Campus Identity Politics Will Kill The Classics
The alt right is now threatening the classics, according to Mark Zuckerberg’s sister.
No, the amorphous online movement that is slowly becoming synonymous with white nationalism isn’t a menace to the classical canon because they want schools to stop teaching it — it’s due to their deep interest in reading Homer, Plato and Plutarch.
That’s the logic behind Donna Zuckerberg’s recent post on the Eidolon website. Zuckerberg is a classicist who understands her field of study no longer generates as much interest as it did in centuries past. But she’s horrified that people she hates are reviving interest in her favorite subject because the alt right — like pretty much all who studied classics in the past — see Greco-Roman antiquity as the foundation for western civilization.
That notion is “a slippery slope to white supremacy,” according to Zuckerberg, and professional classicists should forcefully lecture interested minds that the Greco-Roman tradition should not be studied for any reasons pertaining to western civilization.
Instead, it should be studied for other, totally undefined reasons that somehow includes modern left-wing obsessions.
Zuckerberg’s argument implies that the only people who should be talking about classics are those with doctorates in the field and conform to left-wing orthodoxy. She also conflates anyone who sees the great books as the pillars of western culture with the white nationalists of the alt right. She spends most of one paragraph attacking conservative scholar Victor Davis Hanson for his criticism of how leftist academic interests ruin the study of the Greco-Roman canon.
Zuckerberg expresses the hope that if classicists “fight back” against Donald Trump and the alt right and emphasize how the field now focuses primarily on diversity, they can keep the academic discipline right-wing free and in the good esteem of the intelligentsia.
Unfortunately for her, the classics has a much bigger problem than the alt right reading its most popular works. No matter how much Zuckerberg professes the field’s new-found interest in identity politics, it’s still pretty much entirely about elite white men, as she herself admits.
That makes it ripe for the chopping block by the campus Left.
Let’s take into account some recent examples of how college students have treated the veneration of late great white men.
Earlier this month, students at the University of Pennsylvania removed a portrait of William Shakespeare from a campus building and replaced it with a frame of the black lesbian poet Audre Lorde. Students dumped the Shakespeare portrait in the office of the head of the English Department, who couldn’t have been more pleased with this act on behalf of diversity.
“Students removed the Shakespeare portrait and delivered it to my office as a way of affirming their commitment to a more inclusive mission for the English department,” department head Jed Etsy told the school newspaper. He added in another statement on the matter, “We invite everyone to join us in the task of critical thinking about the changing nature of authorship, the history of language, and the political life of symbols.” (RELATED: Ivy League Students Tear Down Shakespeare Portrait In Name Of Diversity)
The students were a bit more direct in their remarks on this strike against the hegemony of traditional western culture, with one Penn Quaker happily tweeting: “Shakespeare just got deported and replaced by Audre Lorde I LOVE EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING.”
Over the summer, students at Yale University demanded a “decolonized” English curriculum that ditched Shakespeare, John Milton and other luminaries because they were white and the syllabuses needed more diversity. To not do so perpetuates “a culture that is especially hostile to students of color.” Because reading the words of white men — even when they offer universal truth or inspiring portrayals of the human condition — does immense damage to those who are not white men, apparently.
In April, the student body at Stanford University overwhelmingly rejected a measure to bring back a western civilization course requirement. One column in the Stanford’s newspaper argued against the measure because the course requirement would uphold “white supremacy, capitalism and colonialism, and all other oppressive systems that flow from Western civilizations.” (RELATED: Stanford Students Reject Western Civilization By A 6-To-1 Margin)
In 2015, members of Columbia University’s “Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board” wanted trigger warnings for works of Greek mythology because they contain material “that marginalizes student identities in the classroom.” These self-declared multicultural advisers added, “These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.”
Thus, invoking identity politics to defend your discipline heavy on dead white men from your political foes is incredibly stupid. The campus Left is not going to suddenly take an interest in your subject just because you and your fellow classicists wrote an angry letter to Trump. The subject is still about white men and their history, which is enough of a sin in the eyes of campus leftists who demand diversity above all else.
The minority identity politics of higher education doesn’t judge a person (or great historical figure) on their character or achievements, but on their race, gender and sexual orientation.
So unless Zuckerberg can somehow argue Julius Caesar was actually a transgender black man, her hopes of winning favor with college-based social justice warriors will likely be dashed.
A better idea for preserving the classics is to fight back against the notion that studying the foundation of western civilization is a slippery slope to white supremacy. That idea is already encroaching on the discipline, so why shriek over a few internet trolls reading Plutarch’s Lives?
It’s not like they’re the ones chanting “Hey, hey, ho, ho, western civ has got to go!”