The SecularnImaginationnby Gregory J. SullivannLionel Trillingnby Stephen L. TannernBoston: Twayne PublishersnUnder the tyranny of ideology thatnis a grim fact of contemporary lifenin university English departments, it isntempting to reflect on the career ofnLionel Trilling (1905-1975) with annuncritical wistfulness. It is to StephennTanner’s credit that his astute and balancednintroductory study resists such antemptation; for however much Trilling’sncriticism remains something of a beaconnduring the dark night of deconstruction,nhis work contains severe flaws.nTrilling’s sensibility was shaped innlarge measure by the humanist traditionnof Matthew Arnold, from whom henlearned a scholarly disinterestedness andna prudent aloofness from the brawls ofnpartisan politics. What is more, Trilling’snpreoccupations were determinednby his Arnold-like humanism. “Hisnthemes,” Tanner says, “are relativelynfew and remain surprisingly constantnfrom beginning to end of his career:nliterature as a criticism of life; the problematicnbut vital relationship betweennself and society; the perils of oversimplifyingnhuman nature and experience;nthe dangers of overweening intellectnand will; and the complexity and pain ofnliving the moral life.”nTrilling’s concerns, then, were of thenhighest order; his treatment of them,nmoreover, was unfailingly serious andnexpressed in what Tanner aptly calls “anstyle of extreme tact and judiciousness.”nNevertheless, the moral and intellectualncontext in which Trilling developednthese themes is embodied in the revolutionaryntrinity of Rousseau, Marx, and,nabove all, Freud. This devotion is not atnall surprising; like many of his contemporaries.nTrilling was raised in a secularnmilieu — “It is difficult,” Tanner observes,n”to think of Trilling as Jewish atnall”—an experience that left gaps in hisnliterary and cultural perceptions. Tannernis to the point:nThe most significant omission innTrilling’s work is his failure,ndespite his historicalnpredisposition, to recognize thenvital significance of thencontinuing secularization ofnculture and the gradualnwithdrawal of God that havencharacterized the West since thenseventeenth century.nThe truth is that Trilling was a comfortablendenizen of the Secular City, andnhe dutifully paid his obeisances, at onentime or another, to its gods. Freud, ofncourse, was for Trilling the most illustriousnfigure in the pantheon; and it is tonwhat Tanner calls a “selective and idealizednFreud” that he turned time andnagain for moral and cultural authority.nBut Civilization and Its Discontents,nto choose a text that Trilling revered, isnhardly the definitive source of a coherentnpoint of view.nThe secular world view lacks anynmetaphysical explanation of man’s aboriginalndepravity. To be sure, Trillingnwas keenly aware of our fundamentallyntragic nature. His humanism, however,ncontained a marked tendency toward anutopianism that is bereft of any acknowledgmentnof ineradicable humann”A groundbreaking and timely investigation ofnan economic concept once central to Americannsocial thought. For anyone who has wonderednwhy the family is now under such financialnpressure, this book will answer a host ofnquestions.”n- Robert Nisbetnfrailty. Trilling was thus stranded by hisnrejection of either heaven in the nextnworld or heaven on earth. This inherentntension is particularly conspicuousnin his political liberalism. For instance,nin the preface to The Liberal Imaginationn(1950), he indicates that the critic’snobjective is “to recall liberalism tonits first essential imagination of variousnessnand possibility, which implies thenawareness of complexity and difficulty.”nIt goes without saying that Trilling’snbest criticism — including ThenOpposing Self (1955), Beyond Culturen(1965), and Sincerity and Authenticityn(1972) — fulfills this funchon, and henremains perhaps liberalism’s best internalncritic. The problem is that a decadenor so after he wrote his famous preface,nliberalism was splintering, “its first essentialnimagination of variousness andnpossibility” descending into nihilisticnchaos. In retrospect. Trilling was defendingna tradition in which the conceptnof ultimate things led ineluctablynto the Molotov cocktail.nGregory J. Sullivan is a graduatenstudent at Villanova University.nThe Family Wage: Work, Gender, and Children in ThenModern Economy A fascinating collection of essays thatnwill help Americans better understand the current economicnchallenges to family life. Send for your copy today!nI I YES, please send men. copies of The FamilynWage: Work, Gender, and Children in the ModernnEconomy at $11.50 each (postage and handling included).nNamenAddressnCity.nStaten-Zip.nSend this coupon and your check made out to The Rockford Institute to:nThe Rockford Institute, 934 N. Main St., Rockford, IL 61103nnnJANUARY 1989/41n