A number of articles have been written on the conservative blogs defending the traditional study of Western Civilization as well as Western Civilization itself. The expressed fear is that our changing times will take away all that unites us and made Western Civilization so great. The article that will be reviewed here is one of the better ones because it makes some very legitimate points. It is written by Carl Trueman from Westminster Theological Seminary (click here for a short bio).
In the article being reviewed here (click here for the article), Trueman very appropriately laments the reduction in the legitimate study of the humanities in colleges today. This is especially true when it comes to his specialty: history. For it is through the study of history that has helped Trueman know himself better and we would do well to imitate him here. And both his lament and his experience with history are well worth noting. For what we see in Post Modernism is a wholesale rejection of the driving forces from the past. And if I remember Christopher Lasch's book The Culture Of Narcissism correctly, the cutting of of all ties from the past results in the elevation of the present and, eventually, the self and one's experiences and insights over those of those who lived then.
So while what Trueman is saying has much legitimacy, there is a problem. The problem is illustrated in the following line:
We should not be fooled by the fads of the new educational order. The rebarbative and impenetrable language of deconstruction, post-colonialism, and critical theory may offer a veneer of sophistication, but the fruits of these are remarkably simple-minded...
Trueman's total rejection of Post Modernism as seen in his attacks on deconstruction and post-colonialism shows, a filtering of what he considers to be legitimate analysis of Western Civilization. For in his wholesale rejection of Post Modernism, he not only imitates Post Modernists with their cutting of all ties from a given time period, he is limiting his study of Western Civilization to that which is from the inside. For we should note, and at least partially agree with, Post Modernism's rejection of the use of past metanarratives to support imperialism, post-colonialism, oppression, and, citing one of Jesus's warnings, lording it over others. Just as with Marx, we can legitimately not like most or all of Post Modernism's solution to the problem, but to reject its analysis of the problems that stem from the past is to say that those who ruled in the past have no sin that we should pay attention to today. And to deny their sin involves a denial that there were any tradeoffs involved in securing the "greatness" from the past. And, ironically for Trueman, to reject Post Modernism's analysis is to deny oneself from a source that can teach us about our humanity just as much as his traditional approach to studying history can.
We should also note the authoritarian nature of Trueman's rejection of the parts of Post Modernism that he so spitefully rejects. First, his rejection is a blanket rejection. which is an example of black-white thinking. Second, his rejection is aggressive because Post Modernism challenges what is accepted tradition for him.
So we should note how authoritarian defenders of the traditional study of Western Civilization and the narcissistic PC Post Modernists resemble each other. Each side exalts their favorite time period over that of the other side in black-white terms. Thus, each side does what Martin Luther King Jr. described the West as doing when it used military intervention in Vietnam (click here for the source):
The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.
Here we should note that we can substitute the names of either of these two groups for the word Western and King's quote would still fit like a glove. So we should note ,for future growth, that both authoritarianism and narcissism are not just bad for us and thus traits or ways of being to avoid, but that they can produce very similar results.
Two more points should be made. First, while Trueman seems to attribute all attacks on the humanities in college to that of his nemesis, the narcissistic, PC Post Modernists, my experience in teaching tells me something else. My experience and observation told me that colleges were being businessfied in many ways with the result of turning many institutions of higher education into high priced, advanced tech schools. With that comes a higher emphasis on what one's job and salary are after graduation over what one learned about what it means to be human. Here, we should repeat and emphasize that Trueman's concern with learning what it means to be human and understand one's self is very legitimate. And by so easily businessfying our colleges, we are embracing the loss of what it means to be human in order to make more money after graduation.
The second point that should be made is this: since we used one of Martin Luther King's statements to illustrate what was happening, we would do well to take an approach that King would take to any conflict between opposing sides. What King so often tried to do was to synthesize the best parts of each side. Since he did that when comparing Capitalism and Communism, there is no reason why we can't seek to synthesize the concerns of the traditional study of Western Civilization with that of Post Modernism. Such a synthesis would help us to learn more about ourselves and each other than what either Post Modernism or what a traditional study of Western Civilization could teach us by themselves.