Lincoln Steffens, in his Autobiography, once suggested to President Eliot that a course be given to Seniors "on the forms in which the first steps of bribery and corruption come to a young man in all walks of life." That course, broadened into the whole field of practical politics, is needed now more than ever.
Unquestionably, if the enrollment figures of the class of 1939 are significant at all, more Harvard men in the future will be entering public life. At present Harvard trains them beautifully in the background and ideas of American Government, but there is no course which provides a real understanding of the problems that face a modern politician. Such a one is necessary if Harvard men intend ever to fight intelligently and realistically against dirty politicians, and also is necessary, as Lincoln Steffens suggests, if they wish to become successful dirty politicians.
Professor Holcombe's Government 7a and Professor Elliott's Government 3a at present only touch on practical difficulties. Both courses emphasize historical background and the principles of politics. Other courses in the department make specialized studies of the various parts and functions of the government. All are good in themselves, but they do not present a picture of the demands of, and necessary training for, public life.
A flexible and up-to-date course in practical politics, with lectures from men actively engaged in public life, would be a beginning. Emphasis in such a course should be on the methods, in actual fact and example, of becoming a State Senator; then of what happens, in actual fact and example, to the money voted for "pork"; then how it is possible to proceed to a governorship, or boss-ship, or place of responsibility of power; and so forth, with biographies, facts and examples at every point.
Leaders in education, business, and politics have repeatedly intoned that more college men should interest themselves in their local, state, and national governments. Now that Harvard students are giving definite evidence that they are thinking along these lines, the University should be prepared to give them a complete training.