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bernard iddings bell

Bernard Iddings Bell

Bernard Iddings Bell (1886-1958) wrote several controversial books examining the American way of life. These fine little books attracted considerable attention, many of them beginning as articles in the New York Times Magazine, Commonweal, and the Atlantic Monthly. By 1950 Bell, an ordained priest in the Episcopal Church, was known as one of the most distinguished Christian writers in America and admired by his literary friends T. S. Eliot and Richard M. Weaver. Few Christian writers, neither before nor after Bell, have reached such a wide and diverse public as he did during the first half of the twentieth century. His audience extended to England and Canada, where he frequently read from his work. His books deeply influenced several prominent men and women of letters, including Russell Kirk who placed Bell in “the literary party of order,” that faction of writers past, present, and to come for whom the order of the soul is paramount.[1]

Unfortunately, Bell’s books are all out of print now. Like so many wise voices of this century, Bell’s probing commentary has been dinned out of hearing by “the noisy set … the martyrs call the world.”[2] The reign of error in academia, along with the publishers in the clutch of its liberal ideology, has done as much, if not more, than any other group, at any other time in history, to mute the minority voice, which, at the end of the twentieth century, belongs to the writer of Bell’s persuasion whose point of view contradicts the present melioristic Weltanschauung. This loss is lamentable, as it further reveals the secularist bias so prevalent in American culture. Few, now, who profess the liberal arts have heard of Bernard Iddings Bell. But most, alas, are quite familiar with John Dewey, whose philosophy Bell courageously excoriated. Given academia’s effect on the presses and popular opinion, it should surprise no one that, while Bell’s books remain unpurchasable, some thirty or more works by Professor Dewey remain in print.

To be sure, Bell’s books can be found scattered upon the dustier shelves of many good libraries across the country. However, his books “deserve restoration,” as Kirk insists, “to the booksellers’ shelves.”[3] These books are as pertinent today as they were when they were written, and if the next century is as disoriented as the present, they will persist in their relevance. In each of his books, Bell tempers his independence of thought with the wisdom of the race and proceeds with faith, hope, and love – as a believing Christian who likes people and refuses to despair. Nor does he ignore the discoveries of modern science or fail to consider modern philosophy and popular psychology. He is no “fundamentalist,” he affirms; but neither is he a “modernist,” for the modernist, he contends, offers no remedy to the moral problems that plague the modern age.[4] In short, Bell is a diagnostician of the soul and of the commonwealth, a writer with the courage to judge.

Indeed, he minces no words when it comes to delineating American culture. He describes America as “crass” and “crude,” as a nation of “new-rich people, well-washed, all dressed up, rather pathetically unsure just what it is washed and dressed up for,” a nation convinced “that a multitude of material goods, standardized, furiously and expensively advertised by appeals to greed and vanity, will in themselves make life worth the living.”[5] Though harsh, this description of barbarism and decadent living is applicable, as any civilized observer knows, to America on the verge of the twenty-first century. Americans are generally crass and crude, Bell observes, not because they want intelligence or technological ingenuity; they are undeniably clever and scientifically more advanced than any other people. No, they are crass and crude because they no longer concern themselves with eternal questions and ultimate concerns. Being unused to money and therefore easily deceived by its glitter, they too often mistake happiness for a purchasable commodity and fail to realize that genuine happiness transcends the world of advertisement. What the old-rich know about money, Bell notes on more than one occasion, the new-rich realize, if at all, only after they have grown accustomed to their earthly possessions. Those who never accustom themselves, he adds, sacrifice their lives, and even their children, to the gods of “the World” and of “the Flesh.”[6]

By “the World” Bell intends not the wonders of nature; not the creative labors of men and women; not the pursuit of wisdom with which to live humanely; but rather the idea that one is ennobled in direct proportion to the amount of material he possesses, that “a full fist is index of a fine spirit.”[7] The object of the average man of “the World” is neither justice nor liberty; it is, on the contrary, mere money and recognition. The defining characteristic of any culture, Bell reminds us, is its cult – its religion – and the predominant cult in America is none other than the World of Personality. What Americans erect as their object of perpetual adoration is the man or woman with money, the mundane movie star, the overpaid professional athlete. Americans believe, and teach their children to believe, that the wealthy are good and virtuous and that the child who is good and virtuous will be wealthy by that very fact. Anyone, Bell objects, who knows the true meaning of goodness and virtue surely recognizes the error of such a belief. “Not a single outstanding teacher of moral wisdom,” he writes, “has failed to warn that riches tend to isolate their owners, make them petty, vulnerable, a little ridiculous.”[8] Those who have taken time to study the lives of truly great men and women who have risen above “the World” know that wealth is rarely the reward for pursuing the good and the virtuous. Bell himself devoted his life to serving others and defending seemingly lost causes only to die blind and poor.

In sacrificing to the gods of the “Flesh,” the average American, as Bell describes him, apotheosizes the appetite and worships comfort. Chief among all the appetites, Bell argues, is sex. Of course, he is right; our culture wallows in sensuality. But what is all the more disturbing is that he made this indictment in 1929, a score and ten years before the inglorious sexual revolution. Were he alive today, how would he react, one might ask, to the sordid television talk show that celebrates abnormality, if not bestiality, or to the banal sitcom of the nineties that panders to the basest sense of humor, or to the latest Hollywood productions that conjoin sex with sentimentality for the lachrymose? In all likelihood, he would respond as he did then, with poise and intelligence: “I find it hard, even yet, to embrace the way of the Virgin, but I was not very old before I knew that Astarte can be very stale.”[9] Today, what Bell’s friend Weaver calls “the Great Stereopticon” continues to bombard us with salacious images – many of them violent – promoting the grand illusion that those with money and pretty faces are having sex practically all the time, in practically any place.[l0] What Bell said at the start of this century is still true at its end: “We are so naively delighted in having discovered that the Eternal made us men and women that we sometimes seem to be forgetting that He made us anything else.”[11]

The average American worships comfort because he believes that the elimination of suffering is indispensable if he is to fulfill his destiny. This conviction is false, as Bell asserts over and over again in his writings. It is based on the positivistic fallacy that, if man can only perfect his environment and eliminate all human suffering, he can in the process remake himself. This is the conviction of the mechanist who, according to Bell, “vainly seeks to avoid the necessity of struggle to become and remain human.”[12] This conviction violates the Christian understanding of human nature based upon the doctrine of original sin; more importantly, however, it denies the existence of the human soul, which is tested and forged by the trials of daily living. While such a conviction remains absurd to the man or woman of true character, “all too few,” writes Bell, “ask whether it can possibly be that, since our primeval ancestors crawled from the slime of the sea, first the animal world and then the human race have struggled on, at cost of travail and pain and tears and death, merely that modern man may sit down and be comfortable.”[13]

The average American rarely asks such questions because he resembles what Ortega y Gasset calls a “vertical intruder,” a barbarian who has invaded civilization from the basement and proceeded to reek havoc in the salon.[14] Nobody, according to Bell, has said to this intruder: “‘Welcome! Now you are here, we shall teach you not merely to own the place but also how to get the most out of living in it.”’ Instead, says Bell, the holders of the house have turned it over to him “without introducing him to the amenities of the drawing room and encouraged the poor devil to muck around in it without having learned how to enjoy it.”[15] The schools and the churches, those institutions which Bell deems most capable of civilizing this vertical intruder, have so far failed to train those who might otherwise resist the destruction of the entire house.

That the schools have failed America was painfully clear to a handful of writers at the turn of the century. In 1908 Irving Babbitt underscored the root causes of the failure in his prophetic book Literature and the American College. Seven years later, Paul Elmer More wrote: “We must get back to a common understanding of the office of education in the construction of society and must discriminate among the subjects that may enter into the curriculum by their relative value towards this end.”[16] Skeptical though they were, Babbitt and More at least considered the schools redeemable. By 1930, however, Bell and others in the literary party of order were sure that the schools had lost any common assumption as to the object of education. To them, the universities in particular appeared to be so radically secularized that nothing short of divine intervention could save them from decay. One might hope, said Eliot in his 1933 address to the Classical Club of Harvard, that America’s behemoth universities would eventually learn to follow, “or else be relegated to preservation as curious architectural remains; but they cannot be expected to lead.”[17]

Having been an elementary school teacher, a high school teacher, president of St. Stephen’s College (now Bard College), a professor of religion at Columbia University, and William Vaughn Moody Lecturer at the University of Chicago, Bell was well acquainted with the failings of education. Moreover, he was determined to expose the party responsible for their perpetuation – namely, Dewey and his disciples. Dewey and his kind have, in Bell’s words, “well-nigh taken over the American public school system with teaching theories based on a conviction that there are no absolute standards set by God and that man ought to test his actions not by whether they are right or wrong but by expediency, by whether for the moment they seem to work pleasantly.”[18] Most academics, Bell reminds us, are Dewey’s intellectual heirs and the promulgators of his democratic dogma; they are Dewey’s apostles and, in their apostolic succession, the bane of modern education. Still, Bell stood boldly against the degradation of Deweyism, and with the publication of his book Crisis in Education, he found many allies. “Had we now a dozen more like him,” writes Kirk, “we might cleanse the intellectual sty in the closing years of the twentieth century.”[19]

In all his writings on the crisis in education, Bell reveals what he believes to be an undeniable correlation between the manner in which Americans are illiberally educated and their failure to conduct themselves as gentle men and women. Traditionally, Bell remarks, the thing that has distinguished the gentle man and woman from their common counterparts has not been that the former possessed more worldly goods than the latter (for often the gentle man and woman have been anything but wealthy), but rather that the gentle man and woman have had, while the common man and woman have lacked, “what was commonly and correctly called a ‘liberal education,’” an education which fitted them as “Free, or Liberal,” men and women able “to discriminate values” and direct their lives “toward reasoned and reasonable ends.” Comprised of human beings, the gentle class, Bell admits, did not always govern perfectly. But having studied “the long experiment of the race,” it at least governed with an understanding of what human beings are for.[20]

While confirming the right of the common man and woman to govern themselves, Bell insists that they can do so responsibly, and with dignity, only if they are humanely educated. To say as much, he quotes Thomas Jefferson: “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion by education.”[21] For Bell, informing the discretion of the people entails instructing them in “the nobler and wiser aims of the race, those visions of human greatness and possible human significance that dictate the ethical foundations of a sound society.”[22] Moreover, it entails that those who do the instructing remember that the proper study of mankind is man nothing more, and certainly nothing less.

It is essentially this, however, that the modern academic has forgotten, particularly at the university where with every passing year one finds more and more “departmentalized pedants hiding in the holes of research, seeking to run away from embarrassing questions, afraid of philosophy, scared to death of religion.” While he intended no disparagement of meaningful scholarship as such, Bell felt that academia was fast becoming a slum for half-educated intellectuals who, having cut themselves loose from any metaphysical moorings, pursue erudition merely as a means “to avoid facing what life is all about.”[23] Because he believed that any activity related to education, whether it be of a pedagogical or of a scholarly nature, ought to be completed from a definite moral point of view, he naturally abhorred the postmodern view that all points are relative. As he knew, those who hold such an erroneous opinion have grown bored with the proper study of mankind. And, moreover, anyone under their tutelage is “doomed to cruise rudderless in a stormy sea where judgment and sureness are required if we would avoid shipwreck.”[24]

The academics whom Bell indicts have substituted for man the idea of progress as the object of study. Paradoxically, these purveyors of nihilism who deny the existence of any absolutes ascribe absolutely to the idea that the man of today is a fundamentally different creature from the man five hundred years ago. All that they profess in the classroom proceeds from this erroneous assumption, an assumption that goes unchallenged in the blighted groves of academia. It would be one thing, says Bell, were the ignorant masses alone enchanted by progress. That the supposedly educated and understanding members of society promote it as a universal principle to live by is quite another. Its establishment as such proves once again that what begins as theory in the ivory towers of higher learning soon masquerades as truth, error though it be, in the thoroughfares of America. Moreover, the unexamined acceptance of progress as a truism to be acknowledged by all belies the notion that falsehood will be exposed in the proverbial marketplace of ideas. Of all the “foolish beliefs” peddled as truth, the myth of progress, Bell avers, does “more harm than most, and perhaps, as much harm as any.”[25]

Until this myth comes under scrutiny, the American student, Bell warns, will remain a provincial of contemporaneity, unable and disinclined to reform himself, much less society, in light of those unchanging truths about the nature and destiny of mankind which have guided the sagacious from time immemorial. He will seek in vain for authentic joy, and the true and the good, as Plato defined them, will ever elude him. Like the modern academic, he will remain lost in a thicket of details and facts without significance. Only when he sees man as man has been, says Bell, can the student begin to know man as man is. And he can see most vividly what man has been by immersing himself in the Western literary tradition. To teach the myth of progress and those attendant studies that reduce the pursuit of genuine liberal learning to discussions narrowly focused on race, class, and gender instead of imparting the wisdom of the noble dead, is, as Bell asserts time and again, to rob the student of his patrimony, or, as More aptly puts it, to debauch his “mind with a flabby, or inflame it with a frantic, humanitarianism.”[26]

In failing to resist the intemperate spirit of the age, the churches, Bell argues, have become just as insufficient as the schools to provide America with the kind of citizens it sorely needs. The churches have ceased “to have any influence worth mentioning over human affairs, particularly on men who think and lead.” In their own misguided attempts to be more “progressive” and “up-to-date,” churches of all denominations have gradually conformed themselves to the modern world, and in conforming to it, they have become increasingly more like it. What the clergy has forgotten in its cowardly acquiescence to the demands of popular culture is “that in the long run the effectiveness of a religion is not determined by its temporary popularity but rather by its sanity and sincerity.” What many lay people really want to hear from the pulpit, as Bell knew from his own experiences as a priest, is not the tedious chant of progress but instead the note of sureness, that note which “they are persuaded belongs rightfully to the household of faith.”[27] What alienates those who seek the truly sacred is not that the churches are too religious but that many of them are simply not religious enough. Those who look to the churches for spiritual answers to what ails modern man too often find that the so-called religious leaders have become what Bell describes as little private chaplains of the worldly, flattering and validating the irreverent lives of their patrons.

As Bell himself discovered as a skeptical undergraduate in search for some philosophical system to make sense of the decadent wasteland that then sprawled about him, most Christians prove quite incapable of providing any meaningful alternative to the strange gods of scientific mechanism, religious leaders being for the most part “truly blind leaders of the blind,” and religious philosophers “hair-splitting pedants.”[28] Modern Christians have abdicated any authority they ever had in the public sphere to the secular leviathan that threatens to swallow civilization whole and irretrievably. Carried along the currents of popular culture like so much flotsam, the same Christians who pride themselves on their contemporary worship services have been complicit in profaning the sacred, in estranging a secularly educated youth culture from worship and other religious activities, and in allowing its country and communities to be erected upon pragmatic rather than moral principles. Modern Christians have essentially allowed themselves to drift, as Bell sees it, “into the position of a tolerated minority, begging an increasingly indifferent multitude for occasional smiles and spare change.” To have done so “has been to enact a role no less ignominious because ecclesiastics have not known what they were doing, no less deplorable because the populace. . . had been too polite to tell church people the truth about themselves.”[29]

The proclaiming of God’s wisdom has not been entirely suppressed, Bell concedes, but the churches have nevertheless exiled their prophets, or sequestered them in obscure monasteries, or at best insisted that they make their message more pleasingly palatable for the masses. One can certainly see why, Bell adds with characteristic irony. Prophets have always been a disturbing bunch. They are forever pointing out ecclesiastical inconsistency and deference to the world. They exact something from the laity instead of validating its way of life. Pride, ambition, lust for money and power – these they renounce and denounce with a disconcerting vigor. This has always been the case. In the dawning days of Christianity, the apostles, whom most considered raging lunatics, went about turning the world on its head and unsettling the complacent. Men like Loyola and Luther and Wesley and Gore were, in later times, no more conducive to the status quo. “But whenever the prophet is silent,” writes Bell, “the church is first made powerless and then regarded, quite properly, as parasitic.” This is the price it must pay for preferring popularity to prophecy. “It is not surprising,” he adds, “that now the church discovers that ‘from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.’”[30]

Churches, as Bell boldly points out, have further compromised their integrity by tacitly condoning divorce, that legal instrument fast undermining the familial bulwark of Christendom. This is not to say that Bell opposes divorce of any kind. To be sure, he acknowledges that a union may exist between two would-be Christians who enter into a marriage ignorant of the obligations and responsibilities that sanctify it. As he admits, a marriage of this kind is not at all rare in the modern age given that so many people have been severed from their religious roots. “If,” he writes, “such a union be dissolved it is not a Christian marriage that is dissolved, but merely a temporary mating that has been licensed by the State and now is no longer licensed by the state.” Those who have been married and subsequently divorced by the state are entitled, he grants, to the blessing and sacramental aid of Christ should they choose to remarry with the expressed intentions of pleasing God. They should not be met by a church that fails to distinguish a state (or merely pagan) marriage from a Christian one. The problem, according to Bell, is that too many churches confuse the two. What is more, most ecclesiastics lack the moral courage and conviction “to insist,” as he maintains they must, “that, always and invariably, any Christian who, as the State may allow, has divorced a spouse and mated with a new partner is ipso facto excommunicated from the company of Christ’s people.”[31]

Bell also discerns a lack of courage and conviction on the part of those Christians responsible for providing America’s youth with a religious education. Most accountable, he says, are the parents. Having allowed themselves to be hoodwinked by the sophists of modernity, parents help to perpetuate the false assumption that religious instruction is anything but a necessary part of balanced education. That religious training ought to play a vital role in education is to most parents a proposition not only obscure but absurd. No less culpable are the Christian humanists who teach in both the public and the private schools. Having lost all conviction, this potentially saving remnant defers to the nihilists now entrenched in those once noble halls of learning. Intimidated by the vast numbers that oppose it, this remnant has all but conceded victory to the dark forces and now stands by helplessly while the schools, which grudgingly employ its members, turn out into the teaching profession hundreds of ideologues from whom one hears, as Bell puts it, “that ‘there is no place for religion in higher education,’ that ‘religion is a curious survival from the ignorant past,’ that ‘religion is based wholly upon a fear which is no longer rational,’ etc.”[32] What so many Christian humanists know but fear to proclaim publicly lest they be shouted down by recalcitrant parents and tenured neoterists is that the great progressive experiment that Bell opposed has resulted in an educational system rooted in nauseating nothingness.

America is in serious trouble, Bell cautions with sober dignity. Its way of life resembles what Plato imagined to be the epitome of radical egalitarianism: the father condescending to the children lest they shun him; the mother assuming their gay and careless manners from fear of being thought dull or authoritarian; the child presumptuously contradicting his parents; the schoolmaster flattering his pupils; and the pupils despising their teachers and tutors. America’s culture, according to Bell, is a mass culture deeply mired in a “provincialism more dangerous to the race than any which has gone before.”[33] Its schools serve the vagaries of popular opinion. Its educators, full of passionate intensity, circumscribe young and impressionable minds in an intellectually enervating presentism. Its churches make man the measure of all things and fail to redeem the fallen world by bringing the eternal into the present. They seek to preserve themselves at the cost of great compromise. They are “afraid,” in Bell’s words, “to tell the truth about God or man” and a bit unsure of “what the truth may be.” Their “worship tends to be pedestrian” and their morality but a mere “sentimentalized worldliness.” Faced with a decadent secondary school system and an “over-vocationalized” higher education, faced with “churches singing nursery rhymes instead of chanting credos,” faced with Hollywood and the Great Stereopticon,[34] faced with all this, America, Bell concludes, is unlikely to recover its senses until a “democratic elite” emerges from the people to guide the masses “into a more urbane and humane way of living.”[35]

Bell hoped that such an elite would truly emerge but knew that it would encounter no end of trouble. One who aspires to commune with this band of rebels must, first of all, expect to be poor. He must also anticipate scant recognition and few promotions for what he does, even when he works to improve idealistic institutions like universities or churches. Worst of all, he must endure the scorn of his children, who may resent living in frugal contradistinction to their more fashionable neighbors. “Woe be to his wife,” Bell writes, “if she be not devoted to the improvident ideals and purposes to the same degree as her husband.” He who chooses to oppose the crowd must, in short, be willing to live as an ascetic, motivated by “much the same sort of impulse, and willingly embracing much the same sort of discipline, as are known to him who forsakes the secular world for the cloister.”[36] Unlike those who sequester themselves, however, he who chooses to guide the madding crowd must stand in its midst.

He must also get as good a liberal education as he can. This end is not always achieved by way of formal schooling, says Bell. In fact, it is often hindered by organized education. What is ultimately important is that the rebel keep in mind the object of education. As his case in point, Bell refers to Abraham Lincoln. Although his education was at best rudimentary, “Lincoln taught himself, and he made a good job of it largely because he knew the kind of understanding he was after and then with labor pursued the getting of it.”[37] Good schools can be a great boon; bad ones can do irreparable harm. This statement holds true at all levels of education. He who would lead rather than follow the crowd must know the difference between genuine education and pseudo education. Nor should he covet academic degrees. “Academic degrees,” Bell points out, “are not significant unless one knows in what fields they were taken, in what spirit the study was directed, for what end it was undertaken and brought to completion.” Working assiduously to earn a Ph.D. is surely a commendable exercise in discipline. “But discipline alone within some narrow field,” says Bell in words which echo what Babbitt has to say on this subject, “does not insure competence for living.”[38] Only a basic study of what it means to be human can ensure that.

The aspirant who knows the importance of humane learning will not be content to specialize in one abstract science or another, Bell continues, valuable though the sciences may be. One can excel all others in one’s knowledge of biochemistry and still be morally inhumane. Were he alive today Bell might say much the same thing about the computer technophile whose knowledge of facts qua facts far outstrips that of, say, Shakespeare, but whose understanding of man qua man pales by comparison. Information for information’s sake will not in and of itself help anyone to save civilization from ruin. One needs information plus some basic metaphysical first principles, Bell maintains, “if one is to become fit to help direct a culture intelligently or even oneself to participate in a culture.”[39]

The rebel, says Bell, will come to know the importance of such principles not from an intellectual flirtation with science and software but rather from a thoughtful study of man whom God endowed with a moral consciousness. Such a study must of necessity include lots of history, “the record,” as Bell defines it, “not merely of man’s economic and governmental arrangements and disarrangements but of man’s groping attempts to find meaning, his striving to maintain self-respect, his endeavor to live with other men in mutual joy despite continual disillusionments, his frequent near despairs, his grounds for hope.”[40] The study of man must also engage the great philosophers whose thoughts comprise the history of ideas. It must, moreover, include the best in imaginative literature, particularly great poetry, the “surest antidote,” Weaver argues, “to the vices of sentimentality and brutality.”[41] The study of man qua man must, in addition, entail a sincere examination of music, dance, sculpture, painting, and theater for in these attempts at significant creativeness one finds revealed much about the human predicament. And, yes, the study of man, rightly interpreted, must take into account man’s religion. “The study of man’s failures will engender humility and compassion,” writes Bell. “Consideration of man’s occasional successes,” he adds, “will reveal the price which must be paid to become and remain adequately a husband or a wife, a parent, a friend, a lover, a citizen, a human being.”[42]

In describing an elite to guide the masses, Bell echoes other visionaries in the literary party of order. Babbitt, for one, calls for an “aristocracy of character and intelligence … to take the place of an aristocracy of birth, and to counteract the tendency toward an aristocracy of money.”[43] In a letter to More, Eliot describes “a new type of intellectual, combining the intellectual and the devotional.” Neither the “purely intellectual Christian” nor the “purely emotional Christian” will suffice, Eliot says, to combat the humanitarianism of a spiritually regressive age like the present. This new kind of intellectual must, he insists, have “hold of the tip of the tail of something quite real, more real than morals or than sweetness and light and culture.”[44] This new being and his fellow aristocrats must, according to the literary party of order, be as medieval-minded as they are modern. They must stand in contradistinction to the squabbling demagogue who climbs to power on the backs of those whom he flatters. They must “guide,” according to More, “by imposing their authority and experience on the impulsive emotions of the multitude.”[45]

Like Babbitt, Eliot, More, and many others in the literary party of order, Bell argues that America can indeed be saved. Its culture can once again be humanized and the dignity of its citizens restored. Its education can be rescued from those who threaten to cut the student from his intellectual heritage. Its churches can once again preach those timeless truths about the creaturehood of mankind. All this can be achieved, Bell maintains, but only when those who share a common metaphysical dream “raise up rebels willing to pay the price which rebels must expect to pay.” Only with the guidance of such a democratic elite can America regain its sanity. Only under the leadership of those who have drunk deeply from the Pierian spring can citizens come to know the meaning of life, liberty, and justice for all. Only from example can Americans learn that, to avoid moral degeneration, they must “seek to participate in the richness of tradition newly grasped, tradition reinterpreted.” If America continues in its aimless course, its democracy can only end in catastrophe. Against those who now lead the way, the rebel must stand resolute. This, writes Bell, is his “reasonable service, his “religious duty.”[46]

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative BookstoreReprinted with the gracious permission of Modern Age (Summer 1999).


1. Russell Kirk, The Sword of Imagination: Memoirs of a Half-Century of Literary Conflict (Grand Rapids, 1995), 167.

2. The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats, ed. Richard J. Finneran (New York, 1989), 80.

3. The Sword of Imagination, 169.

4. Bell, Beyond Agnosticism ( NewYork, 1929), 1.

5. Bell, Crowd Culture: An Examination of the American Way of Life(New York, 1952), 41.

6. Beyond Agnosticism, 13.

7. Ibid., 13.

8. Bell, Crisis in Education: A Challenge to American Complacency (New York, 1949). 18.

9. Beyond Agnosticism, 15.

10. Richard Weaver, Ideas Have Consequences (1948; Chicago, 1984), 92-1 12.

11. Beyond Agnosticism, 14.

12. Bell, Religion for Living: A Book for Postmodernists(London, 1939), 37.

13. Crowd Culture, 43.

14. Jose Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses, trans. Anthony Kerrigan (Notre Dame, 1985), 75. This commentary on the ills of modern civilization is, according to Bell, “one of the books written in this century which must be read by everyone who would understand contemporary cultural development.” “Those who read it when it appeared,” he adds, “have been saved a good deal of disillusionment.” See Crisis in Education, 28.

15. Crisis in Education, 28.

16. Paul Elmer More, Aristocracy and Justice (Boston, 1915), 45.

17. T. S. Eliot, Essays Ancient and Modern (London. 1936), 173.

18. Bell, The Church in Disrepute (New York, 1943), 27.

19. The Sword of Imagination, 172. 20. Crisis in Education, 25-26.

21. Crowd Culture, 50.

22. Crisis in Education, 26.

23. Ibid., 21-22.

24. Ibid., 24.

25. Bell, Men Wanted! (New York, 1933), 1.

26. Aristocracy and Justice, 37.

27. The Church in Disrepute, 1-5.

28. Beyond Agnosticism, 3.

29. The Church in Disrepute, 22.

30. Ibid., 39.

31. Ibid., 58-60,

32. Religion for Living, 167.

33. Bell, Unfashionable Convictions (New York, 1931), xvi.

34. Crisis in Education, 24.

35. Crowd Culture, 13839.

36. Ibid., 142.

37. Ibid., 143.

38. Ibid., 143.

39. Ibid., 144.

40. Ibid., 144-45.

41. Ideas Have Consequences, 165.

42. Crowd Culture, 145.

43. Irving Babbitt, Literature and the American College: Essays in Defense of the Humanities (New York, 1908), 104-05.

44. Quoted in B. A. Harries, “The Rare Contact: A Correspondence between T. S. Eliot and P. E. More,” Theology, Vol. 75 (1972), 140.

45. Aristocracy and Justice, 9.

46. Crowd Culture, 154-55.

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