E-Pluribus | May 23, 2022
The classics are classics for a reason, free speech can't be a la carte, and CRT and GRT have more in common that just the last two letters.
A round-up of the latest and best writing and musings on the rise of illiberalism in the public discourse:
Angel Adams Parham: Don’t Cancel the Classics, Broaden and Diversify Them
Too often a modern impulse seems to be throwing out the baby, the bathwater and even the tub. In the Wall Street Journal, Angel Parham says when it comes to literature, there’s no need to throw out any of it, but rather keep the best of the old to integrate with the best of the new.
Excellence and diversity… can coexist with an education in the classics. The classics should be elevated and broadened, diversified through context and accumulated knowledge. And they have much to teach us, with a proven record of lifting the performance of students, especially the disadvantaged.
In Chicago, the Cambridge Classical Academy’s mostly African-American students learn through a model that integrates the methodological tradition of Marva Collins, an outstanding black educator profiled on “60 Minutes” for her work with disadvantaged students, with instruction based on the Socratic approach. Virginia’s Living Water School, led by Anika Prather, uses an online model to reach parents and children across the country. Ms. Prather combines classical learning with the study of the black intellectual tradition. My own organization, Nyansa Classical Community, develops curricula that weave together diverse voices, artists and texts with the classical canon.
These three organizations, all led by black women, are part of a growing group of classical schools—public, charter, private and religious—that provide a rich, deep and broad education. Instead of reducing the presence of canonical works in our curricula or eclectically mixing in diverse writers, we build on the classical core by bringing diverse voices and stories to the fore. These were already present in the tradition, but they haven’t been adequately heard. Many later great writers, including people of color, were inspired by and built on the classics.
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While the older forms of classical education weren’t perfect, the foundations were sound and provided a rich feast for debate and intellectual formation. Arabic-speaking scholars carried out a centuries-long intellectual engagement with Greek writers of antiquity, creating their own classics and enriching both Western and Islamic intellectual traditions. Thomas Aquinas, for example, often cites Avicenna and Averroes.
Read it all.
Thomas J. Balch: Disturbing, even inaccurate, speech must be protected
While the speech of those with whom we disagree can be unsettling and even frightening at times, Thomas Balch argues in the Washington Post that we may not pick and choose - we should treat others’ right to free speech as we would have them treat ours.
It is troubling that, increasingly, advocates across the political spectrum are abandoning the insight of Thomas Jefferson’s first inaugural address that “error of opinion may be tolerated, where reason is left free to combat it.” Lacking confidence that criticizing error will be adequate to suppress it, some now urge censoring it.
On one side, there is an effort to ban books and such topics as critical race theory that might be “divisive” and make primary and secondary students uncomfortable. On the other side, some argue that students — especially in colleges — must be protected from “microaggressions” and given “trigger warnings” to protect them from emotionally disturbing material. And many are convinced that the effectiveness of social media platforms in spreading disinformation calls for more and more censorship to protect those who would be led astray.
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But such protection of undisturbed conformity can prevent or delay the righting and reversal of great wrongs.
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Jarring us out of our complacency, forcing us to confront the consequences of our views and actions, upsetting our equilibrium, is essential to making us question and rethink what we believe and what we do. Of course, those who challenge our views and actions are not always right, and what we have believed and done is not always wrong. But the very fact of having to confront opposition and think through the merits and demerits of contrasting arguments can ultimately increase our understanding of the basis for their validity.
Nor can we be confident in the judgment of those who would decide from what to “protect” us. The Roman poet Juvenal asked: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” — “Who will guard the guards themselves?” Who in power, however sincere and well-motivated, can we be sure has the insight to differentiate — accurately and free of bias — truth from disinformation, right beliefs from wrong ones, so as to allow the one and censor the other? And who can be trusted to do so without being tempted to use their power to advance their own interests and suppress opposition?
Read the whole thing.
Andrew Sullivan: The Sinister Symmetry Of CRT And GRT
The Great Replacement Theory (GRT) has been in the news a lot lately, reminiscent of the ubiquity of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in the public discourse. Andrew Sullivan posits at The Weekly Dish that there are more similarities between the two than adherents of either side may wish to admit.
There is nothing secret about it at all. The majority-minority enthusiasts represent instead a transparent movement to see Americans primarily in racial/generational terms, to view a multi-racial society as a zero-sum endeavor in which a gain for whites always means a loss for non-whites, and who therefore cheer the declining percentage of Americans who are deemed “white.”
Whole libraries could be constructed by the books outlining this thesis. It really got started with John Judis’ and Ruy Teixeira’s “The Emerging Democratic Majority” (2002), Sid Blumenthal’s “The Strange Death of Republican America” (2008), Carville’s “40 More Years: How the Democrats Will Rule the Next Generation” (2009), Ron Brownstein’s Next America project (2012), Paul Taylor’s “The Next America” (2014), and William Frey’s “Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics Are Remaking America” (2014), to cite a few. All of them argue that mass immigration is a critical factor in making America majority non-white and therefore Democratic. And all of them are pretty much psyched.
When I say “psyched,” there is a spectrum. Here’s Michelle Goldberg not so long ago: “Right now America is tearing itself apart as an embittered white conservative minority clings to power, terrified at being swamped by a new multiracial polyglot majority” — and she “felt good” about that non-white future. Here’s Jen Rubin, reacting to the news last year that the Census found numbers of white people falling: “This is fabulous news. Now we need to prevent minority White rule.” And who can forget Michael Moore’s reaction to the same news “Best day ever in U.S. history.”
None of them seemed concerned that the thesis could boomerang on them. By “boomerang,” I mean racializing politics so aggressively that you actually help create and legitimize a racially white party — because of negative partisanship. In the words of Michael Barone: “When you keep telling white Americans that they will soon become a minority — a message that sometimes sounds like ‘hurry up and die’ — then many non-college graduate ‘deplorables’ may start acting like members of a self-conscious minority, and vote more cohesively.” Exactly.
Read it all here.
An intriguing thought from Oliver Traldi wraps up a short discussion on the state of public discourse:
Thomas Chatterton Williams on the case of David Sabatini, whose story we highlighted (item #1) last Friday:
Dan Singleton @dasingletonAn idea we need to get across to the public is that there is no such thing as an irreplaceable genius. The jobs and trainees and grant money will go to other spectacular scientists, who will do great work, without the sexual harassment. Genius is a dime-a-dozen. https://t.co/DdUhaduOY2
And finally, a word of caution from Jonathan Zimmerman in the Chicago Tribune: