Lionel Trilling and the Critics: Opposing Selves

By John Rodden | Go to book overview

61
“Beginnings of Conservative Thought,” in The Truants:
Adventures among the Intellectuals {originally published as
“The Authentic Lionel Trilling,” Commentary}
1982 {February 1982}

William Barrett

William Barrett (1913–92), who taught at New York University and Pace University, was a philosopher and associate editor of Partisan Review (1945— 53). Conversant with European intellectual life and continental philosophy and blessed with a lucid style, Barrett helped introduce existentialism to America in the early postwar era, through both his translations (of writers such as Hannah Arendt) and his book Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy (1958). An agnostic until the 1960s, Barrett eventually returned to his Irish Catholicism; his subsequent work reflected, directly or indirectly, his philosophical quest for religious faith. Barrett also published Time of Need: Forms of Imagination in the Twentieth Century (1972), The Illusion of Technique: A Search for Meaning in a Technological Civilization (1978), and The Death of the Soul: From Descartes to the Computer (1986).

Along with Barrett’s return to the church came a turn away from the radicalism of his early years. Barrett espoused Trotskyism during his student days at the City College of New York in the 1930s and was a liberal anti-Communist during his years at Partisan Review. By the 1970s he had embraced neoconservatism and generally supported a politics close to that voiced by Commentary. In his autobiographical memoir of his Partisan Review years, The Truants: Adventures among the Intellectuals (1982), Barrett not only casts a sharp eye on his own political past and that of the New York intellectuals but also draws lessons from their misadventures and defends his neoconservative swerve.

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