitly or implicitly. All of them elaborated their systems under the guidance of this principle. Our first remark about it has to be semantic. Today harmony may have a musical connotation, which it always has had and should have. But it has also deteriorated to mean “nice,” when we speak of a nice harmonious family life. Of course, harmony understood in this way was not the ultimate concern of the great philosophers of the Enlightenment.

Harmony in the philosophy of the Enlightenment is a paradoxical concept. This means that it must always be qualified by the words “in spite of.” The ancient Pythagoreans spoke of a universal harmony, of a cosmic harmony, but in spite of every individual thing and every individual human being seemingly going their own way. Yet, through all there was an overarching harmony. The Greek word cosmos which we translate by universe originally meant beauty and harmony. …”

“This concept of harmony was carried into the Platonic-Christian idea of providence. Plato was the first who philosophically made this a central concept. It is also a fundamental concept of Christian theology, and even more of Christian daily life. The daily life of the Christian believer is largely determined by providence. Ordinary Christians find in their faith in providence a kind of ultimate security in the vicissitudes of their lives. But this fundamental Christian idea of providence became secularized in the Enlightenment. Now it was formulated in terms of harmony. …”

“Even when the idea of providence is secularized in the Enlightenment, certain traits of it are preserved, especially the “in spite of” element. Christianity emphasizes that in spite of sin and error, something meaningful can be done in history by the providential guidance of God. The philosophies of the Enlightenment also maintained this aspect. It was applied by them to all realms of life. The first clear expression of this in the secular realm can be seen in the area of economics. It was expressed by Adam Smith (1723-1790) of the Manchester School of Economics in his idea of harmony. The idea is that in spite of the fact that everyone may be motivated by the profit interest, each one out for his own profit, in the end the total aims of production and consumption will be reached according to some hidden law. With many qualifications, this idea also underlies the theory of modern American capitalism. There is this basic belief in harmony. In spite of the fact that producer, seller, and buyer fight with each other, each bargaining for the greatest possible profit or for the best deal, somehow the laws of economics will be at work behind their backs in such a way that the best interests of all concerned and of the whole society will be satisfied. …” [Emphasis added.]

“The same principle is valid in politics. According to the philosophers of the Enlightenment, democracy presupposes that if every person follows his own reasoning, a general consensus or a majority will can be formed which is to the advantage of all. Then the minority should be prepared to acknowledge that the will of the majority was the true will of the whole, the volonte generale—the mystical concept of Rousseau who distinguishes the volonte generale, the general will, from the will of all. The majority does not represent the will of all, because there is the opposition, but it represents the general will, the true will which is driving toward the best interests of the group as a whole.

Now you can see immediately the consequence of this belief in harmony. If there is no belief in this harmony, democracy cannot work, for the minority will not accept the validity of the decision of the majority. … As soon as there is no belief in harmony, that is, in the providential validity of the majority decision, then democracy is impossible. …”

“We have the same concept applied in the field of education. Education is necessary to produce the political maturity required for people to acknowledge the principle of harmony in democracy. The belief is that education can develop the potentialities of every individual in such a way that finally a good society will come out of it. This was the belief which induced the people of the Enlightenment to create public schools, which had not existed up to that time. There had been only upper class schools or church schools where the people were subjected to the preaching and teaching of the church. But the Enlightenment created public schools which became the center of culture. …”

“Another area in which the principle of harmony was applied was in epistemology, the theory of knowledge. It is very clear in John Locke (1632-1704) and is behind practically all empiricism. For here there is the belief that the chaotic impressions which come to us from reality will find a way to produce in our minds a meaningful image of reality, making knowledge and action possible. This presupposes a law of harmony working within us. It is interesting to notice how secure, how dogmatically sure many empiricists are that the law of harmony in this respect really works. …”

“In Protestantism we have the religious counterpart to this concept of harmony. The Protestant idea was that religion or Christianity has no need of a central authority which gives all the answers, either by councils or popes. On the other hand, the fact that the church held councils was an expression of the principle of harmony, for the assumption prevailed that the majority opinion of the council was the expression of the divine Spirit. Of course, Protestantism also had an authority, one formal principle as it was called later on, namely, the Bible. The idea that the Bible can have an impact on every individual reader through the divine Spirit is an expression of the principle of harmony. The principle of harmony is at work behind the backs of the individual Bible readers, making possible a universal harmony and the existence of the church. … There is some kind of unity; this belief is an expression of the principle of harmony, but it is always accompanied by an “in spite of” qualification.

After running through all of these applications of the principle of harmony, I hope you can see that when the central supernatural authority was removed, and the individualization and conflict in reality remain, then the only possible answer there can be, both in religion and culture, both in economics and politics, both in epistemology and physics, is the principle of a presupposed harmony which produces indirectly what was supposed to be produced directly by a divine interference or by an inner-historical, all-uniting authority such as existed in the medieval Roman Church. This supernatural authority was now replaced by the principle, of harmony. This finally led to another question: What if the harmony does not work? This is the existentialist question which began with the second period of Romanticism in the beginning of the nineteenth century, and runs throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.” [Emphasis added.]

“We still have in the majority of our intellectuals, the bearers of our intellectual life, this kind of paradoxical optimism that is identical with the concept of harmony. We have it in Freudianism and Marxism; we have it in our ordinary democratic humanism; we have it in everything that is called liberalism in economics and politics. Yet, it is not the same as it was in the eighteenth century. Many things have happened in the meantime. The theological development of the last century and a half has been looking for an answer to the question: What if the principle of harmony does not work?”          [Emphasis added.]


Part II.
Tillich’s “harmony” idea: The human face of historical US child labor, and continuing international child labor problems.

The excerpts from Tillich above suggest the range and importance of the critical idea of “harmony”. It is a fascinating area of intellectual history. Tillich’s material is presented for the most part on its own, without elaboration. But in the area of child labor this seems objectionable. The ethical extremes hidden under the theories and abstract terms – the actual people involved – call for more explicit “human” treatment. This is done from a sense of appropriate response, in memory of past problems and in similar consideration of the present.

In spite of the fact that producer, seller, and buyer fight with each other, each bargaining for the greatest possible profit or for the best deal, somehow the laws of economics will be at work behind their backs in such a way that the best interests of all concerned and of the whole society will be satisfied. …” [Emphasis added.] (Tillich, “The Concept of Harmony”.)

There is something strangely chilling about phrases like “the best interests of all concerned and of the whole society will be satisfied.” This is not to say Tillich’s phrase shows a callous attitude, but that the abstract expression compared with concrete reality is disturbing. Tillich does stress the idea of the paradox of “in spite of”. How easy it is, however, to take refuge in ideas and theories, and forget what it really means for the individual, for the child in the mine or factory.

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  1. Introductory texts from the US Department of Labor.
  2. Pictures from the Library of Congress of child labor in the US.
  3. International child labor information from the International Labour Organization (ILO)

    1. Introductory texts from the US Department of Labor.

“History of child labor in the United States—part 1: little children working”

“The growth of manufacturing, however, provided the greatest opportunity for society to avoid the perceived problem of the idle child.15 Now that more work was less complex because of the introduction of machines, children had more potential job opportunities. For example, one industrialist in 1790 proposed building textile factories around London to employ children to “prevent the habitual idleness and degeneracy” that were destroying the community.16 With the advances in machinery, not only could society avoid the issue of unproductive children, but also the children themselves could easily create productive output with only their rudimentary skills.”

“Child labor also served the Hamiltonian commercial vision of America, by providing increased labor to support industry.23 In accordance with this vision, Alexander Hamilton, as Secretary of the Treasury, noted in a 1791 report on manufacturing that children “who would otherwise be idle” could become a source of cheap labor.24

Around the same time, the influential Niles’ Register (a national newsweekly magazine) noted that factory work was not for able-bodied men, but rather “better done by little girls from six to twelve years old.”25 Industrialists viewed progress as having machines so simple to operate that a child could do it.”26 This labor was perceived as beneficial not only to the child but also to the public as a whole. In keeping with this ideal of child productivity, an 1802 advertisement in the Baltimore Federal Gazette sought children from the ages of 8 to 12 to work in a cotton mill. The ad stated, “It is hoped that those citizens having a knowledge of families, having children destitute of employment, will do an act of public benefit by directing them to the institution [cotton mill].”27[Emphasis added.]

“By 1820, children made up more than 40 percent of the mill employees in at least three New England states.”

“Cotton mills”

“Although the coal industry was vital in many sections of the country, perhaps most prominent among the child-labor-intensive industries was the cotton mill. In 1900, 25,000 of the nearly 100,000 textile workers in the South were children under 16. By 1904, overall employment of children had increased to 50,000, with 20,000 children under 12 employed. The family, particularly the women and children, was central to mill operation.67 The Southern mill and the labors associated with it are iconic. Pictures of young girls in the mill are likely those most identified with child labor in America.68[Emphasis added.]

https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2017/article/history-of-child-labor-in-the-united-states-part-1.htm


 

2. Pictures from the Library of Congress of child labor in the US.

Spinners in a cotton mill

Spinners in a cotton mill. 1

 

At the close of the day

At the close of the day. Just up from the shaft. 2

All work below ground in a Pennsylvania Coal Mine. Smallest boy, next to right hand end is a nipper. On his right is Arthur, a driver, Jo on Arthur’s right is a nipper. Frank, boy on left end of photo, is a nipper, works a mile underground from the shaft, which is 5000 Ft. down. Location: [South Pittston?], Pennsylvania.

 

Addie Card_12 years

Addie Card, 12 years. 3  

Spinner in North Pormal [i.e., Pownal] Cotton Mill. Vt.

 

A view of the Pennsylvania Breaker

A view of the Pennsylvania Breaker. 4

 The dust was so dense at times as to obscure the view. This dust penetrates the utmost recess of the boy’s lungs. Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania.


 

3. International child labor information from the International Labour Organization (ILO). [UK spelling retained.]

“Marking progress against child labour – Global estimates and trends 2000-2012”. (ILO-IPEC, 2013).

Facts and figures

  • Global number of children in child labour has declined by one third since 2000, from 246 million to 168 million children. More than half of them, 85 million, are in hazardous work (down from 171 million in 2000).
  • Asia and the Pacific still has the largest numbers (almost 78 million or 9.3% of child population), but Sub-Saharan Africa continues to be the region with the highest incidence of child labour (59 million, over 21%).
  • There are 13 million (8.8%) of children in child labour in Latin America and the Caribbean and in the Middle East and North Africa there are 9.2 million (8.4%).
  • Agriculture remains by far the most important sector where child labourers can be found (98 million, or 59%), but the problems are not negligible in services (54 million) and industry (12 million) – mostly in the informal economy.
  • Child labour among girls fell by 40% since 2000, compared to 25% for boys.

Source: Marking progress against child labour – Global estimates and trends 2000-2012  (ILO-IPEC, 2013).

(http://www.ilo.org/global/topics/child-labour/lang–en/index.htm)

About the ILO. The only tripartite U.N. agency, since 1919 the ILO brings together governments, employers and workers representatives of 187 member States , to set labour standards, develop policies and devise programmes promoting decent work for all women and men. (http://www.ilo.org/global/about-the-ilo/lang–en/index.htm)


by Edward Eggleston


Notes

1 Spinners in a cotton mill.

(Digital ID: (color digital file from b&w original print) nclc 02119 http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/nclc.02119. Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-nclc-02119 (color digital file from b&w original print) LC-USZ62-19572 (b&w film copy negative) Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print. Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication.)

2 At the close of the day. Just up from the shaft.

At the close of the day. Just up from the shaft. All work below ground in a Pennsylvania Coal Mine. Smallest boy, next to right hand end is a nipper. On his right is Arthur, a driver, Jo on Arthur’s right is a nipper. Frank, boy on left end of photo, is a nipper, works a mile underground from the shaft, which is 5000 Ft. down. Location: [South Pittston?], Pennsylvania.

(Creator(s): Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940, photographer. Date Created/Published: [1910 December or 1911January]. Medium: 1 photographic print. Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-nclc-01104 (color digital file from b&w original print) LC-USZ62-23743 (b&w film copy negative). Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. Call Number: LOT 7477, no. 1915 [P&P]. Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print)

3 Addie Card, 12 years.

Addie Card, 12 years. Spinner in North Pormal [i.e., Pownal] Cotton Mill. Vt. Girls in mill say she is ten years. She admitted to me she was twelve; that she started during school vacation and new would “stay.” E. F. Brown. See Photo #1050. Location: North Pownal, Vermont.

(Creator(s): Hine, Lewis Wickes, 1874-1940, photographer. Date Created/Published: 1910 February. Medium: 1 photographic print. 1 negative : glass ; 4 x 5 in. Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-nclc-01830 (color digital file from b&w original print) LC-DIG-nclc-05282 (b&w digital file from original glass negative) LC-USZ62-18122 (b&w film copy negative). Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. Call Number: LOT 7479, v. 2, no. 1056 [P&P] LC-H51- 1056. Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print)

4 A view of the Pennsylvania Breaker.

A view of the Pennsylvania Breaker. The dust was so dense at times as to obscure the view. This dust penetrates the utmost recess of the boy’s lungs. Location: South Pittston, Pennsylvania.

(Digital ID: (color digital file from b&w original print) nclc 01133.  http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/nclc.01133. Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-nclc-01133 (color digital file from b&w original print) LC-DIG-nclc-05473 (b&w digital file from original glass negative) LC-USZ62-23751 (b&w film copy negative) LC-USZ6-1214 (b&w film copy negative). Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print)

From the US Department of Labor: Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

“On Saturday, June 25, 1938, to avoid pocket vetoes 9 days after Congress had adjourned, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed 121 bills. Among these bills was a landmark law in the Nation’s social and economic development — Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA). Against a history of judicial opposition, the depression-born FLSA had survived, not unscathed, more than a year of Congressional altercation. In its final form, the act applied to industries whose combined employment represented only about one-fifth of the labor force. In these industries, it banned oppressive child labor and set the minimum hourly wage at 25 cents, and the maximum workweek at 44 hours.”

(https://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/history/flsa1938.htm)

6 Samuel, Howard D. Excerpt from: “Troubled passage: the labor movement and the Fair Labor Standards Act”

“The effort to legislate against child labor had a shorter history. Most of the action in the late 1800s and early 1900s was at the State level; by 1916, virtually every State had passed laws prohibiting child labor. Congress made two efforts to pass similar legislation on the Federal level, in 1916 and 1919, and both laws were overturned by the Supreme Court on constitutional grounds. So in 1924, Congress initiated a Constitutional amendment—which was promptly defeated in most of the States where ratification was attempted. But by the late 1920s, opinion had changed, and by 1937, 28 States—of the 38 needed—had ratified. The child labor provision in the Fair Labor Standards Act made the amendment process moot.”

(Samuel, Howard D. p. 33. Monthly Labor Review December 2000. “Troubled passage: the labor movement and the Fair Labor Standards Act”) (https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2000/12/art3full.pdf)

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