Donna Zuckerberg *14 (feature, Jan. 9) tries to make a case that “the classics” are threatened by the alt-right and someone who calls himself “Roosh V.” But her attempt to demonize these fringe entities comes across as a straw-man argument to justify another recitation of clichés about “dead white males” and the sins of classical cultures, such as slavery and misogyny, historically commonplace practices that persist even today. More serious threats to the classics include the decline of education in the humanities, the hostility of the academic world, and the prejudice against excellence.
The article opines that we would not “feel at home” in Homer’s world. What’s that supposed to mean — no air conditioning, no smartphones? Vague reference is made to the “debt” we owe to the classics, but I couldn’t find a single concrete example. Consider Sophocles’ Oedipus, which explores the pitfalls of hubris, moral blindness, and the quest for self-knowledge. These concerns were once considered universal. But “universal” has become a pejorative in the culture of diversity. Sadly, classics such as Oedipus are demeaned today, not because they’re invalid, but because they were written by white men.
The article cites Victor Davis Hanson, who says we need the classics because that’s where Western-civilization values come from, another dubious assertion. The classics don’t represent a coherent, dogmatic system designed to teach us how to behave. Neither are they a suit of armor the privileged elite puts on to guard its superiority. If we need the classics, it’s because they probe the human condition, because they have endured and resonated to diverse generations.
The professors who introduced me to many of these great works when I went to Princeton weren’t ivory-tower scolds pushing some political agenda. They were inspired by love for the subjects they taught, a feature that seems in short supply in the academic world today.