Barzun’s Warnings Still Relevant 80 Years Later | Beaufort County Now | M.D. Aeschliman writes for National Review Online about the continuing significance of one historian’s decades-old work.

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Barzun’s Warnings Still Relevant 80 Years Later

Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of the John Locke Foundation. The author of this post is Mitch Kokai.

    M.D. Aeschliman writes for National Review Online about the continuing significance of one historian's decades-old work.

  • Eighty years ago, in that ominous year 1941, the Franco-American historian Jacques Barzun (1903-2012) published a work of cultural history that has retained power and relevance when most such books, however worthy, live a life of temporary influence and then are occasionally consulted on the shelves of university libraries. Darwin, Marx, Wagner: Critique of a Heritage has had a longer and deeper subsequent influence, being republished in only slightly revised editions but with new prefaces in 1958 and 1981 and frequently reprinted in paperback. It is a great, antiseptic book, almost as necessary now as it was at the high tide of German National Socialist "racial science" and Soviet Communist "scientific socialism" in 1941. ...
  • ... Barzun's case against both Darwin and Marx is that both are writers of evasive, convoluted, confused prose that obscures not only truth itself but their own scientistic, mechanistic premises about the meaninglessness of mind, free will, and purpose in human affairs. He himself had started out his own academic career by writing a strongly anti-racialist book in 1937, Race: A Study in Modern Superstition, at a time when Darwinian "racial science" was riding high not only in Germany but throughout the West, leading to eugenic laws in several American states even before the Nazi national policy of eliminating "lives unworthy of life." ...
  • ... Barzun's short anatomy of Marx and Marxism, quietly devastating, is permanently worth reading for its clear understanding and lucid explanation of the self-contradictory and damaging character of Marxism and all forms of reductionism. He insists on the perennial need for an at least minimally accurate description of human personality, the reality of the human mind, and the scope of human free will. (Reductionism, he wrote in 1964, "is congenial to the modern temper, and what it reduces is the individual.")

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