Jacques Barzun: Intellect Trumps Ideology

It is with pleasure that I join others in celebrating the one hundredth year in the life of Jacques Barzun. I met Dean Barzun at Columbia University in 1951, where he was instrumental in certifying a scholarship grant that allowed me to do graduate studies in the department of philosophy. My family was extremely poor, and as with undergraduate studies at the City University of New York, without such support further education was simply out of the question. Indeed, even with it, I had to drive a taxi cab in the city to make ends meet. It took a special cultivated person like Barzun to understand what was taking place below the bluffs of Morningside Heights.

My second contact with Dean Barzun was interviewing him for my biography of C. Wright Mills. It was evident from all of the correspondence that while Barzun and Mills did not exactly share the same political turf, Dean Barzun well understood the vitality of social science at Columbia, and the need for differences, even sharp differences, in its department of sociology and also its Social Science Institute. Not every member of the department, shared Barzun’s sense of fairness and need for intellectual diversity. One might say that even under intense pressure, Barzun understood that in university affairs intellect must always trump politics.

The final phase of my connection was largely epistolary. We were always interested, but I hasten to say, rarely successful in securing rights to publish Jacques’ out of print works. It was not for want of trying. Barzun always responded with favor to such requests, but many of his works were in print or controlled by major publishers and agents. That did not prevent Jacques from commenting with strong support for my Tributes: Personal Reflections on a Century of Social Research. Since so many of these tributes were at one time or another impacted by Dean Barzun, all I can rightly do is express my deep appreciation for his lifetime of support. If the process of decline depicted in his classic text, From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present, is to be halted or even reversed, it will be because the rest of us have come to understand the consequences, no less than history of ideas.

Irving Louis Horowitz is Hannah Arendt Distinguished University Professor Emeritus at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and Chairman of the Board of Transaction Publishers.

The Jacques Barzun Centennial