ABSTRACT. Irving Babbitt (1865–1933) was engaged on a critical quest for the elimination of all extremes in culture, society and life in general so as to reach a balanced center of persisting harmony. Thus, Babbitt made a critical radiograph of neo-classicism and romanticism, showing the shortcomings and the fortes of both. His project remains to date one of the most pertinent ever attempted on the classic-versus-romantic controversy (his focus was directed on Rousseau’s influence on romanticism). The controversy stays perennial, and the extremes remain as alive today as they ever were. The classic and the romantic, as aesthetic modes, have come to be considered as universals co-creating each other in man’s mind, the result being infinitely varied forms of cultural manifestation. Babbitt probably understood this, yet he was harshly critical of both camps, he himself opting for the middle golden path of moderation (the new humanism he helped found in the 20th century). We will hereby survey Irving Babbitt’s project of new humanism, which essentially is a modern attempt to cope with complexity and creativity in culture, society, and life in general, having as a prime foundation Pascal’s view (derived from Nicholas of Cusa) according to which human excellence lies in the force to harmonize “opposite virtues” and “to occupy all the space between them.” The debate remains relevant for creativity studies by the fact that Babbitt’s method of analysis is akin to modern evolutions in science, whereby the nature of order and disorder is probed with a view to better understanding how equilibrium between these two vectors can be created and maintained so as to avoid catastrophe by collapse into extreme states of order or disorder – that is to say, in order to avoid being frozen into too rigid an order or being vapourized into too volatile a chaos.

Keywords: centromorphism; order; disorder; (neo-)classicism; romanticism; Rousseau; Hyperion syndrome; new humanism; golden section

How to cite: Stroe MA (2019) Classic versus romantic: Irving Babbitt on culture and creativity. Creativity 2(1): 71–241. doi:10.22381/C2120192

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Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures,
English Department,
The University of Bucharest, Romania

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