Nature and Convention and the culture wars

RV Young puts it this way:

According to the reigning heterodoxy, absolutely nothing is “for all time”; and works of literature do not bespeak the “soul of the age,” so much as they conceal, even while embodying, its ideological and economic imperatives. Hence the clamor from powerful forces within the academy of the”opening up” or dismantling of the “canon” of “classic” works, for the abolition of the very notion of “great books.” Should this view prevail, then the question, “Why we teach what we teach?”, would be no longer moot, but merely meaningless. Although pretexts for teaching this or that text would abound, there could be no reasons, since rational discrimination among the “products” of deterministic cultural hegemonies is impossible. If a work of art, literature, or philosophy is not intrinsically valuable, is not great on its own merits, then it can only be of interest as an event or phenomenon, exercising more or less influence over the course of history…. As Cicero points out, “All the arts, which pertain to humanity, have a certain common bond and are joined together among themselves as it were by a certain kinship.” It is this element of common humanity that is crucial to curricular decisions and is, indeed, the only basis for the integrity of university professors as scholars and teachers.

At War With the Word

The literary departments of our universities do not, generally, believe that humans share a common nature that can be refined by encounters with great works. Instead they argue that all artists need to be deconstructed to show their ideological convictions and how they were parasites on the powers of the day.

Shakespeare was neither “the soul of his age,” nor, “for all time” because that would require that an age have a soul and that human nature transcends an age. The truly great radical relativists are perfectly aware that their criteria apply to them as well. They realize they write because of their will to power. They make no apology, therefore, for their assertions of control.

In literature, as in grammar, we can see that unless we are governed by nature and nature’s law, we are necessarily either tyrants or slaves. We cannot be free people. That is why grammar and rhetoric are the necessary arts of a free people and why they must be taught according to nature and not merely according to conventions and usage: because grammar and rhetoric have a necessary and unbreakable link to politics. Human nature dictates it.

In short, if we are governed merely by conventions we are slaves. If those who govern us and we ourselves submit to nature, then, and only then, can we be free people. For to be free people, we must not only be free, we must also be people.

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