November 13, 2007

What Jacques Barzun has learned over the last 100 years

Cultural historian Jacques Barzun will turn 100 on November 30, 2007 at his home in San Antonio, Texas. His parents ran a salon in pre-War (that's pre-Great War) Paris where, according to Arthur Krystal's New Yorker essay
many of Europe’s leading avant-garde artists and writers gathered: Varèse played the piano, Ozenfant and Delaunay debated, Cocteau told lies, and Apollinaire declaimed. Brancusi often stopped by, as did Léger, Kandinsky, Jules Romains, Duchamp, and Pound.

Artistically, Barzun feels, it's been pretty much all downhill since the Archduke was assassinated, back when precocious little Jacques was six, and who am I to say he is wrong?

In his 2000 bestseller From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present, published when he was 92, Barzun suddenly stopped on p. 654-656 to briefly discuss what he's learned from a lifetime of learning:
"... history cannot be a science; it is the very opposite, in that its interest resides in the particulars."
Still, he goes on to list a dozen "generalities" to show "how scanning the last five centuries in the West impresses on the mind certain types of order." Here are five of them (I'll leave it to you to fill in examples):

- An age (a shorter span within an era) is unified by one or to pressing needs, not by the proposed remedies, which are many and thus divide.

- A movement in thought or art produces its best work during the uphill fight to oust the enemy; that is, the previous thought or art. Victory brings on imitation and ultimately Boredom.

- "An Age of --" (fill in: Reason, Faith, Science, Absolutism, Democracy, Anxiety, Communication) is always a misnomer because insufficient, except perhaps "An Age of Troubles," which fits every age in varying degrees.

- The historian does not isolate causes, which defy sorting out even in the natural world; he describes conditions that he judges relevant, adding occasionally an estimate of their relevant strength.

- The potent writings that helped to reshape minds and institutions in the West have done so through a formula or two, not always consistent with the text. Partisans and scholars start to read the book with care after it has done its work.

My published articles are archived at -- Steve Sailer


Anonymous said...

"Varèse played the piano, Ozenfant and Delaunay debated, Cocteau told lies, and Apollinaire declaimed. Brancusi often stopped by, as did Léger, Kandinsky, Jules Romains, Duchamp, and Pound." Be fair, that's a terrible bunch of duds. Paris was well past its peak.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who seeks to comment on the recent history of "Western" Civilization - to include, in the 20th century, Pacific Rim Asia - which is to say, anyone who seeks to comment on the recent history of Civilization [period], and whose commentary is not centered on a description and analysis of the collapse in fertility rates since the decriminalization of abortion in the 1960's [both the decriminalization of chemical abortifacients, like the birth control pill, which came in the United States with Griswold -v- Connecticut, and the decriminalization of surgical abortion - dilation and curretage, dilation and extraction, etc - which came in the United States with Roe -v- Wade] is a commentator who is so woefully ill-informed about the state of the world he lives in that his analysis isn't even worth considering.

We are in the throes of an implosion in the numbers of intelligent peoples and an explosion in the numbers of stupid peoples the likes of which we have not seen since 450AD:

IQ and the Wealth of Nations

List of countries and territories by fertility rate

The last time this happened, it took a good six or seven hundred years of Dark Ages, and another three or four hundred years of "Middle" Ages, before we were able to start to put the thing back together again.

There is no problem facing humanity today - NONE WHATSOEVER - whose consequences will be as dire as the ongoing implosion of intelligence and the concomitant explosion of stupidity.

Anonymous said...

dearieme: Be fair, that's a terrible bunch of duds. Paris was well past its peak.

"Spengler", over at the Asia Times, has been on this theme for years now, and it forms the basis of his analysis of the underlying causes of both WWI & contemporary Iranian sabre-rattling:

They made a democracy and called it peace
Mar 8, 2005

...In The Decline of the West (1918), Oswald Spengler quoted Shaw in predicting an "appalling depopulation" of Europe:

It becomes possible for a Shaw to say "that unless Woman repudiates her womanliness, her duty to her husband, to her children, to society, to the law, and to everyone but herself, she cannot emancipate herself". The primary woman, the peasant woman, is mother. The whole vocation towards which she has yearned from childhood is included in that one word. But now emerges the Ibsen woman, the comrade, the heroine of a whole megalopolitan literature from Northern drama to Parisian novel. Instead of children, she has soul-conflicts; marriage is a craft-art for the achievement of "mutual understanding." It is all the same whether the case against children is the American lady's who would not miss a season for anything, or the Parisienne's who fears that her lover would leave her, or an Ibsen heroine's who "belongs to herself" - they all belong to themselves and they are all unfruitful ...

Why war comes when no one wants it
May 2, 2006

...Raymond Poincare's bellicose government had already pressed into service four-fifths of France's draft-age manpower, against only half in Germany. It could not remain so mobilized indefinitely...

With a stagnant population, France could not hope to win back the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine it had lost to Germany in 1870 unless it fought immediately...

Why Iran is dying for a fight
Nov 13, 2007

...The French example, though, is the most convincing, because the issue of declining population growth rates was openly debated as a strategic risk to France immediately before the First World War. As historian Judith Wishnia observes, fear about the falling French birth rate in the face of German demographic dynamism worsened the crisis that led to the First World War. Politicians, clergy, the literati and the army exhorted the French to have more children in the strategic interests of the nation. [2]

Between 1870, when Germany humiliated Napoleon III in the Franco-Prussian War, and 1914, the population of the German Empire nearly doubled, while the French population was almost unchanged.

In 1870, the two countries could field roughly the same number of soldiers; by 1913, Germany had nearly double the available manpower.

Just prior to the outbreak of general war in August 1914, France had called up 80% of its military age men in the most comprehensive mobilization in history. Only by keeping nearly all its available manpower in uniform could France field enough soldiers to match the German army in the field. With a much larger population, Germany had only half its military-age men under arms. The economic strain upon France of maintaining such a high degree of mobilization was insupportable. France either had to go to war quickly, or lose its only opportunity to revenge itself upon Germany for the loss of territory and the humiliation of 1870...