Several months ago I claimed that “the American conservative’s attitude toward education is often even worse than that of his [liberal] counterpart.”  It turns out Rush Limbaugh has been so helpful as to  emphasize my point.

The very good response to Limbaugh comes from Martin Cothran via Memoria Press, a family-run publishing company here in Louisville.  The only fault I can find with Cothran’s retort is an amiable one; it is a little too generous.  In describing Limbaugh’s attack on the classics as “friendly fire,” Cothran optimistically assumes that, deep down inside, the celebrity talk-radio host is deeply attached to Western civilization and the spirit of inquiry embodied in it.

My view is that there is no reason at all to treat the opinions of Limbaugh more seriously than those of, say, the late Steve Jobs.  Part of the reason the Left now dominates the humanities is because nature abhors a vaccuum; as often as not so-called “conservatives” regard as wasted time any serious contemplation of what it means to be human, and have thereby ceded the field to leftists — many of whom are at least farsighted enough to recognize the importance of cultivating imagination and intellect.

20 COMMENTS

  1. Alternatively, you could say that the humanities are solidly left because they have relentlessly driven out anybody on the center or right who might otherwise have participated.

  2. Limbaugh is a circus showman. A college dropout who likes to make crass and inflammatory statements in order to make money off his radio program. I’ve rarely heard anything intelligent come from the likes of him.

  3. “Part of the reason the Left now dominates the humanities is because nature abhors a vaccuum; as often as not so-called “conservatives” regard as wasted time any serious contemplation of what it means to be human, and have thereby ceded the field to leftists – many of whom are at least farsighted enough to recognize the importance of cultivating imagination and intellect.”

    Not bad. Not bad at all. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  4. Pardon me but I prefer Strauss’ and Bloom’s takes on education. It admonishes anything the left has to offer regarding education.

  5. Conservatives, adopting paranoia as an ethos have ceded a lot of the field to less able forces. Nice observation Mr. Salyer.

  6. I think Rush Limbaugh endorses Hillsdale College in advertisements that run during his show. Does Hillsdale have anything to say on the matter?

  7. The Hillsdale grad that sleeps in my bed believes that classical studies as a major discipline is a waste (I pray for her). As far as I can tell there’s a very pragmatic side of the school and then there’s a side that embraces the humanities. It’s simply not monolithic in thought – you’ll find conservatives and neoconservatives and libertarians and paleoconservatives and even liberals (of course I mean classical liberals).

  8. Rush Limbaugh is correct.

    A classics degree is useless unto itself as a means of making money in an economic world which requires paper document proof of technical expertise. Which is why those of us with liberal arts degrees go to grad. school. So we too can become technicians.

    But more to the point, the girl with the sign proves just how worthless her particular college education was by her complaining that the function of her education is to make money.

  9. “But more to the point, the girl with the sign proves just how worthless her particular college education was by her complaining that the function of her education is to make money.”
    Good point.

    I will freely admit that my own major is only something I am pursuing because my parents will pay for it. I hope to eventually scrounge the money for graduate school in History when the time comes.

  10. “will freely admit that my own major is only something I am pursuing because my parents will pay for it.”

    You and I both. I’m also a philosophy major because STEM subjects would lead me to pure insanity.

  11. Indeed, they probably have already driven me there. I am pursuing a major in Geology. The Geology classes themselves aren’t bad. Taking Chemistry and Physics was a mentally wrenching exercise, and the way Calculus was taught it was largely a pointless exercise in extreme memorization.

    Which does bring up the fact that college is a somewhat screwed up proposition regardless of the degree one pursues, particularly at state run institutions.

  12. No-one who follows our politics from a center-right position, and who has listened to Rush more than say, five times, can say what Brandon says. There is a reason his is often the #1 rated show in America.

    So yes, a far more calibrated response to the shortcomings of Rush Limbaugh and the format/style he created is needed than saying there is “no reason at all to treat the opinions of Limbaugh more seriously than those of, say, the late Steve Jobs.” I suppose what Mr. Sayler means is, “about politics” there is no reason to take Limbaugh more seriously than Jobs. Well, there about as many U.S. Representatives who would disagree with that as there are Republican ones. It’s like saying around 1905, “there is no reason to take what Williams Jennings Bryan says about politics more seriously than what Orville Wright says about it.”

    Will Mr. Sayler’s line be that all the Republican politicians who respect the fact that Rush is an opinion leader, and all of Rush’s listeners, too, are 100% outside the court of Reason?

    In a scenario where any typical academic and Limbaugh were give a week to study-up on some policy issue and then debate it before a college audience, Limbaugh would almost always win. That includes against you, Mr. Sayler, and I’m pretty sure against me as well…at the very least, he’d give us one hell of a fight. I’ve tuned in maybe thirty times in my life, and have heard plenty bad shows, moronic “red-meat” filler, and unnecessary rudeness to callers, but more typically, the man has thought carefully about the politics he’s discussing–often very carefully when it comes to particular bills or on intercine conservative disputes. So his draw upon listeners is not primarily rhetorical or anger-based.

    That doesn’t mean there aren’t major shortcomings w/ Limbaugh’s approach, to say nothing of his policy positions, but it is what it is. A raw political fact. It is a mistake to think that intelligence and political prudence have nothing to do with that fact.

  13. And of course his riffing on the uselessness of “classics” is awful. But sadly, many classics departments are filled to the brim with folks whose political wisdom is nil, and almost all of them treat fine Straussian scholars like dirt. Similarly sadly, this week I learned about how an arguably great Shakespeare scholar, Harold Bloom, thinks that America is an oligarchy and that Mitt Romney is a theocrat. Very very dumb, that, although not a few Porchers would agree with the oligarchy part.

    Sigh.

  14. “My view is that there is no reason at all to treat the opinions of Limbaugh more seriously than those of, say, the late Steve Jobs.”

    While I often agree with what Mr. Sayler says, particularly as to the foolishness of the right’s disdain for their own abandoned tradition, this seems to me almost as foolish as Mr. Limbaugh’s broadside against the “classics.”

    If the Front Porch wishes to have an impact on how men think or act in relation to their own front porches, those of us who desire such an outcome would do well to pay close attention to the opinions of the likes of Limbaugh. For often, in visiting the front porches of men likely sympathetic to the ideas espoused on this website (if not fully knowledgeable of them), one will find a radio tuned into a man who claims to have talent on loan from God.

  15. Carl,

    You illustrate well why other scholars are likely to treat Straussians like dirt:

    a. Straussians do not respect other scholars.
    b. Straussians operate according to a binary us v. them mentality.
    c. Straussians think they are better than everyone else.
    d. Straussians think they are persecuted, and they are, but it is also true that they are themselves persecutors (especially when they obtain positions of power).

    And so it goes on-and-on-and-on…

    Many Straussians are fine scholars, but Straussians should ask themselves honestly why they have the reputation they do. It’s not simply the case that they’re persecuted for their ideas (which they certainly are)–people tolerate disagreement all the time. A lot of it has to do with their attitudes. For instance, A. Bloom basically told the entire field of classics they were doing it wrong–a whole field to which he didn’t even belong! Gee, I wonder why they don’t like Straussians? Even if he were right, he could have taken a more collegial approach. Instead of attacking Cornford, he could have simply offered a literal translation as another approach. But he chose to go to war, and Straussians are still paying the price. Where is the prudence in Bloom’s decision? Where is his “political wisdom”? Don’t just blame the classicists; Blame your predecessors as well–and yourself (none of us is innocent).

    There are a lot of scholars (myself included) who are and want to be friendly toward Straussians but find it difficult, because Straussians won’t let them just be friendly: it’s either Straussianism or nothing, because you either get it or you don’t. I honestly think a lot could be resolved if Straussians would just relax.

  16. For my part, I wonder on what basis an educational utilitarian decides questions like “what is education for?” outside of the intellectual tradition embodied in the traditional humanities, the very part of the curriculum the educational utilitarian would like to eliminate.

  17. Basically, “Can you get a job in the field outside the academy?” That is unfortunately the only question asked.

  18. “all the Republican politicians who respect the fact that Rush is an opinion leader, and all of Rush’s listeners, too, are 100% outside the court of Reason . . .”

    Too amiable.

  19. Anony,

    You know, either Harold Bloom said something foolish about politics (not his field) or he didn’t. And he can well take folks like me saying so.

    Not a few Straussians are jerks, and your point d. is one that they should take seriously, without committing myself to any position on what the evidence is for it–an academic insider I ain’t.

    I think your a-c are quite unfair, and stated thus they really undercut your later kindnesses/admissions.

    Now your last two paragraphs I take seriously–I don’t know offhand the ps and qs of what Bloom did and what his choices realistically were, but I have too much (perhaps naive) respect for the field of classics to buy into the idea that by attacking Cornford’s bad translation procedures (and they were bad) he was attacking the whole field. Certain leaders in it, certainly. But broadly speaking, there is something to what you’re saying about collegiality there.

    To one and all, I’d say, meet Straussians with arguments.

    When your education, bought at considerable cost, makes you certain that someone is really really wrong, often about a key political idea, and when you are given academic position, charged with professing the truth as you best grasp it, how should you pick your battles? Straussians do have the habit of saying outright: you are wrong about x. And that can annoy, but it annoys more than it should because so many scholars have gotten into this bad relativistic habit of couching their criticisms softly– “by your narrative, by your paradigm” etc., as if nothing true or serious was at all at stake. And so no wonder folks who listen to Limbaugh can be led to think that nothing is–that it’s so much hot air.

    Take the thread above about oligarchy, in which Emil Kramer, apparently a classicist, says what all my education in ancient and modern politics tells me is wrong: that using the word “oligarchy” to describe the American regime is a good idea, even an obviously true thing. I KNOW this is a factually inaccurate or at least problematic use of the term, and is particularly so by the ancient standards that Kramer ought to grasp, and I am certain that the general attitude behind such a vocabulary use is a politically imprudent one. I’ve seen folks shouting “oligarchy!” in Aristophanes, Plato, Xenophon, Thucydides, Livy, Machiavelli, Shakespeare, Tocqeuville, Hume, Gibbon, Guizot, Flaubert, Publius, Adams, Jefferson, convention history, labor history, Marx, Lenin, Aron, Arendt, McWilliams, and probably 4,000 pages of Solzehnitsyn , and have seen what it tends to result in. I ‘ve myself reflected on it in Publius, Aristotle, and Shakespeare in class notes, and in hundred of written pages for dissertation work on Plato and Tocqueville, some of which went to great length to describe the most powerful argument democrats could make. So, yeah, Mr. Kramer is wrong. And Harold Bloom is wrong. And I KNOW this. And they are both wrong about something very important.

    And so what am I supposed to do? I’m not running for political office. I’m a scholar, one who joins the democratic-blogospheric conversation from time to time, to help it along as best he can. And yeah, who gets carried away sometimes. Caught up in the dubious pleasures of argument and being right.

    What I do do on this blog is tell Kramer he is wrong, and then list what he is wrong about, and where there is more room for debate. Is that a wrong thing to do on a blog ? Or was I wrong to say Harold Bloom said something dumb? Kramer knows more Greek and Latin and history than I do, probably by a long, long shot, but I honestly feel he has not been adequately challenging himself to think about what the ancients thought about politics, and to what degree this can be applied to modern politics. And yet I suspect that NPR or such would love to invite a classicist like him to discuss the ancient conception of oligarchy and how it applies today, whereas they would never call the likes of me. Has he done any academic-level work with the Constitution, with the development of the American regime? Has he done any work comparing the modern concepts in detail with the ancient ones. I have. But I am a generalist, a political scientist without an narrowly defined “experiment” cooking in a “lab” somewhere, and people will label me a “Straussian” to boot, and so in academia, I don’t count. But hey, some Straussians were jerks back in the day, so I have to accept it? And be very very circumspect about calling error error?

    You aren’t saying all this Anony, but FYI, that’s how things look like from here.

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