To celebrate today’s holiday Rachel DiCarlo Currie of the Independent Women’s Forum brings us a transcript of some remarks that William F. Buckley made about gratitude in 1988.
Buckley explains that we, American citizens, owe our forebears a debt of gratitude. They have bequeathed us a great nation. And they have also bequeathed us a great civilization. Buckley adds that we can never repay the debt.
And yet, he intimates that we are stewards of the gifts that we have received from previous generations, so the best we can do is to cultivate them and pass them on to the next generations.
Buckley begins with some thoughts about our patrimony. Those who do not appreciate what our ancestors have given us form what he calls “basket cases of ingratitude:”
Our offense, however — the near universal offense, remarked on by the Ortega y Gasset as the fingerprint of the masses in revolt — is that of the Westerner, rich or poor, learned or ignorant, who accepts without any thought the patrimony we all enjoy, those of us who live in the Free World. We are left with the numbing, benumbing thought that we owe nothing to Plato and Aristotle, nothing to the prophets who wrote the Bible, nothing to the generations who fought for freedoms activated by the Bill of Rights. We are basket cases of ingratitude, so many of us. We cannot hope to repay in kind what Socrates gave us, but to live without any sense of obligation to those who made possible lives as tolerable as ours, within the frame of the human predicament God imposed on us — without any sense of gratitude to our parents, who suffered to raise us; to our teachers, who labored to teach us; to the scientists, who prolonged the lives of our children when disease struck them down — is spiritually atrophying.
Buckley then calls for a “rebirth of gratitude,” a new appreciation of the achievements of those who came before us. It might even include a reflection on what our lives would be like if we had been born at another time in another place:
To fail to experience gratitude when walking through the corridors of the Metropolitan Museum, when listening to the music of Bach or Beethoven, when exercising our freedom to speak ... is to fail to recognize how much we have received from the great wellsprings of human talent and concern that gave us Shakespeare, Abraham, Lincoln, Mark Twain, our parents, our friends, and, yes, the old lady in Stratford. We need a rebirth of gratitude for those who have cared for us, living and, mostly, dead. The high moments of our way of life are their gifts to us. We must remember them in our thoughts and prayers; and in our deeds.
Speaking of “basket cases of ingratitude” yesterday brought us news of Yale undergraduate English majors who wrote an open letter to their department demanding that the curriculum stop teaching so many straight white males. You know, like Shakespeare, Milton, Chaucer, George Eliot, Dickens and Henry James.
The students wrote a manifesto:
We oppose the continued existence of the Major English Poets sequence as the primary prerequisite for further study. It is unacceptable that a Yale student considering studying English literature might read only white male authors. A year spent around a seminar table where the literary contributions of women, people of color, and queer folk are absent actively harms all students, regardless of their identity.
To have the opportunity to study the great writers of the English literature at a place like Yale and then to complain because there is not enough diversity tells us that these young people lack character. At the least.
One hesitates even to address their puerile rantings, but one must mention that every serious English literature curriculum includes Jane Austen, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf. And how could these idiots have forgotten that Henry James was gay and that Shakespeare wrote his sonnets for a male lover.
Apparently, they have learned nothing at Yale… except how to whine and complain. And they do not care that they have learned nothing about English literature. They refuse to take the opportunity to learn about how to communicate, how to use language or how to tell stories. Explain to me how they got into Yale. Explain to them that these puerile rants devalue the degree that they are pursuing.
As one might expect, being adolescents they are insolent. They end their letter with these words:
It is your responsibility as educators to listen to student voices. We have spoken. We are speaking. Pay attention.
These delicate snowflakes have closed their minds to anything that does not echo their beliefs. They reject the greatest achievements of English literature because they do not want to see themselves as loyal Americans or as recipients of what their ancestors have created. They do not want to see themselves as part of the Anglosphere—which they believe to be a hegemonic, colonialist, imperialist, capitalist vast right wing conspiracy.
They insist, instead, on living in an echo chamber where they only hear things that sustain their own identities as members of an aggrieved group.It's a form of tribalism, verging on pagan idolatry.
They refuse to learn and might be incapable of learning. They are only willing to be coddled and to have their ignorance recognized as an achievement.
Katy Waldman took out after these youngsters in Slate:
For all the ways in which their particular identities shaped their work, these writers tried to represent the entire human condition, not just their clan. A great artist possesses both empathy and imagination: Many of Shakespeare’s female characters are as complexly nuanced as any in circulation today, Othello takes on racial prejudice directly, and Twelfth Night contains enough gender-bending identity shenanigans to fuel multiple drag shows and occupy legions of queer scholars. The “stay in your lane” mentality that seems to undergird so much progressive discourse—only polyamorous green people really “get” the “polyamorous green experience,” and therefore only polyamorous greens should read and write about polyamorous greens, say—ignores our common humanity.
Buckley would want us to add a slight correction to Waldman’s fine argument. It’s not so much humanity as our civilization itself that is being ignored and repudiated. Basket cases of ingratitude… is a nice way to put it.