In 1903, during America’s darkest period of hate, W. E. B. Du Bois heartbreakingly affirmed his intellectual affinity with Western civilization.
“I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas,” Du Bois wrote in “The Souls of Black Folk.” “I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension.”
Half a century earlier, Frederick Douglass had paid tribute to the 18th-century British orators whom, at age 12, he had discovered in a collection of political speeches.
“Every opportunity afforded me, for a time, was spent in diligently perusing [“The Columbian Orator”],” Douglass recalled in his autobiography. “This volume was, indeed, a rich treasure,” he wrote, for the speeches—by Richard Sheridan, Charles James Fox, and William Pitt—“gave tongue to many interesting thoughts, which had frequently flashed through my soul, and died away for want of utterance.”
How much things have changed.
In 2016, a student petition at Yale University called for dismantling the college’s decades-long requirement that English majors take a course covering Chaucer, Spenser, Milton, and Wordsworth. Reading these authors “creates a culture that is especially hostile to students of color,” complained the students.
Sadly, there was by then nothing remarkable in this demand. Attacks on the canon as an instrument of exclusivity and oppression have flourished since the 1980s, when Jesse Jackson famously joined Stanford University students in chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Western Civ has got to go.”
But in the past few years the worldview behind such antagonism has become even more militant, transforming not just universities but the world at large. The demand for “safe spaces,” reflexive accusations of racism and sexism, and contempt for Enlightenment values of reason and due process are no longer an arcane species of academic self-involvement—they increasingly infuse business, government, and civil society.
Read the full story from The Daily Signal
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