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January 27, 2011

HEY, MAYBE THAT WHOLE DUMPING-WESTERN-CIV THING wasn’t such a good idea. “While humanists were busy arguing amongst themselves, American college students and their families were turning in ever-increasing numbers away from the humanities and toward seemingly more pragmatic, more vocational concerns. And who can really blame them? . . . In the 1980s the humanities still constituted the core of most major universities; by now, at most universities, even major ones, the humanities are relatively marginal, far surpassed, in institutional strength, by business, medical, and law schools.”

UPDATE: From the comments:

This is a very refreshing and revealing article.

Looking on from outside the humanities for the past four decades, faculty members in other disciplines have been deeply troubled by what we perceive to be the substitution of ideology for scholarship in the humanities. The clear hostility towards Western culture looks like cultural suicide and it seemed to have a life of its own independent of the reality that that culture lifted billions of people out of abject poverty over the past two centuries.

Anyone with enough curiosity to plot the relationship between life expectancy and per capita real income by country from 1800 to date would be stunned by the progress in all countries that promoted Western style economies as compared to those that did not. Yet, humanities faculty members treat Western culture as if it is the incarnate evil. More curious still, humanities faculty members can find little fault with other cultures that suppress democracy, brutalize minorities, and abuse women!

The forgoing outside perspective is shared by the general public; hence, it is no surprise that enrollment in the humanities has declined and that public financial support has been withdrawn.

Stay tuned, as I think the deflating higher education bubble will prompt a lot more re-examination.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Reader Mike Drout emails: “If the scholarship you most value and reward is that which is intended to shock the bourgeoisie, don’t be shocked when the bourgeoisie decides that they don’t feel like paying for it.”

MORE: Prof. Stephen Clark emails:

Regarding your reader’s comment in response to your post on dumping Western Civ, I highly recommend the short but very interesting narrative by Robert Fogel found in this book “The Escape from Hunger and Premature Death, 1700-2100: Europe, America, and the Third World.”

He doesn’t dwell on culture per se; you can draw your conclusions on that from the relative importance Fogel places on the development technologies related to agriculture and health and the resulting synergies with human physiological development and relative health in those parts of the world where markets in these technologies flourished. Though written in 2004, his comments and recommendations on government health care policy are very relevant to today.

Yes, that’s a very important book, and one I highly recommend. And the point, of course, is entirely true.

MORE: Reader Jason Whitworth writes: “For those of us that were in school in the late 80’s/early 90’s and never had a Western Civ course, can you or your readers recommend one?”

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