For some time now, the general trend on our nation’s campuses has pointed toward the elimination of traditional core courses in the history and culture of Western civilization, in favor of alternative canons or no requirements at all.

Fortunately, there are exceptions to the rule, and the past few years have seen commendable efforts by professors who have set up programs in the study of Western civilization at their institutions. The American Freedom Alliance, a nonpartisan, nonpolitical organization in California, which, according to its mission, “promotes, defends and upholds Western values and ideals,” has awarded its annual Heroes of Conscience Award to five such courageous professors…

ACTA, “Congratulations to the five Heroes of Conscience!”

Imagine dredged up some half baked Romantic notions and presented a vision of a world free of conflict. Attached to an ethereal melody it seem to float in a sea of mysticism, painting a picture of a utopia that most Communist leaders in the 1970s would have recognized.

Avi Davis, “What John Lennon Failed to Imagine” (“This Week’s Editorial” from the American Freedom Alliance)

I’m not certain that we can know someone well by knowing their friends, but I find this pairing interesting and, perhaps, symptomatic, as we used to say. On the face of it, this notion of “saving the study of Western Civilization” seems a little loopy. It’s a little like saying that we need to make sure that there are white people on television.

The real problem, of course, isn’t that “the study of Western Civilization” is fading away, it’s that certain things that were once very important to a certain segment of academia, now fading into retirement– Shakespeare is the perennial and tedious example– are not as important to many contemporary academics. Among other things it’s what was once called a “generation gap.”

It’s in this vein that the ACTA fancies itself a guardian of  “Western Civilization”– as long as “Western Civilization” means William Shakespeare more than Toni Morrison.  “Western Civilization” is often (polite) right-wing short hand for “White dominated American culture.”   ACTA prefers the language of the former– the politely coded and euphemistic right– rather than the latter.

They  apparently feel real kinship with the less-than-polite right,  though, including Avi Davis, who believes that we have to recognize the link between today’s peace movement and John Lennon’s song,  which “naïvely” endorses  “the notion that we can embrace those sworn to our destruction in a ‘brotherhood of man.’”  That’s communism, not “Western Civilization.”

Lennon’s ideal, of course, is Biblical (aka “the second great commandment“), an irony that he could not have missed, even if it escapes Davis, and linked to Gandhi and Martin Luther King, among other half-bakers.  Davis, whom the ACTA suggest–sans irony, one supposes– is a “hero of conscious,” calls it  “a chimera reflecting nothing more than an irresponsible failure of imagination.”

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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