To Remain Forever a Child

Friday, February 26, AD 2016




Hattip to Dave Griffey at Daffey Thoughts.  Patrick Deneen who teaches political theory at Notre Dame decries the ignorance of his pleasant students in a post entitled Res Idiotica:


My students are know-nothings.  They are exceedingly nice, pleasant, trustworthy, mostly honest, well-intentioned, and utterly decent.  But their minds are largely empty, devoid of any substantial knowledge that might be the fruits of an education in an inheritance and a gift of a previous generation.  They are the culmination of western civilization, a civilization that has forgotten it origins and aims, and as a result, has achieved near-perfect indifference about itself.

It’s difficult to gain admissions to the schools where I’ve taught – Princeton, Georgetown, and now Notre Dame.  Students at these institutions have done what has been demanded of them:  they are superb test-takers, they know exactly what is needed to get an A in every class (meaning that they rarely allow themselves to become passionate and invested in any one subject), they build superb resumes.   They are respectful and cordial to their elders, though with their peers (as snatches of passing conversation reveal), easygoing if crude.  They respect diversity (without having the slightest clue what diversity is) and they are experts in the arts of non-judgmentalism (at least publically).  They are the cream of their generation, the masters of the universe, a generation-in-waiting who will run America and the world.

But ask them some basic questions about the civilization they will be inheriting, and be prepared for averted eyes and somewhat panicked looks.  Who fought in the Peloponnesian war?  What was at stake at the Battle of Salamis?  Who taught Plato, and whom did Plato teach?  How did Socrates die?  Raise your hand if you have read both the Iliad and the Odyssey.  The Canterbury Tales?  Paradise Lost?  The Inferno

He contends that this pathetic ignorance among students who should be the most learned among their generation is no accident:

We have fallen into the bad and unquestioned habit of thinking that our educational system is broken, but it is working on all cylinders.  What our educational system aims to produce is cultural amnesia, a wholesale lack of curiosity, historyless free agents, and educational goals composed of contentless processes and unexamined buzz-words like “critical thinking,” “diversity,” “ways of knowing,” “social justice,” and “cultural competence.”  Our students are the achievement of a systemic commitment to producing individuals without a past for whom the future is a foreign country, cultureless ciphers who can live anywhere and perform any kind of work without inquiring about its purposes or ends, perfected tools for an economic system that prizes “flexibility” (geographic, interpersonal, ethical).  In such a world, possessing a culture, a history, an inheritance, a commitment to a place and particular people, specific forms of gratitude and indebtedness (rather than a generalized and deracinated commitment to “social justice), a strong set of ethical and moral norms that assert definite limits to what one ought and ought not to do (aside from being “judgmental”) are hindrances and handicaps.  Regardless of major or course of study, the main object of modern education is to sand off remnants of any cultural or historical specificity and identity that might still stick to our students, to make them perfect company men and women for a modern polity and economy that penalizes deep commitments.   Efforts first to foster appreciation for “multi-culturalism” signaled a dedication to eviscerate any particular cultural inheritance, while the current fad of “diversity” signals thoroughgoing commitment to de-cultured and relentless homogenization.

Go here to read the rest.  Now such ignorance is appalling but why?  Cicero said it best:  “Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain forever a child.”   One of the chief goals of education should be to produce morally responsible men and women, not forever children, and hard won knowledge is usually an essential part of the process.  Deneen has a series of questions to underline the ignorance of his students:

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20 Responses to To Remain Forever a Child

  • We are in for a lot of trouble. Ignorance is not bliss; it is a tragedy.

    “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana

  • “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” George Santayana

    Condemned to repeat its more harrowing aspects of it.

  • Marcus Tullius Cicero – my favorite statesman!
    If I had my way, his writings would be mandatory reading in high school – in the original Latin.

  • I might add that the effect, if not the very purpose, of modern education, is to erase all ties between western civilization and its Judeo-Christian roots.
    The battle is always, as St Paul reminded us, with the powers and Principalities….

  • Think this is new? I graduated from high school in 1982 – a third of a century ago. I never read any of those works, not in high school or college, for which I was ill prepared both academically and financially.

    School systems teach tests now as a sign of “academic excellence”. Ha.
    Young people, thanks to their parents and their never ending infatuation with pop culture, have no knowledge of God, only of the half truths and lies taught as fact about Christianity.

  • Penguins Fan has a point. I graduated in 1976. Mine was the last Latin class. I was the last person to be taught Caesar, Cicero, Virgil, Horace, Catullus, Tacitus and Aurelius in that school. The Iliad, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid – all things I had to read in high school (and I had to translate the last one) are unknown to today’s wide-eyed spoiled brat millennials. It’s depressing. I as a Catholic even know the Bible better than my Sola Scriptura Baptist friends. People nowadays – unless it is something directly related to their jobs or a hobby they do at home – are bone head ignorant. So if they don’t know Plato and Cicero, then how can we point to Aquinas’ arguments about God’s existence in Summa Theologica as they argue for materialistic scientism taught in today’s Academia? There is no common ground. They have no foundation. They do not know nor would they understand that our Republic is built on Greek philosophy, Roman law, and Judeo-Christian religious tradition. Zeno, Epicurus, Epictetus, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Herodatus, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Cincinnatus, Scipio Africanus, Cato, Cicero, etc. are all names meaningless to these idiot children. And they are our future. God help us.

  • The problem is multi-generational, since Deneen isn’t saying anything that Bloom hadn’t already said. Barzun too, for that matter.

  • You don’t know where you are until you know where you’ve been.

  • Deneen is making a different argument than Bloom did. He’s citing the same symptoms but giving a different diagnosis. Bloom described cultural ignorance as more of a bug. Deneen describes it as a feature. It’s a provocative position, but I’m not sure that I agree with it. I think the answer is that awareness of our common culture and history is just a very low priority.

  • At Yorktown, Washington and our French allies forced Cornwallis to surrender his Army in 1781, ending, mostly, the combat portion of the American Revolution, although negotiating the peace would take until 1783. Understanding of the United States is impossible unless one comes to grips with the American Revolution and its aftermath.

    I know that one!
    “At Yorktown the British could not retreat
    Bottled up by Washington and the French fleet.
    Cornwallis surrendered and finally we had won! (The Winna! Hurray!)

    From the shot heard ’round the world
    To the end of the Revolution
    The continental rabble took the day
    And the father of our country
    Beat the British there at Yorktown
    And brought freedom to you and me and the U.S.A.!

    God bless America, let freedom ring!

    As you may guess, it was not from school history class.
    Lincoln had no third inaugural. (Without a substantial knowledge base, students are always prey to the trick question!)
    You had me wondering if it was a trick question, or if I was somehow messed up about what an inaugural address was. 😀
    Which actually wraps around to a big point– there isn’t much of a cost to not saying anything. But if you speak up, and get it wrong– or, worse yet, say something true that the teacher doesn’t like– there can be a very high cost.

  • Foxfier, I have always contended that The Shot Heard Round the World, from Schoolhouse Rock gives an excellent summary of the Revolutionary War. It manages to include the opening battles of the war, Washington as the central figure of the war, the role of the militia, the endurance of the Continentals, the battle of Trenton, Valley Forge, the frequent defeats of the Americans, American determination, the importance of diplomacy and foreign intervention, constant raiding and skirmishing and the decisive victory at Yorktown. I confess to always tearing up a bit at “The continental rabble took the day.”

  • That’s where Barzun’s House of Intellect comes into the mix Pinky. Culture is a low priority because the Culture cultivating and transmitting institutions treat their primary mission as secondary as the true primary mission becomes endowment building.

  • One cannot know why things are the way they are until one knows history. Bill Clinton, the first infatile President, was quoted, I believe, to think that nothing important happened before his birth.

    A whole lot of the problems we face today began or accelerated with him. Knuckleheaded young people fall for Bernie Sanders’ garbage. The MSM is in the tank for Shrillary the should Be Convict.

  • What’s in a name? Garbage by any other name would still stink the same. Perhaps the Democratic Party is due for a name change. Rather than strain their brain in search of a novel new name, I suggest one discarded and available. The Know Nothing Party is presently quite descriptive of their party.

  • Sadly, this is part of the explanation of the primaries in the United States this year.

  • Talk about ignorance? How about Catholics? Tell me what percentage know or understand Catholic history or Church teaching? It is the fault of the Church. How often have you heard a priest in his homily explain church teaching? Why do we believe Christ is most present in the Eucharist? Why is the Church against abortion and contraception? Why would Christ prefer we confess to a priest? Why pray to the saints? I could go on and on.

  • It’s difficult to gain admissions to the schools where I’ve taught – Princeton, Georgetown, and now Notre Dame. Students at these institutions have done what has been demanded of them: they are superb test-takers, they know exactly what is needed to get an A in every class (meaning that they rarely allow themselves to become passionate and invested in any one subject), they build superb resumes.

    Colleges and universities get the students they admit.
    Then there’s the example of a graduate of my region’s Jesuit high school, a kid from a Catholic family and a product of Catholic parochial schools, who upon meeting a classmate years after high school graduation was startled to discover that his classmate was now a Catholic priest then said, “I’m not Catholic any more. I’ve become a Christian.”

  • Think this is new? I graduated from high school in 1982 – a third of a century ago. I never read any of those works, not in high school or college…
    Penguin Fan

    I’m of Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus’s vintage. I apologize that we used up all the books and didn’t leave any for you. I thought everyone on a high school college track was assigned some Chaucer, Wife of Bath at least. Maybe it became thought too bawdy for high school kids when that moralizing Southern Baptist from Jawjuh was elected National Sunday School Nanny president. I encountered US History in grade school, middle school, and high school; Martin Luther’s 95 Theses in high school; all that English history in high school; read the Iliad and Odysseyin translation in sixth grade (that was the first time I had a man for a teacher, he liked to teach those two stories and a smattering of ancient Greek history–Thermopylae!–with ’em) but missed the Aeneid because I was too chicken to attempt high school Latin. (Like millions of other kids looking for an easy way to meet a college foreign language requirement, I took Spanish instead, 5 years of it between middle school and high school but I can’t speak it and I’ve never been to a Spanish-speaking country–unless you count Texas and California. If only I’d been brave enough to have taken German, that turned out to be useful in my working years multiple times.)
    Then I went to university to study engineering. Six non-skill courses was the breadth requirement for Engineering majors. I took a philosophy class and petitioned to be graded pass/fail ’cause I was a gear-head dummy who din’ know nuthin’ ’bout literature an’ dem liberal arts things. When the class was over I was relieved to have earned a Pass grade. I had felt like an impostor who didn’t belong there. The professor asked me why I hadn’t taken the class for a letter grade. I explained and the professor told me too bad, my marks had earned an A.

  • Bravo to Micha Elyi. I wish I could have studied under a professor like you at college. There are two few of such people left anywhere.

  • Talk about ignorance? How about Catholics? Tell me what percentage know or understand Catholic history or Church teaching?
    *looks guiltily at her collection of half-finished Conspiracies and Catholicism posts* Working on it, takes a little while with the whole run and find out yourself stuff…..
    I’m of Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus’s vintage. I apologize that we used up all the books and didn’t leave any for you. I thought everyone on a high school college track was assigned some Chaucer, Wife of Bath at least.
    It’s not that the books aren’t around, it’s that you can’t get a straight, simple, basic class about them. (Look at various “by the Bible” churches to see how horribly wrong just reading stuff yourself can go– and that assumes you don’t run into someone’s pet hobbyhorse dressed as objective scholarship.)
    It’s all deconstruction– which is fine if you already have the foundation, then you can build something up again, but when the only way you’re ever introduced to something is to have planks ripped out of it and thrown at your head, not so much.
    A lot of the time it’s like the American hating history classes– the training is designed by someone who, 60 years ago, got the very basic “I cannot tell a lie” level of history and has worked for their entire adult life to correct it.
    I can’t count the number of times that me, being the type of person I am, asked a teacher why we were hammering so hard on a specific point– and long story short, it’s correcting for a “lack” three generations back. It would be alright if the thing it was correcting had ever been offered to us…but it wasn’t.
    We spent more time on the thrice-cursed 60s than we did on all of Europe’s history pre-Bismark. (and we only learned about Bismark at all because the gym teacher had a big rant about how if he’d been in charge, Germany would control Europe; no idea how accurate it was, because we didn’t get any blessed information!)

An Illiberal Catholic Assault on Hobby Lobby

Monday, April 14, AD 2014

Note: once again, this is a guest post by Stephen Herreid, not Bonchamps.

“Well, it turns out our Founders designed a system that makes it more difficult to bring about change than I would like sometimes.” – President Barack Obama

“…America was never well-founded, so either needs to be differently re-founded or at least endured, even survived.” – Patrick Deneen

Faced with the historic government overreach that is the HHS mandate, it ought to be easier than ever for Christians to know who their enemies are. One would hope that in this desperate time conservatives and Christians would unite against the enemies of the Church, and defend the religious liberty that has already been half-robbed from us. Unlike in many other countries, where Christians are already third class citizens and some are killed and violated by the thousands, America is the home of a long-standing Constitutional Republic, a Rule of Law tradition that explicitly protects and honors our religious liberty. The army of the Left is united in its effort to topple that grand tradition and the Church that it protects. Appallingly, the army of the Right is not so united in their defense.

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26 Responses to An Illiberal Catholic Assault on Hobby Lobby

  • Deneen’s argument is appalling. Hobby Lobby goes out of its way to incorporate its Christian values into its daily operations. It has put everything on the line to challenge this mandate. And I would love to see this smug academic lecture people with limited budgets about shopping at over-priced mom-and-pop stores instead of affordable chain stores. These people don’t care about “the common good”, they care about an ideological vision that would inevitably harm the common good in order to be realized.

  • It is a pretty vicious attack and tragically misguided. Hobby Lobby bucks the dehumanizing trend by (1) staying closed on Sunday, and (2) paying a living wage at hire and (3) offering health coverage to all employees.

    Sadly, Deneen has made his ideological demand for the perfect a savage enemy of the good. What is he trying to achieve with such an essay?

  • Deneen is trying to make himself the ideological leader of a “third force” in American politics, to agglomerate to himself the discontent and frustration of Catholics who have failed to make any real impact in national policy. Instead of trying to remedy that futility, he is trying to make it a badge of honor, an implicit condemnation of the American constitutional system.

    Check out Deneen’s self-congratulatory manifesto for Catholic separatism:

    To which I would answer: How well is the Church doing by its own standards? Sex abuse, instant annulments, 95% of Catholics rejecting Humanae Vitae…. Why should anyone look to US for leadership?

  • Scratch a liberal and you find a fascist every time.

  • What is the function of intellectuals, bar to tells us things are not as ordinary people see them? Do you ever get the impression that Dr. Deneen’s writings are a series of onanistic exercises?

  • Patrick Deneen doesn’t approve of what many of us do with our freedom, he doesn’t trust what the citizens of Bedford Falls will do in Bailey Park and he doesn’t much Like Hobby Lobby and its customers. That’s OK. He’s free to be that way.

    (Deneen uses liberalism to mean something close to what the American Founders meant by liberty.)…/

    “…liberalism is not a “shell” philosophy that allows a thousand flowers to bloom. Rather, liberalism is constituted by a substantive set of philosophical commitments that are deeply contrary to the basic beliefs of Catholicism… ”

    Is Deneen saying a good life won’t happen under liberalism? Is he saying that If people have too much freedom they will do bad things (I agree) and they shouldn’t have the freedom that allows them to do bad things (I disagree)? Does he want to make virtue mandatory? I think he does think that it’s bad that people are free to choose for themselves what he would not choose for them.

    In a 2012 review of IT”S A WONDERFUL LIFE, Deneen suggests that Bailey Park is a bad thing in much the same way that he thinks that Hobby Lobby and WalMart are bad things. People shouldn’t choose them and (maybe?) shouldn’t be allowed to choose them.…/12/its-a-destructive-life

    “By contrast, Bailey Park has no trees, no sidewalks, no porches, but instead wide streets and large yards with garages. Compared to Bedford Falls, the development is pedestrian-hostile, and its daily rhythm will feel devoid of human presence, with the automobile instead displacing the ambulating passerbys. The residents of this modern development are presumably hidden behind the doors of their houses, or, if outside, relaxing in back patios. One doubts that anyone will live in these houses for four generations, much less one. The absence of informal human interaction in Bailey Park stands in gross contrast to the vibrancy of Bedford Falls.”

    Here is my favorite comment from the review.(Read the whole review and the comments.)

    “Chesterton Fan • a year ago
    Community is not a matter of proximity or housing development fashions. Farmers live in isolation, but come into town to meet up with neighbors that live 5 miles away. They meet up at church, at a cafe, at a sporting event etc. Meanwhile, in New York City, a person can live 5 years in an apartment and not interact with a single person on their floor who has also lived there more than 5 years. Same goes for suburban neighbors. Some suburban neighborhoods are close knit. Kids play with each other, and parents take turns hosting. Others are just collections of families that happen to live near each other. While I love mom and pop places, one can evidence community in a Starbucks that has regulars who come to meet and share joys and sorrows. With good leadership, a chain store can foster community among employees that expresses itself in good service to customers. Industrialization was transformed, not by abandoning the technological improvements and going back to cottage industry, but by way of cultural transformation. Houses now have family rooms and game rooms that can function in much the same way as the porch used to. After all, even with a porch, a neighbor still either needed to be invited to come up for a glass of lemonade or a beer or have some kind of connection whereby he felt free to stop by. As Chesterton so often made clear, academics often miss the forest for analyzing the individual trees.”

    Fortunately, Patrick Deneen does not rule the world.I’m glad.

  • I don’t know if this question’s been raised or not, but what is it exactly that Deneen is lobbying for, a nation that’s more Catholic, or more illiberal?

  • Fred Siegel, in his 2013 book about the modern roots of American liberalism, “The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism has Undermined the Middle Class,” notes:

    “Liberalism is anti-business and anti-democratic. It despises the small town business ethic which drove too much of American life. In its place was a heroic model populated by elite experts, writers and social scientists who fundamentally distrust the public and place great confidence in the “leading role” of the state, to borrow the Marxist term. The scorn and fear generated among liberals by the Tea Party movement illustrates the basic contempt that liberals hold for the common man and the American middle class.”

  • From the sounds of it, Dineen seems to be the sort that writes for the Remnant. The hold everything but traditional Catholicism in contempt. Religious freedom? Their response is that the only suitable state is a Catholic confessional state ruled by a Catholic monarch. Kinda like Europe was centuries ago. How did that turn out?

    Their views on economics are as bad as the current Catholic hierarchy. From what this bunch wants, it sounds like a combination of mercantilism and distributism.

    Sorry but the genie is out of the bottle. It is not possible to return to the Middle Ages.

    The American Conservative is a journal that is influenced by Pat Buchanan. I do not know how Buchanan has credibility with anyone. He has spent his adult life in Washington, DC, a place detached from reality if there ever was.

    The world is as it is. What can we do to make it better for our succeeding generations? One of the things we can do is to ignore Pat Buchanan and his followers.

  • Leave Pat Buchanan out of this, please. I was at the first meeting which organized The American Conservative, and have had close contact with its editors for most of its run. Buchanan NEVER exercised any editorial functions; he simply lent his mailing list and his name. The magazine has gone very far left in recent years, and is now virtually indistinguishable from the Distributist Review. Its money man, Wick Allison, endorsed Obama in BOTH elections. It should rename itself more candidly.

  • Pat Buchanan has credibility with me. But then, I agree with his non-interventionist foreign policy, while PF has a personal anti-Russian axe to grind.

  • My problem with non-interventionism is that, historically speaking, its loudest proponents aren’t opposed to interventionism per se, just Amerian intervention.
    Just a passing observation. I’m not trying to derail the thread any further.
    I have no idea where Deneen is coming from. But then, I don’t understand why more Catholics don’t understand that the Democrat party left them a long time ago. On the other hand though, Penguins Fan has a point about confessional politics in European history.

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  • Penguins Fan and Ernst Schreiber

    I sometimes wonder whether American (and British) Catholics are as aware as they should be of the dangers of a sort of “political Catholicism,” like that that bedevilled France from1870 to 1959 and that reached its zenith in Action Française and the Catholic atheism of Charles Maurras; this was “civic religion” with a vengeance.

    Nor is the danger only on the Right; Le Sillon’s attempt to align Catholic Action with the labour movement was equally dangerous and was also roundly condemned by the Holy See in Notre Charge Apostolique, which could be read with profit by some (politically) progressive Anglophone Catholics, as well as more recent condemnations of Liberation Theology.

    The danger arises whenever loyalty to a political movement is seen as, not merely compatible with, but demanded, by the Faith itself. It also manifests itself in a denial of the legitimacy of any political authority that refuses to accede to its demands.

    The spiritual mission of the Church in France was gravely hampered, during the first 70 years of that period, by the open hostility of most Catholics to the Republic, which neatly matched the anti-clericalism of the bouffeurs de curé. Leo XIII had exhorted Catholic to “rally to the Republic,” explaining that a distinction must be drawn between the form of government, which ought to be accepted, and its laws which ought to be improved, only to be accused by the Catholic press of “kissing the feet of their executioners.” In 1940, alas, too many Catholics rallied, not to the Republic, but to Vichy. After the Liberation most of the leaders of the Catholic parties were in jail, a few were shot and the rest fled abroad. It was De Gaulle and the Fifth Republic that began to heal the divisions.

    The state of the Church in France today owes much to this bitter legacy of turning faith into faction

  • The sad truth is that ultimately we’ve done not much better in a modern “democracy” which has been declaring false aherence to Christianity for so long it is finally giving up that charade to betray the religious foundations most Americans (cumulatively counting from the beginnings of the nation) understoodf as essential to the survival and later, the explosion of success which both marked the United States as an economic and military superpower and within which were contained the seeds of its destruction.

    I have no more belief in the efficacy of a Catholic confessional state than I do in what passess for democracy today, if for no other reason that the world has turned inward in self-aggrandisement and self-worship. Nobody would tolerate the return of monarchy – Catholic or otherwise. Overall, however, I can’t see where modern democracy has any worse a track record than European Catholic monarchies decried by PF.

    How did that turn out? Not much worse than what we’re headed for now. There were many solid devout Catholic monarchs interspersed with heathen-minded tyrants. We have a pseudo-Christian fascist in the White House, and the next election will give us eight years of the first woman president unless something unforeseen occurs.

    By the end of that time institutional fascism will be thoroughly cemented in place throughout our political, governmental, and military infrastructures. Likewise, in all the other social and cultural institutions which the Left nearly owns now in toto. Our much vaunted democratic republic barely exists today.

    This character Deneen would only deliver us into this hell all the sooner. However, he’s a zero who ultimately will receive benefits and position only as it is pleasing to his masters who will despise even his watered-down form of faux-Catholicism. RINOs engage in the same wasted energy in their continuing betrayal of America through their never fulfilled yearning for love and approaval from liberals and their media sycophants.

    Since Obama stole the 2012 election (this is the first time I’ve EVER seriously believed an American presidential election has been hijacked), I no longer believe the battlefield is ANYTHING but spiritual. We have lost the political, social,and cultural battles. Even the military is lost to anti-Christian, lesbian-loving, Wiccans or at least atheists.

    Persistent prayer and lots of it is the first and last line of defense and offense. Yes, by all, means let’s expose fraudulent Catholics like Patrick Deenen who are no better than quislings, but let’s not think that a focus on such responses are anything more than satisfying gestures which won’t do anything to win this struggle against the forces of evil arrayed against the last best hope for man – the Roman Catholic Church.

  • If the state humbly acknowledges its existence brought about by the sovereignty of its citizens with respect, the shenanigans brought about by closed door conspiracy would not have taken place.
    Penguins Fan : “Their response is that the only suitable state is a Catholic confessional state ruled by a Catholic monarch. Kinda like Europe was centuries ago. How did that turn out?”
    Had the Catholic confessional state stayed Catholic, with virtue and charity, Europe would have turned out alright. St Joan of Arc set them straight. When Catholic principles were abandoned the countries fell.
    Blessed John Cardinal Henry Newman said speaking of separation of church and state:
    “It in no way depends upon the caprice of the Pope, or upon his good pleasure, to make such and such a doctrine, the object of a dogmatic definition. He is tied up and limited to the divine revelation, and to the truths which that revelation contains. He is tied up and limited by the Creeds, already in existence, and by the preceding definitions of the Church. He is tied up and limited by the divine law, and by the constitution of the Church. Lastly, he is tied up and limited by that doctrine, divinely revealed, which affirms that alongside religious society there is civil society, that alongside the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy there is the power of temporal Magistrates, invested in their own domain with a full sovereignty, and to whom we owe in conscience obedience and respect in all things morally permitted, and belonging to the domain of civil society.”
    And again, Thomas Jefferson said in his Danbury letter:
    “Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.”

    What is it that Hobby Lobby is guilty of? Denying the state transgression into its own conscience? Concerning a mandate that was not given by the people, not voted on by Congress but inserted in the ACA after Congress made the bill into law. The HHS Mandate was unconstitutionally imposed on a free people without their informed consent.
    Hobby Lobby is hauled before magistrates to defend its right to be a free enterprise or at least assent to just laws imposed. Unjust laws, not at all.
    This is about patriotism, about constituting our United States as a free nation. Only a nation conceived in liberty can form the virtue of patriotism. People are not stupid. When a citizen cannot love his country, his conscience and his country need to be reassessed. This is about the government imposing totalitarianism to serve one faction of the public opinion. The HHS Mandate is not equal Justice for all, especially for the innocent souls conceived and obliterated by abortaficients. Every citizen, from atheist to Catholic, must insure that the sovereign citizen must be free to constitute his nation in peaceable assembly. or in Penguin’s words: “How will that turn out?”

  • Phil Steinacker: “We have a pseudo-Christian fascist in the White House, and the next election will give us eight years of the first woman president unless something unforeseen occurs.”
    Let us pray that the next president is more than a mouth and face for demonic activity. Even the devil is being disgusted with this nation’s human sacrifice and violations of the civil rights of man, whom our Created created in freedom. Human sacrifice is unconstitutional. As worship of the devil, abortion cannot be imposed.

  • “whom our Creator, created in freedom” I’m sorry.

  • Americans used to have- at least I grew up with – a real confidence in America. At the same time the “ascendance”of Catholicism seemed (again- to me) to be a natural progression of Truth and Justice.
    Now Americans and Catholics alike have lost their self confidence. Lift up your heads!
    Orestes Brownso his reflections on the publication of the Syllabus of Pius IX: “The civil power is bound to obey the law of God, and forfeits its authority in going contrary to it. We shall not suffer those who refuse to believe the infallibility of the Pope, [only] to assert the infallibility of Caesar or the state.”
    First thing for Patrick Deneen and for all of us is to remember who we are.

  • Anzlyne: “First thing for Patrick Deneen and for all of us is to remember who we are.”
    My constant prayer.

  • Bonchamps can worship at the feet of Washingtonian blowhard Buchanan.

    Bonchamps accused me of having a personal anti-Russian ax to grind. To clarify it, I expressed concern for Catholics in areas taken over by Putin and linked to a news story highlighting incidents where Russian military units harrassed Ukrainian Catholics. I do not and have no advocated the US government getting involved.

    Now, it is true that i have an ax to grind. I presume that most people who post here have heard of the terrible attack at Franklin Regional High School in Murrysville, PA, a Pittsburgh suburb. 19 high school students were injured, four critically. One nearly died last week.

    An incident that made the Drudge Report and the Washington (Com)Post, but was curiously ignored by the local Pittsburgh media, surfaced this week. A 15 year old special needs student in South Fayette High School (the school district I pay a fortune for in property taxes -and everyone else here, too) was continuously bullied by other kids. This 15 year old recorded the actions of the other kids bullying him. when faced with the evidence, school administrators told him to erase the evidence and reported him to the local police, who accused him of violating a Pennsylvania anti-wiretapping law. This 15 year old was cited for disorderly conduct, was chewed out by the local magistrate, and paid a $25 fine plus court costs.

    Due to the Franklin Regional incident, this story has grown legs and is now all over the Internet , although the local socialist rag, the Post Gazette, which now charges for online content, had no coverage that I could locate. I put up with bullies in Catholic grade school and a crummy Northeast Ohio public school district and I have no patience for this BS from overpaid school bureaucrats. I am showing up at the next school board meeting, which i anticipate to be overflowing with irate parents.

    Net time you wantto tell the world that I have an ax to grind, Bonchaps, ask me first. Otherwise, do the Internet version of shut up and don’t purport to talk for me again.

  • Mary, my point is that there are some hard core Traditionalists who believe in their hear of hearts that the only legitimate state is a Catholic confessional state with a Catholic monarch. Europe had these but no more. Kings, queens and emperors are no more immune from the human condition than prime ministers, presidents and elected legislatures. Our system of government, if people cared enough, provides us with the ability to get rid of incompetent or criminal politicians. Instead we have a political party – the Democrats – who resemble organized crime, and another, the Republicans, who are either too timid to speak up or just want to go along.

    Could the English Catholics who rebelled against Henry Tudor get rid of him? They tried but could not. Charles V, who debated Luther, invaded the Vatican.
    Charles V’ great grandfather, King Henry of Spain, was a weak man and easily manipulated. There was a King Phillip of France who pressured the Pope to suppress the Knights Templar because he wanted their money.

    I’m going to sign off of here – at least for posting – for a few days. Senora Penguins Fan has a 45th birthday coming up. She is in her ninth week of pregnancy. This is her fifth pregnancy – we have two terrific little boys and we lost two babies due to miscarriage. We are expecting guests for Easter and the house needs “redd up”. I have spent too much time here arguing and being annoyed by a Paulbot. My school district has me angrier than a hornet’s nest. All in all, not a great Holy Week.

    Please remember the Catholics in this world who live under repression or terror (Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Nigeria, occupied Ukraine) and be grateful that this hasn’t happened to us – yet.

  • Thank you, Penguins Fan. Prayers for a safe delivery of one of our constitutional posterity and thanks too for him. Happy Easter.

  • The magazine has gone very far left in recent years, and is now virtually indistinguishable from the Distributist Review. Its money man, Wick Allison, endorsed Obama in BOTH elections. It should rename itself more candidly.

    Left? You’re assuming they have a recognizable perspective.
    The whole point of the publication is to provide a display window for the self-aggrandizing idiosyncracies of its editors and staff, including each one’s frequent and repetitive references to their superiority to ‘movement conservatives’. Truth-in-labeling kills the joke.

  • Penguins Fan: “Bonchamps accused me of having a personal anti-Russian ax to grind. To clarify it, I expressed concern for Catholics in areas taken over by Putin and linked to a news story highlighting incidents where Russian military units harrassed Ukrainian Catholics. I do not and have no advocated the US government getting involved. ”
    My parents’ families reside in north eastern Poland, on the Russian border. My father’s family was started by Tartar rape of my mother’s family in 1595. Being somewhat Polish I recommend that Bonchamps’ observation be taken as a great if not wonderful compliment, and I take it as such. Half of my dad’s family went to the concentration camps. Then, there was the Katim Forest blamed on Hitler. My dad’s brother went to the seminary to become a Catholic priest. He was harassed until he had a nervous breakdown from which he has not recovered. When my dad visited Poland several years ago, he was arrested and placed on house arrest. Money is usually extorted for release. Another man promised money for release, when the man got home to America he found Russian agents IN his house for the money.
    Bonchamps has a lot to learn.

A “Call Out” and “Two Thumbs Up” to Professor Patrick Deneen

Sunday, January 29, AD 2012

What’s a tenured associate professor of government teaching at a Catholic university to do when he believes the institution isn’t really Catholic?

It’s pretty easy to say “Give up your tenure and go where you will find what you are looking for.”  Sometimes, witness to one’s faith entails suffering.

Agreed.  But, making that decision isn’t so simple when other considerations—like those of family, financial obligations (a mortgage, for example), and the like—must also be factored into the equation.

The situation presents an authentic ethical dilemma, one that confronted a former Associate Professor of Government at Georgetown University, Patrick Deneen.

In a letter published at Front Porch Republic, Deneen said with regard to Georgetown University:

…Georgetown increasingly and inevitably remakes itself in the image of its secular peers, ones that have no internal standard of what a university is for other than the aspiration of prestige for the sake of prestige, its ranking rather than its commitment to Truth. Its Catholic identity, which should inform every activity of the community, from curriculum to dorm life to faculty hiring, has increasingly been cordoned off to optional activities of Campus Ministry.

Describing his experience, Deneen wrote:

In the seven years since I joined the faculty at Georgetown, I have found myself often at odds with the trajectory and many decisions of the university.  In 2006 I founded The Tocqueville Forum as a campus organization that would offer a different perspective, one centered on the moral underpinnings of liberal learning that are a precondition for the continued existence of liberal democracy, and one that would draw upon the deep wisdom contained in the Catholic humanistic tradition.  I have been heartened and overjoyed to witness the great enthusiasm among a myriad of students for the programming and activities of the Forum.  However, the program was not supported or recognized by the institution, and that seemed unlikely to change.  While I did not seek that approval, I had hoped over the years that the program would be attractive to colleagues across disciplines on the faculty, and would be a rallying-point for those interested in reviving and defending classical liberal learning on campus.  The Tocqueville Forum fostered a strong community of inquiry among a sizeable number of students, but I did not find that there was any such community formed around its mission, nor the likely prospect of one, among the more permanent members of the university. I have felt isolated and often lonely at the institution where I have devoted so many of my hours and my passion.

So, where is Professor Deneen headed?

The University of Notre Dame (UND).

However, Deneen appears not to be headed to South Bend blinded by all of the UND hype.  He wrote:

I don’t doubt that there will be many battles at Our Lady’s University.  But, there are at least some comrades-in-arms to share in the effort.

UND hired Deneen, he wrote, because they regard him as “someone who can be a significant contributor to its mission and identity, particularly the Catholic identity of the institution.”

Although considerations like these are not typically a criterion for hiring at Georgetown as Deneen noted, The Motley Monk would humbly suggest that even in those institutions where they are, there’s quite a distance between espousing those ideals and translating them to pedagogical lessons in every classroom, dorm, and student activity.

For Professor Deneen’s willingness to witness to the importance of an institution’s Catholic identity in name and in fact, The Motley Monk offers a “call out” and “both thumb up.”

To read Professor Deneen’s letter, click on the following link:

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9 Responses to A “Call Out” and “Two Thumbs Up” to Professor Patrick Deneen

  • Two old sayings come to mind. “Never say die.” and “Out of the fire, into the frying pan.”

  • My impression — and it is only that — is that Notre Dame accepts its Catholic identity and is genuinely proud of it, even if it all too often misunderstands it; while Georgetown cannot quite decide if it should accept its Catholicity or be embarrassed by it. I could be wrong.

  • The rise of the gay pride organisation at Georgetown with its lavender graduation was coerced by the Supreme Court in view of a D.C. law and presages the recent arising health insurance dilemna facing the Church:

    from their history of their rise….

    “GPGU petitions GU for recognition again and is denied for the third time; GPGU and the Gay Rights Coalition (GU Law Center) sue GU for recognition under the DC Human Rights Act. In Gay Rights Coalition v. Georgetown University, the Supreme Court rules that Georgetown University has violated the D.C. Human Rights Law by refusing to recognize its LGBTQ organization.”

    see their history with their frequent infiltrations of campus tours for new students:

    In a 1988 settlement, GU ends up indirectly funding them:
    “After 8 years of litigation and 199 years after its founding, GU settles with GPGU , agreeing to fund the group through a secondary body as to not violate Catholic teaching regarding homosexuality. This led to the creation of the Student Activities Commission (SAC). ”

    So the question is….would Christ fund a sodomy group through a secondary body. No…I think He would close the school and move it to another area. My cousin is gay and I’ve prayed for her for decades and will pray until her death as I prayed for her partner who died and was a divorced Catholic who turned gay after divorce. She, when alive and thinking I would agree, denounced to me certain relatives who objected but then was fiercely mad at me for agreeing with them and saying to her face that
    Scripture is crystal clear in Romans 1 that it is deadly sin for both genders.

  • I have a couple of questions regarding this and maybe it is because I am in search of, on a conquest for my own authentic masculinity. Do we stay and fight in a situation like this…or is the can kicked so far down the road that return to Catholic University status at G’Town is slim to none? Can more of an effective fight be waged at ND which needs to be more authentically Catholic (at least what I can see from the news the last few years).

  • As an ND alum, I cannot speak for Georgetown, but I say without reservation that there is hope for Notre Dame, and the last thing that the oft-beleaguered faithful among the students and faculty at ND need is to be written off as a lost cause by the rest of the Church. Here is a good place to start:

  • Michael,
    I think that folks should fight the good fight from whereever they sit. I see no reason, or really any practical ability, to engage in our unfortunate culture war on just certain fronts or battlegrounds. Catholics who care about Georgetown or who are in a position to be influential there should direct their energies there, just as Catholics with ND relationships should fight the good fight there. That is just my 2 cents.

  • In case it was not clear, my last comment was in response to MJP’s.
    I agree completely with MB’s post.

  • “conquest”







    I love it when you guys comment thusly.

    Let them also “admonish”, “counsel”, “instruct”, and “pray for.”

Are Great Books Not The Answer?

Monday, April 12, AD 2010

Patrick Deneen of Georgetown University has an essay on Minding The Campus in which he argues that cultural and intellectual conservatives should be more cautious about championing Great Books type programs in colleges and universities as an antidote to the rootlessness and relativism of the modern curriculum, because the Great Books format itself is often essentially relativistic:

Most curricula in the Great Books offer the various philosophies as inherently coherent and valid systems, suggesting to each student that there is finally no basis on which to decide which philosophy to adopt other than mere preference. One must simply decide. This Nietzschean (or Schmittian) lesson is reinforced by the typical organization of such curricula (where they persist), which is typically chronological. Given that most students today have deeply ingrained progressive worldviews (that is, the view that history has been the slow but steady advance of enlightenment in all forms, culminating in equal rights for all races, all genders, and all sexual preferences), a curriculum that begins with the Bible and Greek philosophy and ends with Nietzsche subtly suggests that Nietzsche is the culmination of Enlightenment’s trajectory. The fact that his philosophy is reinforced by the message that an education in the Great Books consists in exposure to equally compelling philosophies between which there is no objective basis to prefer only serves to deepen the most fundamental lesson of a course in the Great Books, which is a basic form of relativism. The choice of a personal philosophy is relative, and the basis on which one makes any such choice is finally arbitrary, the result of personal preference or attraction.

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31 Responses to Are Great Books Not The Answer?

  • I have been reading this Book:

    Called the ten books that screwed up the world and five others that didn’t help. By Benjamine Wiker.

    Helpful for me to read as I have been through philosphy in college but this cut through the garbage and broke up the idiocy of the logic.

  • If a Great Books program is run by relativists,

    That’s the caveat.

    Orthodox College’s like Thomas Aquinas College should not fall into this unless of course they begin wanting “worldly” respect such as Georgetown or Notre Shame, then yes, I can see his point.

  • Robert,

    For the record, while I think it’s pretty uncontroversial that many of the works Wiker highlights in his book have serious moral and/or intellectual problems (when you’ve got targets like Mein Kampf and Communist Manifesto, it’s not exactly hard to point to major world problems that resulted from the works) I’ve got to say I’m not crazy about Wiker as a writer or thinker. A lot of what he writes is heavily influenced by his rejection of evolution. And he’s a fairly binary thinker overall.

    I was glad to see that he wasn’t entrusted with any of the sections of the Great Books honors program during my time at Steubie, though I don’t know if he since managed to make his way in to teaching some of those.

  • I was exposed to some pretty average books, and one or two of the Great Books, by average teachers in college. I would have rather had excellent teachers instruct me about all the classics. But long after the teachers are forgotten, two things stay with you: the knowledge from the books (however poorly transmitted and received), and the awareness that there are people who’ve wrestled with the imporant things and written out their conclusions. I think that Deneen underestimates the importance of that awareness.

    Like a lot of people, I read The Closing of the American Mind and recognized the educational problems Bloom was describing. I got frustrated with the book at times, because I wanted Bloom to point to a specific tree and say “that’s the one you want to bark up”. I realize now that he was offering an overview of the thinkers that an educated person should know.

    One side note: Deneen makes a big mistake in his chronology. The Great Books programs weren’t teaching a new canon to replace Scripture. They were a continuation of the classical education under a new name.

  • I seem to recall from reading Mortimer Adler’s biography that one of the problems the U Chicago great books program faced early on was that people suspected it of having some sort of cryptic agenda: a disproportionate number of students were going through the program and then converting to Catholicism.

    People can mess nearly anything up, but I do think there’s a validity to thinking that if you get students to sit down and really read Plato, Aristotle, Augustine and Aquinas and then Marx and Nietze, most will come to the right set of conclusions.

  • Darwin,

    A few years back a fine history professor at Kansas University was using the Socratic method I believe in teaching medieval history. An unusual amount of students began converting to Catholicism because of this and the university received numerous complaints from family members since many of these converts also joined monastic orders such as Clear Creek Monastery in Oklahoma.

    It’s interesting to see how many universities got away from this method of teaching. I wonder if there was some sort of reasoning for doing so?

  • “I seem to recall from reading Mortimer Adler’s biography that one of the problems the U Chicago great books program faced early on was that people suspected it of having some sort of cryptic agenda: a disproportionate number of students were going through the program and then converting to Catholicism.”

    That amused Adler to no end since he was a self-styled pagan at the time. He converted to the Episcopalian faith in 1984 and in 2000, just a year before his death, he became a Catholic at age 97. As long as there is breath there is hope!

  • Darwin I was unaeare of that aspect of his motives. Thanks for the information.

  • *unaware*

    Sheesh my keybord is broken 🙂

  • Great information on Adler Don – Amazes me 🙂

  • Chicago used to be described thus:

    A Baptist University where atheist professors teach Catholic philosophy to Jewish students.

    Also: The problem with a Great Books curriculum is partly, but not wholly, explicable by reference to the particular beliefs of the instructor. The whole notion of a Great Books curriculum is that there’s this “long conversation,” conducted across history, by vastly diverse thinkers, about some given set of issues. You are instructed to read these texts as responding to one another on some transcendental level, and not as deeply embedded within a particular historical set of problems to which they are trying to give a response. Consequently it encourages a kind of “abstract” view of the person, who him or herself sits outside of any particular tradition and is free to read and think about these Great Books from no vantage point whatsoever. Unfortunately this is not true.

    Also: Wiker is a hack.

  • You know, maybe those books “screwed up the world”, maybe they didn’t – maybe they’re just expressions of the times and not causes of them. I’m of the mind that someone would have thought of most of these ideas regardless, so its not “books” that screw up the world, it’s people.

    As a student of political philosophy I never liked the idea behind Wiker’s book. And as much as I respect Thomas Woods these days, after I read his review of the book I couldn’t bring myself to read it. Woods said, and I paraphrase, that Wiker had read and analyzed these books “so you don’t have to.”

    In other words, this man did the reading and the critical thinking for you.

    I’ll be blunt: I HATE secondary and tertiary sources most of the time (there are some good ones) because they are almost always tainted. If you don’t want to read Plato and Aristotle, don’t even bother with some guys’ interpretation of them.

  • Joe,

    Kind of how I feel about the USCCB.


  • WJ,

    “You are instructed to read these texts as responding to one another on some transcendental level, and not as deeply embedded within a particular historical set of problems to which they are trying to give a response. Consequently it encourages a kind of “abstract” view of the person, who him or herself sits outside of any particular tradition and is free to read and think about these Great Books from no vantage point whatsoever. Unfortunately this is not true.”

    I think it is true to some extent. We have to understand that even if the great philosophers or political thinkers were addressing contemporary problems, they were also almost always attempting to draw broad generalizations based on a commonly shared human experience.

    I think the Great Books approach is a healthy antidote to the sort of extreme historicism one still sees at universities, as well as the “post-modern” interpretations, which usually boil down to deliberately incomprehensible gibberish. This is where we get relativistic ideas from.

    If we have a curriculum that points to what is unchanging in man, and what is objectively true regardless of the historical epoch (like, for instance, rules of logical argument), then we combat both relativism and fatalism.

    As always a healthy balance is needed. Some historicism is good. Some abstraction is good. The best introductions to great works I’ve read are able to both a) establish the historical context and b) lay out the idea with as little taint as possible. Then it is up for the readers to decide how much of a work is an unconscious reflection of history, and how much of it is an original work of a unique mind. It’s up for them to decide how much of the book is nothing but a technical manual of inherent value only for the people of that generation, and how much of it contains a message that is timeless and re-applicable in almost any society.

    A book is hardly “great” if it does not offer BOTH.

  • And as much as I respect Thomas Woods these days, after I read his review of the book I couldn’t bring myself to read it. Woods said, and I paraphrase, that Wiker had read and analyzed these books “so you don’t have to.”

    Heh. Yeah, that kind of thing rubs me massively the wrong way.

    Needless to say, I’m glad that the Church got beyond the Index Of Forbidden Books phase.

  • Well, I go back and forth on this, but to play devil’s advocate…

    The opposition you propose in your response to my comment is a false one. It is not that Plato’s Republic is partly “an unconscious reflection of history” and is partly “an original work of a unique mind.” It is clearly an original work, and Plato’s mind was clearly unique, but both its originality and uniqueness emerge as such only when they are understood in the context of the debates and upheavals of 5th and 4th century Athens. In other words, historicism properly understood is not *opposed* to the values you (rightly) identify, but is their precondition.

    Here I will put my cards on the table and say that much of my current skepticism regarding Great Books Curricula is heavily indebted to MacIntyre’s critique of the anthropology subtending this curricula, which he argues is a liberal, or Enlightenment, anthropology.

    Buying this argument from MacIntyre involves a bigger issue: whether there is in fact any neutral standpoint from which one can approach the Great Conversation. If there is one, then something like your account is plausible, if there is not, then it is not. But this is a big issue and, as I said, one that I’m unsure about myself.

  • WJ,

    I don’t think I gave you a false opposition. In my view, “historicism properly understood” is the same as historicism in the right amount. Maybe its not a good use of language to try and quantify such a thing, I can grant that.

    Let me put it this way: I think historicism is misused. I think it is valid when you want to ask “why did thinker x hold the opinions he did”, and to be honest, the way I approach history, the “whys” are not that important. Historicism is also good for discovering why two works from two different epochs with similar premises and reasoning will differ in the details and the implementation. So its a good tool of comparative analysis.

    Its invalid if we want to ask, “is this a logically valid argument? Do the conclusions follow from the premises? Are any of these premises still valid today?” I believe in reading, studying, thinking and writing with a purpose. Historicism can help us sort out the inessential from the essential aspects of a philosophical argument but it cannot itself serve as any kind of guide for understanding those essential aspects.

    I’m writing a commentary on the Book of Wisdom right now, for instance, that answers these questions in the affirmative. The historical context of the author really is a secondary matter next to the perennial issues he was dealing with – atheism, existentialism, hedonism, injustice, and the persecution of Christ.

    I believe that the “wisdom of Wisdom”, in other words, is timeless, applicable to all human societies in its essence. I think wisdom is what we can gain from the untainted study of philosophy, and I think the further we get away from historicist scaffolding, however necessary it might be, as you say, as a “precondition”, the closer we come to wisdom.

    And that’s what I seek to get out of philosophy – wisdom. Not a history lesson or a biography, but wisdom that men and women can use to make their lives better, to better serve God and neighbor, to achieve better justice, etc.

  • That said, let me address your last point as well:

    “Buying this argument from MacIntyre involves a bigger issue: whether there is in fact any neutral standpoint from which one can approach the Great Conversation. If there is one, then something like your account is plausible, if there is not, then it is not. But this is a big issue and, as I said, one that I’m unsure about myself.”

    The answer, strictly speaking, is no – no one is completely neutral. But then, consider the debates we have had here on this blog about the relationship between freedom and sin.

    We’ve said, many times, that although a life free of sin through the use of free will is possible in theory, it is almost impossible in practice – some say it is absolutely impossible, I will not go that far.

    But this limitation on our freedom is not an excuse not to strive to live a sinless life. We will stumble, fall, and rise many times on our path to righteousness and salvation.

    In the same way, our inability to become completely objective (which, as in the case of being completely sinless, would make us like God, or at least an angel) is no excuse for us not to try. I believe in a rational universe. There are objective truths in this universe, and that they are accessible, if not entirely comprehensible, to the human mind.

    Just as I have a moral duty to avoid sin even if I succumb to it now and then, I believe I also have a moral duty to come as close to objective truth as possible, even if I succumb to subjectivism now and then.

    So am I entirely neutral? No. But can I struggle against subjective limitations and strive for objective clarity? Yes. Will I reach total objective clarity? Most likely not. But can I move towards it? Yes.

    That’s how I see it, anyway.

  • I don’t recall hearing about UChicago’s propensity to make converts. KU’s program was run along more classical, with heavy Latin use. One of its graduates, a convert to Catholicism, is Bishop James Conley, auxiliary of Denver.

    “Great Books” are a poor substitute for mastering an ancient and modern language. It was once realistic for colleges to expect graduates to have near-fluency. Can that be the case any longer? I felt my language classes could have proceeded much more quickly.

    If you want to feel really inadequate, look up the multi-lingual Barrett’s Grammar, a bestseller in the 19th century.

    There are more comments on Deneen’s essay at

  • Kevin, you’re right that the classics used to be taught in their original tongues. That ties in to my problem with Deneen’s argument. It wasn’t like the Great Books programs appeared out of nowhere and made a generation stupid. In reality, they were part of a long decline in the educational system. They were along the bottom half of the ladder, and they led to our current bottom rung. But the way up is with the next rung. Maybe we can get back to a liberal education over the next several decades; if we do, it’ll begin by reading the classics in English.

    Joe, I recognize the potential problems with secondary sources, but there can also be benefits. I always think of Malthus, who couldn’t write out a recipe for popcorn in under 100 pages. I also have some concern about the Great Books of math and science.

  • ““Great Books” are a poor substitute for mastering an ancient and modern language. ”

    Really? I didn’t learn one and I think I’m doing alright.

    I think nothing at all is worse than something. And I think studying the canon of books that have shaped Western civilization and hence, the world, gives you access to all of the wisdom and knowledge you will ever need.

  • I’d love to read Kant in the original language. Better yet, I’d love to read Kant in the original without having to learn German. Or, the best case scenario would be that Kant never wrote anything.

  • Hey hey! I don’t know if I mentioned this but I left my advertising job to join the Great Books program at St. John’s College in Annapolis.

    I’m almost done with the Philosophy/Theology Segment and I’m loving it.

    YES it is relativistic, but thats to be expected given the age we live in and the structure of the program. If you’re looking for a program where all the books will be seen in terms of a ‘Catholic’ response then this program is not for you.

    BUT if you are a Catholic and you put your brain on it can be a TON OF FUN to enter into dialogue with all the atheists, agnostics, etc. Every Monday and Thursday night I end up having really wonderful conversations with people, and I’m glad I made the decision despite the financial hit. Its only four semesters, which is a small price to pay for a body of learning that will shift the course of your life.

    Right now we’re on Kant after just leaving behind guys like Aquinas and Hume. Today I’ve gotta work on a Hume paper and then the rest of the month its a major paper on Confessions I’ll be slaving on.

  • Wow, now that’s a change. Glad you’re enjoying it, Anthony.

    Four semesters, is that a concentrated course for those who already have an undergrad degree?

  • Even after law school, I can’t recall a more painful reading experience than Kant as an undergrad (and does any famous philosopher have a name that invites more cheap puns than Kant)?

  • Darwin,

    Yeah for the graduate students here it essentially is a compressed version of what the undergrads here do. The program is intended for teachers, lawyers, retirees or people like myself who really needed a break from the corporate grind.

    Although my bachelors degree was in design my minor was in history, so I’ve had a hankering to return to that academic spirit. Plus, I’m completely convinced that the majority of Americans are completely clueless as to what is going on around them thanks to their mediocre education. We’re just not taught these guys anymore and we really should be. Trying to write and converse about the great questions that face mankind ought not to be something limited to an exclusive few.

    The program here is divided in to five ‘segments’ that focus on specific areas. You must complete four to earn the degree. Each segment is comprised of a tutorial, a seminar and a preceptorial. In the tutorial and precept you must do some substantive writing and in seminar there is an oral exam.

    The five segments are Philosophy/Theology, Natural Science/Mathematics, Literature, Politics/Society and History.

    Right now I’m in Philosophy/Theology and in the fall I’m probably going to take Natural Science/Mathematics. We only are using primary texts. There are no ‘textbooks’ or lectures or secondary sources. Its just you and Plato, you and Euclid, you and Augustine.

    So yeah, its fun. I have no idea what I’ll do with ‘the degree’ and I do want to get back to advertising (been looking for a job since January!), but hey— 4 semesters is a small price to pay for a lifetime’s worth of learning.

  • That’s hilarious, Donald. Yes, I remember encountering Kant in a “History of Western Philosophy” course and nearly pounding my head against my desk in frustration.

    But in grad school, I was introduced to the trendy post-modernists and deconstructionists, who were even worse in my book. (And utterly cuckoo radical feminists, who are the worst of the worst.) Read a bit of Lacan and Derrida and you’ll feel nostalgic for Kant. Read more than a few pages of someone like Andrea (“all intercourse is rape”) Dworkin and you risk ending up in the asylum.

  • The really sad thing Donna is when one considers the price one paid at college and grad school to read what one often considers in later life to be congealed nonsense.

  • I’ve got a question for the crowd: does anyone know of a Great Books blog? I love talking about this stuff, and learning from other people’s observations.