Six of this book’s 10 essays were presented at a conference commemorating the 50th anniversary of Irving Babbitt’s death. Held in Washington, DC, at The Catholic University of America in November 1983, the conference brought together scholars of various disciplines to address the general subject of “Irving Babbitt: Fifty Years Later.” Although some people might assume that Babbitt has nothing to do with our time—that he was simply one of those moralizing classicists from whom liberal minds liberated themselves during the first decades of this century—the essays of this book demonstrate that he deserves much more than antiquarian interest. In fact, the primary impression is that his ideas remain relevant and that his views on modern life have a prophetic quality that only now can be fully appreciated.

Babbitt’s enduring influence and current relevance are Russell Kirk’s subject in the opening essay. Admitting that Babbitt has influenced him “more strongly than has any other writer of the twentieth century,” Kirk notes aspects of lasting value in Babbitt’s thoughts. The subject of this brief essay, incidentally, he elaborates at considerably greater length in his excellent introduction to Babbitt’s Literature and the American College.

In the essays that follow, George Panichas treats “Babbitt and Religion,” arguing that, “For the most part. Babbitt has been denied full recognition as a religious man, as a man of spiritual insight.” Claes Ryn, in “Babbitt and the Problem of Reality,” identifies will and imagination as key concepts. Their interaction, as Babbitt understands it, coupled with certain ideas from Croce, yields a significant new theory of knowledge and displays Babbitt’s considerable stature as a philosopher. The inspiration for bringing Croce to bear on Babbitt came to Ryn from one of his mentors, the late Folke Leander, whose essay “Irving Babbitt and Benedetto Croce,” originally published in Sweden in 1954, is reprinted in this collection to make it available to a wider audience.

Joseph Baldacchino treats “Babbitt and the Question Ideology,” arguing that although Babbitt resisted ideology viewed as rationalistic systematizing, a nonrationalistic and intuitively systematic world view is implicit in his writings and can be seen as a positive sort of ideology. Peter J. Stanlis examines the views of Babbitt, Burke, and Rousseau on the moral nature of man. David Hoeveler examines “Babbitt and Contemporary Conservative Thought in America,” focusing on Irving Kristol, Michael Novak, and George Will. And, finally, Richard B. Hovey considers the current relevance of Babbitt’s 1908 critique of higher education, Literature and the American College.

This collection of essays is worthy of its subject and in itself demonstrates the quality of Babbitt’s continuing influence, and it is a central document in a revival of interest in Babbitt during the 80’s.


[Irving Babbitt in Our Times, edited by George A. Panichas and Claes G. Ryn (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press) $27.95]