Butterflies and Wheels
A Trumpet Blast Against the "New" Humanism
by R Joseph Hoffmann
What the New Humanism isn't about is the intellectual self-confidence that calls a spade a spade and faulty judgment faulty. Intellectualism is unkind. Smart is mean. Spirited debate may incur feelings of low self-esteem, especially among the losers. But then, dumb is dangerous - in life, art, and politics.
Never mind that it's religion that encourages blind agreement and intellectual submission, or that what we look back on as "the enlightenment" was forged in the fires of the bitterest scholarly debates the West had ever seen, or that thousands of very, very bright men and women learned what being sorry meant because their apologies were extracted from them through violence to reason and conscience.
Never mind the robust intellectualism of old humanists - a Huxley, a Dewey, a Santayana, a Lippmann, What would a New Humanist make of Lippmann's comparison of an average voter to a theater-goer walking into a play in the middle of the third act and leaving before the last curtain? Should he apologize to hoi polloi? Or Russell on the same theme: "Our great democracies still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man." Elitism. Pure elitism. We should apologize for that.
The legacy of great minds and bold ideas crashing like cymbals in the orchestra of human progress has become a sad reminder of the aristocracy of intellect that American democracy - for reasons unclear to me - has moved beyond.
The New Humanism wants to move beyond it, beyond the cruelty of intellect to where truth is what you feel it is and where confession is good for the soul.