Published by the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas (founded in 1990 by Mortimer J. Adler and Max Weismann)
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Monday, July 20, 2015

How Austerity Killed the Humanities

Andrew Hartman at In These Times
"Few people are nostalgic for those culture wars because they were a fight between implacable foes. But in retrospect, perhaps we would do well to remember a time when all sides of a national debate believed that a humanities-based education was crucial to the survival of a democracy.

"As a leading conservative culture warrior, [William] Bennett held a traditionalist vision of the humanities. He believed the Western canon—which he defined in the terms of Matthew Arnold as 'the best that has been said, thought, written, and otherwise expressed about the human experience'—should be the philosophical bedrock of the nation’s higher education.

"'Because our society is the product and we the inheritors of Western civilization,' Bennett matter-of-factly contended, 'American students need an understanding of its origins and development, from its roots in antiquity to the present.'

"Most academics in humanities disciplines like English and history, in contrast, took a more critical stance towards the Western canon. They believed it too Eurocentric and male-dominated to properly reflect modern American society and thus revised it by adding books authored by women and minorities. Toni Morrison was to sit alongside Shakespeare."

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