Friday, May 30, 2008
(Note: This is part 5 of 5.)
As with any essay, most of this I was discovering as I went along: “essaying” in the sense of “trying out”. But, here are some tentative conclusions, which everyone is free to critique, of course:
1. The Culture Wars of the early 90s are over. The campus left has bigger problems to worry about now such as war and global economics, political correctness is fairly unpopular, and the traditional Western Civilizations program is now so watered down that it is effectively dead as a doornail. As for conservatives, they have no critique of the deleterious effects of capitalism on culture, and so can only defend western culture from a narrow sliver of the radical left that apparently has better things to worry about. This struggle is over: culture lost.
2. Nevertheless, there remains a real reluctance on the part of some academics to wholeheartedly engage with the western tradition for fear of appearing reactionary, conservative, triumphalist, nationalist, Eurocentric, or even xenophobic. Therefore, most students are introduced to the tradition through its critique: they learn to hate it before they know what it is. And so it remains dead.
3. So I think we need to re-engage with the tradition outside of all narrow political struggles, and indeed to treat it as if it is new. Our model for this can be the Renaissance, coming as it did after a period of similar strife and dogmatism.
4. And, in the same way that I have argued that Obama’s popular appeal is due to the fact that he makes it acceptable for liberals to be patriotic and civically engaged again, we need academics to explain their love of culture again- all culture- and make it live again, beyond outdated political categories. It is not “conservative” or “liberal” to make your life as a steward of culture- it is simply what the humanities entail. And it is needed now more than ever.
Posted by Rufus at 11:58 PM