Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


Claiming Humanism in the 1930s: Conservatives, Radicals, and the Power of a Label


History Department


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


Arts and Humanities


In the late 1920s, the conservative classicists Irving Babbitt and Paul Elmer More drew caustic reactions when they attacked America as deficient in moral discipline. Literary polemics flared and then subsided by 1930. Subsequent historical interest wandered as well; few historians have focused on the writings and characters central to the 1920s debates. However, idiosyncratic conservative intellectuals such as Seward Collins continued to hail the New Humanists critique of modern America. This paper traces the persistence of a conservative traditionalist attack on modern values but looks, too, at the broader contest for the term humanism. Free-thinking religious liberals, including John Dewey, claimed the label new humanism as well. After 1930, debates fell into categories of conservative versus liberal, but the unstable foundations of this bipolar ideological categorization emerge in the discourse of a new humanism, in which deeper conflicts about the American past, utilitarianism, and rationalized industry figured in complex ways.

Conference Name

Midwest Political Science Association 72nd Annual Conference

Conference Location

Chicago, Illinois

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