The Predicament of Modern Man
by Elton Trueblood


A book about a great subject should be either very long or very short, long enough to cover the subject adequately or short enough to permit the presentation of the main line of argument without cluttering detail. Usually both the long book and the short book are needed, but the short book is needed first.

The present volume is the outcome of the conviction that most of our talk about post-war reconstruction misses the point in that the treaties, political organizations, and economic arrangements, about which we speak and write so voluminously, are only surface phenomena. Before any of these can succeed there must be fundamental changes in the foundations of our civilization. It is the conviction of the author that the trouble we face is more profound than we normally suppose and that the solution of our difficulties will likewise lie along deeper lines than we normally suppose. There is nothing more needful at this time than the exploration, by as many minds as possible, of the conditions of the reconstruction of civilization. Since it is civilization itself that is in jeopardy, we must consider, as carefully as we can, what the necessary conditions and presuppositions of any genuine civilization really are.

Any reasonably alert person is aware that there is no single solution to the world’s ills now or at any time. The problems before modern man are so complex that neither any single solution nor all solutions put together will give us a really decent world. We do not expect Utopia. A thousand years from now our descendants will be facing difficult times, some of their problems being new and others being the same old problems that plague us today, because they will share inevitably in the perennial human predicament. But we are foolish indeed if we permit a recognition of these limitations on our efforts to dissuade us from effort. To say that no one solution is a panacea is not to deny that some approaches to a problem come nearer to the center of the difficulty than others do. To say that we shall not make a perfect society in the next century or the next millennium is no excuse for failure to do our best to create an order relatively better than the one in which we now live.

One of the heartening facts of our day is the emergence of a philosophy of civilization about which there is great and significant agreement among many who are willing to engage in the intellectual labor which such an inquiry demands. This book is an effort to report faithfully this emerging philosophy, to which many are led who are more concerned with the problems at the center than they are with those at the periphery. Consequently, the function of the author has been the relatively humble one of a clerk of a Friends’ meeting who seeks to state faithfully what the "sense of the meeting" is.


Stanford University,

Lincoln’s Birthday, 1944