The Path to Public Service at SEAS
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CLASS feeling seems to be decreasing at Harvard, so that it is not uncommon to find men who scarcely know all their classmates by sight, - a natural consequence of the size of the classes and the lack of any interest in which a whole class is united. At the same time the elective system throws men of different classes together, and tends to make us more a University, where the only distinctions made by the government are in the degree of knowledge obtained, and where Freshmen and Seniors may meet on common ground in the recitation-room. It seems, therefore, a favorable time to try to reunite the "sets" in each class, and to bring together the whole College on some foundation that shall be more lasting than class feeling and more suited to the increasing maturity of Harvard students.
Within the last few years great efforts have been made throughout the country to revive the failing interest of the educated classes in politics, and much has been done, though more remains. The outcry against corruption has roused many citizens to a consciousness of their duties and to some spasmodic efforts to perform them, but in a few years they will turn over and take another nap until corruption has again reached its maximum. Something, therefore, must be done that will produce more lasting effects. It should be a part of every intelligent man's education to be taught to take an interest in politics, and it certainly should not be difficult to arouse such an interest among a large number of educated young men who will soon be voters. Harvard students, I fear, for the most part confine themselves to reading the Nation every week and to adopting its opinions, so that there is very little originality shown, and, worse than that, we are very apt to be imbued with the gloominess of that excellent paper, which has so strong a fancy for looking at the dark side of a picture. This is very unfortunate, for it is mournful to think of the future of a country whose educated men, before they begin life, look upon the best political career as an endless struggle against corruption and ignorance. On this account, and from their lack of training for public life, very few of our number ever think of entering politics as a profession.
An article in the last volume of the Magenta, entitled "A Political Institution," and some information which appeared in the same paper a few weeks ago about the Oxford and Cambridge Unions, have suggested the hope that Harvard will soon boast of a club, open to the whole College, for the discussion of political questions. I have tried to show that it would be an advantage, since it would bring together men of different conditions and opinions, and would offer a new field for intellectual development. In addition, it would be a great advantage to the country to have a hundred and fifty well-educated young men annually scattered over the land, already possessed of a fair knowledge of political questions and some practice in discussion.
In England the two societies have advanced far enough to have buildings of their own, which would not be possible for us at first; but the College might lend us Massachusetts, and we could change that from the barn it is at present to suitable rooms for the club. A clerk would be needed to sell coffee and cigars, who would also look after the reading-room and library, when the latter was obtained. Then the reading-room would be more inviting and orderly, and more reading would be done, while those who steal papers would be detected. As regards the library, two or three of our larger societies have great numbers of books which are being ruined for want of proper care; if these books were given to the new club, the paid librarian would keep them in order, and additions could be made to supplement the College Library in the most useful way. Rooms might be set apart where whist and chess could be played, and others in which French and German lectures and debates might be held. In process of time enough money would be accumulated or subscribed to build a house, and then it might be practicable to have a kitchen where a steak and potatoes might be cooked for those who ordered them. At Cambridge the expense to each member is only three pounds a year, and enough money was thus obtained to meet the ordinary expenses of the club and pay five hundred pounds for mortgages, leaving a balance of three hundred pounds on hand. Our expenses need not be so great, for we should have no mortgages and would not spend so much at first for books and salaries. I hope that this scheme, which has been so hastily and imperfectly described, will not seem visionary. A few earnest and energetic supporters would be able to put it into operation without much difficulty.
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