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THE OBSCURITY OF INTELLECTUALS comes in two basic varieties: justifiable and unjustifiable. The former are trapped in the contexts of their own times, whose ideas cease to resonate far after their deaths. The grave is the end and they are remembered, if at all, in anecdotes and footnotes. Not answering the enduring questions, their obscurity is well-deserved. The latter are, however, forgotten sometimes deliberately as men who had written and said important things, but whose message ran against the grain of their times. As that message was often critical of fashionable intellectual or cultural trends, it was waived aside as crankiness or oddity. Obscurity functioned as a kind of revenge or punishment. But their message spoke beyond its immediate context, said interesting things about former and future times, and deserves rediscovery. This obscurity is unfortunate but reversible. Barrett Wendell (1855-1921), for thirty-seven years a professor of English at Harvard College, ranks as an undeservedly obscure American "Man of Letters." He interpreted the nation's past through what he called its twofold character--one part Puritan and theocratic, the other part legal and based in English common law--and he brought that understanding into the contentious Progressive Era, harshly condemning those who defied America's traditions and origins. A thoroughgoing conservative and self-described Tory reactionary, he often felt a man apart, whose ideas had either "seen their day" or were, ironically, so orthodox as to be unorthodox in a radical age.

Professioneel en technisch
22 september
Intercollegiate Studies Institute Inc.

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