The Weekend Interview with Donald Kagan: 'Democracy May Have Had Its Day': Donald Kagan is engaging in one last argument. For his "farewell lecture" here at Yale on Thursday afternoon, the 80-year-old scholar of ancient Greece—whose four-volume history of the Peloponnesian War inspired comparisons to Edward Gibbon's Roman history…
What? Who is it who compared Donald Kagan's history of the Peloponnesian War to Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire? Kaminski doesn't say. The Google is of no help…
My view was that Kagan had a big problem with his History of the Peloponnesian War. He wanted to challenge Thoukydides's interpretation. The problem was that Thoukydides was there. Kagan wasn't. Thoukydides knew a lot more about the war and how it went down than he put in his book. And his book was essentially Kagan's only source.
So Kagan's "Aha! The evidence Thoukydides presents in his book doesn't prove his interpretation wrong beyond a reasonable doubt!" very soon got very tiresome, as I found myself thinking over and over again that it takes a very special man indeed to pick a fight with somebody who knows more about a subject than he does.
And as for Kagan's laments about how the Yale faculty no longer teaches "Western Civilization":
The Weekend Interview with Donald Kagan: 'Democracy May Have Had Its Day': In 1990… Kagan argued for the centrality of the study of Western civilization in an "infamous" (his phrase) address to incoming freshmen. A storm followed…. "You can't have a fight," he says one recent day at his office, "because you don't have two sides. The other side won." He means across academia, but that is also true in his case. Mr. Kagan resigned the deanship in April 1992, lobbing a parting bomb at the faculty that bucked his administration. His plans to create a special Western Civilization course at Yale—funded with a $20 million gift from philanthropist and Yale alum Lee Bass, who was inspired by the 1990 lecture—blew up three years later amid a political backlash. "I still cry when I think about it," says Mr. Kagan. As he looks at his Yale colleagues today, he says, "you can't find members of the faculty who have different opinions." I point at him. "Not anymore!" he says and laughs. The allure of "freedom" and "irresponsibility" were too strong to resist, he says….
The tussles over course offerings and campus speech of course speak to something larger…. "The essence of liberty, which is at the root of a liberal education, is that meaningful freedom means that you have choices to make," Mr. Kagan says. "At the university, there must be intellectual variety. If you don't have [that], it's not only that you are deprived of knowing some of the things you might know. It's that you are deprived of testing the things that you do know or do think you know or believe in, so that your knowledge is superficial."… "Crisis suggests it might recover," Mr. Kagan shoots back. "Maybe it's had its day. Democracy may have had its day. Concerns about the decline of liberty in our whole polity is what threatens all of the aspects of it, including democracy."…
Faculties have gained "extraordinary authority" over universities, Mr. Kagan says…. "The tendency in this century and in the previous century at least has been toward equality of result and every other kind of equality that could be claimed without much regard for liberty," he says. "Right now the menace is certainly to liberty."
Let's look at Yale's online open courses, and see what we find:
- African American History: From Emancipation to the Present
- Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner
- Introduction to Ancient Greek History
- The American Novel Since 1945
- Introduction to Theory of Literature
- Modern Poetry
- The American Revolution
- The Civil War and Reconstruction Era
- European Civilization, 1648-1945
- Epidemics in Western Society Since 1600
- Early Modern England: Politics, Religion, and Society under the Tudors and Stuarts
- France Since 1871
- The Early Middle Ages, 284–1000
- Dante in Translation
- Philosophy and the Science of Human Nature
- Introduction to Political Philosophy
- The Moral Foundations of Politics
- Capitalism: Success, Crisis, and Reform
- Introduction to the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible)
- Introduction to the New Testament History and Literature
- Foundations of Modern Social Theory
- Cervantes' Don Quixote
Yep. Looks like more than half of Yale's online courses--including hard science courses in the denominator--are "Western Civilization" courses. (Of course, "Western Civilization" is simply that part of the past that late-nineteenth-century Britons thought was useful and usable.)
Oh. You say that these Yale professors don't teach that George W. Bush is a great president, that Saddam Hussein was behind 9-11, that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a great success, and that the Palestinians need to be pushed across the Jordan River at the first politically convenient moment? That's what Kagan means by "Western Civilization"?
A Tiny Revolution: No Such Thing As Too Much Kagan: No Such Thing As Too Much Kagan Here's more from Donald Kagan, former Dean of Yale and father of Fred and Robert and father-in-law to Kimberly, in an article in the Yale Daily News:
Tuesday’s Sept. 11 memorial service took on a political edge when history and classics professor Donald Kagan accused Iraq war opponents of being unpatriotic...
[Kagan's] keynote address centered on the importance of patriotism and national unity, and Kagan decried those who support withdrawing troops from Iraq in the near future. Referencing a lecture he gave shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, he said Americans have a “moral responsibility” to support the government.
“The war [in Iraq] is not lost,” Kagan said. “[Yet] opponents have rushed to declare America defeated"...
Sept. 11 has been designated “Patriot Day,” and Kagan opened his speech by saying he intended to focus on the concept of patriotism. Citing America’s role in World War II, the fall of the Soviet Union, the conflict in the Balkans and the removal of Saddam Hussein, Kagan painted an image of the United States as a force for freedom in the world.
“America has been a beacon of liberty to the world since its creation,” Kagan said.
As an advocate for freedom, the U.S. has earned its share of enemies, so Kagan said it has a special need for domestic unity and patriotism.
“Few countries have been subjected to as much questioning … as our own,” Kagan said, “There should be a presupposition in favor of patriotism.”
Americans who have questioned the United States’ involvement in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are unpatriotic, Kagan said, and are undermining the country’s efforts to win the wars...
Yes, I've always thought the primary message students should get at college is "shut up and stop asking questions."