Return of The Universal Man
March 27, 1966
Every age has its heroes and its geniuses.
Some of these outstanding personalities flash but briefly through the historical firmament.
But a few are universal men whose achievements transform the lives of people beyond their communities and beyond their times.
Society today yearns for the return of the universal man. Unrest of the human spirit is world wide. All peoples are seeking the meaning of life and their places in civilization.
Whether it’s nationalism in Africa, industrialism in the Orient, freedom in the Iron Curtain countries, or racial strife in the United States – the winds of change are reaching gale strength. Conditions demand captains who can sail in all seas.
Such men are in this nation today – perhaps not aware of their universal ability, perhaps reluctant to participate in the struggle. Yet, the needs of their fellow men and their posterity call for the universal men to step forward.
The term “universal man” was first applied to Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo – the giants of giants during the period of history we know as the Renaissance.
The Renaissance lasted 300 years – from the 14th to the 16th centuries. It was a “rebirth” the dawn of a new golden age of creativity.
Da Vinci and Michelangelo typified the kind of men who led us from the Dark Ages into the modern world as we know it today.
They had the four Cs of the human spirit which made the universal man understood and followed:
The Renaissance was characterized by its interest in man and ethics. It was accompanied by a great outburst of individual creativity in. literature, painting, sculpture, architecture and science.
It was an historical miracle interrupting the ordinary course of evolution – a sudden break-through and acceleration of new ideas – an event we are again experiencing today.
The geniuses who possessed the four Cs that thrust them into positions of acclaim are now the great names of Western Civilization – Petrarch, Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo Da Vinci, Boccaccio, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, Rabelais, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Erasmus.
These men were enormously curious about the world, but most particularly about the nature of man.
There was an ardent search of classical literature and of archeology for clues to man’s beginning; and of science and philosophy as to his destination.
The universal man had broad interests. He strived to know something about everything as he was not sure just where he would find the key to unlock a maze of doors confining the human spirit.
This curiosity sparked an age of discovery. Columbus, Magellan, and Vasco Da Gama found unknown lands across unknown seas. It was the beginning of the long drive to internationalism still in its early, painful stages today.
Curiosity, aided by creative ability, also inspired the invention of the telescope, the microscope, printing and gun powder. We may debate the merits of these technological advances but there is no doubt they profoundly transformed our lives.
The creative urge to speak universally brought the start of our great body of vernacular literature. For the first time authors wrote for the common man, in the language of the market place. Fiction was born for the sole purpose of giving pleasure in reading. Shakespeare shaped drama into a new art form.
Painters and sculptors, architects and craftsmen — all were consumed with the fire of creativity. Art evolved for the pure sake of beauty. Pleasing proportions and colors were applied to everything from swords to palaces.
Pride in craftsmanship was the hall mark of the universal man. He not only studied, and designed new works but set about to make his own tools and carry his own mortar.
Michelangelo quarried the marble for his magnificent Pieta, and ground his own pigments for the paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Such versatility in workmanship led to a cross-fertilization of ideas – skill in several fields. Thus, Da Vinci could create the Mona Lisa and the first war tank from the same fertile mind. He de-signed flying machines, water filtration plants and sonatas with equal ease.
The thing that brought all these driving forces together was the fourth C of the universal man – consideration.
Consideration for the other man. This was the beginning of the humanist movement – of individualism – of the transcendent worth of a single person.
Falling under the attack of humanism were the remnants of feudalism, dogmatism, reliance on authority in spiritual and scientific matters, censorship of thought, religious intolerance and restrictions of trade and commerce.
The concept of courtesy was born. And respect for womanhood. The moral qualities of honesty, loyalty and consideration for others were planted in our culture.
The universal man was tolerant of the shortcomings of other men, recognizing his own. He listened to the ideas and opinions of others seriously as he sought ways of adapting all the good he could find into a larger whole.
For the first time, the universal man discovered his social consciousness. He created the institutions of hospitals, orphanages and poor houses. He came to believe that although he was not his brother’s keeper, he was his brother’s helpmate.
Before the energies of the Renaissance were absorbed by the imperial wars of the 17th and 18th centuries, the ideal of a universal man – knowledgeable, versatile, capable, helpful – was firmly established.
Concern, Practical Help Mark of Universal Man
(Last Week: In every golden age of civilization the opinion leaders have been “universal men” – those possessing the four “Cs” of curiosity, creativity, craftsmanship and consideration for others.)
A new flowering of individualism and a re-emergence of the universal man, occurred in the 18th century — a period we call the Age of Enlightenment.
He popularized a rationalistic and scientific approach to social, political, economic and religious issues.
Again, he was recognized by his intellectual curiosity, his flexibility of adopting new ideas, his involvement in and service to society at large.
Again, he spoke across national boundaries to people everywhere.
Their names shine brightly from the pages of history – Voltaire, David Hume, Tom Paine, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Turgot, Alexander Pope, Kant, Goethe, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Madison.
The political heritage of present day France and the United States – and the idea of republican, representative government everywhere – is the child of the universal men of the 18th century.
Today, in the 20th century, dissatisfactions with the old order are flaring anew. The human spirit which has been too long repressed by a worldwide Depression, two World Wars and totalitarian ideologies, struggles for a Renaissance.
Humanism and individualism is on the march once again. Authority is challenged, old values doubted.
Discovery of new worlds has moved from the high seas to outer space.
Atomic energy has made gun powder obsolete. Television and computers have given communication a new dimension.
Even the concepts of service have changed.
Is the universal man a fifth wheel in a welfare state, a socialist state, a communist state?
Has Social Security, socialized medicine and the United Foundation eliminated the need for personal charity?
Has automation, specialization, and megalopolis stifled individualism?
Is God dead, LSD a new path to spiritual emotion, and sex a substitute for creativity?
Has selfishness, the fast buck, discrimination and violence replaced humanism?
The answers to these questions are a resounding NO.
Precisely because the individual is lost in our modern society, the need for universal men is urgent.
We have too many special pleaders guiding us up blind channels. The universal men of our age are yet but a vanguard.
Others must step forward to share the responsibility and satisfaction of constructive involvement.
Every person owes it to himself and his society to develop further his universal four Cs. There is fun and satisfaction in doing so.
Get curious about everything. Buy a telescope. Read the Great Books. Go to a political rally. Visit a ghetto. Join a discussion group. Travel. Attend Council meetings. Host a foreign exchange student.
Develop your creative instincts. Take art lessons. Study photography. Go to concerts. Learn to play the banjo. Join the church choir. Build a bird house. Polish stones. Plant a garden. Lead a Boy Scout troop.
Acquire new craft skills outside your own vocation. Take apart and reassemble an alarm clock. Go skiing. Learn to sail. Tie trout flies. Join a toastmaster’s club. Make pottery. Take up square dancing. Play billiards. Practice karate. Fix toys for invalid children.
The first three Cs of the universal man, however, are only exercises which strengthen his individualism and “tunes him in” to the aspirations of others.
It teaches him through activity and involvement to recognize the main thrust of the human spirit at his particular place and time. It helps him determine what is truth and what is pretense – what is responsibility and what is hoodlumism.
In short, consideration for others is the ultimate contribution the Universal Man can make to society.
All of us have the potential of universality. The heroes of old were products of their times. The question is, have we the motivation to share our concern with the impoverished, the disillusioned and the undereducated of the world? Most particularly, can we help others in an unassuming and practical manner – putting emotion and personal recognition entirely aside?
We have enough bleeding hearts who wail and beat themselves on the chest – not enough broadly concerned citizens to pitch in with their skills and influence to make meaningful changes within the framework of reality.
We can shape our world for ourselves and future generations by taking a constructive part in solving the problems of our day. Our inaction will allow the riff raft of society to suppress us.
- The challenges were never clearer.
- The potential satisfaction never greater.
- The place to start is here.
- The time to start is now.