A return to Athens and Rome last fall and further exposure to the legacy of succeeding cultures of the Mediterranean have stimulated renewed reflection on distinctive qualities of Western civilization. For a wandering economic historian, now mostly preoccupied with problems of our own time, the experience reemphasized the importance of understanding our history well enough to take from it perspectives that can guide current policy and help us discern what is really new in present circumstances.
To begin this report from this premise--and to urge on Americans, young and old, the value of acquiring a fuller, firmer grasp of our own past--need not imply disregard for or diminished interest in other civilizations; indeed it may open the way to more perceptive awareness of their particular characteristics. The premise simply recognizes that the Western past is what has most shaped us, right up to today; what has created the major institutions and culture, the beliefs and attitudes, within which we live much of our lives and through which we typically view the world.
Nowhere were the antecedents of our modern Western world so concentrated as in the rich, multi-layered interaction of cultures in the Mediterranean basin. Historians from Herodotus to Pirenne and, most recently and comprehensively, Fernand Braudel, have been fascinated by what developed in and around that slender inland sea. Averaging less than 500 miles north-to-south and barely four times that in length, under a benign climate moderate enough to allow cultivation of wheat, olives, and vines all round its shores, the Mediterranean provided an extraordinary artery of commerce and communication from Phoenicia to Spain, Marseilles to Tripoli, Venice to Byzantium. Apart from the earlier civilizations on its southeastern borders--Egyptian, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian--the Mediterranean gave rise to the high civilizations of Greece and Rome; the three great monotheistic religions; the trading and cultural interactions of Moslem, Christian, and Jew; the development of Arabic mathematics, science, and art during Europe's "dark ages"; the intense activity of the city states and their sophisticated instruments of commerce; the explosive energies--intellectual, artistic, economic, and political--that broke forth into the Renaissance; the 15th- and 16th-century explorations that reached out to discover the wider world. Though writing in haste, during a troubled time in his life, Disraeli may not have overly abused a novelist's license when, in 1837, he observed:
From this mix of peoples and polities, religions and cultures, customs and laws, emerged features which have played a controlling part in Western civilization ever since. Certain fundamentals are worth highlighting here: the Judaeo-Christian belief in the worth and potential development of individual human beings, a religious conception powerfully reinforced by the Roman juridical definition of rights and duties of the citizen; a persisting commitment to the separation of the temporal and the spiritual, and with it the principle of limited powers fundamental to the later development of constitutional government; the greatly enhanced place given to human reason and its critical role in the search for knowledge, in economic activity, and in the governance of human affairs. These dominant characteristics loom large in what has distinguished "Western civilization" from its historic neighbors to the East--whether Persian, Ottoman, Asiatic, or Soviet. Rooted in what took form on the shores of the Mediterranean, these foundations still hold profound significance for us today.
That the Western world has not "frozen over" in its 2000-year evolution, as have most other civilizations and empires, can be attributed in fair measure to the very pluralism of the currents that flowed into it. More time and space would allow fuller identification of currents and conditions that have kept Western society from coming to rest. Prominent among these creative tensions have been those between revealed religion as the source of truth and the Greek rationalist and later "scientific" approach to inquiry; between the demands of the state and rights of individuals deep-rooted in our heritage; and between traditional, hierarchic, landed systems and the relentless intrusions of expanding commerce.
Indeed, the most powerful and sustained dynamic propelling the course of Western history since the age of the discoveries (1450-1550) was undoubtedly the transfer of much of what had developed in the Mediterranean to the emerging nation states of northwestern Europe, and later across the Atlantic, and the open-ended, cumulative expansion of entrepreneurial capitalism that embraced much of the globe over the last 500 years. The accompanying rise to power of successive middle classes, the spread of education and the printing press, and the development of more representative forms of government worked to prevent the hardening of the West around any rigid social order. Instead these centuries saw the insistent process of institutional change that Max Weber and his successors have analyzed--the move from kinship, communal, and traditional patterns of social organization to more open, mobile, individualistic avenues of opportunity, and from inherited or ascribed status to that achieved through competitive merit and rewarded in accordance with more objectively defined, "universalistic" standards; the growth of literacy and learning; and the shift from received doctrine and acceptance of a fixed body of knowledge to systematic, rational investigation of a world that was felt to be knowable, available, and intended for competitive exploitation through restless innovation.
Notably in Britain, northwestern Europe, and what became the United States, these changes were reinforced by the extra-worldly sanction for industrious, systematic, earthly endeavor, and prudent investment of the fruits thereof, that has been identified as "the Protestant Ethic"; by the philosophy expressed in "utilitarianism," which subjected any and every social institution and procedure to rational analysis; and by the carrier myth of progress--the conviction that history and mankind were on the rails to a better world, a romantic innocence about human affairs that probably reached its peak on the eve of the tragedy, and everlasting consequences, of the First World War.
To the extent that these compressed observations on Mediterranean origins, certain historic features of our civilization, and underlying dynamics of the modern West are reasonably accurate, they only heighten the question of whether we can expect the course of events to continue as an accelerating extrapolation of this past or whether our civilization now faces quite different circumstances.
The answer to this exceedingly difficult question in most cases has to be something of both, with the line between not always clear; but a sense of history can help in making these distinctions--and in responding to them. Before trying to sort out even partial judgments, however, it seems only fair to give Benjamin Disraeli a chance to continue his paragraph, as he raced it off to the printer on the eve of the young Queen Victoria's first parliament. Having extravagantly praised what had emerged on the shores of the Mediterranean, he then asked:
While we need not be deflected by an English Tory's view of the colonies in the 1830s, can we as easily dismiss his larger questions? What has happened in the 150 years since Disraeli wrote certainly has made the Atlantic civilization "memorable," but will it be "as refined," "as permanent"? Will it retain its "racy vigour"? Will the USA provide the leadership needed as a stable, intelligent, and responsible nation?
The potentials for such achievement seem within our collective "Atlantic" grasp if we can sustain the main lines of Western civilization and avoid the most treacherous pitfalls of the late 20th century. Of first priority has to be the necessity of limiting the growth of nuclear arsenals and avoiding the contemporary equivalent of religious wars on the international scene, while curbing the proliferation of weapons around the globe. These must be recognized as new problems, different in their scale and import from anything history has known. To quote General MacArthur, "The very triumph of scientific annihilation has destroyed the possibility of war's being a medium for practical settlement of international differences."
We have the knowledge, the resources, and the resourcefulness to contain the Soviet threat without embarking on an uncontrolled arms race--an unstable course on which history offers grim readings--or choking off our own economic growth with $200 billion deficits. If we recognize that neither the USSR nor we can want or "win" a major nuclear war, and that the ultimate determinants of the East-West balance lie in the relative productivity of the two economies and the social cohesion of the two societies, then the better cards should be in Atlantic hands. If we can play them well, the West should not only grow in strength relative to a Soviet empire whose rigid economy and widely discredited ideology have passed their zenith of influence; but, by pulling our own economy out of an unnecessarily deep recession, this country could provide the lift to the trading world that would most ease strains within our alliances and offer developing countries their best chance for economic progress. This is where the real test--and decisive opportunity--now lies.
But to do these things requires recognition that crucial problems and circumstances are "new," not simply an extension of our past. Though military conflict has played a large role in Western history--not only in the fortunes of men, cities, and states but in the development of technologies and institutions as well--we must recognize the change that powers of total destruction now confront us with. Even on a non-nuclear scale, the more than $500 billion being spent annually on arms around the globe represents a monstrous misuse of resources that cries for redirection. New circumstances call for new responses that look beyond volleys of cold-war rhetoric.
In areas of domestic policy--where we fortunately have more margin for error--we have been pressing our luck in allowing restrictive ideologies to obstruct the working out of practical solutions, at great cost in institutional stress and avoidable human suffering. History speaks loudly on the dangers of allowing dogma to determine policy or action--from the burning of heretics or the holy wars of the old world to the presumptions that rationalized slavery in the new. While the priority need in economic policy has been to bring monetary and fiscal policies back into reasonable balance, the long-term challenge remains that of effectively developing our productive potential and more fully employing the creative energies of our people.
In finding our way back to a political economy of sustainable growth, experience and pragmatic choices offer essential guidelines; but here again we must recognize areas in which changed circumstances require new responses. Relatively mature economies accumulate rigidities--including heavy social commitments to "sunk capital" and existing skills--and generate inherent tendencies that constrict what must remain an open, dynamic process if we are to be competitive. Though recently given a new name, "economic sclerosis," this is an old phenomenon evident in most societies as sectoral interests, old and new, dig in to protect positions or use their power to enlarge their rewards. In Western history one can readily see such constrictions at successive stages--in medieval guilds, Continental mercantilism, or the changes in Great Britain from its industrial ascendancy at full glory in the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851 to the encrusted, encumbered economy of today.
If the United States is to avoid a similar course, we must recognize not only such older symptoms and causes but new and different technologies of influence, manipulation, and persuasion that now magnify their impact. Computers, information processing, and sophisticated communication networks enable special interests--particular age groups, ethnic constituencies, regions, "entitlement" sectors, milk, sugar, or tobacco lobbies, maritime cartels, truckers, exporters, importers, labor unions, industry associations, etc.--to bear in on the political process in ways that not only raise costs, skew investment, and make the economy less productive, but threaten to paralyze decision-making. Civilization requires institutions that work. "Single interest" groups or combinations thereof, using new techniques not previously available, can now impede or distort action for the general good, and stall essential processes by which a complex society must govern itself--a far cry from the enlightened role of representative government that Edmund Burke defined for the electors of Bristol 200 years ago. In an era of increasing economic volatility and accelerating technological change, we cannot live with stasis.
New problems calling for new responses have also become evident in the impact of industrial expansion on natural systems of the earth. While air and water pollution appeared long before the first mills and factories, and applied science and advancing technologies have brought to countless millions benefits vastly exceeding anything prior ages could have envisaged, the pace and nature of technical development in the last 30 years are creating effects on basic biological support systems and on human health that must be more fully faced. For the first time since the beginning of life on earth our species has developed the power to enhance or disrupt essential natural processes. The very inventiveness of synthetic organic chemistry has brought forth products and by-products whose consequences must receive intensified, not reduced or politically circumscribed, scientific analysis. The hazardous substances now entering ground water and the food chain; the sources of acid rain, as well as its effects on soils, plants, and human beings; the factors that threaten nature's renewable resources and may even alter the narrow climatic band within which agriculture and much of life have made their way--all these must be systematically assessed. The rising volume of toxic wastes--now estimated at over 40 million tons a year, almost two-thirds of it from the chemical industry alone--has become too urgent a problem to be longer evaded or simply buried. It requires two things that should be within our powers: honest, consistent, and effective regulation, and putting the creative capabilities of science and engineering to work in redesigning processes to neutralize or recycle toxics, in developing alternatives, and perhaps now finding genetic ways to extend the digestive capacities of nature's decomposers. New problems require new responses.
Nowhere is this more true than in population growth. Though crowded slums are as old as recorded history, the world as a whole did not reach its first billion people until 1830, nor its second until the 1920s. We are now adding a billion every decade. Despite evidence of a slight decline in the rate of increase, the percentage of world population under age 16 foretells rising numbers of births well into the next century. Unless this increase can be limited, there is no way that foreseeable resources can fulfill human hopes for lives of health, decency, and dignity. Migratory pressures will sharply increase as those seeking work crowd existing borders. The scale of the problem gives it new and compelling importance, and the means to do more to control it are now at hand. If dogma or inertia prevent timely and adequate response through family planning, it is hard to see how much of the Third World can avoid declining real per-capita income, leaving millions to struggle at the margin of life and increasing the danger to international stability.
The history of a remarkably creative civilization indicates that rational policy and public action can do much to meet the kind of challenges, old and new, noted above; and there are some points at which private philanthropy can assist. We could, for example, reasonably divide most of this Foundation's programs into one or the other of the two categories discussed above--those that seek to sustain valued parts of our heritage and key institutions within it, and those that try to respond to quite new circumstances confronting us. In each area a sense of history can help guide the use of scarce resources.
In the first category fall the Foundation's major programs in support of higher education--primarily for leading independent universities and colleges but for outstanding programs in selected fields at public universities as well. Our steady commitment to helping major research libraries cope with a new era in information storage, retrieval, and dissemination is aimed both at preserving and providing access to our inherited culture and at enhancing the availability and fuller use of knowledge in the future. Librarians and scholars working to realize the new possibilities offered by computers and microprocessors, and struggling through the inevitably difficult period of adaptation, may find comfort in recalling the difficulties that attended two earlier major transformations in Western society. It is sobering to read the fears that Socrates expressed, in the Phaedrus, about the effects writing would have on memory, discourse, and the search for wisdom:
"...The fact is, Phaedrus, that writing involves a similar disadvantage to painting. The productions of painting look like living beings, but if you ask them a question they maintain a solemn silence. The same holds true of written words; you might suppose that they understand what they are saying, but if you ask them what they mean by anything they simply return the same answer over and over again. Besides, once a thing is committed to writing it circulates equally among those who understand the subject and those who have no business with it; a writing cannot distinguish between suitable and unsuitable readers. And if it is ill-treated or unfairly abused it always needs its parent to come to its rescue; it is quite incapable of defending or helping itself."
Long after writing had taken its permanent place, similar apprehensions greeted the spread of printing in the 16th century. Whatever the initial difficulties of entering into the third great transformation in the way information is stored, made available, and transmitted, we can only conclude that harried administrators and working scholars are better advised to try to master it (in both senses) than attempt escape from it. As Kierkegaard wrote, "He who fights the future has a dangerous enemy."
Parallel to support of preservation in the library field--and with similar intent--has been the Foundation's substantial funding of conservation in the arts. In basic and applied research, in training at successive levels, and through programs at major museums and regional centers, these grants seek to develop skills and foster systematic efforts to preserve the best of the past for the benefit of the future. In some areas, new technologies, such as laser-read optical discs (able to store up to 56,000 images on a single side), offer radically new ways to cope with old problems, at once preserving fragile materials and increasing their availability.
Both historical perspectives and changing circumstances have also entered into the Foundation's support of area studies--Asian, Canadian, Latin American, and Russian. In addition to the intrinsic interest of understanding other cultures, this program responds to the increased need for greater knowledge of other parts of the world as a guide to national and international policy. After more than a century of economic development focused inward on a new continent, the U.S. has once again become a major trading nation, as it had been on a far lesser scale in the first decades of the Republic. The percentage of the U.S. GNP derived from international trade has more than doubled since the 1950s, and one job in six in this country now depends on foreign trade. Thus, a contracting world economy would now seriously retard recovery at home. Given these realities, we can no longer afford the ignorance of other regions, societies, languages, and cultures that has marked much of our past.
In trying to analyze or anticipate problems and respond to new circumstances, the Foundation has sought to encourage the advancement and application of the Western tradition of systematic rational analysis and trained skills on a number of fronts. Notably in medical, public health, and population research and in environmental and resource fields, we have steadily tried to assist young investigators to develop the knowledge and skills that will enable them in turn to build "on the shoulders of giants." We believe such efforts offer the best hope of comprehending the pace and consequences of changes that, in field after field, crowd human and institutional capacity for effective response within the time required.
Evidence from Japan, Germany, France, and elsewhere today confirms our own historic experience that the development of human resources provides the key to such capacity. In Alfred North Whitehead's compelling phrase, "In the conditions of modern life the rule is absolute, the race which does not value trained intelligence is doomed." Trained intelligence in turn depends on the quality of successive stages of education. If a nation's attitude toward education is indeed a key to its future, American elementary and secondary education must receive sharply increased attention. The more we move into an information-based, high-technology economy, the more critical become the skills and the educational qualifications--and the need for access to them--that the society requires. To remain "one nation indivisible," we must recognize as major unfinished business the necessity of providing ladders of educational opportunity for sectors of our society that will otherwise be left farther and farther behind. Just as the United States cannot afford monetary and fiscal policies that leave a third of our manufacturing plant idle and unemployment around ten percent, so it cannot enter the next century as a prosperous and progressive leader of the Atlantic democracies if it fails to provide real opportunities for what could become an excluded, growing, and demoralized underclass.
Before closing this rather wide-ranging report, it may be useful to clarify one particular aspect of the Foundation's activities to avoid any misconceptions--the year-to-year fluctuations in funding of various fields that appear in our lists of appropriations or payments. The fields in which the Foundation has been and expects to remain active continue to be those set forth in italics in the first page of its annual reports. Substantial changes in amounts allocated to an area in any year may occur in part because we intentionally do not pre-set budgets (though operating within general guidelines) in order to allow more latitude for responding to changing needs and opportunities. Pronounced increases (or decreases) may also reflect the presence (or absence) of a few major grants or the renewal of extensive multi-year, multi-institutional programs in a single year. The year 1982 saw such a bulge in the field of Medicine, Public Health, and Population. The description of major grants in that area in later sections of this report can illustrate the process. While our programs reflect more careful planning and, we believe, greater coherence than suggested by one friendly inquiry--"I understand your foundation gives away millions of dollars each year for one thing or another"--we deliberately maintain a flexibility of response that should not be read as marking a trend unless explicitly so stated or sustained over several years.
Overall, an investment policy that has produced steadily rising income over the decade (in current dollars) has made possible increased distributions every year since 1975. The Foundation has also followed a course of keeping both appropriations and payments above the percentage of asset value (now five percent) required by law. These policies, combined with a commitment to low administrative costs, have enabled the Foundation to expand its grant-making in several areas simultaneously. This has seemed desirable both during years of severe inflation in the 1970s and more recently when many of the institutions for which we have special concern have encountered unforeseen contractions in sources of support on which they had come to rely.
Brief descriptions of major grants given in 1982 appear immediately after this report, followed by a complete record of all appropriations and payments made during the year.
In 1982 the Foundation realized an increase in net income to $70,209,189 after investment expenses and federal excise tax. It made appropriations during the year of $58,977,010 and paid out $59,258,753. The market or appraised value of the Foundation's net assets on December 31, 1982 was $1,013 million. The total amount appropriated for charitable purposes by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and its predecessors, the Avalon and Old Dominion Foundations, has now reached $734,956,550.
JOHN E. SAWYER
March 1, 1983