Critically Endangered Birds: A Global Audit by Stuart Butchart, Jez Bird (Editors)

By Stuart Butchart, Jez Bird (Editors)

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Holmes's social Darwinism, which earned Wilson's respect for its candid realization that might often makes right, would have impressed Trilling as dangerously reactionary. And Holmes's cult of the "jobbist" who aims to "touch the superlative" would have seemed to Trilling less a defense of standards in a society that continuously contributes to their erosion than a plea for intellectual withdrawal from a world with which one disdains to compromise. The most revealing difference, however, would have been over the question of truth.

And it is this elemental ingredient within the self, yet capable of propelling the self beyond its own cultural versions, that enables the critic, the intellectual, to place the versions of his or her culture under scrutiny. More important, it is also this capacity for cultural transcendence that serves as the source of these critics' belief that the noblest or most significant expressions of any culture are those that contain the culture's most searching assessment of itself. In criticizing its own potentialities and problems, these critics insist, culture performs its central moral function.

2 If we confine ourselves for the present to literary criticism and the American tradition, it is possible to differentiate between two rather different kinds of moral interest exhibited by modern critics. The first, and from my point of view the less important, is represented by critics like Irving Babbitt, Paul Elmer More, and the Southern Agrarians from an earlier generation, or like Yvor Winters, Prosser Hall Frye, and even William K. Wimsatt from a later. These figures could be described as critical moralists who were interested essentially in measuring all symbolic forms against a prescribed set of values and in maintaining something like an inherited cultural ideal.

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