For, if it is true to say that in essence the tragic hero is intent upon claiming his whole due as a personality, and if this struggle must be total and without reservation, then it automatically demonstrates the indestructible will of man to achieve his humanity. The possibility of victory must be there in tragedy. Where pathos rules, where pathos is finally derived, a character has fought a battle he could not possibly have won. The pathetic is achieved when the protagonist is, by virtue of his witlessness, his insensitivity or the very air he gives off, incapable of grappling with a much superior force. Pathos truly is the mode for the pessimist. But tragedy requires a nicer balance between what is possible and what is impossible. And it is curious, although edifying, that the plays we revere, century after century, are the tragedies. In them, and in them alone, lies the belief--optimistic, if you will, in the perfectibility of man. It is time, I think, that we who are without kings, took up this bright thread of our history and followed it to the only place it can possible lead in our time--the heart and spirit of the average man.
Barzun’s critique of the cult of evolutionary theory and the canonisation of Darwin himself is impressive but it is difficult to identify where Barzun stands on the scientific status of evolutionary theory and this is the least convincing part of his work. He appears to be dissatisfied with materialism and determinism without explaining whether he adhered to vitalism, or some form of mysticism or religion. This underlines the problem of pursuing such a wide-ranging research project without the assistance of co-workers, so his reach may have exceeded his grasp at some points. This is especially apparent when he attempted to locate his work in the context of twentieth century physics and biology, where he was operating too far from his base in history and cultural studies.