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October 21, 2005

Who Killed Homer

Victor Davis Hanson – ISBN – 1895354260

(Sorry this is 1100 words, but it would be unfair to further edit it.)

As a classic scholar, few are better positioned to critique “classical education” than Hanson. With his co-author John Heath, he does just that. It is a scathing, judgmental dissertation on the destruction of classical education, to the extreme detriment of education in particular, and western civilization at large.

They discuss and detail the fact that current classical scholars each have their niche, and write for and to each other, failing to interest or teach anyone outside their tiny clique. In fairness, this is done in some measure to protect their careers from the attack of the multiculturalists.

Consequentially, as a civilization we are “in the midst of a hyper-reaction against the west in general, and the Greeks and their admirers in particular—as if our own present shortcomings (but not our successes) [are] somehow connected with the values of long-dead [and therefore contemptible] European men.” Seeking refuge in our victim status we ask for absolution by decrying our evil past . . . without in any way understanding it.

The virtues of Classical Greece are unique, unchanging, and non-multicultural, which explains the longevity and dynamism of Western culture. The loss of this Greek wisdom is a tragic development sweeping the planet. “A story of corruption filled with irony.” Greek wisdom—their way of looking at the world—offers an understanding of human nature and man’s place in the world which is unique to pre-industrial Mediterranean civilization, and central to all Western thought to this day.

Open debate, rational inquiry, free dissent, suppression of religious interference, moral and ethical questioning, and spiritual experience (i.e. Greek Wisdom) is what permitted the Victorians to ameliorate the evils of the West in their great age of reform: the abolition of monarchy, slavery, and mercantilism; monolithic religion, female equality and the rest, not to mention the resurrection of government by the citizens, and the scientific and industrial revolutions with their improvement in the lot of mankind.

These findings and decisions were not accidental. They were authored by our study of Greek culture and civilization, and are being lost now because we do not remind ourselves of these roots. We too often apologize for them, judging ourselves by our standards, forgetting that no civilization in the world uses these standards—save our own.

Centuries of Romanticism with its faith in the primal scream, and the Enlightenment’s absolute confidence in the salvation of man through pure reason devoid of custom, tradition, religion and allowance for the inexplicable are ruining us. We forgot what the ancient historians and philosophers taught us about the darker angels of our natures: that true freedom is chaos; liberty without responsibility is savagery; a comfortable leash is safer for us all then the door of the age thrown wide open; and education and learning—correctives of religious fanaticism—can themselves become soulless abstractions. Man without the state is not man at all (Aristotle).

Suffice it to say that this is a provocative treatise worthy of the time of everyone to read it, and ponder upon its conclusions. Civilization depends upon it.

Some feel that all cultures are equal. Others believe that all cultures are equal except the West. The truth is that no culture equals the west. We should get used to that fact, continue to improve, not destroy it with relativism, multiculturalism, etc.

America has become preponderant because we are multiracial, not multicultural! It is neither ethnocentric nor chauvinistic to accept that. Our tradition of self-criticism, of analyzing who we are, how we live, what we believe, and what we value, is the source of Western progress.

It is no accident that Rushdie and Said attack the West from England and America, not from India and Palestine.

“If you want to learn why our nation’s elite now have no morals, why our lawyers, doctors, politicians, journalists, and corporate magnates equate the accumulation of data with knowledge, frankness with truth, inherited power with justice, titles and suits with dignity, and capital with talent—why they all know nothing of Greed wisdom—you must look to the mentors who trained and degreed them.”

The elaborate with cohesive detail the why’s and where fore’s of our Greek origins, its benefits and its history. By thought, analogy, reference to Greek literature, they bring to life what is missing in education today.

Oh yes . . . Who Killed Homer? “It was an inside job by both elite philologists and theorists of the present age, who were neither able nor willing to meet the challenges of the late twentieth century. At the moment when heroic and innovative efforts were needed in the university, this last generation of custodians of Greece and Rome adopted the ethics of the winner-take-all-moguls it claimed to despise. Those who did not, kept silent.” Not by design or intent, but by indecision, cowardice and sloth.

Greek thought can hardly influence our culture if we are unaware of what they thought.

It is mortality itself that compels humans to make some sense of their existence here and now, each day to discover what it means to “live well.” And it is Achilles who confronts and accepts death most honestly, and ironically, most sympathetically as well. This is a review for those who know, and elaborative for those who do not.

Their suggestions for solution(s) are difficult, demanding, and unlikely to be incorporated into the curriculum of today’s universities, but that is the shame of it all. They are merciless to faculty, administration and boards of the schools. They dutifully recant the perks of current higher education moguls, emphasizing cushy jobs in the lab without any teaching obligation. Sabbaticals, long vacations and no responsibilities, and worse: trivial research of no consequence. Publish or perish, even if it is “garbage in/garbage out.”

The fact that the professoriate in general considers this a screed is illuminating enough. “What a strange world American academia has become: more government money pours into higher education; students’ tuition in reaction nevertheless rises, not falls, and professors teach less in order to write more [on more arcane trivia, which] fewer read.”

Their after-word, in the paperback issue, is alone worth the price of the book. In it they quote, then excoriate their critics within academia.

“Ethics cannot be entrusted to the academic philosophers, who often leave students with the impression that there is little difference between thinking ethically and quibbling, that the purpose of texts is always to confuse rather than to clarify, that to act morally is synonymous with speaking in code about morality.” Victor Davis Hanson

Posted by respeto at October 21, 2005 3:59 PM