Friday, February 5, 2021

Killing the Classics

Spare us the sanctimony. It would be good if we could escape from the people who believe that academic studies must be subsumed in their own efforts to indoctrinate students in an ideology. The ideology is called critical race theory or anti-racism theory, or whatever.

The object of their ire today is nothing less than Western civilization, the one that was founded in Greek or Roman antiquity. Leading the charge is a Princeton associate professor, a black Dominican immigrant by name of 

Dan-el Padilla Peralta.

According to the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Padilla is a towering figure in his field. It isn’t true, but you have a right to believe what you want to believe. Strictly speaking, he does not work on the great texts of Greco-Roman antiquity, but spends his time slandering and defaming their authors as white supremacists. So, he does social scientific studies of slavery in Rome, while ignoring, apparently, Cicero, Virgil, Seneca, Suetonius and Livy.

Their achievements must be erased because they sowed racism:

For several years, he has been speaking openly about the harm caused by practitioners of classics in the two millenniums since antiquity: the classical justifications of slavery, race science, colonialism, Nazism and other 20th-century fascisms. Classics was a discipline around which the modern Western university grew, and Padilla believes that it has sown racism through the entirety of higher education.

This might lead us to conclude that Padilla does not understand classical philosophy or literature. One might retort by referring to Arthur Herman’s magisterial study, The Cave and the Light, where he explains that Western philosophy consists largely in commentaries on the works of Plato and Aristotle. 

And, let us not forget that Aristotle invented science and technology. If you want to throw out the Stagirite, you would do best to move off the grid, as they say. And let’s not forget that Aristotle was first to say that human beings were rational beings. We own rational thought to Aristotle. It became part of Western civilization thanks to Thomas Aquinas. To toss it all out because Aristotle said something bad, is to shoot oneself in the head.

Then again, if your work involves manipulating emotions and not appealing to reason, one understands why you would not want to have anything to do with Aristotle.

To reject all of Western civilization on the grounds that someone said something that we find offensive is short-sighted and simple minded. Driving every piece of knowledge, every philosophical and literary achievement through the prism of race gives one the impression that one is not capable of addressing the substantive philosophical positions taken by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle or Epicurus. And that one is incapable of understanding Homer or Sophocles or Euripides or Aeschylus or Pindar or Sappho.

Just because you don’t understand it, that does not mean that it’s worthless. Defaming it because the West, like all other civilizations, as it happened, institutionalized slavery shows a narrow minded focus.

Padilla does not believe that the West has ever achieved anything of substantive value, because it promotes inequality. If he had read Aristotle a bit more closely, he would have known that he is judging the West against an ideal state that has never existed and that never will exist. He is not judging Western civilization against other civilizations, ones we will not name, but ones that have produced little of lasting civilizational value.

For Padilla, it’s all about injustice, or some such. The Times explains:

Over the course of 10 minutes, Padilla laid out an indictment of his field. “If one were intentionally to design a discipline whose institutional organs and gatekeeping protocols were explicitly aimed at disavowing the legitimate status of scholars of color,” he said, “one could not do better than what classics has done.” Padilla’s vision of classics’ complicity in systemic injustice is uncompromising, even by the standards of some of his allies. 

And of course, it’s all about white supremacy, today’s favorite buzzword:

Padilla believes that classics is so entangled with white supremacy as to be inseparable from it. “Far from being extrinsic to the study of Greco-Roman antiquity,” he has written, “the production of whiteness turns on closer examination to reside in the very marrows of classics.”

Of course, the attack on Western civilization has, in and of itself, a long and distinguished history. After all, didn’t the practice of deconstruction, deriving from the work of famed Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger, set out to deconstruct Western civilization, in particular the philosophy that derived from Socrates and Plato. For Heidegger the only uncorrupted thinkers were pre-Socratic, that is, Heraclitus and Parmenides and company.

One understands that Padilla, blinded by his ideological fervor, knows nothing about this. One imagines that he does not know why Heidegger dismissed Socratic thinking. If he had read one Alfred Rosenberg, the famed Nazi propagandist, tried at Nuremberg and executed, he would have known that the real problem with the classics, especially those that had derived from Socrates and that had contaminated Western thought, was that they had been influenced by Judaism. 

Just when you thought that you were totally righteous you find yourself thinking like a Nazi, and wanting to have a pogrom-- which is the less fancy term for deconstruction-- on the great books and the great works of Western civilization. The reason, they are all contaminated by their source, in Judaic texts. It’s bad enough that classical scholars gave us the concept of freedom. It is worse to consider that the concept of free will was originally adumbrated in the book of Genesis. We can’t have that. And we cannot have it that Judeo-Christianity promoted rational thought.

One understands that Padilla knows nothing of these salient aspects of recent scholarship in the humanities. 

By his dim lights the field of the classics should die. Of course this gives us the impression that he is incapable of understanding the great philosophers and the great poets. Surely, this is not the case, but, if it is not the case, why allow people to think that it is.

Padilla said:

Here’s what I have to say about the vision of classics that you outlined,” he said. “I want nothing to do with it. I hope the field dies that you’ve outlined, and that it dies as swiftly as possible.

Of course, he has no interest in the cold hand of rational thought. He is in it to stir up passions, and especially passions against the Western canon. Dare we mention that Alfred Rosenberg and Martin Heidegger would have happily concurred.

To see classics the way Padilla sees it means breaking the mirror; it means condemning the classical legacy as one of the most harmful stories we’ve told ourselves. Padilla is wary of colleagues who cite the radical uses of classics as a way to forestall change; he believes that such examples have been outmatched by the field’s long alliance with the forces of dominance and oppression. Classics and whiteness are the bones and sinew of the same body; they grew strong Classics deserves to survive only if it can become “a site of contestation” for the communities who have been denigrated by it in the past. This past semester, he co-taught a course, with the Activist Graduate School, called “Rupturing Tradition,” which pairs ancient texts with critical race theory and strategies for organizing. “I think that the politics of the living are what constitute classics as a site for productive inquiry,” he told me. “When folks think of classics, I would want them to think about folks of color.” But if classics fails his test, Padilla and others are ready to give it up. 

He might be doing us a favor if he did. If he wants to become part of the vanguard of a revolution against America, against Anglo-Saxon culture, against the Western canon, he has a right to do so. Unfortunately, he is not alone in today’s university system. At a time when we are competing against China in a clash of civilizations, we do not need more social justice warriors. We do not need more aggrieved victims. We do not need more chronic complainers. We need people who can do science and math and engineering. The path that Padilla lays down will lead us to civilizational ruin.


Sam L. said...

"The path that Padilla lays down will lead us to civilizational ruin." Which is what he wants. Which reminds me of an old saying: "Some people just need killin'."

Lowghost said...

"if your work involves manipulating emotions and not appealing to reason, one understands why you would not want to have anything to do with Aristotle."

This brilliant observation sums up the whole movement.

autothreads said...

Do you think that Padilla realizes that whatever authority he has comes from credentials granted by the western academic tradition. If the academic world is corrupt from its birth with white supremacy, what legitimacy does Professor Padilla have to lecture us?

basher20 said...

So he's measuring Philosophy against the Platonic ideal and finding it lacking? Isn't that the point of Plato?

Mark Matis said...

The filthy tribe swill work to destroy national sovereignty and wipe Western culture off the face of the earth to get their One World Government "utopia". BAMN...

HMS Defiant said...

La Raza exists in us all. Mine is comfortable with being the one. I'd use that word again but you found it in the context it was written in the last time and I won't press against your forebearance a second time. Nonetheless, he is that darling beloved of antifa in the woodpile of western civilization and we can do without him. What the staunch critics of our western reality miss overmuch is some man who has had enough, just walking up to him and punching him really hard in the nose.