REVIEWSrnFacilis DiscensusrnAvemornby Chilton Williamson, Jr.rnFrom Dawn to Decadence:rn500 Years of Western Cultural Life,rnFrom 1500 to the Presentrnby Jacques BarzunrnNew York: HarperCollins;rn877 pp., $36.00rnI acques Barzun’s 30-somethingth book,rnJ though published by HarperCollins,rnbears the unmistakable stamp of ColumbiarnUniversity, from whose college thernauthor graduated, where he was appointedrnSeth Low Professor of History, andrnserved for ten years as dean of facultiesrnand provost. I refer, of course, to the college’srnonce renowned, now demode,rnWestern Civilization program: a foursemesterrncourse of lectures and readings,rnmostly from a hefty two-volume workrnpublished by Columbia University Press,rnrequired of all candidates for the Bachelorrnof Arts degree. As a graduate of ColumbiarnCollege, I consider myself thernbeneficiary, as well as the survivor, of arncurriculum that gave the student the illusionrn(at least) of having Read All thernBooks, while making up in some part forrnthe generally disappointing level of undergraduaterninstruction that prevailed inrnthe college. (In fact, the reading lists forrnall courses at Columbia were comprehensivelyrnsuperb—a boon for a studentrntemperamentally impatient, then as now,rnat being lectured at; who admires thernsound of the human voice in the operarnhouse rather than in the lecture hall andrnis incapable of concentrating on intellectualrncommunication whose medium isrnsomething other than the PRINTEDrnword.) Next after Western Civ, perhaps,rnColumbia is famous for its School ofrnJournalism, the first institution of its kind.rnWhile I came to the journalistic professionrn(the phrase is obviously an oxymoron)rnby another route, I have not beenrnimmune subsequently to its primary occupationalrnhazard: the philistinism thatrnsubstitutes the Somali peacekeeping operationrnfor the Peloponnesian War; thernRepublic of Haiti for the Republic ofrnVenice; Marhn Luther King, Jr., for MartinrnLuther; William Safire for Dr. Johnson;rnBill Clinton for Muhammad, DonrnJuan, and the Marquis de Sade. ProfessorrnBarzun’s book, with its essentiallyrnpedagogical approach to its subject, itsrntextbook layout and highlighted quotations,rntook me back a few years to a formativernand somewhat more humble periodrnin my intellectual career, and yet Irncannot say I resented the experience;rnrather, I welcomed and enjoved it. If everyrnworking journalist read From Dawnrnto Decadence this year, the result mightrn(just perhaps) amount to a small Enlightenment,rnhowever ephemeral, on thernAmerican Crub Street. The youngrn(practitioners in their 20’s and 30’s) couldrnfinally learn something about the deadrnelephant they’ve been so courageouslyrnkicking since leaving school, while theirrnelders, aged in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s —rnthe last generation of Americans who canrnfairly be said to have had an education —rnwould experience a refresher course, thernmore enjoyable for not requiring an examinationrnat the end of it. ReadingrnBarzun’s book, I felt myself a living examplernof the truth of Dr. Johnson’s dictumrnthat men more often need to be remindedrnthan instructed.rnIn Jacques Barzun’s conception, thernpast five centuries of Western civilizationrnthat constitute the modern era are dividedrninto four great revolutionary movementsrn—the religious, the monarchical.rnthe liberal-philosophical, and the socialrn— whose impress affects the presentrnpowerfully and all of which conduce to arnsingle end, which is decadence. Barzunrnis quick to remind the reader that thernword indicates a falling off, not stoppagernor total ruin:rnIt implies in those who live in suchrna time no loss of energy or talent orrnmoral sense. On the contrary it is arnvery active time, full of deep concerns,rnbut peculiarly restless, for itrnsees no clear lines of advance. Thernloss it faces is that of Possibility.rnThe forms of art as of life seem exhausted,rnthe stages of developmentrnhave been run through. Institutionsrnfunction painfully. Repetitionrnand frustration are the intolerablernresult. .. . [T]he upshot is arnfloating hostility to things as theyrnare.rnAlmost in the same breath, however,rnhe speaks of demise, which he argues tornbe the result of the West’s pressing itsrnmost characteristic purposes to their utmostrnconclusions. (“This ending isrnshown by the deadlocks of our time: forrnand against nationalism, for and againstrnindividualism, for and against the highrnarts, for and against strict morals and religiousrnbelief”) These purposes, whichrnBarzun perceives as the overriding culturalrnthemes suggested by “continuity inrnaims” over half a millennium, are accordedrnsimilar status in his book, wherernthey appear always in capital letters:rnRECEIVED WISDOM’rn2006: The Chautauqua Rising bv Jack Cashill (Dunkirk, KY’: Olin Frederick, Inc.:rnpages, $22.95)rn273rnI picked up Jack Cashill’s political suspense novel, 2006: The ChautauquarnRising, because it is set in the grapy southwest of New York State. I didn’t put it downrnuntil I had finished it, long after midnight.rnCashill’s rebels rise from the western fringe of Upstate New York’s Burned-Over District,rnwhere a centurj- and a half ago ragged prophets and holy fools tramped the landrnpreaching every sort of revolution. His “constitutionalist underground” dream team ofrnSeneca Indians, Amish, hill people, Latin Mass Catholics, a sportswriter, and a beautifulrnfolksinger match wits and muscle with the homicidal careerists who would seize theirrnguns and shut down their homeschools. If this sounds drearily didactic, it isn’t. The novelrnis fast-paced and genuinely suspenseful, and its conclusion is an utterly implausiblernhoot.rnTinted by local color, animated by righteous (and condign) outrage, 2006: The ChautauquarnRising is a page-turner with its heart in the right place.rn—BillKauffmanrnSEPTEMBER 2000/25rnrnrn