In the wake of world war I, the traditional morses of american society received a tremendous shock. Complacency was disturbed and reassessment of American Values was called for. Traditional religious and philosophic assumptions of the national culture came under scrutiny. The viability of old cultural came postulated was questioned. Many critics believed that the error had originated in the 19th C. with its romantic ideas about human nature/ they maintained that the solution of the modern problems was areturn to the traditional humanism of the West. The conservative postiion in this discussion tended to be that of either the neo-humanusts ot the neo-confederates.
The new human movement was led by the Irving Babbit (1865-1983), a sociology oruiented literary critic who fought against the cross-materialism and hilistinism of the age. Irving babbit, Paul Elmer More, William C. Brownell, John J. Chapman and Stuart Pratt Sherman are the most important figures of the group. They defended rather strict intellectual and moral values in literature and life. They advocated displine, resistance to spontaneity and unconscious impulse, reason, duty and so on.
They concentrated on human elements of experience rather than spiritual elements or animal instincts. They maintained that man;s essence was ethical, and that there was dualism between man and nature. Man, in their view, excercized free will. They laid emphasis on harmonious cultivation of every aspect of human nature. True freedom, according to them, lay in restraint or “Subjection to inner law.”
Subscribing to the Hellenic doctrine of reason, away from romaticism, and stressing intellect rahter than formal theology, the new humanist believed in a universal scale of values tather than temporary social codes. Irving babbit’s views are contained in hid Rousseau and Romanticism (1919)and Democracy and Leadership (1924). He exercised a strong influence on T.S. Eliot and Norman Forster. Humanism and America (1930) presents a symposium by the proponenets of neo-humanism.
Underlying the limitations of the movement, Martin Seymour—Smith remarks “The Neo-humanist philosophy is narrow and disingenuous, drawing on romantic sources to discredit romanticism, and politically and socialogicallu naïve.” The critique of Humanism (1930) deals with the weakness in detail. George Sntyana’s Genteel tradition at bay (1931) is also a critical of the trend.