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The Modern Temper: A Study And A Confession ()

Brothers Judd Top 100 of the 20th Century: Non-Fiction

We have grown a Godless universe, but we are not yet accustomed to one which is loveless as well, and only when we have so become shall we realize what atheism really means. -Joseph Wood Krutch, The Modern Temper

Perhaps the most problematic thinkers of the past for us to assess are those who accurately diagnosed the diseases of modernity but succumbed to them anyway. In his 1956 Preface to this 1929 collection of interconnected essays that apparently appeared mostly in The Atlantic Monthly, the critic Joseph Wood Krutch sums up the crisis of the age of materialism and sciencism as follows:
The universe revealed by science, especially the sciences of biology and psychology, is one in which the human spirit cannot find a comfortable home. That spirit breathes freely only in a universe where what philosophers call Value Judgments are of supreme importance. It needs to believe, for instance, that right and wrong are real, that Love is more than a biological function, that the human mind is capable of reason rather than merely of rationalization, and that it has the power to will and to choose instead of being compelled merely to react in the fashion predetermined by its conditioning. Since science has proved that none of these beliefs is more than a delusion, mankind will be compelled either to surrender what we call humanity by adjusting to the real world or to live some kind of tragic existence in a universe alien to the deepest needs of its nature.
While you could hardly ask for a description of the psychotic effects of belief in Science, the flaw in Krutch's conclusion is obvious: the third option is simply to choose to believe in humanity instead of in biology and psychology. That such a humanism is predicated on faith in God rather than in science can hardly be a bar, since we know, and have known, that Reason itself is ultimately nothing but a faith. What Krutch and others who despaired of the human condition in an Age of Reason had essentially done was just to choose a "tragic existence in a universe alien to the deepest needs of its nature," when they could instead have chosen, as their ancestors always had, and as most Americans still do, a universe where the human spirit breathes free.

The Modern Temper is a fascinating read and necessary to an understanding of the kind of spiritual nihilism that enabled Darwinism, Communism, Fascism, Existentialism, etc., but it is a a defeatist text. Mr. Krutch served a most lucid warning about the tenor of his times, but then ran up the white flag, which leaves the work fatally flawed.


Grade: (A-)


Joseph Krutch Links:

    -Joseph Wood Krutch (Wikipedia)
    -ESSAY: Tennessee's Dilemma (Joseph Wood Krutch, July 22, 1925, The Nation)
    -ESSAY: Bats, Men, and Morals (Joseph Wood Krutch, September 1951, Commentary)
    -ESSAY: The Monkey Trial (Joseph Wood, Krutch, May 1967, Commentary)
    -EXCERPT: The Colloid and the Crystal (Joseph Wood Krutch, The Best of Two Worlds)
    -PROFILE: Joseph Wood Krutch as a Cultural Critic (John Margolis, Columbia Alumni Magazine)
    -PROFILE: Pronounced Krootch: The roots of a park, and a rare family (Jack Neely, MetroPulse)
    -PROFILE: JOSEPH WOOD KRUTCH: A RARE CRITIC (Howard Stein, Columbia Alumni Magazine)
    -Joseph Wood Krutch (University of TN, Hall of Fame)
    -Joseph Wood Krutch: A Planet Patriot Author
    -Pantheist Association for Nature Lodestars: Joseph Wood Krutch
    -Joseph Wood Krutch Stamp (Palau)
    -ARCHIVES: "Joseph Wood Krutch" (Find Articles)
    -REVIEW: of More Lives Than One by Joseph Wood Krutch (MANAS Journal)
    -REVIEW: of The Desert Year, by Joseph Wood Krutch (BookPaths)
    -REVIEW: of The Measure of Man, by Joseph Wood Krutch (Lincoln Reis, Commentary)

Book-related and General Links:

    -ESSAY: The Liberating Arts (Edmund A. Opitz, December 1998, The Freeman)
    -ESSAY: Six ideas as to make us human (Edmund A. Optiz, November 1972, The Freeman)
    -ESSAY: Two Views of Man (MANAS Journnal)
    The Illusion of Disillusionment: There is a vast body of commentary on the modern spiritual plight, all of which assumes that the experience of doubt, moral relativism, and despair is distinctively modern and, in some sense, the product of mankind's �maturity.� (Christopher Lasch, July-August 1991, New Oxford Review)
    -ESSAY: Shifting Perspectives on the 1920s (Henry F. May)
    -ESSAY: Ransomed from H--L: The Literati of the Middle South and the Cultural Crisis of the Twenties (Peter J. Wallace)
    -ESSAY: Revues and other Vanities: The Commodification of Fantasy in the 1920s
    -LECTURE: The Basic Necessity for Spiritual Reconstruction (Howard W. Hintz--Professor of English, Brooklyn College, Delivered at Arch Street Meeting House Philadelphia, William Penn Lecture 1936)
    -EXCERPT: AFTERMATH: 1930-31: from Only Yesterday by Frederick Lewis Allen