Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Looking Underneath

     Those Gentle Readers who’ve patronized Liberty’s Torch for a while are aware that I’m not the typical “select news story and vent anger” sort of blogger. There are plenty of those – I regularly read several such – and I’ve never felt I could add usefully to their number. I prefer to select events and stories that offer a useful, or at least interesting connection to some important current in thought. The consequences are the interminable, lugubrious essays for which I’m generally known.

     This article, which reports on a possible reversal of a trend from some years ago, is a case of that sort:

     Students at Stanford University have successfully petitioned to allow undergraduates to vote, on April 7 and 8, on whether to re-instate core Western civilization courses for all students. This bold campaign is headed up by undergraduate Harry Elliott, editor-in-chief of “The Stanford Review,” an independent campus newspaper.

     Before Elliott was born, a bunch of agitators marched through campus chanting “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Western civ has got to go!” in a crusade to abolish such studies and smear them as racist, sexist, and so on. The core humanities curriculum has since been replaced by a thematic batch of courses called “Thinking Matters.”

     A major university must teach its enrollees that “Thinking Matters?” I wouldn’t have considered the notion disputable, but tempora mutantur and all that. Anyway, do read the article in full; it’s loaded with important insights. I’ll expand on one of them when you get back.

     By my estimate, the key passage in the cited article is this one:

     The dirty little secret is that suppressing the study of Western Civilization is really about suppressing knowledge itself—especially the true self-knowledge that sparks independent thinking and the imagination. When people are stripped of such knowledge, they are more easily conditioned, more easily manipulated by propaganda, more willing to cede their power to the elites doing the conditioning.

     Excellently well put...yet what’s not stated explicitly is as important as what is. Western Civilization is the product of two currents of thought and conviction that first flowed together in the late Renaissance and flowered with the rise of the empiricist thinkers.

     The first of those currents was Christianity. Christian moral-ethical thought had raised Europe out of savagery and set it on an orderly basis. There were problems with that basis; let there be no argument about that. However, Christ’s exhortation to Do unto others as you would have them do unto you provided the kindling for the match that was to arrive a millennium afterward.

     The Christian ethos couldn’t create an entirely new civilization as it stood, principally because political power structures exempted themselves from its dictates, with the cooperation and collaboration of the Church. To rise above medieval political structures, it was necessary that royal and noble families be stripped of their pretense of “rule by God’s will.” In other words, it was necessary for thinkers to examine – and embrace – the possibility that Man is free, and therefore not to be coerced, by natural right: a complete inversion of the relationship between the people and the State.

     Thus, the study of the rise of Western Civilization isn’t merely a celebration of “our culture.” It’s an investigation of the most important philosophical confluence in human history: that of the Christian ethos with the Enlightenment. Before it, all human relations were founded on force. Afterward – particularly after the Peace of Westphalia and the emergence of David Hume, Voltaire, and John Locke – power had to justify itself to persons whom it had previously regarded as rightless property, their existences wholly dependent on the good will of the king.

     This answers for us the question of the hour: an hour in which attempts to destroy freedom, particularly freedom of speech and thought, are multifarious.

     It’s often been asked, in puzzled and plaintive tones, why the American Left is so averse to America and American culture. The Left’s stentorian bellowings about “racism,” “sexism,” “colonialism,” and so forth are red herrings. Those who sincerely believe those accusations are mere movement fodder; those responsible for promulgating them know better.

     In point of fact, the Left opposes the dissemination of knowledge about the rise of the contemporary West because the process by which it emerged illuminates the critical dichotomy in all of human relations: that between coerced orthodoxy and freedom of thought. He who demands that you not learn or think about a historical transition has an orthodoxy for you to swallow. He’s determined to ensure that you not learn about alternatives to that orthodoxy...because he fears that you’ll choose one of them in preference to his doctrine. If one of the alternatives gave rise to the freest and most just society in history, it’s critical that he steer you away from all knowledge of its intellectual underpinnings. He cannot afford for you to know about them.

     The contemporary Left’s approach to this problem is the moral denunciation of the Western philosophical canon – hence the cries of “racist,” “sexist,” etc. – coupled to the vilification of those who disagree. Because many persons are unwilling to endure such vilification, the approach has known a great deal of success. However, if there exists a cadre which will not be deterred by any amount of slander, the Left’s next recourse, which we’re seeing ever more frequently, is to thuggery: force and threats of force.

     Note the hundred-eighty-degree reversion to pre-Renaissance modes of thought and discourse involved. Note also that when Leftist thugs are rightly brought to book, they strain to their damnedest to characterize themselves as victims.

     “By 2050--earlier, probably--all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron--they'll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be. Even the literature of the Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like "freedom is slavery" when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking--not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.” [1984]

     For the reasons above, I regard the Left’s inability to defend its positions by rational means as the key to understanding its determination to suppress the study of the Western ideological canon. Moreover, I contend that at any “institution of higher learning” that has caved to the Left’s demands for the elimination of such study, there will be no true education outside the sciences and engineering. Only Leftist orthodoxy will be dispensed to the student in the humanities, the social studies, and the arts – and it will be enforced upon him on pain of punishment.

     There are insights available from the analysis of Leftist movements and disturbances in this light. Consider the “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations, manifestations of manufactured outrage defended by the chanting of those three words and nothing else. (“Four legs good, two legs bad,” anyone?) Consider the various attempts by feminists to silence those opposed to their dictates, and the fury with which they descend on anyone who dares to observe that a substantial number of women are freely electing the supposedly oppressive “roles” against which they rail. Consider the determination of the apostles of “climate change” to deprive skeptics of a hearing...including, at this date, attempts at legal intimidation by sixteen state governments.

     When we look underneath the Left’s ostensible demands at the commonalities among their strategies for getting their way, the matter reduces to an observation most memorably phrased by Victor Marguerite: “The fascists cannot argue, so they kill.”


Avraham said...

Nice essay. I think to add that the Middle Ages had something to do with it also. But I'm not sure how.

Avraham said...

In the Jewish world, the Middle Ages have a different reputation than in the Christian world. In the Jewish world the Middle ages are looked upon as the peak of Enlightenment. That is to say the "rishonim" are considered unsurpassed and also un-surpass-able. The best thing we can say about the Gra is he qualified as a rishon. It is considered that rishonim cant be wrong--at least in Torah subjects. But we admit they can be wrong about scientific issues. This relates to Christians because it has become customary in Christian circles to look at the Middle Ages as the dark ages. Nothing in Christianity has come anywhere near the quality of thought of Aquinas nor Anselm. Not within a million light years. And yet Christians still insist on thinking that they have somehow out-grown the Middle ages. If only they were smart enough to see the brilliance of the Middle Ages. That would already be a step up.

FrozenPatriot said...

Great work, Fran. I'll certainly be passing this one on to my circle...

Ron Olson said...

Thanks for this sir. Nice work!