Historian, essayist, cultural gadfly and educator Jacques Barzun, who helped establish the modern discipline of cultural history, was probably best known for viewing the West as sliding toward decadence. He died Thursday night at his home in San Antonio. He was 104.
His remarkable curiosity and manifold interests and accomplishments, encompassed both Berlioz and baseball (and many other subjects.) He stood with Sidney Hook, Daniel Bell and Lionel Trilling as one of the mid-20th century’s most wide-ranging scholars. He tried to reconcile the achievements of European philosophy and culture with the very different American intellect and culture.
He wrote dozens of books across many decades, demonstrating that old age did not necessarily mean intellectual decline. He published his most ambitious and encyclopedic book at the age of 92 (and credited his productivity in part to chronic insomnia). That work, “From Dawn to Decadence,” is an 877-page survey of 500 years of Western culture in which he argued that Western civilization itself had entered a period of decline.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, Barzun showed little interest in taking political positions. This was partly because he became a university administrator and had to stand above the fray, and partly because he approached the world with a detached civility and a sardonic skepticism about intellectual life.
He traced periods of rise and fall in the Western saga, and contended that another fall was near — one that could cause “the liquidation of 500 years of civilization.” It looks like he won’t be around to see it.
- Cultural historian, author Jacques Barzun dies (cnsnews.com)
- Cultural historian, author Jacques Barzun dies (news.yahoo.com)
- Cultural historian, author Jacques Barzun dies (miamiherald.com)
- Author, thinker Barzun dies at 104 (mysanantonio.com)
- Cultural Historian Jacques Barzun Dies At 104 (wnyc.org)
- Jacques Barzun: Historian who believed that Western culture was descending into trivia (independent.co.uk)
- Jacques Barzun, RIP (samizdata.net)
- Jacques Barzun (telegraph.co.uk)