Frank Knight on John B. Watson, by David Henderson

July 22, 2017
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Frank Knight on John B. Watson, by David Henderson

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I dug out of my library a famous unpublished (until 1991) 1932 mimeograph (those under age 45 should look up that term) article by Frank H. Knight. The article is titled “The Case for Communism: From the Standpoint of an Ex-Liberal.” It’s for a blog post I’m thinking of writing. A friend gave me my copy in about 1970. It’s a speech he gave to the University of Chicago’s Communist Club and National Student League.

Here’s a fun passage:

The dictatorship of the [Communist] Party once established, and given a monopoly of propaganda, the problem of controlling the proliferation of romantic myths, of unifying and stabilizing and concentrating on one system at a time should be simple in the extreme. One of the greatest of modern scientific developments is waiting to serve the regime in this regard and save the world from turmoil. I refer, of course, to psychology in its applied aspect. In this connection we may thrill with patriotism as well as hope. No other country has approached our own in the succession of peerless psychologists we have given to the world. To name but a few: P.T. Barnum; Jay Gould; Mrs. Mary B.G. Eddy; Mrs. Aimee S. McPherson (notice the due representation of both sexes); Billy Sunday; Goat-gland Doc Brinkley; and coming to our own home town, our own dear Big Bill Thompson, Balaban, and Katz, and WGN. As a climax to this glorious series I would name Dr. John B. Watson. It is not necessary to prove that he is the world’s greatest psychologist; he admits it. And besides, doesn’t he draw $40,000 a year [DRH note: this is over $700,000 in 2017 dollars] for his psychologizing? Speaking for myself, I must express chagrin that it is so little. A man who can stand before the cream of the intelligentsia and exhort them to believe that they do not believe, but only react, to think that there is no such thing as thinking, but only muscle-twitching, that the whole idea of struggle and error is an error against which we must struggle until we see that seeing is an illusion, and illusion likewise an illusion–in short, one who repeats that “I am not saying anything, and you are not hearing anything, the gears are in mesh, nothing more,” and makes them like it and pay to hear it–I say such a man should be worth at least $1,000,000 in any properly ordered civilization. One of the first acts of justice of the Communist dictatorship will undoubtedly be to give such a man a task which is not an insult to his powers. . . .

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