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In his discussion of "The Critic and American Life" in the current issue of The Forum, Professor Irving Babbitt, after denouncing what he terms the "superior intellectual vaudeville" of Mr. H. L. Mencken and pointing out the ineffectuality of modern American criticism, hastens to show that the unsatisfactoriness of creative effort today is largely a result of the unsatisfactoriness of higher education. Consequently there is a lack of culture, a fact which renders Mr. Mencken's "verbal virtuosity" possible, and results in the creative instinct being stified in a welter of "idealism." Professor Babbitt in his cool analysis of facts succeeds in being distinctly more pessimistic and convincing than his arch-opponent in the lists of contemporary criticism.
Moreover, he advances a panacea which if it could be practically applied would certainly remedy a situation, the instability and uncertainty of which at least no one will deny. Nowhere is the utter neglect of reliable standards more evident than in university and college life in general. And when, in the face of this fact, the impossibility of attaining an intrinsically sound basis outside of the circle of higher education in considered, the outlook is sinister. Standards conducive to stabilization are all too few, and the average student in most cases has enough intelligence to regret the time, energy, and aspiration he loses in pursuing chimeras ineffectively and in obtaining indefinite results, Perhaps Professor Babbitt, in placing most of the blame upon the professor, is too lenient toward the student. For it is only by mutual cooperation that any definite goal can possibly be attained. If the undergraduate is not willing to free himself to a greater extent from the exacting demands of outside activities and devote himself to "the problem of the inner life", cease to be the specialist and become more the man of leisure, Professor Babbitt's Utopia of Socratic standardization is plainly impossible. He advocates a "classic restraint" as the only solution to the hectic post-romantic ineffectuality of American civilization and appeals to academic circles to exercise their control in the defeat of the hydra-headed monsters of distracting niaterialism and ultimate inefficiency.
To an audience bombarded with Menckenistic fire and fury and accustomed to tolerate the mental acrobatics of contemporary critics like the famous "Bossy" Gillis. Professor Babbitt's warning might sound archaic and his advice Hellenic. Others might recognize its significance and debate its practicality. However, no one will deny that Professor Babbitt's penetrating mind has grasped the essential weaknesses of contemporary life.
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