The Social Failure Of The City -- By: Emma Winner Rogers

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 055:217 (Jan 1898)
Article: The Social Failure Of The City
Author: Emma Winner Rogers


The Social Failure Of The City

Emma Winner Rogers

A French novelist has called our modern civilization a “varnished barbarism,” and we recognize the truth of this most when we know intimately the great cities. The barbarian hordes within their boundaries, of various tongues and temperaments and customs; the struggle for life and place; the primitive methods of lying, stealing, and killing confirm one’s impression that civilization has not struck much below the surface as yet. One can talk of the city only in paradoxes, and it has been well described as the birthplace of civilization and the deathplace of the human race. But for the constant influx of sound and sane humanity from the hamlet and the country, physical and moral degeneracy would overtake the city in a few generations.

Potent influences both for good and for evil center in the city; pure and unselfish types of character develop side by side with debased and sordid types. Here we find the widest difference in conditions. Immense wealth and abject poverty, broad culture and dense ignorance, unbounded opportunity and grinding deprivation, mark the social conditions of the dwellers in cities and make the problem of the city the delight and the despair of the student of society. Woodrow Wilson in the Atlantic Monthly, writing of the fact that life in big cities is actually inhumane in its rush and grasping turmoil, asks: “Why should not the city seem infinitely more human than the hamlet? Why should not human traits the more abound where hu-

man beings teem millions strong?” And he replies to this very pertinently: “Because the city curtails man of his wholeness, specializes him, quickens some powers, stunts others… . Men have indeed written like human beings,” he says, “in the midst of great cities, but not often when they have shared the city’s characteristic life… . There are not many places that belong to a city’s life to which you can ‘invite your soul.’ Its haste, its preoccupations, its anxieties, its rushing noise as of men driven, its ringing cries, distract you. It offers no quiet for reflection; it permits no retirement to any who share its life. It is a place of little tasks, of narrowed functions, of aggregate and not of individual strength.”1

It is doubtful if the conditions of life in our large cities will permit the development of a great literature, a great art, or great character. These grow where the clamor of trade and labor do not drown out the voices of God and nature and humanity. A certain serenity, a sufficient leisure for vision and human fellowship, contact with beauty and good...

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