All posts by Roger Kimball

Roger Kimball is editor of the New Criterion.

Jacques Barzun, 1907-2012

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“Full of years.” I
am not sure I know of anyone who better qualified for that Biblical epithet
than Jacques Barzun, who died last week at the magnificent age of 104.  Born in France in 1907, Barzun had been a
presence on the American intellectual and academic scene since the 1950s. From
his perch at Columbia University, where he collaborated with the critic Lionel
Trilling on a humanities course than deeply influenced a generation of
students, Barzun (like Trilling) was part of the intellectual conscience of his
age.  He was a public intellectual before
that role had been hollowed out by celebrity and the demotic faddishness of the
1960s. His scholarly work in subjects like French poetry consistently won plaudits.
Writing in 1991 about Barzun’s Essay on French Verse, the poet William Jay
Smith noted that  although “there have
been other treatises on French versification for the English reader,”  “none has been so thorough, so well reasoned,
so free of academic jargon, and so available as this one.”  “It is amazing,” Smith went on, “that
Professor Barzun, now in his eighties, should have produced so youthful and
vigorous a book, an objective study that is at the same time so personal a
document.” That sense of amazement regularly greeted Barzun’s work in the last
decades of his life.  He was the author
of more than 30 books, and his magnum opus, From
Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present
, wasn’t
published until 2000, when Barzun was 93.

Continue reading Jacques Barzun, 1907-2012

Still Tenured, Still Radical

Roger Kimball, editor of Encounter Books and co-editor of The New Criterion, delivered these remarks at a Manhattan Institute luncheon in New York City on November 19th. The occasion marked publication of the second revised edition of his influential 1990 book Tenured Radicals.
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Joining so many old friends from the extended Manhattan Institute family inspires a feeling of what the philosopher Yogi Berra called “deja vu all over again.” I know I have been here before, talking about something suspiciously similar to what I am going to be talking to you about today. I am counting on you to agree with me that novelty is a much over-rated commodity and to take consolation, as I do, in the observation of the Sage of Ecclesiastes that “there is nothing new under the sun.”
When the first the edition of Tenured Radicals appeared lo, these many years ago, around the time movable type was coming into vogue, the American university, when it came to the humanities and social sciences, anyway, was essentially a left-wing monoculture gravely infected by the stultifying imperatives of political correctness, specious multiculturalism, and an addiction to a potpourri of intellectually dubious pseudo-radicalisms.
Well, that was then. In the meantime, some very talented people have weighed in on the problem. They have written articles and books about the university; they’ve organized conferences, symposia, and think-tank initiatives; they even managed to place scores of good people in various colleges and universities as a counterweight to the various intellectual and moral depredations I chronicle in Tenured Radicals. Today, two editions and nearly two decades later, we can look at the American university and what do we discover? That it is, essentially, a left-wing monoculture gravely infected by the stultifying imperatives of political correctness, specious multiculturalism, and an addiction to a potpourri of intellectually dubious pseudo-radicalisms.

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What Can Be Done About Campus Decline?

The following is an excerpt from Roger Kimball’s introduction to the third edition of his classic book on the humanities, Tenured Radicals.
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One of the great ironies that attends the triumph of political correctness is that in department after department of academic life, what began as a demand for emancipation recoiled, turned rancid, and developed into new forms of tyranny and control. As Alan Charles Kors noted in a recent essay,

under the heirs of the academic Sixties, we moved on campus after campus from their Free Speech Movement to their politically correct speech codes; from their abolition of mandatory chapel to their imposition of Orwellian mandatory sensitivity and multicultural training; from their freedom to smoke pot unmolested to their war today against the kegs and spirits—literal and metaphorical—of today’s students; from their acquisition of young adult status to their infantilization of “kids” who lack their insight; from their self-proclaimed dreams of racial and sexual integration to their ever more balkanized campuses organized on principles of group characteristics and group responsibility; from their right to define themselves as individuals—a foundational right—to their official, imposed, and politically orthodox notions of identity. American college students became the victims of a generational swindle of truly epic proportions.

What, as Lenin memorably asked, is to be done?

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What Multiculturalism Has Done To Us

[This is an excerpt from a paper delivered by Roger Kimball at the Manhattan Institute’s Closing Of The American Mind conference. It will appear in complete form in The New Criterion.]

..It is a rich and promiscuous stew that Allan Bloom served up, part polemic, part exhortation, part exercise in cultural-intellectual history. It sometimes grabs readers by the lapels and gives them a shake; at other times it assumes a dry, professorial tone as it delineates the genealogy of freedom, discriminates among diverse meanings of equality, or parses a choice passage from Plato, Rousseau, Tocqueville, or Nietzsche. the egalitarian, recognizing that genuine excellence is rare, declares greatness a fraud and sets about obliterating distinctions…

As Bloom recognized, the fruits of egalitarianism are ignorance, the habit of intellectual conformity, and the systematic subjection of cultural achievement to political criteria. In the university, this means classes devoted to pop novels, rock videos, and third-rate works chosen simply because their authors are members of the requisite sex, ethnic group, or social minority. It means students who graduate not having read Milton or Dante or Shakespeare – or, what is in some ways even worse, who have been taught to regard the works of such authors chiefly as hunting grounds for examples of patriarchy, homophobia, imperialism, etc., etc. It means faculty and students who regard education as an exercise in disillusionment and who look to the past only to corroborate their sense of superiority and self-satisfaction…

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