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The Culture We Deserve : A Critique of Disenlightenment [Paperback]

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Item description for The Culture We Deserve : A Critique of Disenlightenment by Jacques Barzun...

Twelve essays exploring aspects of literacy and art criticism, retrospective sociology and the effects of relativism on moral behavior.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Wesleyan
Pages   197
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.5" Width: 5.5" Height: 8"
Weight:   0.6 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jan 31, 1989
Publisher   Wesleyan
ISBN  0819562378  
ISBN13  9780819562371  

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More About Jacques Barzun

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Born in France in 1907, Jacques Barzun came to the United States in 1920. After graduating from Columbia College, he joined the faculty of the university, becoming Seth Low Professor of History and, for a decade, Dean of Faculties and Provost. The author of some thirty books, including the New York Times bestseller From Dawn to Decadence, he received the Gold Medal for Criticism from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, of which he was twice president. He lived in San Antonio, Texas, before passing away at age 104.

Jacques Barzun lived in San Antonio, in the state of Texas. Jacques Barzun was born in 1907 and died in 2012.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > History > World > General
2Books > Subjects > History > World
3Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Philosophy > General
4Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Philosophy

Reviews - What do customers think about The Culture We Deserve : A Critique of Disenlightenment?

An Intelligent View of Authenic Learning and Culture   Jul 10, 2006
Jacques Barzun'S collection of essays title THE CULTURE WE DESERVE demonstrates some of the problems in modern America. Barzun diagnoses the problems of false egalitarianism the lact of respect for serious learning. He shows that institutionalizing lack of ability and the politicalization of "education" have corroded the professions and serious culture.

One of the problems that Barzun realizes is that "experts" have incorrectly assumed that everyone is an artist whether it be writing, painting and sculpture, drama, etc. Mother Nature is not so generous. Barzun clearly sees a glut of poor art, bad drama and acting, etc. Those who suppose themselves as artists are not satisfied with local success and limited exposure. These average or less than average "artists" whine that government subsidies and taxpayer support enhance their efforts. The problem is that someone will be omitted resulting in political struggles reducing art to a lobbying program that inhibits actual art.

Such a glut in the arts results in loss of appreciation and taste. Devotees are overwhelmed by exhibitions, plays, musical performances, etc. that they never have a chance to savor bona fide art and music. The glut has reduced art to a political contest and an over production of useless work.

The problem infects historical studies. Barzun focuses on the problem that historians no longer write honest accounts based on documents. Historians have been seduced to write false accounts based on political correctness or some favored thesis. For example, Barzun comments on the fact that some argue that inventions dominate the course of events as though individual decisions do not count. For example, the Colt revolver supposedly changed the American frontier. Barzun wryly notes that some attention should be given to Sam Colt who invented the revolver. The single cause thesis comes is exposed by Barzun who is clear that historical accounts shoule be based on docuements which often deomonstrate several complex causes. In other words, documents and authenic sources reveal that study of history is more complex than politically correct narratives and single cause theories.

As for those who compare Barzun to "conservative" political figures should read the one review whereby the reviewer states clearly that Barzun was never an imperialist or a racist. His writing shows a certain charm and respect even for those with whom he disagrees.

Finally, one should note that Barzun is not a snob. Some intelletual efforts are worthy of praise,but some are not. This reviewer shares Barzun's respect for others. This reviewer admires those who are skilled in the building and construction trades. People are different, and to pretend to believe in an idealistic egalitarian society is useless and is not the way men are.

Like some of the other reviewers, this writer does not agree with all of Barzun's conclusions. Yet, Barzun is so knowledgeable and writes so well that readers would do well to his his books. THE CULTURE WE DESERVE and EDUCATION IN AMERICA are two of Barzun's books that should be read in tandam.
A glimpse into wht education is really about  Dec 16, 2003
Oh, I've had my disagreements with Jacques Barzun - some of what he has written about Darwin was as wrong-headed as anything I've ever read - but I've never viewed him as other than an exemplary teacher, an adherent to the highest and best values education has to offer. The one-star rating here by one reviewer is about the worst review I have read at this site. He has a right to his opinion; but with all due respect, he has also a right to be wrong and he is fully exercising this right here in his dismissal of this VERY fine book.

Read this book, evaluate it for yourself - it is worth the trouble.

People just don't get it  Aug 13, 2001
This book deserves six stars, and mainly because of people like the one-star reviewer before me. For me, a non-reader who, it turns out, was that exactly because of all those post-modern "egalitarians" of our day who write the most boring books on earth (*thinking* they can write because they can quote other, equally boring and useless "scholars" in a million footnotes).

To me these essays by Barzun were nothing new. The tune was similar to that of "Begin Here" and "From Dawn to Decadence," which is, he said it as it really is. College has deteriorated to some hippie gathering; the government tries its best to dumb down everyone to achieve some perverted condition of equality by imposing more stupid legislation while refusing to rely on reason; and there are all the trainspotters out there who think that by specialising in one "extracurricular" thing they deserve to be called intellectuals and Renaissance men.

One does not have to agree with everything Barzun says, but he clearly espouses the use of rational mind in this age of TV and anti-everything protests. He speaks of enjoying things because they are good and deservedly so. He advises on thinking as a pleasure, reading as a pleasure, savouring creations of art because it is good, not "original." He approves of earned inequality: if one is more skilful, experienced, learned, or simply more intelligent, it is only natural for these individuals to be respected for what they have achieved. Democratising everything is a crime against humanity because it holds back the best of the best. No wonder he had to call the book "The Culture We Deserve"--because of this deliberate and myopic levelling.

If my esteemed opponent had read these essays with more care rather than his bias by default (I'm sure you hated the book before opening it), he would have noticed that Barzun does not approve of racism or imperialism. Barzun is a historian first and foremost, and he is simply recording the story of the Western civilisation. Simply because he is not being ideological, prescriptive, and normative but rather a man of strong and well-founded opinions, who can also write exquisitely, it does not mean he is wrong. Just because you were of the Gore- or Nader-voting herd with little critical ability and esteem for individual talent, there is no need to compare him to George W. Bush.

Barzun is right in his view of this age as decadent (and he does not make a judgement of this state of affairs, please note), and in that the cause for that is the massive drive to emancipate and to return to primitivism. This century has produced few great figures in history except for populist and militant dictators who have been able to manipulate faceless masses. There is no incentive to set oneself apart because it is regarded so scornfully by the "democratised" majority as showing off or "unfair." In our day, there is little respect for any great achievement, which I think Barzun's work is. Barzun is a tremendous inspiration.

Let's Go Back to the 1880's - Things Were So Much Better  Aug 6, 2001
An attack on the modern intellectual world by a leading light of the conservative "fifties" - that ghastly era that lasted from about 1946 to about 1963. Barzun is upset that the lower orders are no longer deferential to their social superiors, that women and minorities don't settle for crumbs, that students question what their professors say, that universities are not reserved for a small minority of WASP spoiled brats, and that everyone doesn't agree that imperialism is a great project. This is a man who wrote about half a century ago that, walking through the streets of New York City, he was distressed at having to listen to the "Bronx whine" and the "Alabama bleating" of the lower classes. I wonder what groups he could have been thinking about? Thank God that time has passed Barzun and his like by; they were still running American universities, or at least many of them, as recently as the early 1970's. This book is unlikely to appeal to anyone whose thinking is more advanced than that of G.W. Bush. For everyone else it is useful only as a historical document showing what the United States used to be like.
a generous spirit  Nov 21, 2000
Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball. -Jacques Barzun (God's Country and Mine)

At this point, that quote is so old that I just sort of assumed Barzun must be dead by now. But I heard an interview with him the other day on NPR about his new book, From Dawn to Decadence - 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to Present, which sounds like it will be excellent, and then, serendipitously, I stumbled upon this fairly recent book of his essays. As the title of his newer effort might lead you to assume, these essays reflect a profound concern about the direction in which modern culture is headed. Tackling topics which range from government patronage of the arts to the writing of history to the teaching of Humanities, the book is unified by the theme of decline in the West, but it ends on an upbeat note as he assumes that the seeds of the next great Civilization must even now have been sown in the root of our culture.

Having taught at Columbia for over 60 years, Barzun is particularly interested in the complete hash that we have made of the academy. In Where is History Now?, he offers a devastating critique of the way modern Historians have come to focus almost entirely on not merely social history, but the social history of marginal groups, to the exclusion of great persons, big events and sweeping trends. He traces the beginnings of this problem to the Annales group in France, influenced by Durkheim and others:

It was soon found that many kinds of documents existed, so far untouched and worth exploiting--county archives, private contracts, children's books, records of matriculation at colleges and universities, the police blotter in big cities, gravestones in cemeteries--a whole world of commonplace papers and relics to be organized into meanings. Such documents told nothing important individually; they had to be classified and counted. Theirs was a mass meaning, and it brought one nearer to the life of the people; it satisfied democratic feelings.

One result of this search for arcania is that the history books that are produced are unreadable catalogues of stuff:

History is not a piece of crockery dredged up from the Titanic; it is, first, the shipwreck, then a piece of writing. What is more, it is a piece of writing meant to be read, not merely entered on shelves and in bibliographies. By these criteria, modern man must be classed as a stranger to history; he is not eager for it nor bothered by the lack of it. The treasure hunt for artifacts seems to him a sufficient acknowledgment of the past.

The other main result is that these historians end up specializing so completely in one discrete topic, even within the already unuseful field of social studies, that they lack any broader perspective.

He broaches this topic again in Exeunt the Humanities, wherein he particularly decries the tendency towards overspecialization:

The danger is that we shall become a nation of pedants. I use the word literally and democratically to refer to the millions of people who are moved by a certain kind of passion in their pastimes as well as in their vocations. In both parts of their lives this passion comes out in shoptalk. I have in mind both the bird watchers and nature lovers: the young people who collect records and follow the lives of pop singers and movie stars; I mean the sort of knowledge possessed by "buffs" and "fans" of all species--the baseball addicts and opera goers, the devotees of railroad trains and the collectors of objects, from first editions to netsuke.

They are pedants not just because they know and recite an enormous quantity of facts--if a school required them to learn as much they would scream against tyranny. It is not the extent of their information that appalls; it is the absence of any reflection upon it, any sense of relation between it and them and the world. Nothing is brought in from outside for contrast or comparison; no perspective is gained from the top of their monstrous factual pile; no generalities emerge to lighten the sameness of their endeavor.

If you wish to see an illustration of Barzun's basic point, stop by a newsstand some time and try to find yourself a good general interest magazine. They no longer exist; there are of course many more types of magazines than ever before, but they are so specialized, tabloidized or politicized that you're unlikely to find more than one or two stories in each one that are actually worth reading for anyone other than a fanatic.

In one of the best essays in the collection he takes on the Bugbear of Relativism. Moral relativism is one of the hackneyed phrases that we conservatives toss around to account for the wide variety of ills we discern in modern society. Barzun deftly sketches a brief theory of the history of moral behavior, which posits that this problem is natural and cyclical:

It is a commonplace that periods of strictness are followed by periods of looseness. But what is it that tells us in retrospect which is strict and which loose? Surely the change observed is not in morals, that is, in deep feelings rooted in conscience, which are by definition hidden. The change is in mores--conventions, attitudes, manners, speech, and the arts; in a word, what the people are happy or willing to allow in public.

I suggest further that this change precedes the swing of the moral pendulum. This is not to say that the change is one of surface only, a shift of fashion among the visible upper classes. The public gradually accepts change under the pressure of social need or cultural aims, then comes the loosening or tightening of behavior in the lives of untold others beyond the fashion-makers. Untold is the word to bear in mind. For throughout every change the good habits of millions remain constant--or societies would fall apart; the bad habits likewise--or the police could be disbanded and the censors silenced.

The insight here, the divergence between morals and mores, and the fact that the great majority of people continue to adhere to moral precepts regardless of the current mores, is especially compelling. And the metaphor of the pendulum, implying as it does that the swing back must surely be coming, gives one great reason for hope.

These are just a couple of the issues that Barzun raises in this consistently interesting collection. His writing is wise and witty and not at all pessimistic. Even as he surveys the wreckage of our culture in the final essay, Toward the Twenty-First Century, though he provides one of the clearest definitions of the general concern that animates conservatives:

The very notion of change, of which the twentieth century makes such a weapon in the advocacy of every scheme, implies the notion of loss; for in society as in individual life many desirable things are incompatible--to say nothing of the fact that the heedlessness or violence with which change takes place brings about the incidental destruction of other useful attitudes and institutions.

he also ends on the hopeful note that:

...a last consolation for us--as long as man exists, civilization and all its works exist in germ. Civilization is not identical with our civilization, and the rebuilding of states and cultures, now or at any time, is integral to our nature and more becoming than longing and lamentations.

This kind of faith in mankind and an overall generosity of spirit serve the author well, tempering his often scathing indictment of modern culture with an optimism for the future which is all too unusual in conservative critics. I look forward to reading his new book.



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