Jacques Barzun, 1907-2012

By Razib Khan | November 1, 2012 1:39 am

Jacques Barzun died last week. From Dawn to Decadence is one of those books which is useful not as much for its descriptive sweep of social history, but for the insights and counter-narratives which it may elicit. I am left in awe of the life of the mind which Barzun experienced in his time.

H/T Steve Sailer.

MORE ABOUT: Jacques Barzun
  • http://charlesumlauf.com/affects.htm Mike Eisenstadt

    I phoned him in San Antonio around 2003, listened to the repondeur, left a message, and then wrote him a letter.

    I was asking a literary question. He did not respond then. And now he is dead. Who knew that the Presbyterians had an elevating reading club in San Antonio where he was interviewed. The jerk interviewer was unable to pick up on Barzun’s remarks who had an offputting facial expression when he threw the ball back at the hapless interviewer.

    Mike Eisenstadt <-Austin tx

  • http://www.CompellingConversations.com Eric Roth

    Thank you for posting this long, revealing interview with a great cultural historian and education reformer.

    As an English teacher who listened to From Dawn to Decadence on long commutes to campus for many hours, it’s a distinct pleasure to hear Barzun’s clear, direct responses and counter questions to the interviewer. This surprising interview added a new layer of appreciation for the legendary teacher who led Columbia University’s “Great Books” program and wrote some classic books on the art and craft of teaching and writing. His comments about struggling with young “unimaginative” editors while celebrating the editing process throw light on a forgotten literary era. Barzun provided “a unique voice” that will be heard for decades, if not centuries, more.

    While few folks may enjoy this peculiar, sometimes wandering interview, you’ve performed a public service by sharing it on your blog. Thank you.

  • Justin Loe

    Like this NYT review, http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/05/21/reviews/000521.21everdet.html, I felt after reading the book that Barzun had an excessive pessimism regarding the late twentieth century, the promise of science, and the emergence of a new Dark Age. Spengler talked about social decline in Decline of the West (1918), and since then we have gone to the Moon, developed modern computers, and begun to unlock the genome. People can point to the decline of reading (high level reading, not popular novels), but prior to about 1930 only about 2-5% of people were educated in any real sense. Many scientists are not particularly well-read outside their specialty but that’s also a realistic consequence of the need to devote 90% of one’s time in the specialty to be competitive. Crime, likewise, has gone down substantially since 1980. Decline of civilization is always possible, but I don’t see it in the current data, which has improved in many respects since 1980, with the exception of unwed mothers (see Fig 1, page 3 of this pdf: http://www.childtrendsdatabank.org/sites/default/files/75_Births_to_Unmarried_Women.pdf )

  • Gail

    “Decline of civilization is always possible, but I don’t see it in the current data, which has improved in many respects since 1980, with the exception of unwed mothers”

    Decline is often a matter of perspective, as illustrated by your last comment. There has never been a problem with unwed mothers – the problem has always been unwed fathers. Mothers take of their kids as best they can, absent fathers do not. But the male dominant culture can only understand this as a problem with mothers. This is why we need other perspectives, not just those of priviledged old white guys.

  • Justin Loe

    It’s also worth noting that the child poverty rate has remained approximately 20%, one of the highest rates among industrialized countries, only exceeded by Romania. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:US_poverty_rate_by_age._Timeline.gif

    Child poverty was lower between 1970 and 1975 than it is today (about 15% from the above chart), which clearly isn’t a sign of progress.


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About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com


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