Is western civilization worth saving, and if so, who will save it?
Fox News outlines the problem:
Rolling Stone Magazine is facing criticism on Tuesday over a quote used on social media to highlight a piece on the rebuilding of the Notre Dame Cathedral after the devastating fire.
The article, titled, ‘How Should France Rebuild Notre Dame?’ asks several experts and historians about the first steps in repairing the damage. Harvard University architecture historian Patricio del Real offered a new take on the meaning behind the fire.
‘The building was so overburdened with meaning that its burning feels like an act of liberation,’ Patricio del Real told Rolling Stone.
What a surprise. One of the self imagined educational elite thinks the near total destruction of Notre Dame “an act of liberation.” What a tragedy all those troublesome priests and other Christians couldn’t have burned as well.
This, and similar comments, gave me pause this week. Not because they were unexpected. Education, particularly college education, has, for decades, been all about deconstruction. Instead of opening young minds, instead of exposing them to the thinking and accomplishments of history’s greatest minds, academics have become pathetic little ankle biters, special snowflakes whose minds are anything but great, trying to impose non-existent prejudices and specious interpretations on the work of giants, whose intellects and accomplishments they can never hope to equal. One might think envy and self-loathing to be at work.
For example, this or that great thinker was really arguing for social justice, or this or that great thinker hated social justice. That the supposed lover/hater of social justice said and intended no such thing is no bar to ankle biting analysis of what they were really saying when they said no such thing. All manner of contemporary social phobias and pathologies are imposed on the past because he who controls the past, controls the future. And of course, because so many of history’s great minds were white men, their contributions must be downplayed, warped, or entirely ignored that petty contemporary grievance monger’s contributions to the devolution of society might be substituted.
Teachers are the guardians of western civilization. It is their duty, their obligation, to show their students the best of mankind, the heights of accomplishment and thought to which man might aspire. If they don’t, they are guilty of educational malpractice. They are defrauding the taxpayers, and denying their students the opportunity to educate themselves. I’ve often said this, but it bears repeating: all the greatest teacher in the world can do is provide the best educational opportunity their abilities and resources can manage. The rest is up to the individual student. Mark Twain was right when he observed we should never allow schooling to get in the way of our educations.
What is so often lacking in such self-important ‘educators” is humility. I sang a concert a few days ago, a concert of Faure’s Requiem and Vivaldi’s Gloria, two very different works from different periods, but each great, each worthy of a place in the vocal music canon. And I made mistakes. My performance was not perfect. I heard the mistakes of others around me, and even of members of the orchestra.
I doubt any of us made a flawless performance–it’s always humbling–yet we did due diligence. We made those works come alive for the audience. It is the joining together of many good, but imperfect, musicians that allows us all to experience, through performance or listening, the majesty of great composers. Our combined efforts filter the small mistakes, and allow us to create something greater than our efforts could manage alone.
There was no deconstruction that night, only a valiant attempt at providing, for that audience in those bright, shining moments, the greatness of the past, our shared stake in the preservation of western civilization.
This is what good teachers do. To contemporary students, ten years ago might as well be the 1400s. It’s ancient history, and history is boring; it’s like so—yesterday. Yet it is undeniably true those that will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. History’s great minds were never perfect human beings. There is no such thing. But with this understanding in clear focus, we must teach the young, and the teachable older, what is truly great, what is worth study and preservation, and the consequences of lauding only the trendy, the trivial, and the destructive.
Special snowflakes seeking safe spaces, shallow, self-absorbed minds that think speech with which they disagree actual violence, people lacking humility and insight who feel physically threatened by even imagined opposition to their brilliantly ill-informed political stances, did not build Notre Dame. They will never build anything, and they would gladly allow civilization to devolve to the Middle Ages in the name of diversity, inclusion and social justice. They lack not only the intelligence, but the humanity to preserve one of a kind works of art, evidence of the best in man, the most free and advanced social tradition ever created. They are unforgiving of anyone lacking their self-imagined perfection, yet they know so, so little. They seek, always, to bring extraordinary men and women down, down, down to their level. They are intolerant, cruel, stupid, and proud of it.
Thus do we have grade inflation. Thus are children given power to judge their teachers. Thus are their juvenile demands and tantrums appeased. Thus do the average transmogrify into the excellent, and the lazy and incapable become average.
We have a Harvard–more than $65 thousand dollars per year–professor of architecture calling the burning of one of the most magnificent and irreplaceable accomplishments of man “an act of liberation.” In a society that intends to survive, he would be immediately liberated from his cushy job. Sadly, in a society intent on its own destruction, because it has no idea of its past and the importance of that past, he’ll be lauded and encouraged, like Islamist barbarians, to destroy the past in the service of an even more barbaric future.
Patricio del Real may try to explain away his appalling comment. He may claim he was only speaking, in architectural terms, about sweeping away flawed designs that modern improvements may flower, or he may just wrap himself in the cloak of social justice and call his critics racist or some other kind of ist, but those that have studied history, those that understand the importance of the great minds of the past and the preservation of western civilization, know better.
We need a revolution in education, and a first step is a return to teaching the accomplishments and ideas of humanity’s actual elite, not contemporary academic ankle biters. This will take a bit of humility, something in short supply in the academy. Perhaps a true act of liberation would be liberating Patricio del Real and all like him from any contact with young minds.
Thomas Jefferson observed that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. But to preserve liberty, we must be willing to recognize the danger, and be willing to do whatever is necessary to fight it. That –the survival of the liberty that is the hallmark of western civilization–remains in doubt.