04 March 2011

Excerpts from Jacques Barzun, "From Dawn to Decadence"

(Note: The excerpts below are related to issues outside of education; I will post education-related excerpts from From Dawn to Decadence on Wide Awake Minds, my education blog. You can find these here if you are interested.)


Here are a few excerpts from what I've read so far:

---

In any art a new technical power leads to uses and ideas not suspected at first.
...
Another singularity in Petrarch's life was that he climbed a high hill in southern France in order to admire the view. If it was done before him, it was not recorded. Nature had been endlessly discussed, but as a generality, not as this landscape.

...
Inquisition as such, that is, apart from methods and severity of results, has remained a live institution. The many dictatorships of the 20th century have relied on it and in free countries it thrives ad hoc - hunting down German sympathizers during the First World War, interning Japanese-Americans during the second, and pursuing Communist fellow-travelers during the Cold War.
...

"Heretics are given us so that we might not remain in infancy. They question, there is discussion, and definitions are arrived at to make an organized faith." -St. Augustine

...
It takes hundreds of the gifted to make half a dozen of the great.

...
Why is fame so capricious a goddess? In any country its favor depends on attention by one group of critics rather than another, or again by the fanatical devotion that goes to the right man at the right time. Some element of the work must chime in with some concern of the moment.
...

"(Smoking) is a custom loathful to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs; and the black, stinking fumes thereof nearest resembling the horrible stygian smoke of the pit that is bottomless." --James I of England (1604)

...
Desire must be dammed up to be self-renewing.
...

"Mankind does nothing save through initiatives on the part of inventors, great or small, and imitation by the rest of us. Individuals show the way, set the patterns, The rivalry of the patterns is the history of the world." -William James (1908)

...
Where in the scheme of things do I belong? Who am I, anyway? Such questions made up the 'identity crisis' studied by psychiatrists whose patients had not 'found themselves.' ...Finding oneself was a misnomer; a self is not found but made; and the anti-hero, anti-history bias was an obstacle to making it, because a starting point from the past was missing; it had to be made from scratch.
...
In Geneva under Calvin people had to go to church twice daily. ...If stubborn and persistent in sin, the dear soul must be turned over to the civil authorities. Adultery might mean death, quite as if Jesus had not dealt rather differently with the woman taken in adultery. Blasphemy, that curious crime of 'damaging God by bringing Him into ill-repute,' was even more unforgivable. ...

Calvinism, it has been said, makes every man the enemy of every other, as well as his own. Certainly its rigor accounts for the agonizing fear of sin that has been recorded in many lives.... The number of plain people, especially adolescents, whose minds were tortured by Calvinist sermons in England in America may be imagined.

...Luther wrote that 'the Christian man is dead to the world,' yet, as we saw, he relished life. The ailing Calvin was not a relisher; his advice is contradictory and leaves nature a rather narrow crack through which to manifest God's goodness.
...

"Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven."

-Wordsworth remembering the French Revolution

...
Montaigne lived in an age full of people who knew that they, and they alone, had the truth, direct from God - and these truth-bearers all disagreed. Reflecting on a far wider set of facts and with greater self-knowledge, Montaigne was at pains to make the point that Cromwell later phrased so superbly: 'By the bowels of Christ, bethink ye that ye may be mistaken.'
...
Erasmus loved travel and the good things of life, including the rapid, flashing conversation of learned friends in Paris, Oxford, and...Basel.
...
The welfare ideal did not merely see to it that the poor should be able to survive, but that everybody should be safe and at ease in a hundred ways. Besides providing health care, pensions ("social security"), and workmen's compensation for accidents, it undertook to protect every employee by workplace regulations and every consumer by laws against harm from foods, drugs, and the multiform dangers that industry creates. All appliances were subject to design control and inspection.

...At the same time, it was also held that the state had the duty of supporting art and science, medical research, and the integrity of the environment, while it must also make sure that all children were not simply literate but educated up to and through college - rules, rules, definitions, classifications, and exceptions = indignation - and litigation.

...The cost of welfare in money was huge and in mental effort exorbitant. ...The task of distributing benefits was alone overwhelming. High taxes were unavoidable, and so was waste. Add to it corruption, also inevitable when inspectors are afoot, and it should have been no surprise to the contemporaries that the program fell short of its aim. There was still poverty, derelicts on the street, unattended illness, and complaints of 'not enough' from every welfared group in turn - workers, farmers, businessmen, doctors, artists, scientists, teachers, prisoners, and the homeless.

Jacques Barzun
--From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present

No comments: