“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” George Santayana tells us.
The philosopher’s statement poses a unique problem for many top U.S. colleges, where students and faculty have pressed for some time to ensure that they never learn about their past in the first place.
The latest example is Stanford University, where an attempt is underway to suppress the recognition of Western civilization. Students at Stanford want to reinstate the subject as a core curriculum course. Some students are fighting it. The proposal is in the form of a ballot initiative that would require the faculty senate to debate whether the study of Western civilization should be reinstated.
The school eliminated the required class in 1988, a year after the Rev. Jesse Jackson led a march in which participants – undoubtedly inspired by the works of Yeats and Tennyson – chanted: “Hey hey, ho ho, Western culture’s got to go.”
The undergraduate student body will have the ability to vote on the ballot initiative this week.
Despite its non-binding nature, efforts to smother it and smear its supporters began soon after the petition’s launch, which should surprise no one. Many college campuses have become “safe spaces” for bullying and intimidation to silence the free speech of conservatives, a tactic to which we are not immune.
Such efforts are unfortunate. Religious freedom is a cornerstone of Western civilization and has served as an overwhelming force for good in the world.
In other parts of the globe, ISIS is destroying pre-Islamic artifacts and committing genocide against religious minorities in the Middle East. Jamat-ul-Ahrar, a faction of the hardcore Islamist Pakistani Taliban, murdered 74 people and injured 362 in an Easter Sunday assault on Christians in Lahore. The name of the murderous ISIS-affiliate Boko Haram in Nigeria loosely translates to “Western education is a sin.”
There is a reason why refugees flee religious persecution in the Middle East and Africa for Europe and America. Western civilization preaches religious tolerance.
Possibilities for prosperity and upward mobility are also assumed by all who live in cultures where Western principles are accepted and practiced, despite some European and American historical warts to the contrary.
Students at any school have every right to reject the principles of Western civilization should they choose. It is how free thought and intellectual discourse work. But they should at least possess some familiarity with the subject, due to its historically positive influence on markets, law, and politics worldwide.
Students already do not have much of an opportunity to learn about this part of history – perhaps most importantly the impact of Judeo-Christian values – in post-secondary education. A study from the National Association of Scholars traces the decline and near extinction of Western civilization studies at America’s most prominent colleges and universities from 1964 to 2010.
Stanford can seize the moment to set an example for the rest of their peers in higher education by adopting a narrowly designed Western civilization course.
Opponents might offer some thoughtful ideas or alternatives to incorporate rather than the thuggery and harassment in which they are currently engaged. The objective is to develop a workable solution for future undergraduates.
Thank goodness that we are able to live in a society based upon Western civilization, founded on the virtues of individual liberty and acceptance of others with differing worldviews and opinions. We largely do not live in fear of persecution by autocratic regimes or genocidal terrorists who can only bend people to their will through brute oppression.
The authors of the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution envisioned a government in which inalienable personal freedom and the opportunity to practice nearly any faith are enjoyed unlike anywhere else in the world. Wars have been fought and won to ensure that students and faculty can celebrate “multiculturalism” and “inclusiveness” on college campuses today.
Perhaps the dissenters at Stanford and like-minded students across the country might benefit from knowing at least that much.
Pete Hoekstra is the Shillman Senior Fellow with the Investigative Project on Terrorism, the former Chairman of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee and former Member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.