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The City of Man, and a Weekend

By Chris Robinson  |  Fall 2020

The historic Amenia Conference of 1933 at Troutbeck, Ame- nia, which revitalized the NAACP and sowed the seeds for later civil rights legislation, was a local event of national importance. So too was the meeting in 1960 at the Buckley residence at Great Elm ni Sharon that generated the Sharon Statement, a founding document of late 20th Century American conservative policy. But there were other events that played their part on the national stage, even if they are now largely forgotten. One was a meeting of a small group of men at the Bartram Inn in Sharon on August 24-25, 1940, almost exactly eighty years ago.

The Bartram Inn, Sharon, Connecticut. Postcard.

The rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s had forced many intellectuals to immigrate to the United States. They, along with some of their American colleagues, grew concerned at the prevailing mood of isolationism in America. They feared that the New World was prepared to let the Old World and its democratic traditions crumble under the dictatorship of Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin. For these men, America, as the last strong representative of western, Christian, democracy, had a duty to save Europe and lead the world into a new phase of human growth.

A group of organizers coalesced. Best-known today is the author Thomas Mann, who had fled his native Germany in 1933, and from 1938 settled as a neighbor of Albert Einstein in Princeton. Others in the group included Giuseppe Antonio Borgese, a refugee from fascist Italy; the Austrian writer Hermann Broch; William Neilson, president of Smith College; the American architect and social theorist Lewis Mumford; the influential American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr; and Robert Hutchins, then president of the University of Chicago and a major figure in educational philosophy. The key group, which was to become known as the Committee of Fifteen, held a series of meetings to discuss the threat of events in Europe to American and world democracy and to address the role of education, religion, economic reform, and politics on the new world order. The meetings culminated in a conference in Atlantic City on May 24-26, 1940, and the decision to publish their conclusions in a short book under the title The City of Man: A Declaration on World Democracy.

To develop and refine the text, a subcommittee was formed that met for an intense two days in August 1940 in the Bartram Inn at 74 Upper Main Street in Sharon. They chose the inn because Mumford, a member of the drafting subcommittee, was very familiar with it. Mumford lived in Amenia – indeed Mumford had attended a day of the Amenia Conference at Troutbeck in 1933. The Bartram Inn and restaurant was a Sharon favorite, run from 1910 to early 1939 by the legendary Beatrice Fay. Its gingerbread molding and shady verandas would provide a charming setting for the authors’ efforts.

The subcommittee worked on two key documents that formed the bulk of The City of Man: a Declaration that set forth the problem and called for action, and a shorter Proposal to form panels of experts to investigate and report on the form that action should take. The authors called for a revitalization of American democracy to defeat totalitarianism and lead the way in the post-war establishment of a single world-wide government, elected by universal suffrage. All decisions would be by popular administration on as local a level as possible to undermine the idea of nation states, which were seen as the root of the conflicts now raging across the globe. This worldwide parliament would act as a form of Supreme Court to safeguard the principles of justice and equality. The world democracy would be founded on what the authors described as Judeo-Christian principles of equality, but balanced by a strict separation of church and state. Economic principles would sail a middle course between the freedom of unbridled capitalism and the economic justice of socialism. Education was key to forging a renewed focus away from materialism in favor of the intellectual capabilities of humanity, while stressing that civic duties were the necessary corrective to individual rights.

The utopia envisaged by the authors of The City of Man was inspiring stuff. As Broch wrote four days after the meeting at the Bartram Inn:

“I would like to remain in the good mood in which I came away from Sharon. Our days there seemed to be under a lucky star and, quite irrationally, a glimmer of hope awakened in me. Of course it was a political hope, but not only political, it was so ot speak hope for mankind, and hope for my personal fate – something that could give my life meaning again, perhaps by helping build the new world which ‘must’ be born of all this fighting.”

The City of Man was published by Viking Press in November 1940. Its seventeen named authors held high hopes that their work would bear fruit, but the political landscape was complicated. Only a week after the conference in Sharon, the America First Committee was launched at Yale University to oppose U.S. intervention in the war, and it was not until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 that the United States formally entered the fray. The idea of a universal world ordercould gain no traction during the war, and the Cold War that followed was equally unwelcoming.

Other aspects of the principles set forth in The City of Man, however, did find their echo in the post-war world – a sense that the United States had a mission as the guardian of democracy and individual freedom in Europe and as the enforcer of it around the world, that it should be a promoter of so-called Judeo-Christian values (whether welcome or not) and an agent of economic globalism through the power of the dollar. Some of these principles also permeate, with important differences, the Sharon Statement that was drafted at Great Elm, almost 20 years later and barely a hundred yards down the road from the Bartram Inn. It is tempting to think they had a copy of The City of Man to spark the debate.

For a fuller account of the genesis of The City of Man see “visionaries in Exile: Broch’s cooperation with G.A. Borgese and Hannah Arendt” by P. Lutzeler, in Hermann Broch, Visionary in Exile: the 2001 Yale Symposium, 2003, pp. 67- 88.

The City of Man: A Declaration on World Democracy. Book cover.

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