Published Humanitas, Volume VIII, No. 1, 1995

Irving Babbitt, Literature, and the Democratic Culture, by Milton Hindus. New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers, 1994. xiii + 135 pp. $29.95 cloth.

The Higher Learning in America, by Robert Maynard Hutchins. New introduction by Harry S. Ashmore. New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers, 1995. xxxii + 119 pp. $17.95 paper.

In the introduction to this, his fifteenth book, Milton Hindus, a founding member of the Brandeis University faculty, explains that he has two main purposes. First, by elucidating some of Babbitt’s principal ideas and personal qualities, Hindus seeks to explain the greatness that has made Babbitt (1865-1933) for him a subject of continuing fascination as well as a career-long literary mentor. The author’s second, and related, intention is to enter imaginatively into the Babbittian spirit and, from that elevated vantage point, to view certain social, literary, and educational issues—issues that are even more urgent in our own time than in Babbitt’s—as the sage himself “would have seen them.”

As befits the distinguished critic of literary and public affairs that he is, Hindus succeeds in both attempts. He provides for those new to Babbitt an excellent short introduction to his life and to many of the concepts for which he is best known: the “inner check” or “higher will,” the “idyllic imagination” or “sham spirituality,” the contrasting “law for man” and “law for thing,” to mention a few. At the same time, Hindus offers so many original and penetrating observations that the book also will prove valuable to established Babbitt scholars.

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