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Notes from Chapter 12 – Section 2

– Irving Babbitt – most feared adversary of the Left was a Harvard professor

– He worked throughout his life “to convince America that man cannot remain human unless he restrains his appetites.” (420)

– His social thought mentors were Aristotle, Burke, and John Adams

“In [Irving Babbitt], American conservatism attains maturity.” (420)

Irving Babbitt saw that man was reduced from a state of the exercise of the Will to a “gross materialism” and a “single sensate level”

– Man destroys himself if he stifles the power of the Will (bound by Rule of Law) for the anarchy of beasts (Rule of Senses)

– He attacks Bacon and Rousseau for humanitarian views that human problems can be fixed with physical solutions

“The humanitarian’s indiscriminate utilitarian method engenders hostility toward that hierarchy of values which erects distinctions between saint and sinner, scholar and barbarian. Intent upon an egalitarian condition for society, the humanitarian tries to extirpate those spiritual essences in man which make possible truly human life.” (421)

– He and More rested faith in free will and spoke up for “dualism and the life of spirit” in an era that rejected it for the senses

– Babbitt recognized that man must recognize a higher authority to guide him (whatever he calls it) or he’ll violently swing to the naturalistic extremes

– Most important social conservative book: Democracy and Leadership

– He saw the Rockefellers and Harrimans the same as John Dewey in their “delusion” of the progress of man through utilitarian principles

– Where Bacon took naturalism “scientific” and Rousseau made it popular, they were attacking social life now

“The old bulwarks of prejudice and prescription have been demolished by the popularization of naturalistic ideas in every segment of society; and the humanist can counter this radicalism only by winning men to an alternative system of ideas.” (422)

Irving Babbitt Notes

– Ideas, not just forms and restrictions, are what keep society together

– His generation dared call him an “obscurant” when their smugness blinded them to the chaos to be brought by the designs of “evolutionary proletarian bliss”

“Rousseau, first among the theorists of radical democracy, the most eminent contemner of civilization, gave the wrong answer to the right questions. He denied the duality of human experience, and relied upon the regime of the senses as the means to general happiness. Rousseau’s (and Whitman’s) sentimental dream of democratic fraternity is, like Utilitarian theories, a particular aspect of humanitarianism, or the naturalistic movement. Humanitarianism omits the keystone of the arch of humanity, which is Will.” (423)

– Babbitt saw that what makes man, man, is his Will to refrain from naturalistic instinct and instead to focus on a “no” and appeal to a higher authority for guidance

Irving Babbitt Notes

“The surrender of Rousseau to desire, the surrender of the Utilitarians to avarice, end in the dehumanization of our race.” (423)

– Book Summaries from page 423:

  • In Literature and the American College, Babbitt had distinguished between humanist and humanitarian;
  • In The Masters of Modern French Criticism, he had analyzed the decay of standards and the rise of relativism;
  • In Rousseau and Romanticism, he had said that the imagination holds the balance of power between the higher and lower natures of man, and that Rousseau’s idyllic imagination corrupted the aspirations of modern man.

Democracy and Leadership is a work of moral philosophy often seems as a political treatise

“‘When studied with any degree of thoroughness,’ Babbitt wrote in his first paragraph ‘the economic problem will be found to run into the political problem, and the philosophical problem itself to be almost indissolubly bound up at last in the religious problem.’” – Irving Babbitt (424)

Irving Babbitt Quotes

– He saw naturalism degrading modern civilization in general because they think man is only subject to a “material order” rather than a higher law that causes him to submit to a higher, other-worldly spiritual power (Christian/Buddhist) or a worldly spiritual power (Confucionists/Aristotelians)

– Machiavelli, to Babbit, is the “father of this modern denial of a higher will – i.e. a moral system to which man can appeal from his own lower nature – is Machiavelli, who, with the aversion all naturalists display for dualism, would not allow men to possess a divided allegiance, fealty to both a mundane state and the City of God.” (424)

– Hobbes lead to the denial of a “divine judgement” negating the need for morality

– Locke broke down the aristocratic vision of political leadership for an egalitarian vision of “publican office as a consecrated trust”

– Rousseau was the menace that contrived a “quasi-religious political contrivance”, gave it idyllic vision and brought in “General Will” as the mortar that held the system together

– Burke knew that an “imaginative conservatism” would be the only thing to survive these systems

“But the strong tendency of the times impaired his appeal to the traditional conservative symbols of imagination: Baconian love of novelty and change, discovery piled on discovery, the hope that we are moving toward some ‘far-off divine event,’ undid the defenses of prejudice and prescription and ‘a wisdom above reflection’ upon which Burke relied to save true liberalism. Modern conservatives, or liberals, must find other instruments and methods.” (425)

– New conservative ideas/tactics must be superior to those of the modern democrat’s imperialistic tendencies

– Democracy and Imperialism seem to destroy together – Athens and France for example

– The Greek’s knew that man’s expansive tendencies (Imperialism) would draw out hubris, blindness, and nemesis

Irving Babbitt Quotes

“‘Man never rushes forward so confidently, it would sometimes seem, as when he is on the very brink of the abyss.’” – Irving Babbitt (426)

– Humility, Burke saw, is a remedy for the vanity but we’ve ignored that virtue which is made palatable by grace but we’ve banished that doctrine

– A doctrine of work began to fill the void of active theological doctrine in the modern life

– Bacon exalted work above piety/examination

– Locke applied utilitarian extremes/ Adam Smith echoed/ Ricardo enlarged/ and “Marx reduced ‘work’ to the purely quantitative view.” (426)

– The humanitarians only see the importance of outer world work rather than inner self work

– Babbitt saw work as:

“True work, the higher work, is labor of the spirit, self reform; and this brings us to the nature of Justice.” (427)

– Plato saw Justice as minding own business/own work

“‘It is in fact the quality of a man’s work that should determine his place in the hierarchy that every civilized society requires.’” (427)

– The hierarchy of work is ethical working > mind working > hard working – society must afford the higher workers the ability not to work with hands so they may think on how best to lead

– Leaders must be taught to “rise above” the need for wealth/status for genuine ethical/humanist work

– Promoting equality through means other than working results in the lower man still feeling cut out, therefore leading to a “social justice” mindset to restore an equality he things he is due through natural law

“Such substitution generally bring fanatical attacks on property itself, and presently upon thrift and industry; it provokes suppression of competition, which is necessary to rouse man from his native indolence.” (427)

– Without a fully understood ethical basis, declared absolute equality is a dangerous game for societies

– Most common peril of these societies is inflation of currency

– Man should find love in work but the humanitarians misunderstood the essence of work leading man to become bored with their defined vision

– Man’s ethical will leads him to the work that brings spiritual peace (only real peace) which depends upon standards defined and crafted through generations of civilized life by humanity

“‘Commercialism is laying its great greasy paw upon everything (including the irresponsible quest of thrills); so that, whatever democracy may be theoretically, one is sometimes tempted to define it practically as standardized and commercialized melodrama…One is inclined, indeed, to ask, in certain moods, whether the net result of the movement that has been sweeping the Occident for several generations may not be a huge mass of standardized mediocrity; and whether in this country in particular we are not in danger of producing in the name of democracy one of the mot trifling brands of the human species that the world has yet seen.’” (428)

– America (and the democratic world) have come to see the “right man” in a quantitative sense as being superior to the qualitative “rights of man”

– Democracy eliminated the selective qualitative principles in favor of abstract theories of the general will

“In the United States, this struggle between true and false liberalism, qualitative and quantitative democracy, has been substantially the contest between Washington’s liberty and Jefferson’s liberty.” (429)

Irving Babbitt Notes

– Jefferson wanted liberty from external control but with that comes the need to balance with a power of self-control/discipline that Burke and John Adams new well

– Every power of the state must be balanced by the power of the individual

– Jefferson’s vision eventually won out in America

– Our liberty is guaranteed by our Judicial control which is supposed to be “uncongenial” to Jefferson’s liberty but visions of “imperialism and quantitative judgement” have assaulted it in recent years

– The Constitution and the Supreme Court are meant to be the checks upon our society that the higher will is on the individual

– Courts are not meant to be the 10 Commandments but arbiters of a justice. The humanitarians sway public opinion against them when they substitute right virtue for sympathy for the wrongdoer as an “underdog”

– The commercialist endeavors to make individuals cogs in an ever efficient machine that robs them of uniqueness

– Where do we find leaders then? The “great merit” just be humility

– Scientists lack it, artists-aristocrat doesn’t have the humility

– Even looking to the public for a leader leads the radical to lose faith

“Leadership can be restored only by the slow and painful process of developing moral gravity and intellectual seriousness, turning back to the strength of traditional doctrines – the honest with which they face the fact of evil. Our spiritual indolence can be overcome only by the re-examination of first principles.” (430)

– Our “new ethics” has been structured on the presumption that fight of good/evil is on a societal level instead of an individual level

“‘The time may come, if indeed it has not already, when men will be justified in asserting true freedom, even, it may be, at the cost of their lives, against the monstrous encroachments of the materialistic state.’” (430)

– Pure equality cannot be in the same realm as liberty and humility

– We must find our “ethical centre” through a restoration of the true standards set by a right example as a guide

– A real leader will guide people by “will and conscience” not by humanitarian notions

– Those that can overcome naturalistic tendencies will cease to be that “humanitarian idealist of Machiavellian realist” and see that Will is what makes a man naturally, which cannot be coerced by an outside force

– The basis of politics rests on this question: Do men have souls or not?

– If not, there is no “higher will” so men can be treated as and only seen as part of the societal machine

– Babbitt discusses the higher will of Grace but can’t seem to get all the way there

– Christians see liberty and faith as coming from the higher will of Grace

– Stopping short of grace, his is a system of Work but others like Burke and Hooker thought that religious faith must play a role

“He knew that the conservation of the old things we love must be founded upon valid ideas of the highest order, if conservatism is to withstand naturalism and its political progeny.” (431)

“‘The conservative nowadays…is interested in conserving property for its own sale, and not, like Burke, in conserving it because it is an almost indispensable support of personal liberty, a genuinely spiritual thing.’” (431-432)

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