The Critique of Humanism: A Symposium

The Critique of Humanism: A Symposium

The Critique of Humanism: A Symposium

The Critique of Humanism: A Symposium

Excerpt

The occasion that called forth this symposium was the return to a more central position in American criticism of the New Humanists, the disciples of Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More. Broadly speaking, the book was conceived as an experiment in pamphleteering in the modern manner: its aim was to bring together within the covers of a single book a variety of essays which would in times past, and under similar circumstances, have been published separately. Since the editor had this idea in mind, he did not presume to dictate the opinions of those he asked to contribute or to influence them either directly by laying down dogmas to which his associates must subscribe, or by implication of invitation; for indeed he was only too happy to gather together in one place so diverse a collection of writers. The remarkable thing is that working absolutely independently the writers contributing did not repeat specific attacks, cite similar passages from the writings of the New Humanists, or, in general, tread on one another's toes more frequently than they did. Coming to the problems raised from their special fields of interest, they saw the weaknesses of the New Humanism from, I may say, thirteen different angles; and, in looking at this blackbird from so many different points of vantage, saw him every time differently.

When the subject of the New Humanism was raised once more, it was recognized that, to parody one of Mr. Babbitt's famous remarks, the New Humanists had asked many of the right questions, but that they had given the wrong answers. It was admitted that the forceful restatement of the questions was a direct challenge to those critics dissenting from the Humanist answers to criticize the answers and offer alternative ones. The book resulting from the acceptance of the challenge has two sides. It has a destructive side: it is critical of the New Humanism, in fashions ranging from disappointment with certain inadequacies of the New Humanism to a total rejection of its ideological basis. It has another side also; and the reader will be making a grave mistake if he overlooks the important fact that most of the writers contributing give him, either directly or by implication, a constructive statement. Indeed it is next to impossible to reject the Humanist answers without implying one's own answers. Some of the writers here represented have not been content with implication; they have gone on to state directly and unequivocally their social, moral and esthetic beliefs.

While there is a considerable negative unity, there is very little unity at all constructively. This is not a group statement, but a real symposium: a sort of round-table discussion at which the guests, in their different voices, offer their different opinions on the . . .

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