A recent essay by Heather Macdonald in City Journal is getting lots of attention. Her piece was on the narrowing horizons of those who seek to teach the humanities in our places of higher learning. She ruffled feathers, and wrote this zinger of a response to one of her critics. Here is an excerpt:
…in contrast to the narcissism of today’s identity studies, the humanist tradition was founded “on the all-consuming desire to engage with the genius and radical difference of the past.” The Renaissance humanists were attracted to Classical Rome precisely because it differed so much from their contemporary Rome, with its papal intrigues and corrupted Latin; they were acutely aware of historical change and developed the seminal methods of textual scholarship to overcome the effects of time on historical and literary sources. It is instead the contemporary identity theorist who lacks an appreciation for the specificity of the past, determined as he is to expound on his own or others’ victimhood rather than lose himself in a world that may not mirror his narrow obsessions.
And that surely is the point. Western civilisation was reinvigorated when the lessons and musings of the Ancients were rediscovered. So much so that the “Grand Tour” was considered part of an educated person’s life, albeit only one that the rich could then afford. True progressives should want, and have wanted, this sort of grand tour of the intellect to be made available to all. No educated person would pass through life ignorant of Cicero; Aristotle, Marcus Aurelius or Lucretius. Instead, however, some of today’s educators would happily Balkanize us all inside narrow, self-regarding “victim groups”. (This is not just a fault of the academic Left, by the way – there are variants of this on the hard right, as far as I can see, when such folk fret about the impact of “alien cultures”).
Tim Sandefur also has comments on this topic:
This is true in other arts, too. There’s good poetry, sculpture, painting, and music out there, but the artistic elite—indoctrinated in postmodernism and identity politics—largely ignore those who produce it, on the grounds that it appeals to the common man and is therefore “commercial” (i.e., capitalist; i.e., evil) or “irrelevant” because it does not express the identity-politics agenda that is acceptable within that elite. This might at first seem paradoxical, since the political roots of this movement are in Marxism, which claimed to reject class divisions and to create a universal-humanity state. But just as Marxist societies become rigidly hierarchical—with a privileged nomenklatura on top and the faceless mass of disposable proles below—so in the art world, there is an elite of aesthetic correctness…and the consumers and consumer-friendly artists who are ignored when they are not ridiculed. Marxism was and remains a disease of the elite. Based on contempt for bourgeois society and bourgeois virtues, it has never recognized that these virtues are actually the desires of all mankind. Beauty is the most fragile of bourgeois virtues. It is always thought the most disposable by leaders with more militant goals.
I corrected the name of the publication to City Journal. My goof.