Category Archives: conservatism

Paul Krause has a heartier take on the humanities than Stanley Fish

In my last post, I found several thoughtful, salient points in Stanley Fish’s recent article, “Stop Trying to Sell the Humanities,” published in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

But Paul Krause, writing at, makes a new defense of the humanities anyway, and I loved it. Fish lit up parts of my mind, but Krause lit up my heart.

His definition is useful because I think many people just don’t understand what the humanities are and do:

The name humanities has “human” as its basis. The humanities are about us. In a way, the humanities are the study of what it means to be human along with the fruits of human genius and the creative spirit. The humanities ranges from philosophy—that most sublime and supreme queen—to literature, art, music, religion, language, and all the disciplines and topics that inform, build, and constitute what people have long called “culture.” Humanist studies is not, however, an outright celebration of every aspect of the human spirit and endeavor. It can be just as critical as it is appraising. Its study can inform and instruct—pointing out errors, as much as pointing out goodness, virtue, beauty, and other such things to strive for.

And later, Krause gives an example of what the humanities accomplish by demonstrating how key texts are integrated with each other—in ways that both form our intellectual understandings and our experiences as creatures with historical antecedents:

In the first book of Politics Aristotle makes a direct reference to the ninth book of Homer’s Iliad. When Augustine penned City of God he assumed his readers to be familiar with the works of the Platonists, Virgil, Cicero, Sallust, Varro, the Bible, and the great stories of Rome’s founding mythology: Romulus and Remus, Lucretia, and Aeneas. Dante’s Divine Comedy is not simply allegory of his own tumultuous experiences in Florence; it is also journey through the very soul of Western literature, philosophy, and theology from start to finish. Shakespeare is riddled with Biblical and literary references that lessen the greatness of Shakespeare when missed by the reader. Jonathan Swift, that great satirist, was engaged in his own cultural criticism in satirizing the philosophies of Bacon, Hobbes, and Locke when Gulliver meets the Laputans.

Building on the past, referencing and critiquing influential texts, understanding the origins of the cultural and intellectual flooring (however mismatched some of the boards) on which we stand—these are good reasons for the humanities. You don’t have to believe or accept everything you read in the great books (that’s the “critical” part of the humanities). Sometimes the point is simply to learn why other people saw things the way they did (why they currently see things the way they do) to better understand the excellencies and errors of today. To do so, one must understand other metaphors and stories, and see how they inform nuances of moral principles. To understand another culture’s metaphor or story is to be able to understand motivating forces and forms of thinking in other people. As John Stuart Mill once said, if you don’t know another point of view, you really don’t know your own.

That’s the trouble with diversity — so many wrong-headed people get free speech

It’s good to see the Alliance Defense Fund defend the free-speech rights of a professor with unorthodox views. “No university should refuse promotion to a gifted and accomplished professor simply because it disagrees with his religious and political views,” said ADF Senior Counsel Steven Aden in a press release.

Aden was referring to the situation of Mike Adams, a criminal justice professor at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington denied tenure, allegedly due to his opinions.

I want to point out what I think is an inappropriate use of language in an article about Adams that appeared in today’s Daily Tar Heel.

Apparently the “conservative beliefs” of Adams include a Christian faith, if I’m correctly reading this article in The Daily Tar Heel.

I’m not sure how “conservative beliefs” became the umbrella term under which Christianity resides. After all, we’re watching a political campaign in which Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton are trying to out-Christian each other, while Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine, has created plenty of space for liberals and progressives to espouse evangelical faith. Certainly the Committee of Concerned Journalists and even Associated Press style guidelines would steer editors at The Daily Tar Heel away from blurring “conservative beliefs” and Christianity.

Now, back to the matter of diversity and free speech.

From The Daily Tar Heel article:

A UNC-Wilmington professor who claims to be a victim of discrimination for his conservative beliefs will speak at UNC-Chapel Hill today about promoting a diversity of ideas on university campuses.

Criminal justice professor Mike Adams has been battling UNC-W since last year, when he filed suit against the university for harassment and discrimination after a promotion refusal.

Adams says the refusal stems from prejudice toward his religious and political beliefs.

UNC-W’s motion to dismiss the suit was denied earlier this month.

The Alliance Defense Fund, a legal organization that handles issues of religious freedom, filed suit on behalf of Adams.

“Christian professors should not be discriminated against because of their beliefs,” stated ADF Senior Legal Counsel Steven Aden in a press release….

UNC-W officials declined to comment on the case because the lawsuit has not been resolved.

The ADF said it is defending Adams in an effort to protect the rights of professors who fall outside the perception of the typical liberal professor.

The university is supposed to be the marketplace of ideas, and university officials should not treat religious or conservative professors as second-class citizens on campus,” stated ADF Senior Legal Counsel David French, director of the organization’s Center for Academic Freedom, in an earlier press release.

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When I met William F. Buckley, Jr.

“What scruples about human beings did Stalin have that Hitler didn’t? Anything?”
— a quote by William F. Buckley, Jr., that I scribbled down while he was being interviewed on CSPAN2, April 2, 2000

I met Buckley after a Firing Line debate over economic sanctions against Cuba. It was taped in a college theater in Hartsville, S.C., ten or eleven years ago if memory serves. Michael Kinsley was the moderator.

In his opening remarks for the debate, Buckley raised his opponents’ position — they argued that economic sanctions against Cuba would work — and answered it with a sonorous, “When?” He believed the sanctions hadn’t worked, and never would, so we should let the free market roll.

Afterward, Kinsley disappeared but Buckley came out into the theater’s lobby. Starstruck, I introduced myself as “Colin Burch” and then asked him to sign my copies of Happy Days Were Here Again: Reflections of a Libertarian Journalist and Nearer, My God.

He opened a book, leaned over with a pen, and said, “OK, Colin Burch?”

“Yessir,” I said. Then forgetting that I just told him my full name not thirty seconds ago, and hopeful that he had seen some of my own political journalism, I asked him, “How’d you know my last name?”

He replied calmly, generously, and matter-of-factly: “Because you just told me.”

Duh! I thought while he signed both books.

Later he posed for a photo with Kristi and me. I tried to put my arm around his shoulders, but he kept his arm firmly at his side, not accepting my casual affection, and instead chose to gently put his arm behind Kristi’s back. I figured it out. Buckley was not about to share affections with a strange male, or any male, for that matter.

 Buckley, rest in peace.

-Colin Foote Burch