1972: Nephi George - The Cosmic Individual

1972: Nephi George - The Cosmic Individual

N GeargiAn original faculty member at Church College of Hawaii, Nephi Georgi was its first Head of the Division of Language Arts. Since Georgi later, as Head of the Division of Arts and Sciences, instituted the David O. McKay Lecture series in 1962, he was fittingly honored as its tenth lecturer in 1972. A professor of modern languages and humanities, Georgi received his B.A., M.A., and Ph.D., all from the University of Utah in 1949, 1951, and 1966, respectively. Besides his active academic life, he served in the Church as bishop and high councilor, as well as in the Army during World War II and subsequently in the Army Reserve from which he retired as a colonel after thirty-nine years. Beloved by students and faculty alike, Georgi was Academic Dean of CCH at the time of his lecture. He married Hedi Wril in Deggensdorg, Germany, in 1947; they were later sealed in the Salt Lake Temple. Their children are Monte, Rickie, and Ria. Georgi died in 1982.



The moment is awesome, humbling, and exhilarating. This is an experience packed with emotion for me as I look back along the line of esteemed colleagues who have preceded me since the inception of this lecture series in 1963. Those predecessors have done themselves proud, from Dr. Wayne Allison, with his enlightening views on language last year, back through Drs. Robert Craig, Jerry Loveland, and David Miles among others to Dr. Richard Wootton, the first lecturer in the series with his pace setting, challenging study on proofs for the existence of God. Throughout the series the aims set the designee, "to discuss before the college community and the public, vital issues, new knowledge, and/or results of personal research in his field of study" have been well served.1 May this year not prove to have been a disservice to those preceding efforts. But especially may it serve well the memory of President David O. McKay, whose love for his fellow man knew no bounds, whose dedication to the Gospel was total, and whose recognition of the vital need for education brought this college, thus this occasion, to be.

My efforts in preparation for this moment led me into various interesting areas at least one of which I explored in some depth: the role of female inspiration throughout the history of mankind. Anyone desiring a sheaf of unused notes on the status of woman through the ages and around the world be my guest. Yes, though I ran across a wealth of material on the subject, I decided to set it aside for some other occasion. Not that such an exploration was not appropriate to this occasion. Far from it! Nor because you might not find interest in the Sarahs, Rachels, Miriams, Ruths, Esthers, or Marys of Israelite history; or in the numerous noble women of other lands and heritages. Just the opposite, for those along with such literary heroines as Antigone, Iphigenia, Beatrice, and Gretchen give truth and clarification to the concluding lines of the soul-searching drama Faust (1808-1832) by the German poet Goethe, to wit:

The eternal feminine leadeth us

Ever upward and on! (ll. 12110-12111)2

As Goethe saw it, "Love is the all-uplifting and all-redeeming power on Earth and in Heaven; and to Man it is revealed in its most pure and perfect form through Woman" (463).

So why switch from the choice pursuit of la femme? Actually it was less a switch than a redirection, a look at humanity in toto rather than in particularum. The redirection was effected somewhat by a pall that fell on me the other day resulting from my reading several articles on technological and medical actualities--namely the rapidly growing business of debugging homes and offices in order to neutralize electronic eavesdropping; the eerie brain surgery performed by neurosurgeons, to include the implanting of electrodes in the brain, aimed at flattening the emotional responses of hyperactive children and controlling the erratic behavior of adults; and the testing of electronic devices to control the comings and goings of prison parolees. Orwellian "Big Brothering'' is more than a potential. 1984 (1949) is at hand!

Seemingly by a design not of my making my attention was drawn on the same occasion to the thoughts of President David O. McKay on the cause of human liberty. As his son Llewelyn asserted, his father's

great thoughts, noble emotions and profound information give us an insight into human nature; above all, they present guideposts leading to a higher security than the material world can offer. . .and they offer a stability that is essential to true happiness. (v)

Permit me to draw on several of the exhortations from the many President McKay made on the subject throughout his long, illustrious, and inspiring life. On one occasion he averred, "There exists an eternal law that each human soul shall shape its own destiny. No one individual can make happiness or salvation for another. 'Even God could not make men like himself without making them free'" (Gospel 300). "If a man feels circumscribed, harassed, or enslaved by something or somebody, he is shackled" (McKay Gospel 299). On another occasion President McKay referred to free agency as the fundamental principle of the gospel, and asserted that "references in the scriptures show that this principle is (1) essential to man's salvation; and (2) may become a measuring rod by which the actions of men, of organizations, of nations may be judged" (Gospel 299-300).

In like manner he defined the prime r™le of the individual. Again he speaks,

If, as it has been said, the babe 'is the center of the universe,' then man, is the center of all social activity.

I am one of those who believes that all institutions and organizations exist primarily for the purpose of securing the individual his rights, his happiness and the proper development of his character. As soon as organizations fail to accomplish this purpose their usefulness ceases. (Pathways 126)

He then quotes the German philosopher Immanuel Kant, "So act as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or that of another, in every case as an end, never as a means only" (qtd. in Pathways 126). And in his own words President McKay concludes:

In all ages of the world men have been prone to ignore the personality of others, to disregard men's rights by closing against them the opportunity to develop. The worth of men is a good measuring rod by which we may judge of the rightfulness or wrongfulness of a policy or principle whether in government, in business or social affairs. (Pathways 126)

As if by way of an echo out of the past, we hear: "I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space,'' boasts Hamlet and immediately cancels the claim with the qualification, "were it not that I have bad dreams" (II.ii.260-262). Through these words Shakespeare expressed the predicament of the individualist over the centuries: priding himself on the independent world of his individuality and, in the same breath, bemoaning that he is not, cannot be himself, because the times and seasons have undermined the foundations of the world inside the nutshell skull. The outward circumstances heavily condition the inner life; yea, they may even displace elements thereof.

Have we in our enlightened times occasion for "bad dreams"? Hans Zbinden, a Swiss thinker of this decade, declares (excuse the free translation):

The status of our time can be described as a series of losses which have encroached on the spiritual life's balance of modern man [which]. . . losses are continually on the increase. The first of these losses is the disappearance of individuality, the loss [if you will] of the single [human] entity. The individual perceives himself as crippled, suppressed by the weight of the masses, of the collective, by the anonymous power of the state, the organizations. . . . He feels himself defenseless in the face of its increasing power, [yea] emasculated. He is beginning to doubt the role of the individual. (231)

Zbinden further bemoans the cult of statistics by which, and only by which, progress is measured and the individual man is devalued or considered naught. Such brontosauric thinking which evaluates and gives consideration solely to accomplishments of gigantic proportions leaves little hope for the minute individual. This is an ironic occurrence in an epoch in which nuclear physics has unlocked the power of the most minute element, the monstrous powers which slumber in the nucleus of the atom.

Zbinden also perceives man as having unfortunately cut himself off from the wisdom of the past, having replaced this source of growth with a veneration for that which has never been. "The modern is considered the better simply because it is that which is modern," and, we might add, practical (231).

An even graver loss, as Zbinden sees it, is man's loss of will for a conscious existence without which it can be assumed, man wallows in apathy, in smug complacency.3

These words drifting to us from the relative security of the Alps were certainly not the first nor are they the last expressions decrying the loss of individual worth and dignity, focusing on the struggle of the single person to maintain his individuality against the crowd image. Several 19th century voices crying out of the then emerging technological wilderness still reverberate with undiminished strength in our time. One of the most renowned of those voices is that of the usually optimistic Goethe, whom we met a few moments ago extolling the virtues of women. Even he grew doubtful and melancholic when he weighed the progressive trends already so obvious in his time (150 years ago) against the chances of human happiness, of individual of self-perfection. He envisioned that, should man continue undiminishedly along the road of purposeless materialism, "Men. . . will become more shrewd as ever but they will not be better or happier. I see a time approaching when God will no longer be pleased with man, when He will have to smash His creation to pieces in order to rejuvenate it" (qtd. in Reinhardt 3).

Following hard on Goethe's concern is the Dane Søren Kierkegaard. He continuously inveighed against the half-heartedness and the intellectual and moral slovenliness of those of his contemporaries who lacked the courage and consistency to face the far reaching consequences of their philosophical and religious opinions. In his work The Present Age (1962), Kierkegaard decried the lack of enthusiasm of his times, the lack of passionate commitment to moral values. He attributed this moral ambiguity, this loss of moral courage to the fact that the individual was becoming enmeshed in the collective, in the crowd. In Kierkegaard's view the "crowd. . . is the untruth, by reason of the fact that it renders the individual completely impenitent and irresponsible, or at least weakens his sense of responsibility by reducing it to a fraction" (Kaufmann 93). Kierkegaard proposed Faith as the only means through which man can gain his authentic selfhood. True existence for Kierkegaard is "existence in the face of God" (Heinemann 41-42).

As if by way of counterbalance, Kierkegaard's contemporary Karl Marx viewed the "crowd" with much greater favor. He also was dissatisfied with the status of man as he is and thus proclaimed a "reformation," if you will, of his own, where man-that-is was to be discarded in order that a "higher" humanity might be achieved. However, to bring this about, Marx saw fit to deify what Kierkegaard had termed as being "untruth." The collective was exalted at the expense of the individual and the proletarian man--or shall we call him statistical, mirror, or mass man was born. The socially safe man became an element in a production program.

But back to our own times. At a time when man is ascending ever higher scientific technological pinnacles, artists, men-of-letters, and like individuals, possessing both a profound sensitivity for the human experience and a creative capacity for articulating their observations have adjudged man to be spiritually and morally shattered and to have been cast adrift philosophically. Safe anchorage in absolutes seems to be denied him. Thus he lacks a place of refuge in what has been described in Schopenhauerian terms as an abysmal and meaningless universe. Additionally, the prominent mechanistic Science of Man theorizes him unconsolingly as being but a "thing." Dr. G. Gamow, Professor of Theoretical Physics, maintains:

all phenomena observed in the living organism can be reduced in the end to regular physical laws governing the atoms of which that organism is constructed. . . the difference. . . [lying] entirely in the relative complexity of living and non-living matter. . . basic manifestations of life like growth, motion, reproduction, and even thinking. . . can be accounted for, at least in principle, by the same basic laws of physics which determine ordinary organic processes. (qtd. in Krutch 112)

Likewise from the behaviorist's vantage point we learn that man is a passive organism governed by external stimuli. He can be manipulated through proper control of those stimuli.

Out of our affluent world of cement canyons and whirling satellites; out of this period in which much of life is lived in compartments and cubicles, and technology spawns machines of such complexity that they seem to have cast off man's controlling hand, moving by their own laws; from this era that finds man variably alienated, a stranger to God, to nature, and to the gigantic social apparatus that supplies his material wants; from out of that dehumanizing morass, can be heard many an anxious cry. Anyone focusing his sights upon the literary and artistic production of the last several decades becomes immediately aware of an extreme diversity: Cubism, Neo-Realism, Futurism, Surrealism, Expressionism, Dadaism, Existentialism, Neo-Romanticism, to name but a few. As one French critic saw it, "Whatever. . . the intrinsic worth" of these varied schools of literature or of art, they express strikingly a genuine pathetic reaction to the stress of our times (Lemaître 17).

In our own daily experience is to be found evidence in itself of the revolt against the impersonality and abstractedness of the modern world. The beatniks of the 50s and the hippies of this decade, with their renunciation of the results of materialism, their at times perverse religiosity, their resort to drugs and erratic actions to stimulate sensations of which they feel they have been robbed, are examples of an attitude of total rejection of modern life. The seeming irresponsibility of yesterday's Dadaists and today's hippies is what one might call a kind of serious unseriousness, a refusal to accept a world in which science, politics, and varied social organizations have undermined the long-term inward aims of life which are those of the individual. The inner life of modern Hamlet in his nutshell skull seems indeed to have been vaporized by the nightmare of today's external world.

Manifoldness of form as of Weltanschauung there obviously has been and continues to be, but much in evidence among the various contributors to the literary-artistic diversity has been a unity in purpose: that of a revolt against the dehumanizing demoralizing forces at work in the world. Whether it be a Shaw or a Werfel, an Anouilh or an O'Neill, a Tolstoy or a Pirandello, a Camus, a Marcel or a Sartre, numerous have been the writers and thinkers to say nothing of artists and composers who have been perturbed by, as Albert Schweitzer termed it, the "strange medley of civilization and barbarism" present in the most advanced scientific and technical civilization ever attained by man (qtd. in Reinhardt 1). The felt need of a spiritual-ethical revolution, reformation, and regeneration for the epoch at hand is obvious among writers and speculative thinkers of widely differing philosophic, religious, and political hues.

But whence can such a regeneration arise? Kierkegaard had already made his plea for a regeneration of Faith and Marx for the supremacy of the collective. In their wake many another view has been projected. George Bernard Shaw, the "grand old man" of modern drama, utilized that genre as the vehicle for firing his sharp wit and clever satire against what he considered to be antiquated forms and conventions of society, against institutions that he felt had to be toppled so that the individual might thrive. Out of his belief in "a sort of élan vital, a motive spirit which drives mankind onward to successively higher forms of evolution" (Heiney 354), stems his Don Juan's pronouncement:

I sing, not arms and the hero, but the philosophic man: he who seeks in contemplation to discover the inner will of the world, in invention to discover the means of fulfilling that will, and in action to do that will by the so-discovered means. (115)

It seems safe to assert that, whereas Kierkegaard had emphasized the need of Faith for combating the moral trend of the times, Shaw joins with the rationalists in proclaiming the virtue and necessity of Mind for raising man to ever purer forms of existence. The Mind is the highest form of the Life Force.

Standing on the side of those giving more credence to the power of faith -- faith of a religious, though non-dogmatic, nature--is the Russian Leo N. Tolstoy. Out of the Tolstoian Weltanschauung solidly grounded on the principles of love, understanding and sacrifice embodied in the Sermon on the Mount, this study draws for a closer perusal Count Tolstoy's views on the regeneration of society through the individual. Tolstoy declared that not through mass revolution nor through force as the term is usually understood could the face of the times be changed, but only through a moral rebirth on the individual level. Force here is required, but it is a force applied by the individual to himself, under the influence or with the assistance of divine grace.

Essentially a whole German literary school, the Expressionists, rose up in arms against the scientific-technological century which was dissolving the organic world of phenomena into abstractions of mass, space, and energy. They instituted a frontal assault on those forces which declared a robot-like existence for the individual. Being not content to stand wearily by and become mere spectators to or naturalistic recorders of the process of disintegration, nor of a mind to seek escape from the painful spectacle in a more beautiful neo-romantic world of dreams or fancy, these "angry" young intellectuals chose for themselves an undertaking of gigantic proportions:

a regeneration of the whole human race, the creation of a new spirit of purity and sincerity. . . . [They maintained h]uman life must be stripped of all externalities, of artificial barriers, conventions, shams, until there is nothing left but essentials. In other words modern humanity must undergo a large scale conversion and return to the teaching of primitive Christianity. (Steinhauer 18)

As the Expressionists saw it, the new religion was to be built on love of mankind, humility, self-sacrifice, voluntary suffering for one's fellowmen. The haughty, stubborn, passionate and isolated self must be broken to be born in humility and love. The individual thus regenerated would become the "new man." In contrast to the strong, heroic man--the Caesar with the soul of Christ--for whom the philosopher Nietzsche had propagandized several decades earlier4, and equally in contrast to the proletarian man of Marxism, the Expressionistic man is a being of cosmic proportions, balancing out within himself individual and universal elements, free of the incubus of neurotic self-obsession. (It should be made note here by way of reference to my original subject choice that many writers of this literary school saw in the selfless love of the eternal feminine a link to the creative powers of the universe, a vital font for the rejuvenation process.)

Permit a brief look at yet another movement that has risen because "the steadily increasing pressures of collectivism and abstract idealism have forced the individual to a resolute and radical self-affirmation" (Reinhardt 14). The French Existentialists are philosophers of resistance. "They attempt to resist the collectivizing trend, bound up with machine production, which seems to lead in any society, whether democratic, fascist or socialist, to a depersonalization of man" (Heinemann 167). "Existentialism represents an attempt to describe and prescribe a place to the existing individual in mass, technological society; its extraphilosophical problem, basically, is to give an authentic status to the person in an impersonal world" (Tiryakian 76).

Faced with the problem of establishing the essence and source of human freedom, the Existentialists split ranks. The approach of the one group is to try to make an atheistic acceptance of freedom and despair serve as the essential answer. Atheist Jean-Paul Sartre's views carried to their logical conclusion leave man as his own creator, the only universe being that of human subjectivity. For Sartre man must be able to stare stoically at emptiness, tragedy, and death unafraid. As Sartre sees it, man invents himself, he designs his own essence, that is to say, what he essentially is,
including what he should be, or ought to become (Manser 57).

The other existentialistic approach to the question of freedom is a theistic one. This group in general maintains that genuine freedom is possible only upon one's relinquishing the egocentric effort to run life's course all by oneself, and upon establishing a rapport or communion with the living God. This view is aptly manifested in the following thoughts of Gabriel Marcel:

Once I have freely accepted my human situation and my life has become unified by my fidelity to my vocation as a human person, every one of my acts is organically integrated in the totality of my existence. . . . [I]t is only in this totality that I acquire my authentic freedom and my full human stature. The refusal, on the other hand, to thus engage and dedicate myself leads to a cumulative loss of both freedom and personality. Authentic freedom manifests itself in choice; it fulfills itself in engagement; and the highest form of engagement is the act of faith. (qtd. in Reinhardt 212)

As Marcel and other theistic Existentialists see it, man has not been left to his own devices and projects in a hostile world nor forced to realize his destiny in absolute solitude.

(My, how often are such testimony strengthening insights gleaned through "good reading" which President McKay suggested "shines as the light in the pathway of life leading us 'to build the ladder by which we rise/ From the lowly earth to the vaulted skies/ And we mount to the summit round by round'" [Pathways 16].)

Though Karl Marx and his fellow-collectivists might, would Kierkegaard, Tolstoy, the Expressionists, or the theistic Existentialists find anything amiss in the following thoughts drawn directly from the font of truth through the instrumentality of President McKay?

Each one of us is the architect of his own fate, and he is unfortunate indeed who will try to build himself without the inspiration of God, without realizing that he grows from within, not from without. (Pathways 131)

In thus emphasizing individual effort, I am not unmindful of the necessity of cooperation. . . . This, I think, is in harmony with the teachings of Jesus, who 'sought to perfect society, not by popular agitation or by reorganization, but by perfecting the individual. He recognized the fatal fallacy in the dream of those who hoped to make a perfect state out of imperfect individuals.' (Pathways 131)

Jesus always sought the welfare of the individual, and individuals grouped and laboring for the mutual welfare of the whole in conformity with the principles of the Gospel constitute the Kingdom of God. Jesus' regard for personality was supreme. When the Pharisees dragged into His presence the woman taken in adultery, Christ saw through the soul that had been stained with sin the personality that still contained the spark of hope, which He kindled into a light that warmed and guided a personality back to confidence and perhaps to righteousness. (Pathways 128)

President McKay's thoughts remind us that in our elder brother we perceive the truly free, totally whole individual. No incubus of neurotic self-obsession, no crushing embrace of materialistic comfort, no ties to self-serving social amenities held Jesus from total universal involvement.

O. C. Tanner advises us that near the mural of the figure of Christ on the R. C. A. building in New York City are these words, "Man's ultimate destiny depends not upon whether he can learn new lessons or make new discoveries and conquests, but on his acceptance of the lesson taught him two thousand years ago" (2). As President McKay observed, "how constantly we keep our eyes upon it [the ideal, the example of our Savior] determines whether we shall fall as failures. . . or fulfill the divine destiny of our being" (qtd. in Tanner xx).

The dominating, thinking of the men of letters with whom we have briefly conversed reinforces that assertion. The need is clear: the plain, simple Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therein lies the stuff, if you will, of which not dreams but true independence is made; therein is the font of cosmic waters. Man has no alternative! On this one issue our civilization will stand or fall! So arise ye individual man; (Oh, how I hope Karl Marx is turning in his grave!) cast off your homemade chains of material comfort and mass security; you have nothing to lose but an illusory existence and have thereby your cosmic destiny to gain!


This human fortune's happiest height to be
A spirit melodious, lucid, poised, and whole;
[and] Second in order of felicity
To walk with such a soul. (qtd. in Tanner v)

May we ever be mindful of the fact that to be a Latter-day Saint with a saving Gospel for all humanity is to be a person with love for each and every member of the human race. Thus it must be, for by choice we are in the forefront of the search for true freedom. May neither friend nor stranger find the courage of our convictions wanting.


1Ed. Note. The wording of the instructions given to McKay lecturers which Georgi quotes here does not occur precisely as he quotes it in any of the various appearances of the lecture "charge."

2Ed. Note. George supplies his own translation of these concluding lines from Goethe's Faust.

3Ed. Note. Not readily available in the United States, Zbinden's Der bedrohte Mensche (1959), which George read in the original, could not be consulted to determine page numbers for all of Georgi's allusions to it.

4Ed. Note. Nietzsche's concept of the "superman" is well known, extensively influencing Dostoevsky, among others.

Back to Top


Works Cited

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von. Faust. 1808-1832. Trans. Bayard Taylor. 2 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1898. Vol. 2.

Heinemann, F. H. Existentialism and the Modern Predicament. New York: Harper, 1958.

Heiney, Donald W. Essentials of Contemporary Literature. Great Neck, NY: Barron's Educational Series, 1954.

Kaufmann, Walter A. Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre. Cleveland: World Publishing, 1956.

Kierkegaard, Søren. The Present Age. New York: Harper and Row, 1962.

Krutch, Joseph Wood. Measure of Man. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1954.

Lemaître, Georges. From Cubism to Surrealism in French Literature. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1947.

McKay, David O. Gospel Ideals. Salt Lake City: Improvement Era, 1953.

---. Pathways to Happiness. Comp. Llewelyn McKay. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1957.

McKay, Llewelyn, comp. Preface. Pathways to Happiness. By David O. McKay. Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1957. v.

Manser, Anthony. Sartre: A Philosophic Study. London: U of London P, 1967.

Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. Manifesto of the Communist Party. 1848. Capital, The Communist Manifest, and Other Writings. Ed. Max Eastman. New York: Modern Library, 1932.

Orwell, George. 1984. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1949.

Reinhardt, Kurt F. The Existentialist Revolt: The Main Themes and Phases of Existentialism. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1960.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. The Complete Plays and Poems of William Shakespeare. Ed. William Allan Neilson and Charles Jarvis Hill. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1942. 1047-1091.

Shaw, George Bernard. Man and Superman. London: Constable, 1928.

Steinhauer, Harry, ed. Das Deutsche Drama, 1880-1933. 2 vols. New York: Norton, 1938. Vol 2.

Tanner, Obert C. Christ's Ideals for Living. Salt Lake City: Deseret Sunday School Union Board, 1961.

Tiryakian, Edward A. Sociologism and Existentialism: Two Perspectives in the Individual and Society. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1962.

Tolstoy, Leo N. Resurrection. 1899. Trans. Rosemary Edmonds. Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin, 1966.

Zbinden, Hans. Der bedrohte Mensch. Bern: Francke, 1959.