ROBERT HUTCHINS, a tall, mannerly and confident man of bountiful talents, worked for half a century as an intellectual who didn't intellectualize. He believed less in theories of thinking, either his own or anyone else's, than in pursuing the wholeness of knowledge: "The reason why an intellectual community is necessary is that it offers the only hope of grasping the whole."
From 1930 until his death last Sunday in Santa Barbara, Calif., Mr. Hutchins was shaped by two intellectual communities: the University of Chicago and the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. At Chicago, he was the youthful president who had the heart of a swashbuckler, the head of a scholar. The football team, he believed, served no educational purpose. After nine years of watching the carnage from the sidelines, he put an end to it.
In the classrooms, Mr. Hutchins disdained what he called "the atmosphere of a trade school." The liberal education that he offered at Chicago was based on exposing the student to the "Great Books" course. These were about 200 masterpieces, from those written by ancient Greeks and Romans to those written by Shakespeare, Melville, Freud and William James. "Somewhere, somehow," Mr. Hutchins wrote three months ago in The Center Magazine, "every American should acquire some familiarity with the intellectual heritage of mankind."
The second intellectual community that received the tireless Hutchins energy was the Santa Barbara center. Presiding at what were often daily meetings of senior resident fellows, Mr. Hutchins was both the Thomist who relished the contemplative beauty of reasoned thinking and the American pragmatist who asked "how can we use that idea?" Over the years, the center issued dozens of studies on economics, technology, science, education and politics. Many of them were sources of hard news for the daily newspapers. As for why scholars should regularly convene to discuss issues and ideas, Mr. Hutchins wrote near the end of his life:
I have lived long enough and read enough books to know that every generation tends to think that its age is at the crossroads, that the survival of mankind is at stake. Ours may indeed be such an age. The techno-culture may threaten to sweep all before it. But if that is true, all the more reason t rally human resources, summon the best in man, and try to create those intellectual communities which will subordinate technology to higher purposes.
Despite his achievements and despite his restless intellect, Mr. Hutchins remained modest and almost self-deprecating about his own ideas. At the same time, he was passionately curious about the views of others. No one who visited him at Santa Barbara in recent years failed to realize that the intellectual life, as personified by Robert Hutchins, could be both interiorly stimulating and socially beneficial.