Barbarians At The Banquet
A reader shared this with me, and gave me permission to post it, on the condition that I edit it to prevent others from identifying this school or group. Which I have done:
So I was in a long-established, semi-scholarly fraternal organization at an elite American university. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in it, because it was the most liberal of its kind on campus — “liberal” in the old fashioned sense of the word. At our regular gatherings, there was always a learned paper given, and a discussion afterward. I really enjoyed it.
A very dear friend of mine who is also a member wrote to me to say that the paper given recently was from an old, venerable alumnus, and concerned some finer points of art history. My friend reported with horror that EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THE QUESTIONS from the undergraduate men and women was on the order of “Isn’t x imperialist?” or “Isn’t y racist?” That was literally ALL the undergrads cared about, and ALL they knew to ask.
My friend, who has been attending these shindigs for many years, was horrified as much by 1) their profound ignorance of history, as 2) their outright hostility to innocuous art-historical minutiae, and 3) the extent to which they are utterly inured to simple logic / rationality. Everything — but EVERYTHING — is political for them. My friend said, further, that it was interesting to watch the dynamic between the undergraduates on one side, and the older scholars on the other. They don’t even speak the same language. The older scholars just don’t know what the kids are talking about, said my friend, and vice versa.
As Jordan Peterson has observed, the balance has been tipped in higher education. Its not just useless anymore, but its now actually doing harm. Not many normal people will be willing to accept that reality — i.e. that their children (and our culture) will be better served by their NOT going to (most) colleges and universities. I.e. unless their children are inoculated against the rot by a rigorous BenOp formation of some sort, highly involved and pious parents, etc. etc. Yet he who has ears….
Man. I’ve mentioned here before about the young woman who stood up in the Q&A after a Dante lecture a few years back and asked me why any of us should pay attention to what a dead white European sexist male has to say about anything. I thought she was joking. She most certainly was not. After the event, a literature professor approached me to say that that kind of thing was common on campuses today. I should have expected that, given how closely I follow this kind of thing, but it really is something to encounter that kind of militant ignorance among the educated.
The letter writer above is talking about one of the top American universities. What kind of insanity has taken over the educated classes when they treat knowledge as something to fear and loathe? This is not going anywhere good. These young people are barbarians, and don’t even know it. As Alasdair MacIntyre put it:
What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament.
“Tradition” comes from the Latin verb tradere — to hand down. The transmission of the Western tradition stops with these elite young people, who have rejected it entirely for political reasons. I use “elite” here not as a term of criticism, but to identify who they are: those who are being trained to take control of our normative cultural institutions. Make no mistake: they hate our tradition, and are going to destroy it. If I told you the name of the university, you would instantly recognize how profound the rot is at the top. (I will not approve comments speculating on its identity, to protect my correspondent’s privacy.)
If the tradition lives, it will live on outside the leading institutions, in new institutions that constitute “local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages.” People seeking the tradition will have to go to the peripheries. Reading this e-mail made me so very, very grateful for Sequitur Classical Academy, the classical Christian school where my children have been and are being taught. It is one of the “local forms of community” that MacIntyre talks about. Take a look at this short video, featuring one of the teachers there:
What this young teacher sees, and loves, and passes on to his students is considered hateful by some of our country’s most elite students of the humanities. Think about that. But don’t despair! Support schools like Sequitur — it profoundly needs your financial help — or start one of your own.
I’m serious. If you wait to have everything in place before starting a school like this, you might never do it. Sequitur is run on a shoestring budget, and depends greatly on the generosity of Istrouma Baptist Church. Istrouma allows Sequitur classes to meet in its Sunday school rooms, which are unused during the week. This year, the Sequitur leadership is starting a program in which students are available to do service projects for churches in the community. The idea is that part of their education is teaching students to serve others. When the great flood of 2016 hit our area, the school sent its older students out with teachers to muck houses and to help those who were helpless.
Oh, and there’s Dante, and Augustine, and Homer too.
Let the dead at our elite educational institutions bury their dead. The rest of us who want to reclaim the tradition, to make it live again, and to pass it on to our kids — we have work to do. As Marco Sermarini, co-founder of the classical Scuola G.K. Chesterton in Italy put it to me in The Benedict Option:
“We invented nothing,” he said. “We discovered nothing. We are only rediscovering a tradition that was locked away inside an old box. We had forgotten.”