Owen Barfield’s “History, Guilt, and Habit” ~ The Imaginative Conservative
Despite having built up a North American following in the 1960s and 1970s, Owen Barfield (1898-1997) could find almost no publication, periodical, or serial to review his 1979 book, History, Guilt, and Habit. Only one academic journal, the Virginia Quarterly Review, even deigned to acknowledge it, and, in one swift paragraph, the journal dismissed the book’s author as “cranky” and the book as meaningful only to right-wing Hegelians.
Based on a set of three lectures delivered in British Columbia in October 1978, History, Guilt, and Habit does the difficult work of attempting to understand the deepest meanings of history and its relation to the human person. Throughout the lectures, Barfield very capably—indeed, with uncanny precision and a seemingly never-ending bulwark of contexts—defines terms such as history, evolution, consciousness, perception, thinking, and, most importantly, imagination. History, Barfield contends, is something quite different from evolution as it is a “consciously directed process,” as opposed to the mere passive accumulation of change and events. Through his definitions, Barfield is especially interested in identifying those things that allow us to make free decisions and act rather than being merely acted upon. “Perception,” for example, “is essentially a passive experience, something that happens to us; thinking is an active one, something we do.” Yet, Barfield cautions, one should never fall into the Manichaean habit of dividing all things into opposites. Some of the most interesting aspects in humanity and in human society come from the overlapping—or interpenetration—of opposites
— Read on theimaginativeconservative.org/2021/03/owen-barfield-history-guilt-and-habit-bradley-birzer.html