Literature and the American College: Essays in Defense of the Humanities

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9780932783011: Literature and the American College: Essays in Defense of the Humanities

“With a comprehensive new introduction by Russell Kirk...a book...so solid in its substance and implications that it barely shows its age.... What Babbitt has to say about the classics, and the ancients, American civilization and character still deserve to be known and pondered by all those interested in education.”—Milton Hindus, Brandeis University

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About the Author:

Irving Babbitt (1865 - 1933) was an American academic and literary critic, noted for his founding role in a movement that became known as the “New Humanism,” a significant influence on literary discussion and conservative thought in the period 1910 to 1930.

Review:

Men of Quality, by Milton Hindus. From Reflections, Volume 6, No. 4, Fall 1987.

Literature and the American College is a quite short book originally published in 1908. . . . It is a book, in other words, approaching its centenary, but so solid are its substance and implications that it barely shows its age. Rereading it in a handsome new edition--introduced by Russell Kirk with a long essay detailing some of the "progress" made in American education since Babbitt wrote--has been for this reader a high pleasure indeed. The book seems undiminished in vigor and freshness and relevance since I taught it on a graduate level at Brandeis 30 years ago [1957]. . . . What Babbitt has to say about the classics and the ancients, American civilization and character still deserves to be known and pondered by all those interested in education, whether as teachers or as students. . . . Russell Kirk perceives what may be called a central thrust in Babbitt's passage: "Even though the whole world seem bent on living the quantitative life, the college should remember that its business is to make of its graduates men of quality in the real and not the conventional meaning of the term. In this way it will do its share toward creating that aristocracy of character and intelligence that is needed in a community like ours to take the place of an aristocracy of birth, and to counteract the tendency of an aristocracy of money." Kirk's comment following this passage is: "If the American democracy is to be led by an aristocracy, let it be an aristocracy of humanists, people of moral imagination, sound learning, strong character--not a class the members of which are born to rank and power (an unlikely development in the United States) or an oligarchy of financiers and industrialists (a very real possibility, it seemed, in Babbitt's day, what with the Rockefellers and Harrimans whom he drubbed in his books)." For the college, Babbitt suggested an ever-vigilant, stubborn rear-guard resistance against too early specialization in an increasingly mechanized modern world, a resistance to fetishizing academic degrees, and emulation of a teacher such as Socrates, who had passed beyond specialization (even specialization in what was known in his time as wisdom and which he labeled sophistry) to a concern with what all the specialties should be designed to serve. Babbitt's--from the beginning--seemed a voice crying in the wilderness. That voice, to some of us at least, seems to have lost none of its power, persuasiveness, and urgency with the passage of time. -- Book Description

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Babbitt, Irving
Published by National Humanities Institute (1986)
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