In the middle of the 15th century, Italian philosopher, bishop, and humanist Francesco Patrizi of Siena wrote a number of important political treatises second only in popularity to that of Machiavelli. In one volume on political education, Patrizi tackled the perennial problem of incivility in society, proposing that the solution lay in educating the ruling classes in the virtue of civility which he and his fellow humanists called humanitas.
When contemplating what should be included in the curriculum, Patrizi recommended that the young should study great literature because the precious words of wisdom contained therein would instruct the reader in the art of living nobly and virtuously. He also believed that knowledge of history was vital because it would encourage greater sympathy for, and less judgementalism about, the actions of previous generations.
Patrizi also proposed that a familiarity with the past would make future leaders less fanatical than their ill-informed counterparts, as it would teach them that all human projects inevitably succumb to the same fate. Finally, the good bishop concluded that moral philosophy must be included in the syllabus on the grounds that in striving to live more virtuously, the elite would become more self-aware and less censorious.
All in all, Patrizi was onto something. He believed that the humanities had the ability to turn the elite into more civil, empathetic members of society. The humanities could make us better human beings. In fact, it might be argued that they are making some of us less civil, less harmonious, less tolerant, less forgiving, more censorious and much more judgemental.
The Institute of Public Affairs’ latest audit, The Humanities Dehumanised. How the Humanities are Taught in Australia’s Universities in 2020 reveals that of 1,181 humanities subjects offered at Australia’s top ten universities, only 177 teach the cultural and intellectual inheritance of Western civilisation while 572 teach Identity Politics and 380 cover Critical Race Theory.
The humanities have been so homogenised and the boundaries so blurred that there is no longer any discernible difference between Sociology, English Literature, Philosophy and Anthropology. They have merged into a single postmodernist blob of ‘theory’ promoting a solitary, depressing worldview.
Take Macquarie University’s first-year ‘Introduction to Indigenous Queer Studies’ which ‘prioritises the voices and perspectives of Indigenous Queer populations as transformative of the social, cultural, and political landscapes of Australia and beyond’. The unit explores ‘Indigenous Queer worldviews and standpoints that interrupt, challenge, enrich and recalibrate our understanding of community, culture, gender, sexuality, the body and desire’.
If, at the end of the unit, students feel that they haven’t sufficiently explored the complexities of Indigenous Queer Worldviews, they can enrol in ‘Global Indigenous Queer Identities’ and ‘interrogate and challenge the influence and enforcement of western gendered and sexual norms by embedding an understanding of Indigenous worldviews situated within, beyond, and against the scope of the gender binary, heterosexuality, and gender and sexual taxonomies across the LGBTIQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Queer) spectrum’.
At Monash, students of English Literature taking ‘Children’s literature: A comparative study’ are ‘introduced to major developments in children’s literature from the Victorian “Golden Age” to contemporary dystopian fiction’. Students consider the ‘ideological implications of the adult interests vested in the production of children’s literature, and how the genre works to socialise children into dominant views about gender, race’. In the University of New South Wales Philosophy Department, those studying ‘Art and the Body’ spend the semester questioning ‘how art has influenced and responded to these broader movements for social change…with a particular emphasis on gender studies, transnational feminisms, queer theory, critical race theory, critical disability studies and postcolonialism’.
While these subjects are almost beyond parody, do not underestimate the danger they pose to society. Academics who have embraced Critical Race Theory occupy a privileged position in society, because it is their job to preserve our most precious material and pass on our cultural and intellectual heritage to the next generation. Their task should be to embody the mythos and virtues of the nation, but rather than focus on the achievements of Western civilisation, they are critical, scornful and scolding.
Historians are generally more interested in conveying to students the idea that the past is something to be abhorred, requiring endless apologies. Many have adopted the post-modernist approach, refusing to recognise a fixed, total, or absolute truth about the past. Sociologists claim that the values and institutions of Western civilisation are the cause of society’s ills which can only be cured if Western civilisation is replaced with something else. Many philosophers appear to be more interested in race and gender than in discussing metaphysics and ethics.
These academics offer neither diversity of views nor thought. Their aim is to denigrate our culture and freedoms and to undo what has been built over thousands of years. The way in which they teach the humanities prevents Australians from living together harmoniously because the ‘human’ aspect of the ‘humanities’ has disappeared. The study of History, English Literature, Political Science or Philosophy, for example, no longer allows us to examine the entirety of the human condition, instructs us in how to overcome the complexities of life or provides us with an appreciation of, and empathy for, humanity.
It is no coincidence that many of the elite who, in the last few months have been staggeringly censorious, demonstrating a complete lack of empathy for the plight of mainstream Australians and absolutely no understanding of the human condition, have spent their formative years imbibing this nonsense in humanities departments.
We need the humanities to inspire us and to elevate the human spirit not to divide us into warring tribes. The concept of a shared humanity has been replaced with ideologies which pit us against each other on the basis of immutable characteristics. Tragically, the humanities are divorcing us from our shared humanity and preventing us from living together harmoniously as a cohesive society because the last thing that the cultural left wants is for us to have something in common.
This article was first published at https://spectator.com.au/2021/01/divided-we-fall/