Why Teach Western Civ
According to trustees at New College of Florida, they are being censured for espousing a classical, Western Civilization approach to general education.
Only hidebound conservatives would impose that obsolete curriculum upon 21st-century students—or so the claim goes.
Mark Baurelein responds: Read more carefully.
Consider, says the College’s trustee, the syllabus of Western Civilization:
It reaches back to Homer, Athens, and Jerusalem, and proceeds through Rome, Augustine, Dante and Cervantes, Shakespeare, Pascal, and Milton.
But a change sets in with the Enlightenment. A political theme begins and colors the heritage thenceforward, a theme aligned with (from our modern perspective) left-oriented critique. Think of the dominant figures and their destructive impact on conserving institutions, mainly the churches: Hobbes, Voltaire, Hume, Gibbon, Rousseau, Jefferson, the English Romantics, Hegel, Emerson, Mill, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, all in one way or another irreverent figures. They outnumber their conservative contemporaries by a long sight (Burke, Balzac, Dostoevsky, T. S. Eliot).
It Don’t Make No Sense
Mr. Baurelein, a professor of English at Emory University, writes in American Greatness about how that the liberal thrust of Western Civ used to be obvious to everyone. Many professors in the 1980s and 1990s were puzzled when Western Civ came under attack “as a reactionary formation.”
“Hey Hey, Ho Ho, Western Civ Has Got to Go”
Yes, Stanford again. That hoary chant came from the University’s marchers in January 1987, the professor reminds readers.
Every revolutionary point the campus revisionists made in that Canon Wars era came somewhere out of Marx on exploitation, Rousseau on corruption, Nietzsche on power . . . So it seemed to older professors who’d gotten their year of Western Civ back in the 50s and 60s as undergraduates and happily linked it to a lifetime of voting for Democrats.
The problem with Western Civilization, for today’s wokesters, isn’t that it’s conservative, racist, sexist, or Eurocentric, but that it’s liberal, continues Professor Baurelein.
The attacks Western thinkers launched in the last centuries against religious thought and tradition apply equally to the current leftist projects and identity outlooks. Those beliefs can’t survive studies in the scientific method of Galileo and Newton, and our campus managers of DEI know it. The tediously scripted nature of Woke discourse wouldn’t look so incisive to students after exposure to the couplets of Alexander Pope and metaphors of Emily Dickinson. And don’t let the sophomores read Malcolm X either, whose conversion while in prison happened through deep immersion in the corpus of the West.
Jacques Derrida is in the pantheon of postmodernists, a source for gender studies, queer theory, and the politics of the Other. His deconstruction is a model for the dismantling of heteronormativity, borders, and gender binaries.
In 1990, Derrida was asked about the tendency of his American followers to downplay Western tradition. Derrida responded: “I think that if what is called ‘deconstruction’ produces neglect of the classical authors, the canonical texts, and so on, we should fight it. … I’m in favor of the canon.”
Crybabies in Sarasota
Did that make Derrida a conservative? No, it made him a liberal thinker. He used “the tools of critique that Plato, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger had given him,” adds Professor Burelein.
The Class of 2023, including those impassioned opponents of us in Sarasota, should have the same formation if they wish to be savvy revolutionaries.
Without it, they’re just crybabies.
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