Universities: A tribute to Eugen Weber

Eugen Weber is Professor Emeritus of History at UCLA. His fields of interest are Modern European History: fin-de-siècle France; the decay of liberal institutions and the rise of Fascism; aspects of elite and popular culture in late 19th & 20th century France; intellectual history. His publications include: Action Française (1962) ;  Varieties of Fascism (1964); A Modern History of Europe (1971);  Peasants Into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1880-1914 (1976); France, Fin de siècle (1986);  The Hollow Years (1994); Apocalypses (1999). He is originally from Romania, which regards itself as an island detached from Western Europe. a kind of France in partibus infidelium.  When Eugen Weber left Romania, he went to Cambridge University, but for decades he has been at UCLA, where he has served as a beacon of French enlightenment. Now emeritus, he has had a chair named after him.  I don't know whether he remembers me, and I am sure he does not know that I am probably his oldest pupil.  Several times a week at 4 a.m. I watch on TV his series of lectures on the Western Tradition, against which Jesse Jackson railed on our campuses "Yo, ho, ho! Western Civilization must go!" Comparisons are odious.

I am possibly also his most attentive student; certainly no one could be more attentive.  I have meant for a long time to write this little tribute to him, but I do so now because this morning he spoke of the eighteenth-century cult of happiness, which was supposed to be the characteristic of the noble savage, le bon sauvage.  His remarks dovetailed perfectly with our discussion about "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" and the recent polls which tell us that the happiest people in the world are the Nigerians, the Bangladeshis, the Puerto Ricans and the Mexicans (excluding presumably the chilangos). There is something wrong with this conception of happiness. Eugen Weber is clearly happy at UCLA, just as I am at Stanford.

I have only one complaint or suggestion. Eugen Weber's lectures include views of Europe's cathedrals and European buildings, often without identifying them, leaving me digging in the rocky ground of my memory.  Is it too late to put identifying captions under the views? I ask this in the name of enlightenment.  Eugen Weber, Banzai!

Historian Jon Kofas writes: I just want to second Professor Hilton's well-deserved tribute to Professor Eugen Weber, whose outstanding scholarly works I studied as a graduate student. A great historian whose works challenge the reader to think for himself/herself, professor Weber's books are free of polemics, and prod the reader to think of issues from multiple perspectives. This is truly an Enlightenment ideal that his works reflect, and an ideal all societies need if they are to make any progress. The oppressive academic climate of "political correctness" notwithstanding, ^Professor Weber need not explain to anyone his "western-oriented" field of research and  inane accusations of Euro-centrism made by political opportunists, because those familiar with his work know his cosmopolitan appeal that transcends the narrow and meaningless boundaries of "political-correctness", a veneer that many use to justify silencing those with who they disagree for political purposes. Professor Weber's works can be appreciated equally by westerners and non-westerners alike, and the lessons learned have universal appeal.  Many generations to come will continue to appreciate and be influenced by his worthy scholarly contributions. We need more academics of his caliber!

John Mason Hart writes: Weber's Intellectual History of Europe classes were without equal. During the 1960s the students would overflow the oversized classroom on the second floor southeast corner of Haynes Hall to hear his eloquence.  I have always used his lecturing as the ideal to which to aspire and I have never equaled him.  The crowds in the hallway and the waves of applause at the end of his classes stand in testimony to his teaching greatness. 

Ronald Hilton 2005


last updated: June 11, 2005