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“Classics Won’t Be the Same Without Latin or Greek”

The classics department at Princeton University recently decided that the idea that classics majors ought to know Latin or Greek has been a mistake. Old-fashioned, perhaps. Until now, undergrads who wanted to major in the study of classical texts needed to come into the concentration with at least an intermediate level of Latin or Greek. But those students will no longer even have to learn either language to receive a degree in classics. This is a typical example of a university rushing to make policy changes under the guise of promoting racial equity that are as likely to promote racism as to uproot it.

“Classics Won’t Be the Same Without Latin or Greek”, Professor John McWhorter writes in the Atlantic. He goes on to argue that

Crucially, you often must go through a phase of drudgery—learning the rules, memorizing vocabulary—before you pass into a phase of mastery and comprehension, like dealing with scales on the piano before playing sonatas. The Princeton decision is discouraging students from even beginning this process. Professors may think of the change as a response to racism, but the implicit intention — sparing Black students the effort of learning Latin or Greek — can be interpreted as racist itself.

Being interested in languages, I bought Professor McWhorter’s The Language Hoax a few years back. I recommend it. It is something of a riposte to Professor Guy Deutscher’s Through the Language Glass and I love a joust between academics. In the course of reading The Language Hoax I found out that Professor McWhorter is black. In a sane world I would have been only mildly interested in this fact, in the way that one is mildly interested to see an author’s photo on the dust jacket and to learn that he or she has two cats with amusing names. Or in the way that I was mildly interested but not at all surprised to learn that Professor Deutscher is an Israeli. We do not live in a sane world. Black American academics in fields that do not have “Black” in the title are rare. There are many reasons for this, including racism of the old and the new kinds.

If Princeton has its way they will soon be rarer still.

The Princeton classics department’s new position is tantamount to saying that Latin and Greek are too hard to require Black students to learn. But W. E. B. Du Bois, who taught both Latin and Greek for a spell, would have been shocked to discover that a more enlightened America should have excused him from learning the classical languages because his Blackness made him “vibrant” enough without going to the trouble of mastering something new.

When students get a degree in classics, they should know Latin or Greek. Even if they are Black. Note how offensive that even is. But the Princeton classics department’s decision forces me to phrase it that way. How is it anti-racist to exempt Black students from challenges?

Related: “Heresies of our time: that children should be taught to read music” – a post from 2020 in which I mentioned the proposal from the Oxford Classics faculty to reduce the “attainment gaps” between male and female students and between those educated at state schools and private schools by dropping Homer and Virgil from the first part of an Oxford Classics degree. So far as I can tell this proposal has not been implemented yet, so maybe the petition worked. But the engineers of the human soul are nothing if not patient.

42 comments to “Classics Won’t Be the Same Without Latin or Greek”

  • I’m reminded of Charles Murray’s analysis (in ‘Losing Ground’) of the post-doctoral experience of blacks who studied sociology in his day. (Summarising from memory – the book is not in front of me), the new-minted black graduate is swiftly given a high position in some project that requires a black at that level for various compelling reasons. He hands out no questionnaires and records no answers. He extracts no data from scattered uncollated raw historical sources. Etc. Etc. He is already at a level where such tedious – but very educational – drudgery is beneath him. Therefore (Murray concludes, after a more detailed explanation than my summary):

    he never becomes a sociologist. He remains merely a black with a sociology degree.

    Murray was taking about how a black’s career is perverted by being denied equality of drudgery with a white’s after graduation (when, as C.S.Lewis remarks in another context, a student in such a field still has much to learn).

    Now the perversion will begin long before graduation.

  • Gene

    “Engineers of the Human Soul.” I’m going to steal that. Thanks Natalie!

  • Snorri Godhi

    Leaving aside the racialist angle:
    My view is that one can benefit from learning Latin or Greek, only if and when one is able to read texts in those languages. Anything less than that is a waste of time.

    The best would be to start reading the classics in translation, and go on to learning the languages if, and only if, one feels the need to read the original texts.

    Speaking for myself, i am satisfied with translations.

  • bobby b

    “he never becomes a sociologist. He remains merely a black with a sociology degree.”

    I remember a period when every law firm with corporate clientele were suddenly panicked by the clients’ monolithic demand that they employ a certain percentage of black lawyers or lose the client’s business.

    Suddenly, black law students – seniors – were being rushed by every firm in the city. They were scooped up quickly and placed in “client contact” positions, tasked with simply being black in the presence of the client reps.

    They never got the typical bottom-of-the-totem-pole assignments, never learned how to write, never went to court – they were showpieces. They grew no skills to make themselves valuable as lawyers.

    Very few of those people are still lawyers. The corporate clients checked that box on their HR forms – racially compliant vendor! – and never checked again, because they never cared again.

    That seems to be the ultimate fate of all AA hires everywhere.

  • Lee Moore

    And you can see why Prof McWhorter might have a bit of a beef with these black folk with sociology degrees. If you’re a real academic, who happens to be black, you do not want the world to asociate “black” with “token.”

    Meanwhile the notion that Latin and Greek are too hard for black students isn’t just racist, it’s very racist. Latin and Greek are not that hard. Not just compared to rocket science, but compared, say, to law. At school I did not enjoy Latin and Greek, and I did not advance very far in either. But they were not particularly hard, they were just a hard slog. Not like Physics and Chemistry which were actually hard.

  • Fraser Orr

    I might well ask what is the point of anybody, irrespective if their skin color, getting a degree in the classics? It isn’t clear to me what purpose it serves, and the idea that one might end up with such a degree and quarter of a million dollars in debt seems rather repulsive. Not to say that those patricians who have little better to do that classics and the grand tour might be clients for such ephemera, but I’d suggest that those Black people (or come to that any color of person) not only forgo the Latin and Greek but also the Classics that they facilitate, and get a degree in something useful.

    I suppose though the graduates can up the ambience of the place with a few pompous Latin phrases written on the cups of Starbucks they are serving you.

    Of course, people can do what they want with their own time and money. Suum cuique.

  • dougg

    the whole of learning and all human knowledge will be cast upon a sacrificial fire for fear of a single word… “racist”

    it’s amazing the power that one word has to make a civilization destroy its self rather than face it as an accusation….

  • Lee Moore

    I might well ask what is the point of anybody, irrespective if their skin color, getting a degree in the classics?

    To help ward off parochialism, perhaps ? These classical geezers were obviously no different from us in terms of natural endowments, so they’re basically the same sort of creature. But their pre-Christian way of looking at the world was rather different, so maybe we get a better glimpse of human nature than if we have only our modern selves to survey. And then their civilisations faded away – perhaps there are some tips to be picked up here ? And they’ve got some jolly good stories.

  • Ferox

    Clearly the plan is to substitute, for one or both of those old dead white languages, the living vital language of Ebonics. This will open up a new, rich vein of literary and intellectual exploration for the aspiring liberal arts major.

    Surely in the modern world there must be more relevance in the study of the vibrant works of Snoop Dog than in the ancient dusty scrawls of St. Augustine. Ye-aw.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    I think that we need Latin or Greek translations of modern classics. Lady Chatterly’s Lover, in Latin or Greek, would still be a best-seller!

  • Paul Marks

    I do not normally agree with “The Atlantic” – which has a habit of MAKING UP “quotes” to try and smear people. But I agree with them on the Princeton matter.

    Someone being given Classics Degree who does not understand Latin and Greek is like a person being given a mathematics degree when they can not add up.

    As for the “diversity and inclusion” defence – this “anti racism” is indeed sickeningly racist, as it is saying that black people are too stupid to learn.

    If you look at “Becoming” by Michelle Obama (or whoever the ghost writer was) the shallowness and vanity of Mrs Obama is obvious – and her Princeton thesis (which is just a racist rant) shows that the lady should not have been let into Princeton in the first place. But that does NOT mean that all black people are ignorant.

    “Just Some Guy” on Youtube is black and from poverty – and he taught himself the languages of Tolkien’s world. He, and many other black people, is intelligent and hard working enough to learn Latin and Greek. Why should intelligent and hard working black people be excluded (ironically in the name of “inclusion”) so that POLITICAL HACKS can go to Princeton?

    The Princeton approach is actually an INSULT to black people – to intelligent and hard working black people. Essentially what “liberal” (which is not liberal at all) academia are saying is that the only black people are shallow and vain like “Michelle!”.

    Remember the left do not like all black people – they only like black people who go along with Frankfurt School “Identity Politics” agenda.

  • Paul Marks

    This is not limited to race.

    Tucker Carlson enjoys giving examples of TOTAL MORONS (mostly WHITE) who have gone to elite American universities – and have been given top degrees. These people “just happen” to be from leftist families.

    The brutal truth is that “elite education” in the United States is totally corrupt (that a top degree from an elite university is essentially toilet paper) – like so many other things in modern America.

    This goes back to the rise of “Pragmatist” philosophy in the United States – which started in the very late 19th century. According to Pragmatism there is no objective truth – there is just what is useful for “progress” (defined as ever bigger and more controlling government).

    Of course the original Pragmatists (John Dewey and co) would have been shocked by such things as people being given degrees in Classics when they do not know Latin and Greek – but their Pragmatist ideas have led to this. Led to a position where people go to “elite universities” and get “top degrees” whilst learning nothing that is true.

    Employers in the United States (the ones that are not government or Corporations dependent on Credit Money from the Federal Reserve and the pet banks) need to take note of this.

    A move to “if you have a college degree – we do NOT want you” might be reasonable at this point.

  • Paul Marks

    To those people saying “it is just Classics”.

    No it is not – it is everything.

    Including the natural sciences – and medicine.

    The denial of objective truth, and the putting of “Woke” (Frankfurt School) politics its place, is happening. It has been gradually gaining power for many years – and not just the United States.

    Intellectual life (the life of the mind) is dying in the modern West – and that includes academic scientists starting to be ignorant of even basic science. It is starting to happen.

    What matters in modern academia (and in the government and corporate bureaucracy) is being “Woke” (being leftist). Objective truth (actually understanding such subjects as biology) stands in the way of this. So objective truth (including real scientific knowledge) is being pushed OUT.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Someone being given Classics Degree who does not understand Latin and Greek is like a person being given a mathematics degree when they can not add up.

    A better analogy might be to a person getting a Physics degree without understanding calculus.

    As for this:

    I might well ask what is the point of anybody, irrespective if their skin color, getting a degree in the classics?

    An appropriate reply would be that, as Hayek wrote in a footnote in chapter xiii of The Road to Serfdom, Hobbes wanted to prohibit the teaching of the classics, because they instill “a dangerous spirit of liberty”. (Hayek’s words, not literally Hobbes.)

    Quentin Skinner argued that it was the Roman classics in translation that inspired the Roundheads; and certainly the US Founders were steeped in classical culture. The first constitutional treatises were written by Greeks and Romans, after all.

    But i can attest that it is possible to study the classics in such a way that no spirit of liberty is stimulated.

  • Learning Latin or Greek? All I know of them are the scientific words that use them as basis. There are quite enough classics in English, and good translations of most old Norse classics. My true second language is Fortran, and in the museum game I was fortunate in knowing enough French (subspecialty 19th century technical French) to read the copious French literature in my field.

    Each to their own.

  • Paul Marks

    We already have biology denied (multiple genders and so on), and mathematics (and all objective truth) denounced as “White Supremacy” (remember conservative black people are “not really” black) – so the idea that this is “just about Latin and Greek” is false.

    The Progressive movement is the enemy of truth – in all subjects. And the Progressive movement increasingly dominates education and all the institutions – government and corporate.

  • bobby b

    So, it’s true that we cannot read or critique the Koran if we do not speak and read the language in which it was originally written?

    I think that perhaps the main and only disadvantage of not reading the classics in their original language, or the works of dead Peruvian poets in Peruvian, is that we miss out on their masterful use of those originally-used languages.

    But if we value the ideas and messages contained within – why can they not be conveyed by competent translations?

    (But – to study “the classics” IS to study the masterful use of the original language much more than the ideas contained within, so perhaps a Latin requirement makes sense. Or perhaps studying such a thing is a complete waste of resources to begin with.)

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Bobby b writes,

    “Or perhaps studying such a thing is a complete waste of resources to begin with.”

    If someone is willing to do it on their own money, or on money freely given by another, it is not a waste of resources.

    Both here and in the States the presence of so much taxpayers’ money sloshing around in higher education means that it is impossible to truly know what people would and would not pay for if left to themselves. But the willingness of students to take out loans to study “useless” subjects like the classics suggests that there would be a market for them. Not to mention the experience of centuries of study of the classics before government subsidy was a thing.

  • bobby b

    “If someone is willing to do it on their own money, or on money freely given by another, it is not a waste of resources.”

    Yes, a proper correction. If one values navel-gazing, one should be free to gaze, financed of course on one’s own dime.

  • TomJ

    @Nicholas Gray You’re in luck

  • Snorri Godhi

    Bobby:

    But if we value the ideas and messages contained within – why can they not be conveyed by competent translations?

    Certainly they can — but how do you know that a translation is competent, if you can’t read the original text?

    In the case of the Greek & Roman philosophers, one could simply see if the translation makes sense: if not, then seek another translation. But when no translation makes sense, then one needs to read the original text.

    But – to study “the classics” IS to study the masterful use of the original language much more than the ideas contained within

    Actually, that is sort-of the attitude (of my teachers) that prevented me from acquiring a spirit of liberty from the classics. I had to turn to the Sagas of Icelanders for enlightenment.

    And btw, Herodotos can be hilarious: very much worth reading for the funny stories alone. (Not that i have read much of his work.) And Tacitus is quite Machiavellian, and i mean that as a compliment.

    And no, i cannot read Latin or Greek.

  • Snorri Godhi

    If someone is willing to do it on their own money, or on money freely given by another, it is not a waste of resources.

    Just wanted to add that it is much better to study the classics on one’s own money for another reason: State schools ain’t gonna teach you a spirit of liberty. They’ll teach classics expurgated of any spirit of liberty.

    And actually, as long as one is happy with translations, one does not need to pay for anything other than a computer and internet connection. It’s only when you want to learn the languages that you might want to pay; unless you are very smart and self-disciplined.

  • Paul Marks

    I repeat – the idea that this “just” Latin and Greek is false.

    The left are coming for ALL subjects – they hate (indeed despise) objective truth.

    The left now dominate the education system – and that translates into eventual domination of all other institutions, government and corporate.

    The idea that people can be filled with lies from their most early years to when they leave university and then be fine, is false.

    The majority of people are likely be mentally mutilated by what is being done to them.

    They will either believe leftist lies, or they will be reduced to a state of believing nothing – of thinking that objective truth does not even exist.

    “When they get out into the real world they will wise up”.

    Sadly this view is often quite wrong.

  • Fraser Orr

    @bobby b
    But if we value the ideas and messages contained within – why can they not be conveyed by competent translations?

    FWIW, I used to have some faculty with ancient Greek languages, and can attest to the fact that “competent” translation is a lot harder than it looks, or to put it another way, what “translation” means is not always clear. This can readily be seen in the wide variety of ways an ancient text like the New Testament is translated into English, and I don’t think any serious student of that work could reasonably be expected to claim the title “scholar” without considerable faculty with the language.

    For example, if one is translating from Spanish and come across the expression: “Eres del año de la pera” which literally means “you are from the year of the pear”, but idiomatically means “you are ancient”. What is the correct translation? To convey the meaning to an English reader you need the latter, but oh how much is lost in the process! So perhaps you should translate it into an equivalent idiom, “you are as old as the hills”, but can you really justify this? So, what does it even mean to “translate” something?

    To give a broader example, poetry is almost impossible to translate, since it depends on not just the semantics of the word, but their form which is utterly different in different languages. If, for example, you look at Psalm 119, in the original Hebrew it is an acrostic, meaning each group of eight lines begins with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet (the first eight with aleph, the next eight with beth, and so forth.) How does one translate such an important feature of this passage into English?

    If you are interested in a more contemporary example, you might read this article on the translation of Harry Potter into different languages.

  • Eric

    Both here and in the States the presence of so much taxpayers’ money sloshing around in higher education means that it is impossible to truly know what people would and would not pay for if left to themselves. But the willingness of students to take out loans to study “useless” subjects like the classics suggests that there would be a market for them.

    Does it? It could also suggest a small percentage of college students don’t really understand what loan repayment is going to mean for their own standard of living.

  • Remember the left do not like all black people – they only like black people who go along with Frankfurt School “Identity Politics” agenda. (Paul Marks, June 15, 2021 at 8:34 am)

    I think you are being too kind to the left, Paul (not a sentence I anticipated having cause to write 🙂 ). Since before the days of the Helter-Skelter murders, the revolutionary left have hated blacks for not rushing forward to be the cannon fodder of the revolution, for needing so much prodding, just as, earlier, they hated the working class for not revolting like Marx said. One of the things the intellectuals like about the CRT style of revolution is that (they think) they can manage with a lot less cannon fodder, without having to man dangerous old-style barricades themselves. (In this respect, their revolution resembles Hitler’s a little bit more than it does Lenin’s.)

  • Fraser Orr

    @Natalie Solent (Essex)
    Not to mention the experience of centuries of study of the classics before government subsidy was a thing.

    I think though that this underestimates how much tertiary education has changed though. A hundred years ago college was not for everyone, in fact it really was targeted at two groups — the patricians, the Sebastian Flyte’s, those rounding out their role into upper class society, who took degrees like fine arts, the classics and so forth, and this included those destined for the civil service too, and professionals, doctors, lawyers, clergymen who were seeking a training and an imprimatur for their profession. Only a tiny percentage of the population went to college, and the rest of us plebs learned our trade on the job.

    But today people go to college for the latter reason, to get an education that leads to a job (though now “job” is much more broad that the traditional professions), and so the former reason is much less important. Of course people are welcome to spend their time and their money however they want, as long as it actually is their own time and money. But the purpose of a classics education, preparations for the patrician, is really no longer a part of modern society.

    And I might add that the whole concept of a University is diminishing in its relevance today anyway, despite the fact that a growing percentage of the population goes. I thought about this a lot with my children, as to whether it is really worth the cost. I concluded that for them it is — they will be able to quickly make back the money spent — but for many, and that “many” is coming closer and closer to “most” — it is a terrible investment of both time and money. I sometimes think that people who go to college for non occupational degrees actually become less educated by going to college.

    It seems to me that for some young person given the choice between $200k and four extra years in capital to set them up in life, or a college degree, that the former is very much a better choice.

    In the past, college was a rite of passage — a movement into adulthood — at least among the small fraction who went. But now it is seen more as party time, a time for sophomoric stupidity and jejune thinking … not the becoming of an adult, but a last fling at not being an adult.

    I think the root cause (since with our VP, that seems to be the mot juste right now) of most of society’s problems comes down to the education system. Certainly primary and secondary first, but more and more tertiary education too. They all desperately need a dose of free market competition and a shake up in the cultural zeitgeist to make for a better world.

    I think the push for free college education really betrays the truth. Doctors, lawyers, engineers do not need college paid for for free because their education makes them more than valuable enough to get paid well enough to pay for their schooling. The people who need other people to pay for their college are the one’s whose degree qualifies them only as pontificating baristas, something that isn’t valued in a market well enough for the cost of all that nonsense put in their heads.
    s
    Interestingly enough, in the past I have used “gender studies” majors as an example of these pontificating baristas. However, that is no longer the truth. People with such degrees are in great demand as their cancerous nonsense spreads through the HR departments of every large corporation. So from now on I’m going to stick with Classics majors as my example to mock.

  • Fraser Orr

    BTW, I read a bit of Prof McWhorter’s book. He is an excellent writer and I found some of his arguments quite compelling. His argument that the hypothesis that language shapes thought is not entirely wrong, but the effect language has on thought is very mild. But it did make me think — I wonder how special classes of language affect thought? For example:

    1. ASL: this is a language that comes from a quite dramatically different culture than the one it lives within. And from a purely technical point of view, it has a spatial, three dimensional grammar which seems quite different than the one dimensional grammar that written and spoken languages have.

    2. Music: here I am thinking of written music as opposed to performed music. It has a lot of unusual characteristics. It can be read at different levels(you can just read the melody, or you can read the whole thing but ignore the dynamics.) And it has a structure (repetition, key signatures, time signatures, bar structure) that is absent in spoken languages. And it also has an extremely low density of information. I really wonder if musicians (one of whom I am not) have their thought influenced by this language.

    3. Mathematics: which is much more strict and logical, terse and non ambiguous than human language. I do have some faculty with mathematics and I am very sure it does influence the way I think about non mathematical things. Methematics has a VERY, VERY high density of information, far more so than spoken langugage.

    4. Computer languages: which are in a sense a form of mathematics, though with lower density. I am very familiar with these, and they definitely affect the way I think.

    I also wonder how applies to some specific constructed languages. In Esperanto, for example, the ability to use affixes without limit must surely allow for the construction of thoughts in a way that is difficult within the grammatical bounds of normal human languages. And perhaps more interestingly is LogLang, which seems to construct language in an almost mathematical structure. I am not terribly familiar with either of them, perhaps someone who is can comment. However, I am certain of one thing, which is that jargon, the ability to encapsulate complicated ideas into simpler terminology, often with crisp boundaries, allows one to manipulate that complexity in a way that would be hard without the actual jargon itself.

    I sure would love to have a beer with that McWhorter guy.

    (As a side note, I’d also say that I think English, and probably other languages) are going through a dramatic transformation right now, one that is little recognized by linguists, though I think it is beginning to spark up. English started out as a spoken language, and then developed into a written language, and most recently into a printed language. Each of these stages added dramatically and richly and transformatively to the language. However, I think with the use of electronic communication devices we are going through another transformation of similar magnitude. A form of English somewhere half between spoken and written. A language with its own grammar, punctuation, vocabulary, even its own orthography. I think there are a thousand PhD’s in this observation. I find it disturbing that people take a bit of a look down their nose at it while missing the dynamic and powerful richness of expression it offers.

    OK, sorry for rambling.

  • bobby b

    “Snorri Godhi
    June 15, 2021 at 7:49 pm

    “Certainly they can — but how do you know that a translation is competent, if you can’t read the original text?”

    This strikes me as one of those sentiments that are true in the abstract but fail IRL.

    I cannot interpret a lung X-ray, and so I must leave that task – and my health – to some other trusted soul. I cannot operate a gene sequencer, but my democracy still seeks my input about viral illnesses. I cannot pilot an airplane, but I must sometimes fly and so I place my trust and my life in someone else’s hands that others have recommended.

    I cannot read Arabic – must I yield to the Arab telling me jihad is merely an everyday struggle against evil, and that any other reading of Koranic verse comes from poor translations? Or can I listen to others who have translated the Koran and have arrived at differing conclusions?

    At some point, every single day, we must trust others to use skills that we lack ourselves, on our behalf. Given the discrete number of “classics” and the number of centuries they’ve been studied, I’m relatively certain that oodles of trusted translators have been identified for each such work.

  • Jacob

    Suddenly, black law students – seniors – were being rushed by every firm in the city. They were scooped up quickly and placed in “client contact” positions, tasked with simply being black in the presence of the client reps.

    I had once an appointment with an investing firm about letting them manage some money. They brought along a stunningly lovely young lady and said she was going to be in charge of my account. How times change…. I’ll take that lady any day, over any black law graduate (as “client contact” position).

  • Jacob

    “or the works of dead Peruvian poets in Peruvian”…
    Well, there is no such thing as Peruvian language. There are several Peruvian native tribes and they have several native languages, but not written ones. So, you can’t read the works of dead Peruvian poets.
    There are hundreds or thousands of languages that have no writing – they exist only as spoken languages. Can such languages be translated?

  • Paul Marks

    Niall – the history of all this within Marxism is interesting.

    Stalin rejected the Frankfurt School (“rejected” is to put the matter mildly) – to him it utterly misinterpreted Marxism – with its obsession with race and other “victim group” stuff. And he also rejected the idea that there was no such thing as objective truth in such subjects as mathematics and engineering – Stalin was an interested in engineering, he understood that objective truth exists (it wither works or it does not work – regardless of “societal power relations” or whatever).

    However, Mao was open to all this stuff – both the race (and so on) TACTICS (for they are TACTICS – Stalin took it all too seriously, to him “but it is not true” was important – for Mao that did not matter at all), and the RELATIVISM in such things as mathematics and engineering.

    One can see this today – Mr Putin clearly does not like BLM (its Frankfurt School interpretation of Marxism clearly gets on his nerves – as he was educated in a Soviet Union that rejected the Frankfurt School interpretation of Marxism). But the People’s Republic of China is fine with BLM (in the United States – of course if they came to China they would be used for spare parts) – it subsidised and promoted BLM and Antifa.

    The Putin regime are sort of “post Classical Marxists” – they are not Marxists any more, but they were taught Classical Marxism (the ideas of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels – as interpreted by Lenin and Stalin) in school – they can not stand the Frankfurt School interpretation of Marxism (Herbert Marcuse and so on).

    The Chinese Communist Party dictatorship are quite happy to promote Frankfurt School Marxism – in the West, NOT in China.

  • Lee Moore

    PM : ..he also rejected the idea that there was no such thing as objective truth in such subjects as mathematics and engineering – Stalin was an interested in engineering, he understood that objective truth exists (it wither works or it does not work – regardless of “societal power relations” or whatever

    Engineering is an excellent illustration of what is wrong, and also what is right, about the denial of objective truth. For engineering is a mixture of the subjective and the objective. As Paul mentions, objective truth sets the constraints for an engineering solution. It “works’ or it “doesn’t work.” But “what works” does not define the solution precisely. Engineering problems always have conflicting goals, and the question of how to balance them is a subjective choice.

    So “what works” is too imprecise. We need to consider what works for what purpose, for how long, at what construction cost, with what maintenance requirements, and whether we want it to make bacon sandwiches as well as act as a bridge. And so on.

    All these juggled goals, for which only subjective value judgements are available to resolve, permit an element of truth in the proposition that even engineering is a subjective business. But only an element. A bridge that falls down when the first train crosses it is a failure. And maths and physics and metallurgy etc are going to tell you, objectively, whether your bridge is likely to fall down or not.

    Those modern, marxism-adjacent, philosophial schools that insist that there is no objective truth, tend to overlook the fact that while we may not be able to identify a single “true’ version of what is going on, from a selection of equally plausible variations, we can certainly identify an infinite number of versions that are definitely and ineluctably false – from any perspective.

  • William H. Stoddard

    McWhorter’s a good writer. I have his The Power of Babel, which is basically about linguistic diversity and language history; it’s something of a popularization, but substantial enough to be worth keeping on my shelves.

  • CaptDMO

    Can’t wait until my next American lawyer, doctor, pharmacist, has no clue what words on the paper actually mean.
    It’s bad enough with American vs. English.
    “Literature”, what, like historical accounts (biased as they are already) and stuff?
    I have one copy of “The Art of War” with five separate translations.
    “Latin” made translation between English and assorted “street” (Mexican, Salvadoran, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, et alia) Spanish easier. Quite helpful in port/ big cities.
    Didn’t help when I once mistakenly used cabron instead of carbon (BBQ), but I survived THAT one.
    “The Classics”? No. “Meanings” in every day language.
    Like “Submarine” (My first precocious importance of Latin epiphany word.)

  • Dr Evil

    Utter madness. You do NOT have a degree in Classics or Greats at Oxford if you are not very familiar with Latin and Greek. If you end up with a degree without a sound grounding in both you do not have a degree in classics. I despair. We were taught Latin at grammar school from ages 11-16 (UK).

  • Snorri Godhi

    Bobby:

    I cannot read Arabic – must I yield to the Arab telling me jihad is merely an everyday struggle against evil, and that any other reading of Koranic verse comes from poor translations? Or can I listen to others who have translated the Koran and have arrived at differing conclusions?

    At some point, every single day, we must trust others to use skills that we lack ourselves, on our behalf. Given the discrete number of “classics” and the number of centuries they’ve been studied, I’m relatively certain that oodles of trusted translators have been identified for each such work.

    (My emphasis.)
    A valid point, but i submit that it is out of context.

    As i indicated, i do not feel the need to learn Latin or Greek.
    Or Arabic.
    (But i might at some point learn to read Icelandic,)

    OTOH: If you get a degree in Classics, that means, or ought to mean, that you are independently able to translate the classics, or at least to appraise whether a translation is true to the original.

    Without a sizeable community of such people, you and i would have no reason to trust the consensus on what the classics mean.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Snorri Godhi, June 14, 2021 at 10:37 pm:

    My view is that one can benefit from learning Latin or Greek, only if and when one is able to read texts in those languages. Anything less than that is a waste of time.

    Some years back, I read of a student-athlete at the University of Illinois, a football player. The young man was smart enough to know that he would never play professionally, and determined to use his sports scholarship to get a proper degree. He got respectable grades, but had to work very hard for them, because he was dyslexic.

    Then a counselor recommended that he take Latin for his foreign-language requirement. Latin instruction began with its rules of grammar and spelling. As he mastered Latin’s rules, he also came to understand English’s similar (though less consistent) rules, which he had never been taught, and his dyslexia went away.

    He said it was like someone turned the lights on.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Victor David Hanson had a piece a few weeks ago titled “Will China preserve western civilization?” It seems that several top Chinese universities are adding courses in classical Greek and Latin.

    While China’s leadership is openly contemptuous of the feckless contemporary West, China still recognizes the importance of the foundations of Western civilization.

  • llamas

    I studied Latin to a very-acceptable grade at O-level, back when that meant something. Hated it then, grateful for it now. Thank you, Cuthbert Scotcher.

    I think CaptDMO has the right way of it. Even if you’re not planning a lifetime among the dreaming spires, Latin is foundational for many languages and leads one into better understanding in so many fields. From Patrick O’Brian (superpubic cystotomy, anyone?) to my truncated studies in the law, and even unto mechanical engineering (Vitruvius was right!) , Latin has been a useful and explanatory tool in my toolbox of educations.

    So, one has to ask, why the sudden urge to actively suppress its teaching? All the crap about diversity and inclusion is just a smokescreen of BS – women and minorities can learn Latin as well as anybody else, and gain the same benefits from the knowing of it. It’s hard not to conclude that the ultimate goals are a) to suppress the knowledge of the past and control the ways in which it is remembered and b) to make and keep the hoi-polloi dumb and ignorant. Change my mind.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Snorri Godhi

    Rich Rostrom: an interesting story. I myself recognized that translating Latin and Greek in high school was a good mental exercise, complementary to playing chess, since it requires (at least partially) different mental skills. (As shown by the poor chess skills of the champion translator in my high school class.)

    From the Xenophobe’s Guide to the Icelanders:

    The Dane, Rasmus Christian Rask, claimed in the early 19th century that he had learned Icelandic in order to be able to think.

    Perhaps this says more about Danish than it says about Icelandic — no offense meant to any Danes who might be reading this!

    I actually met 2 academic philosophers who learned Danish in order to be able to read Kierkegaard in the original Danish text.

  • rxc

    I know that this is a bit late – I have not been here for a while, and just stumbled back, but I am conducting a survey of the effect of the woke education system, and it is not good. The survey is pretty simple. I try to force cashiers to make change for a purchase, on their own, without help from a machine. I wait till they ring up a sale on a computer with a certain amount of cash offered, and then I change the amount offered, to include some additional pennies. To see whether they can figure out how to make the proper amount of change.

    I hate to say it, but increasing numbers of young people, of all genders/sexes/races, do not know how to count.

    I know, they are not engineers of physicists, but this is really bad. I have read some articles where educators(!) say that they don’t need to learn arithmetic, because they have computers for that. I imagine that the next fad will be to stop teaching them how to read, because they have machines they can talk to, and can respond in a language that they will understood. So the printed word will also go the way of arithmetic.

    I think that this is a coordinated movement to reduce education to learning how to speak and understand the spoken language, so that no one will be able to read any books any more. Just think about all the unpleasantness that occurred when Gutenberg started printing Bibles, and people were able to read them without having priests tell them what the holy word actually said. Can’t have the deplorables getting the wrong ideas. The truly important aspect of education, to the left, is that the peasants understand what is said to them, and they OBEY.

    This is not good.

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