U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Tim’s Light Reading

1. I’m unsure of how much Edmund Burke influenced political and intellectual life in the United States. As I write this post, my personal library of U.S. intellectual history is unavailable to me. I do have a copy of Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life handy, and Burke is not referenced therein. And I just checked Lewis Perry’s Intellectual Life in America via Amazon’s handy “Look Inside” function, and Burke isn’t explicitly referenced in the index. Prior scholarly attention aside, I’ve never read, but am intrigued by, Burke’s classic Reflections on the Revolution in France. For some reason I imagine that George Will has Reflections on his nightstand. But I wonder how many American intellectual conservatives have looked to Burke for inspiration? To what extent? With what practical consequences? For those whose curiosity about Burke matches mine, I offer this compact “life and times” essay by Jeremy Stangroom.

2. Jacques Barzun‘s The House of Intellect has languished on my shelf since a dissertation-era book-buying spree on all things related to Mortimer J. Adler (Adler and Barzun become close friends in the 1970s). My copy is a Harper Torchbooks paperback circa 1961: the book was published in 1959. I wish I could upload the cover, but I like the one to the left. I recently un-shelved Barzun during a hurried scan of compact paperbacks for quick backpack insertion before heading to work (I had just finished carrying an apparently lead-lined academic paperback by Kenneth Ludmerer for in-class analysis). But the Barzun book was recommended to me again last fall during Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen‘s reply to my USIH conference paper on anti-intellectualism. As of today I have finished chapter one of House, and it is most certainly a literary, high-minded indictment of late 1950s enemies of the “house of intellect” (namely Art, Science, and Philanthropy). But I’m most intrigued by its subtext: a scathing critique of cultural and institutional liberalism.

3. I just finished America on the World Stage: A Global Approach to U.S. History. Edited by Gary W. Reichard and Ted Dickson, this book purports—aside from the obvious topics of its title—to offer teaching tips for inserting transnational approaches in survey courses. Thomas Bender wrote an enthusiastic and provocative introduction to the fourteen paired essays therein. Ultimately, I think every historian who specializes in U.S. history, and teaches, should own and read this book. It is a critical introduction to transnationalism and its associated teaching issues. That said, the book has some serious intellectual and practical problems. I’ll be outlining my thoughts on the book for a review in The Councilor, the online, peer-reviewed Journal of the Illinois Council for the Social Studies. – TL

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  1. and of course, Russell Kirk in his classic, The Conservative Mind: from Burke to Eliot, sponsored a strain of Burke admiration in American that has proven very influential.

  2. Dear Anon and Ralph,

    So, Kirk and Wills. Excellent. And Himmelfarb cited Woodrow Wilson as an admirer. Those three account for interesting chunks of twentieth-century political and intellectual life.

    – TL

  3. Burke’s always had his admirers in the U.S., ever since he came out in favor of U.S. independence in the late 1770s. But Russell Kirk was the person who sparked the widespread contemporary interest in Burke.

    The early 20c was a weird time of forgetfulness about key foreign authors’ contributions to American intellectual life — a kind of isolationism of the mind. It’s shocking, for example, to think that Democracy in America was out of print from 1905 to 1940 or so.

  4. FYI: I just learned this morning (through Matthew Arnold via Jacques Barzun) that Burke, at the end of his life, actually came to a more moderate view of the French Revolution. Burke experienced what Arnold called a “return upon himself.” [Note: Arnold loves it when people re-evaluate their “stock notions.”]

    Arnold reported that Burke came to understand “if a great change is to be made in human affairs, the minds of men will be fitted to it.” Barzun added: “The point lies not in any reconcilement of Burke to revolution but in the power that saw both the fraud and the rightness in a complex event.” So Barzun brings the discussion back to anti-intellectualism, ideology, and systematic thinking ~in opposition to~ engaging in an authentic intellectual life.

    [Barzun, The House of Intellect (NY: Harper & Brothers, 1959), 157 footnote.]

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