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From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present
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ART - ARCHITECTURE - CULTURE > 11. FROM DAWN... August 11 ~ August 16 - Part Two - Chapter XVII (425 -462 Non-Spoiler

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message 1: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Aug 11, 2009 09:06PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
This upcoming week has as its assignment; the following pages:

August 10 – August 16 ~~Part II, The Forgotten Troop (425-462)

I hope that folks get caught up so that we can keep moving along.

The moderator tries to stimulate/instigate discussion but please feel free to open up any thread with questions of your own or your own opinions. These threads are for all of you.

Additionally, it is never too late to pick up the Barzun book and participate. We welcome all of the membership to this discussion.


From Dawn to Decadence 500 Years of Western Cultural Life 1500 to the Present by Jacques Barzun

message 2: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Barzun opens this chapter with the following quote:

"There are many reasons why the words French Revolution, all by themselves evoke at once recognition and appropriate images. The exact date 1789 may not be remembered everywhere as it is in France, but the upheaval occurred " not so very long ago"; it was bloody in a dramatic, personal way. Then it merged with the epic story of Napoleon, still a celebrity. "

Does everyone feel that Napoleon is still a celebrity? I think he is a noted person in terms of history but I did not feel that the term "celebrity" fits adequately. For me when I read Les Miserables, that book seemed to provide for me some searing imagery of that time period (although Hugo's novel goes from 1815 - 1832)

message 3: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Barzun decides to present why what happened in the 25 years of the French Revolution had far reaching effects even in our present day. He also presented how these ideas germinated.

He states that "The proposition that simply by being born one has certain inherent rights was the Idea of that revolution."

Gee, that sounds so much like our Declaration of Independence adopted in 1776. Were various parts of the world reacting and not so well to rule by monarchs; were we all striving to be free? Did our revolution spur others to do the same. Did our discontent spread across the Atlantic; in fact did folks like Thomas Paine help spur France on? Was there a connection?

message 4: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Aug 11, 2009 09:40PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
On page 426, Barzun makes what I feel is an astute observation about what it takes to get anything done. I thought in America of our more successful Presidents like Clinton, FDR, Reagan, George Washington, Adams and Jefferson;
and even our current President Obama and saw some similarities in terms of personal qualities which seem to be hard to find in combination. The above folks/leaders knew/know how to get from point a to point b. They know how to motivate and move people and ideas.

Barzun's quote is as follows: "The men who came to lead factions or who gained power for a time lacked mature political skill and the administrative mind. Both are rare, either in combination or separately. The former depends on sensing what can be done, at what moment, and how to move others to want it. Anyone who has served open-eyed on a committee knows how many "good ideas" are proposed by well-meaning members that could not possibly be carried out, because what is proposed consists only of results, with no means in sight for getting from here to there. After serving on a local government body, Bernard Shaw guessed that perhaps 5 per cent of mankind possess political ability.

Do you agree with Barzun's and Bernard Shaw's assessment? If so, what worldwide leaders (monarchy or otherwise; presidents, etc.) do you feel meets these criteria. What makes some more successful than others. Who do you feel are the most successful and why? What constitutes "political ability"?

message 5: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
On page 426 Barzun continues: "But one can be a true politicoand be at the same time incapable of administration. To adminster is to keep order in a situation that continually tends toward disorder. In running any organization, both people and things have to be kept straight from day to day. Otherwise, workable ideas will not work. More than talent, genius, is required to set up a national system of administration. Napoleon's success at home and abroad was due to this gift as much as to the act of command in battle."

This was an interesting paragraph; it appears to me that Barzun's French heritage is showing through and he is the one who is raising Napoleon's stature. However, it does for me offer a rationale why great politicians still cannot get anything done if they do not have this administrative talent to go along with their political skills. It appears that the few presidents that I listed above do/did in fact have these two very rare components resident in their basic natures and that made the difference. In today's media culture, what counts more political skill or administrative talent? Does one work well without the other; if not why not?

message 6: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Do you agree with Barzun that "unfortunately no wisdom radiated from the makers of the American Constitution to those making one in France?" It seems to Barzun that only in the war that overtook the French did the American experience come into play in Europe? Do you agree with Barzun?

message 7: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Does anybody have any insights into what Barzun might mean by historical generalities?

He states on page 427: "And when the threat of counter-revolution came from foreign kings and princes, the sincerest revolutionists had to compete with the demagogues. This is an historical generality."

message 8: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Aug 11, 2009 11:05PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Why do women get blamed for the decisions and mistakes that men make in history. I guess they need a scapegoat.

On page 427: "It was the king who declared war on Austria; it was the king's blunders, often at the queen's urging, that dethroned him, after which a new force came into play: the societies, clubs, and "sections."

Does the above statement say more about women's subservient role in society or more about Barzun's view of women?

message 9: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Sometimes I think Barzun likes to poke at America and its beginnings (including the founding fathers). On page 428, Barzun seems to poke at both Rousseau and Thomas Jefferson. In talking about the French Revolution, he states, "This last has no belittling implication, it means a middling station in life (honorable mediocrity) - Rousseau's and Jefferson's ideal.

Is this tongue in cheek or is this belittling the idea of equality among men? It sounds like the latter? Was Barzun always disenchanted with America from the beginning and is this influencing his theory that we are in the throes of decadence. ?

message 10: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (last edited Aug 12, 2009 08:41AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
What exactly did Barzun mean by the following statement:

"This ideal easily lapses into anti-elitism: the sans-culottes regarded dogs as aristocratic (because of hunting): true democrats must be content with cats."

I found the above statement very odd; what interpretations did any of the readers have when they read the above line? Is he stating that democracy is extremely difficult and is like trying to herd cats?????

Page 428

message 11: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Please feel free to add your own questions, comments, etc about this section.

message 12: by Sarah (new)

Sarah | 67 comments Bentley,

Regarding message #1 .. I don't believe that Napoleon is a celebrity in the way the comtemporary term is used however he is a celebrity as far as historical recognition goes. More people would be able to tell you who Napoleon is and what he did than would be able to describe Louis XIV. That seems to be one of Barzun's main themes in this chapter "The Forgotten Troop." I think you're on to something though regarding his French heritage in Message #5.

Regarding Message #4. I agree that leadership takes the ability to inspire and a realistic view of administration and what can really get done. Both Obama and Lincoln possess(ed) these qualities. Unfortunately, I think the media age has made what was already hard still harder. Obama must inspire a much larger audience than the comparatively few Lincoln had to convince. Although as I read in the Team of Rivals this was no easy task it was certainly different. And Lincoln was the first President to use a cabinet of people that he independently chose. Although the cabinet is still chosen by the President .. the media has certainly made that a more complicated process.

message 13: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bentley | 44168 comments Mod
Sarah, you are catching up; that is good. I agree with you that most folks have heard of Napoleon; I think you are also correct that more folks would have heard of Napoleon than would be familiar with Louis XIV. There was a mystique attached to Napoleon; similar to the aura of George Washington in America. Barzun does show his birth nationality often.

I think that Obama is getting a lot tougher media coverage due to the scrutiny with everything he says and does and even what his family is wearing. It is very distracting. They like him a lot better than the opposition; but still want a story no matter who gets hurt.

I wonder if Lincoln had lived what kind of presidential marks he actually would have received. Media has made everything that much more complicated. Also everyone used to listen to the radio in my grandparents' day and looked forward to reading and discussing the full articles in the newspapers.

Nowadays, folks get snapshots of very important policy decisions from the internet or the talking cable heads and make up their mind with propaganda; and do not sift through to find the facts (no matter which side you are looking at). That is what makes it so difficult; you have to tell your side of the story while at the same time unspinning the yarns.

I do think that politics was every bit of rough in decades past; and when you read The American Lion you will discover that the Jackson election was quite negative (more than negative - rather despicable).

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