Jacques Barzun, one of the great thinkers of our age, died at the age of 104 in San Antonio, after a long and distinguished career as a thinker, teacher, cultural critic, and author.
The obituary in the New York Times describes his amazing career.
We are not likely to see his like again. Our age moves too swiftly and demands too much interactivity to allow figures like Barzun to grow, ripen and flourish.
He had the unusual ability to transmit his vast knowledge of history to the public.
I did not know him well but I had a small encounter with him, at a distance.
At the time, it mattered a great deal to me.
Barzun was one of the founders of the Council for Basic Education, an organization created in the 1950s to support liberal education in the schools and to ward off ill-considered fads.
For many years, he remained a member of CBE’s board as an advisory figure.
In the 1980s, I was invited to join the board of CBE; I ¬†remained on the board until I joined the first Bush administration in 1991.
In its early years, CBE ¬†was a wonderful gadfly, peppered with brilliant commentary and critiques.
In the 1980s, when I joined CBE, its leader Graham Down struggled valiantly to find the funding to keep it alive.
In the 1990s, there was an effort to revive it by making it a “player” inside the Beltway, winning government contracts and running programs.
This was a far cry from its origins as a gadfly that stung the establishment but it kept the organization going until 2004.
Barzun remained on the masthead but he was no longer active.
At one point, the editor of the CBE newsletter conducted a joint interview of us, which I can’t find on google, but which exists somewhere in my papers.
After I served in the first Bush administration, I was invited to return to the CBE board, but then mysteriously the offer was withdrawn.
I emailed Jacques and told him what had happened.
Although he was one of the organization’s founders and towering figures, he resigned his honorary membership to protest the insult to me.
I was deeply moved by his act.
Just a small memory and not even deserving of a footnote in the life of this extraordinary man.