An academic says classics should be cut from university syllabi as it’s so “entangled with white supremacy as to be inseparable from it.” But depriving future generations of the wisdom of the past leads to ignorance & division.
Dan-el Padilla Peralta, a black academic, claims that Western civilisation is based on conceptions of ‘whiteness’ that come from interpretations of the ancient authors. Recently, some classicists have tied their own discipline to white nationalism, wanting to exculpate their discipline from supposed racism.
Padilla goes further and claims that classics departments are hostile to minorities. “If one were intentionally to design a discipline whose institutional organs and gatekeeping protocols were explicitly aimed at disavowing the legitimate status of scholars of color,” he told the New York Times, “one could not do better than what classics has done.” He added that “classics is so entangled with white supremacy as to be inseparable from it… the production of whiteness turns on closer examination to reside in the very marrows of classics.”
Padilla overlooked the fact that he is a classics professor at Princeton University, invited to publish and to speak at conferences. Many may wish for de-legitimisation as rewarding as his. He might want to re-read Plato to brush up on inductive logic.
The ancients had much to say on tolerance, fairness, logic and empathy, and expounded the virtues of democracy and free speech. The Stoic philosophers offered advice on self-reliance, the exact opposite of victimhood culture. As such, they are a stubborn impediment to progressivist ideals – that is why Padilla and others have decided they have to go.
Any faculty which agrees to such nonsense will have betrayed any commitment to empirical truth, rationalism and the search for knowledge. Yet why would any faculty even consider it?
Race hysteria unhinges US academia
An otherwise excellent defence of the classics by Rich Lowry in National Review contains a slip: “It is rare to find other instances of scholars so consumed with hatred for their own disciplines that they literally want to destroy them from within.” On the contrary, university departments are full of anxious academics who believe their subjects are riven by sexism, racism and homophobia. They would be perfectly willing to destroy their own faculties in order to signal their virtue. We have seen that in other fields.
It is no exaggeration to say that the conflagration of American cities in the wake of the death of George Floyd last summer has accelerated US academia’s descent into race hysteria. Proper concern about unjust treatment became over-sensitivity and has now reached near hysteria, with a climate of fear dominating teaching environments. Asking students to try harder is racism. A professor at the University of Southern California was suspended because he said a Chinese word that sounds similar to a racial slur. Last month, a law professor at the University of Illinois was placed on administrative leave for writing a blanked out reference to the n-word (he wrote n—– , not spelling it out, but using blank placeholders) as part of lesson on employment discrimination.
It’s been coming: At Evergreen College in 2017, an unfounded accusation of racism was enough to send mobs of students wielding baseball bats hunting Professor Bret Weinstein.
The events of the summer showed just how receptive institutions are to accusations of racism. In truth, universities have not only been susceptible to social-justice blackmail, they actually originated it. Now their own creation is threatening to devour them, with falling acceptance standards, politicised teaching and slumping institutional reputation all reducing the credibility of universities. It is the most prestigious universities that are most at risk.
This is why Padilla’s statements present a danger to any university classics faculty soft-hearted or gullible enough to believe the canon is an instrument of racism.
From decolonisation to segregation
Decolonisation of the curriculum – the removal of white figures of note, to be replaced by figures of a different race, ethnicity or religion – is not a matter of principle but of power. It is a way of demonstrating your political faction has control of education and that you can make changes to damage, demean and remove icons of your supposed opponents. It is tactical and cynical. It is done to demoralise and divide. It is not a matter of empathy for the vulnerable but one of unconstrained expression of the ugliest emotions – ones which the ancient authors warned us to moderate.
What is the logical end point of racializing all subjects? Is it white students saying, “I don’t want to read black authors”? Well, possibly. More likely – on the basis of current evidence – it is that the best students (of whichever race) will simply turn their backs on universities that pursue decolonisation and replace the canon with quotas.
Students will turn their backs on Princeton and any other high-status university that destroys its reputation by abolishing the classics. They will turn to conservative universities or private courses. English-literature students searching for traditional education are turning to conservative institutions such as Hillsdale College, Michigan and Buckingham University, England. A degree from a diversity-inclusion-equity-influenced university is a warning signal for potential employers, who are concerned to avoid graduates steeped in social-justice activism. Such graduates are under-educated and over-opinionated.
Looking at everything through the lens of race limits our understanding and empathy. It forces us to choose tribal loyalties over personal affinities. Depriving generations of the wisdom of the past is a recipe for a future racked by ignorance, intolerance and division. Anyone who has read the classics could have told us that.