New Humanism

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Irving Babbitt (1865—1933)

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The slogan of a small but influential group of American critics in the 1920s and 1930s, led by Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More, and including among its champions Norman Foerster and (for a short period before defecting to an incompatible position) Stuart P. Sherman. It derived its concept of humanism and many of its literary principles from the critical writings of Matthew Arnold, upholding an ethical doctrine of self-restraint in place of formal religious doctrine and opposing the excessive individualism of the Romantic tradition in the name of classical order and harmony. It was especially hostile to the Romantic cult of nature, and tended to blame the nationalism exhibited in the First World War upon Romantic forms of irrationalism. Its principal joint publication was a book of essays, Humanism and America (1930) edited by Foerster, who in the same year published his own book, Towards Standards; but its positions can be seen to have developed from earlier writings including some of More's essays in his long sequence of Shelburne Essays (11 vols, 1904–21) and Babbitt's books Rousseau and Romanticism (1919) and Democracy and Leadership (1924). Among its more sceptical followers was T. S. Eliot, who had studied under Babbitt and sympathized with his anti-Romantic principles but came to regard the New Humanism as incoherent because lacking in secure religious foundations. For a fuller account, consult Thomas R. Nevin, Irving Babbitt (1984).

Subjects: Literary Studies (20th Century onwards).

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