Carl Becker

Carl Becker books and biography


Carl L. Becker


Carl Lotus Becker (1873–1945) was an American historian. He was born in Waterloo, Black Hawk County, Iowa. He studied at the University of Wisconsin. Frederick Jackson Turner was his doctorial advisor there. Becker got his Ph.D. in 1907.

He was John Wendell Anderson Professor of History at Cornell University from 1917 to 1941.

He is best known for The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (1932), four lectures on The Enlightenment delivered at Yale University. His assertion that philosophes in the 'Age of Reason', relied far more upon Christian assumptions than they cared to admit, is now widely accepted. It is an influential work, which has also subsequently been much attacked. Interest in it is partly explained by this passage (p. 47):

In the thirteeth century the key words would no doubt be God, sin, grace, salvation, heaven and the like; in the nineteenth century, matter, fact, matter-of-fact, evolution, progress; in the twentieth century, relativity, process, adjustment, function, complex. In the eighteenth century the words without which no enlightened person could reach a restful conclusion were nature, natural law, first cause, reason, sentiment, humanity, perfectibility [...].

This isolation of vocabularies of the epoch chimes with much later work, even if the rest of the book is essayistic in approach. Johnson Kent Wright writes

Becker wrote as a principled liberal [...]. Yet in some respects The Heavenly City presents an almost uncanny anticipation of the "postmodern" reading of the eighteenth century. (The Pre-Postmodernism of Carl Becker, p. 162, in Postmodernism and the Enlightenment' (2001), Daniel Gordon editor)

Cornell has recognized his work as an educator by naming one of its five new residential colleges the Carl Becker House.


  • The Beginnings of the American People (1915)
  • The Eve of the Revolution (1918)
  • The Declaration of Independence (1922)
  • The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers (1932)
  • Everyman His Own Historian (1935)


  • Carl Becker: On History & the Climate of Opinion (1956) Charlotte W. Smith
  • The Pragmatic Revolt in American History: Carl Becker and Charles Beard (1958) Cushing Strout
  • Carl Becker: A Biographical Study in American Intellectual History (1961) Burleigh T. Wilkins

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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