The Corner

Philip Kennicott

one of the Washington Post’s most tedious Style section writers, trashes Yale historian Donald Kagan today. I don’t know Kagan and have read none of his books, but familiarity with his work isn’t necessary to see what rotten about Kennicott’s piece.

The trouble starts in the first paragraph: “It’s hard to imagine a more successful or celebrated historian, and yet, just as he has for decades, Kagan still sounds peevish. Will he ever get over the audacity of other professors, who think the ancient Greeks and Western civilization are not the only things worth studying, to confront the old, settled way of doing things?”

My reactions: 1) What’s a conservative in the academy got to be peevish about? Gee, it’s just a huge mystery. What could it be? 2) Will liberals ever get over the idea that people who object to their various innovations are just opposed to new things? Some people object when old, settled ways of doing things are “confronted” stupidly.

Kennicott: “[Kagan] got laughs for little digs at the relativists (who believe that other societies may have equally legitimate values and truths) and the multiculturalists (who think the traditional canon is not so weak as to bear with a little expansion).”

Bull. Those are deliberately euphemistic descriptions of relativism and multiculturalism, and I cannot imagine that they’re what Kagan has in mind when he’s talking about relativism and multiculturalism. Kennicott is writing up a speech. Just as with a book review, a non-hack writer has to present his subject’s case before rebutting it–rather than just describing it in a distorted, self-refuting way.

The conclusion, if you can believe it, is even worse.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.


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