Nobody reading this has heard of Elbert Hubbard, but he is education today. His “scrapbook” promised four thousand years of education in one slim volume with beautiful binding. How big was he? Luminaries judged your education if you did not have the Scrapbook on your end table. My 1923 hardcover says:
Before it could be printed, on the first rumor that it would be published, forty thousand copies of ELBERT HUBBARD’S SCRAPBOOK were spoken for!
A hundred thousand copies were distributed in the first few months, and they have been going at a steadily increasing rate ever since, until now the total sales of this volume… Have reached more than a million copies!
This was in a nation of one hundred million!
Inside the (genuinely) beautifully printed pages, one could read quips, quotes, and anecdotes from the classics and people who commented on the classics in Elbert Hubbard’s day. Hubbard pushed the arts and crafts movement and benevolent socialism when pairing “benevolent” with “socialism” did not make people laugh or cringe.
Elbert Hubbard knew what you needed to know, knew how to distill that knowledge, and had the product to sell you to make you safe if you ever had to talk to the world rulers of this age. He was the 1920’s equivalent of a mediocre bachelor’s degree today: safe for the first job and the company cocktail party.
Note this: Not only have you not heard of Hubbard, but if you followed his advice today, you would be “on the wrong side of history.” Yesterday’s progressive education is always tomorrow’s foolishness. Hubbard’s range of texts (Edward Everett! John D. Rockefeller!) is as dated today as our own list of sages will be tomorrow.
“What is up to date is forever dated,” a professor said to me—and he was right. Oddly, if Hubbard is remembered for anything—he mostly is not—then it is Message to Garcia, a short story on initiative and getting the job done. The most popular thing the old socialist did was a story on individual get up and go. The story is false, the pathos fakery, but Hubbard sold the product. He was a typical socialist on the make.
And so it goes.
Education cannot be a product or allowed to become captive to faddishness. Socrates knew that (ultimately) education was mentoring. Job training was best done—perhaps could only be done—on the job. You might be able to find a Hubbard to summarize Jesus or give you a test on Jesus to see if you had covered the curriculum. But if you love Jesus, then you will want to spend time with Jesus.
Elbert Hubbard sold scrapbooks of wisdom; Jesus discipled.
Hubbardism exists in every age: a quick way to competence complete with an attractive souvenir—in his day a hardcover book, today a diploma. Meanwhile, the distilled conventional wisdom of the progressive elites will be handed to you in easily digestible chunks. We become serfs to the banal state: the bureaucracy with a few smart person quotations.
The alternative is, as always, discipleship combined with liberty. Jesus and a few men and women form a brilliant community and the world is changed.
Socrates wanders the marketplace creating wonder, asking questions, and proclaiming liberty. A republic is built on citizens who reach mature Christian adulthood reading books (and the Book!), not scraps cut out by the most recent guru’s reading list.
Hubbard is nearly forgotten; Jesus is Lord.
Double down on Jesus!
Republished with gracious permission from The Saint Constantine School (March 2019).
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Editor’s Note: The featured image is a photograph of Elbert Hubbard, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.