Harvard and the Humanities

From the January 2014 Print Edition

Harvard professors do a bad job of holding on to freshmen. In the last eleven incoming classes, the percentage of aspiring humanists has dropped from 27 to 18 percent, and more than half of that 18 percent who began with the humanities ended up in a different division, mostly social science. Why do they head for the exits? Although it acknowledges the prestige of the natural sciences and the pressure students feel to find jobs, a report by the university’s Arts and Humanities Division identifies the real problem: They don’t like the classes.Acknowledging the decline in humanities majors at Harvard over the last fifty years, from nearly half of all undergraduates to just one-fifth today, Mapping the Future asks why fewer and fewer students concentrate on history, literature, philosophy, languages, or the arts. After dismissing arguments that the decline is unique to Harvard or caused by economic insecurity, the report places much of the blame on the faculty. Humanities professors alienate students because they have elevated specialized research over general education and are often deaf to moral dissent.If we are serious about saving the humanities from themselves, we should welcome the mea culpa this report offers—and continue to argue that the humanities can revive themselves by returning to their original vocation as an investigation of man’s predicament between heaven and earth, God and beast. Continue Reading »

Divided We Stand

From the October 2013 Print Edition

The Undivided Past: Humanity Beyond Our Differences? by david cannadine ?knopf, 352 pages, $26.95 The history of the French Revolution would prove that many of the ­revolutionaries were more loyal to their local traditions and authorities than to the ­government in Paris, and in the . . . . Continue Reading »

Rawls: A Partial Defense

From First Thoughts

Ralph presents his case against Rawls below. Although I agree with much of it, I think he goes too far. Here are a few rather disordered suggestions intended less to vindicate Rawls than to complicate the picture: 1. We need to distinguish between Rawls an sich (as it were) and what Ralph describes . . . . Continue Reading »

Of Parties and Populists

From First Thoughts

Over at The American Conservative, Larison uses the NY Times/CBS News poll to argue that the Tea Partiers aren’t populists but rather “base” conservatives . He echoes Peter Beinart, who points out the differences between the Tea Partiers and the followers of William Jennings . . . . Continue Reading »

Dutch Courage

From First Thoughts

A brief item of self-promotion: PoMoCon readers who happen to understand Dutch may be interested in a new volume, Conservatieve Vooruitgang recently published by Prometheus. It’s a greatest-hits tour of 20th century conservative thought, with an emphasis on libertarian, pluralist, and . . . . Continue Reading »

Alphabet City

From First Thoughts

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, Norman Podhoretz emerged from semi-retirement to express his approval for Sarah Palin . No, I don’t propose to revisit the Sarah, pro- and con- debate, which will remain sterile and tedious until she actually, like, runs for something (or not). But I . . . . Continue Reading »

A Sprawling Debate

From First Thoughts

In a recent post, Randal O’Toole of the Cato Institute takes on Austin Bramwell’s argument that suburban sprawl is t he result of government planning . How can this be, O’Toole asks, when notorious sprawls like Houston don’t even have a zoning code? Bramwell responds by . . . . Continue Reading »

New Grub Street

From First Thoughts

The Awl points out this interview with Tina Brown . At about 19:40, Brown asks: “Are we building this new sort of subculture frankly of impoverished, living in garret writers? Because the fact is writers can hardly make a living right now because they don’t get paid.” Leon . . . . Continue Reading »

American Exceptionalism Revisited

From First Thoughts

Ponnuru and Lowry respond to their critics . I’m the sure the sphere will be all over this within hours.  But a few particularly egregious points are worth noting. 1) Ponnuru and Lowry claim that Obama rejects American exceptionalism in favor of the “Wilsonian project of relocating . . . . Continue Reading »