We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
“The Liberal Imagination (1950) applied the dialectical method to cultural themes by exploring the ways in which literary masterworks deflated the pieties of trendy left-wing politics. Trilling, who identified himself as a liberal, called for a new kind of criticism that 'might find its most useful work not in confirming liberalism in its sense of general rightness but rather in putting under some degree of pressure the liberal ideas and assumptions of the present time.' That statement was almost a blueprint, or prophecy, of the neoconservative creed.” –The New York Times
Now 92, Barzun, the renowned cultural critic, historian and former Columbia provost and professor, offers much more than a summation of his life's work in this profound, eloquent, often witty historical survey. A book of enormous riches, it's sprinkled with provocations. For example, Barzun contradicts Max Weber, arguing that the Protestant Reformation did not galvanize the capitalist spirit. With feminist ardor, he depicts the 16th century as molded and directed by women "as brilliant as the men, and sometimes more powerful" (e.g., Queens Elizabeth and Isabella). His eclectic synthesis is organized around a dozen or so themes--including emancipation, abstraction and individualism--that in his judgment define the modern era. Barzun keeps up the momentum with scores of snappy profiles, including of Luther, Erasmus, Cromwell, Mozart, Rousseau and Byron, as well as of numerous unsung figures such as German educator Friedrich Froebel, inventor of kindergarten, and turn-of-the-century American pioneer ecologist George Marsh. Other devices help make this tome user-friendly--the margins are chock-full of quotes, while vignettes of Venice in 1650, Weimar in 1790 and Chicago in 1895 give a taste of the zeitgeist. In Barzun's glum estimate, the late 20th century has brought decadence into full bloom--separatism in all forms, apathetic electorates, amoral art that embraces filth or mere shock value, the decline of the humanities, the mechanization of life--but he remains hopeful that humanity will find its way again. This is a book to be reckoned with. First serial to American Scholar; BOMC selection.
Both books well-worth reading, if you haven't.
Would either of these great Columbia profs, who knew almost everything about almost everything, be welcomed on any campuses today?
Great post. Wasn't Lionel Trilling also instrumental in the "Great Books" core curriculum that Columbia made famous? I recall the Clifton Fadiman book with a similar title? Anyway, all of this was probably watered down or eliminated in the panic response to Mark Rudd & SDS in '68. We had similar albeit less publicized rebellion at Boston University where it seemed SDS and it's allies comandeered the Admin Bldg whenever the weather turned sunny and warm, i.e., "Sunshine Revolutionaries". Unfortunately, they never went away; it's been 40 years now and on occasion I begin to feel that the pendulum is going to swing back in the direction of sanity. Or, am I just dreaming?
Ditto the Barzun. I found it helpful to color-coded highlight, like a textbook, so densely interwoven were his points.
Assistant Village Idiot
Barzun and I share the same birthday only hes 43 yrs older than me and still kicking. He will be 101 on Nov 30th. He started writing From Dawn to Decadence when he was in his eighties and finished it about ten yrs later. Thats about how long it has taken me to read it. Great text and reference book.