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New Humanism, The

Shelburne Essays, Toward Standards, Matthew Arnold: How To Know Him, On Contemporary Literature

a movement promoted by numerous eminent American scholars and critics from the early 1920s onward to counter what they saw as the threatened dissolution of ethical and artistic standards. Irving Babbitt's works, attacking the fallacies of Romanticism and appealing to Hellenistic values, were central to the New Humanism; its leaders also included Paul Elmer More (18641937), whose Shelburne Essays (eleven volumes; 190421) often concurred with Babbitt's views, Norman Foerster (18871972), whose Toward Standards (1930) is one of the movement's notable documents, and Stuart Sherman (18811926), who argued for stable criteria of literary judgement in Matthew Arnold: How To Know Him (1917) and On Contemporary Literature (1917). Babbitt's ‘inner principle of restraint’ was an essential tenet in the New Humanism's call for curbs upon the moral and cultural laxity he and his associates saw as the legacy of Romanticism. Their philosophical and theological emphasis was on man's unique and ethically autonomous position between God and nature, in accordance with which they commended reason, discipline, and general cultivation of the higher faculties and gave primacy to the ethical functions of literature. They were antagonistic to scientific materialism and strongly disapproved of many aspects of literary Modernism. Norman Foerster edited Humanism and America: Essays on the Outlook of Modern Civilization (1930), a symposium to which T. S. Eliot contributed; Eliot had, however, already expressed doubts concerning the claims of the New Humanism in an article of 1927, and eventually rejected it as an inadequate surrogate for religion. The opponents of the movement, who included Edmund Wilson, Malcolm Cowley, Kenneth Burke, Lewis Mumford, and Allen Tate, quickly responded to Humanism and America with The Critique of Humanism (1930); H. L. Mencken made the New Humanists a frequent target for his satire throughout the 1920s. During the 1930s interest in the New Humanism declined as political solutions for America's ills assumed priority.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: New from Tartary to Frank O'connor