“Is There a War on Western Culture?”
Dear friends and thinkers of all opinions, ideas, and thought streams and you of all faiths: Recently I published two essays. These essays were first, “The Centrality of Reading: Why it is of paramount importance and a preliminary list of great books to know and read,” and the second was entitled, “An Addition to Great Books to Read.” In both I analyzed the essential significance and importance of reading of the print medium and why we must and should read the Western canon of classics. The issue I seek to analyze here and consider is our school system’s apparent failure to assign these books to our young people and the reason for this policy. Let me first offer some reasons: First, the dominance of technology in our school curriculum as well as business and science, which have served to drive out the Western canon and liberal arts from the secondary and college curriculum. Second, the schools are focused in their academic offerings on vocational matters or providing students when they leave with the ability to obtain a job or position. Third, and this is only possible in our diverse and multicultural society where the older, Caucasian European writers or at least American writers of European culture and background are seen as no longer dominant and relevant and the curriculum should be more inclusive. And fourth, our culture is increasingly based on image, such as tv, movies, computers and cell phones, email and text messages which are serving to edge out complex work in print—once the dominant form of thought communication.
These are only some possible reasons. I now offer a more disturbing and distressing explanation. There are certain forces at work that seem to be opposed not to Western culture but seek to eliminate it from the academic curriculum. Let me give you some examples. I met in my years as a lawyer a person with a college and graduate degree in law who had never heard of one of our greatest thinkers and poets, John Milton, who in his great epic poem “Paradise Lost” analyzed the essential problem of man’s fall into sin. After six genocides in the past 100 years, there can be little doubt of this. I also met another college student who had never heard of one of our greatest writers, George Orwell. And third, I met another college student in a restaurant in Queens who had never heard of Leo Tolstoy. These three writers are among the top writers and thinkers of all time and for all generations. Not to know of them is to be deprived. I can only account for this darkness and ignorance to the policy on the part of our schools to eliminate the classic Western canon author. If so, this a tragic mistake, cheating our young people of the great minds and thought leaders of world culture and civilization.
Finally, as an addition to my previous lists of must-read great books, I add the following:
George Eliot’s works
Mark Twain’s works
Henry James’ works
Thomas Mann’s works
Bertrand Russell’s works