Columbia Library columns (v.44(1995))

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  v.44,no.2(1995:Autumn): Page [5]  

Mcholas Murray Butler: Captain of Erudition

Michael Rosenthal


_he role played by the legendaiy "rob¬
ber barons" in shaping American industrial society after the Civil War is by now
a well-established part of our history. The Morgans, the Rockefellers, the
Vanderbilts, the Carnegies, and their cohorts rest comfortably with their myth¬
ic status in the pantheon of major American figures. Ruthless, visionary, and
powerful, these captains of industry built empires that, for better or worse,
came to define much that is unique about America.

At roughly the same time (a hide later, 1876, if we want to take the founding of
Johns Hopkins as the starting point), another institution developed that was as
distincdy American in its way as the steel, oil, and railway monopolies were in
theirs: the modern research tmiversit)'. With the rapid transformation of col¬
leges into research universities, a transformation that quickly eclipsed the
German model on which these universities were originally based, there
emerged a new species of industrialist—the industrialist of the mind—to pre¬
side over them. Contemptuously (if perceptively) branded by Thorslein Veblen
as "captains of erudition," university presidents were intellectual mogails, no less
acquisitive than their capitalistic brethren, who ferreted among the wealthy for
their resources and came to exercise vast cultural influence.
  v.44,no.2(1995:Autumn): Page [5]