Phi Beta Cons

Defend the Humanities? Or Allow the Market to Run its Course?

Glenn Reynolds beat me to it, but I still have to point out yet another outstanding essay at Minding the Campus. John Ellis writes about the decline in humanities departments (humanities degrees have gone from 17.4 percent of all bachelor’s degrees in 1967 to 8.1 percent in 2007), and the deeply dishonest campaign to preserve the jobs of the radicals who destroyed their own departments:

 And so “Defend the Humanities” is a most attractive flag to sail under. The trouble is that for those who are now using it, it is a flag of convenience only, and a deeply dishonest one. For the conception of the humanities set out above is despised by those who now ask for our help in saving the departments they run. Long ago, they took aim at it, defeated it and abolished it, and that is precisely the source of their present troubles. The story of how they did it and why is well-known. A virulent strain of Marxist radicalism took refuge in college humanities programs just as it was being abandoned in the real world because of catastrophic results world-wide. This created a mismatch of temperaments: humanistic scholars are naturally animated by a profound respect for the legacy of our past, but all the instincts of political radicals go in the opposite direction. Their natural instinct is to denigrate the past in order to make the case for the sweeping social change that they want. That’s why they don’t look at the past and see

accumulated knowledge and wisdom, but instead only a story of bigotry, inequality and racial and sexual prejudice that needs to be swept aside. Political radicals are interested in the utopian future and in their present- day attempts to achieve it, not the cultural past which must be overcome to get to where they want to be.

Read the whole thing. One way to sweep away the “tenured radicals” is to terminate the positions of those who can’t attract more than five or six students to a class and do nothing but hasten the inexorable decline of their own profession. Perhaps Shakespeare still draws students because there’s some objective merit to his work — and not simply because we’re intellectually enslaved by the straight, white, colonialist patriarchy.

David French — David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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