The Left's Cultural Jenga

City Journal's Heather Mac Donald is one of the best reporters in the country, one of our most courageous writers and a consistently moral voice. Last year, she gave the Manhattan Institute's prestigious Wriston Lecture and last Saturday, the Wall Street Journal published an adaptation of that lecture under the headline "The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity." A fuller version of this brilliant piece will be in CJ's Winter number. Get your hands on it. Read it.

Heather Mac begins by noting that the leftist academic buffoons at UCLA no longer require that the university's English majors read Shakespeare, Chaucer or Milton. They do, however, require these students take courses in leftist theories on gender, race, ethnicity and other meaningless subjects whose names I slept through.

In other words, the UCLA faculty was now officially indifferent to whether an English major had ever read a word of Chaucer, Milton or Shakespeare, but the department was determined to expose students, according to the course catalog, to "alternative rubrics of gender, sexuality, race, and class."

In still other words, the people tasked with teaching our young about the past have drowned out the voices of the past with their own voices. Their own whiny, unwise, small-minded and bitter voices.

Heather's article goes on to defend the study of humanities against these Philistines — or, to use the modern term, Palestinians — with a beautiful description of how the recovery of the works of the past sparked the Renaissance and more.

The American founders drew on an astonishingly wide range of historical sources and an appropriately jaundiced view of human nature to craft the world's most stable and free republic… But humanistic learning is also an end in itself. It is simply better to have escaped one's narrow, petty self and entered minds far more subtle and vast than one's own than never to have done so.

So says Heather Mac, but obviously the university disagrees. Obviously UCLA thinks living in one's narrow, petty self is just fine, especially if the geniuses who take you out of it are white and male — which, given the history of the world, they very often are. By teaching inferior writers who fit some racial or gender profile (and pretty much all writers are inferior to Shakespeare, Chaucer and Milton), the university folks would like to pretend there is a different history that produced a different culture equally uplifting, equally wise. And then they want you to pay them to teach that fantasy to your children.

But that's just it. There is no alternative history. Even their yearning for a new west is a product of the one and only west that made them. Even their desire for equality would not exist without Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton — and the Bible — and a spate of Greek and Roman writers they probably also don't teach. The compassion these leftists misuse, the justice they seek, the individuals they hope to redeem — all of them were imagined into being and then implanted in the faculty's imagination by the culture of the west. Even their cherished Marxism (as Francis A. Schaeffer has wisely pointed out) is little more than a Christian heresy. By depriving students of the literature of the past, they are cutting them off from the source of themselves.

Leftist academia has long been playing a game of Jenga with the tower of western culture, pulling out blocks from the bottom in the knowledge the tower will ultimately collapse. What they don't realize is:  they're sitting on top of the tower. When it goes down, they'll go down with it.

Now you may ask: how can they not realize that when it's so obvious? And I will tell you. It is because they are ignorant knuckleheads. Hey, maybe they weren't required to study the humanities in school.