Selected Criticism

Smuts, Jan Christian (1870–1950)
Richardson, D. Neil
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

Jan Christian Smuts was an influential South African leader and prime minister who played a key role in world politics for over five decades. As a student at Cambridge in England, Smuts was greatly influenced by Whitman, on whom he wrote an unpublished book and developed a philosophy called Holism.

As a distinguished law student and former theology major, Smuts was on scholarship and known for voracious reading and daunting study habits. Whitman's poetry encouraged Smuts to move "beyond" theology into a transformative realm that married philosophy, science, and spiritualism. Coming from a fundamentalist religious background, Smuts compared his release from his family-induced religious upbringing to that of St. Paul's liberation from the dominion of law by the revelation of the power of grace. Whitman's writing helped Smuts create an understanding of natural man and in turn aided his study of the development of individual personality that was to remain an interest his entire life.

While at Cambridge, Smuts completed a large scholarly work on Whitman; his treatise was to remain unpublished as he was unable to retain a publisher while in England or upon his return to South Africa. Influenced by Whitman's universality, Smuts developed Holism, a minor if overlooked philosophy that sought to explain an invisible link between seemingly unrelated principles in nature. Holism involves an expanded vision and a new paradigm of organization that involves "seeing" the whole to understand the small. Inherent in this philosophy is the idea that the mind evolves just as living matter does. Holism bears a strong resemblance to Hindu philosophy, particularly as seen through Whitman's eyes and eclectic knowledge.


Crafford, F.S. Smuts: A Bibliography. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1943.

Friedman, Bernard. Smuts: A Reappraisal. New York: St. Martin's, 1976.

Ingham, Kenneth. Jan Christian Smuts: The Conscience of a South African. New York: St. Martin's, 1986.

Smuts, Jan Christian. Walt Whitman: A Study in the Evolution of Personality. Ed. Alan L. McLeod. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 1973.


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