6/28/2019

The Influence of Irving Babbitt’s Humanism

"During his first two years of college, under Clark’s tutorship, Kirk devoured all six of Babbitt’s books and a significant number of his articles and reviews. The young man even joked with one of his closest friends that he bent his knee at the shrine of Babbitt. “When I read Babbitt,” Kirk confessed to a crowd in the early 1980s, “a conscience spoke to a conscience,” noting, especially, a “strong sympathy of mind and character.” Even more than Christopher Dawson and T.S. Eliot, Kirk claimed, Babbitt “influenced me more strongly than has any other writer of the twentieth century.” The Conservative Mind especially was influenced by “Babbitt, as much as Burke,” Kirk admitted. As far as Kirk—as a young man and as an elder scholar—was concerned, Irving Babbitt stood with Socrates, Plato, Cicero, Virgil, Confucius, and Horace as one of the greats of world civilization, “one of the sages of antiquity,” Kirk proclaimed.[7] Despite the many disparate Occidental and Oriental cultures from which Babbitt drew, “he is one of the most thoroughly native of American writers,” Kirk thought.[8] Babbitt never strove to be the leader of a movement, but he found himself as one, the younger man noted, being duly impressed with such an achievement. No one in the twentieth century within western civilization, Kirk concluded, better exemplified a mature conservatism than did Babbitt."