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—uncorked a biting critique of American higher education.
Universities, he proposed, are failing students and hurting American democracy. Curricula are "individualized, unfocused and scattered." On campus, he said, "I find a kind of cultural void, an ignorance of the past, a sense of rootlessness and aimlessness." Rare are "faculty with atypical views," he charged. "Still rarer is an informed understanding of the traditions and institutions of our Western civilization and of our country and an appreciation of their special qualities and values." He counseled schools to adopt "a common core of studies" in the history, literature and philosophy "of our culture." By "our" he means Western.
This might once have been called incitement. In 1990, as dean of Yale College, Mr. Kagan argued for the centrality of the study of Western civilization in an "infamous" (his phrase) address to incoming freshmen. A storm followed. He was called a racist—or as the campus daily more politely editorialized, a peddler of "European cultural arrogance."
Not so now. Mr. Kagan received a long standing ovation from students and alumni in the packed auditorium. Heading into retirement, he has been feted as a beloved and popular teacher and Yale icon. The PC wars of the 1990s feel dated. Maybe, as one undergrad told me after the lecture, "the pendulum has started to swing back" toward traditional values in education.
This week marks the second anniversary of the fall of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Two years after the refrain “the people want to topple the regime” filled Tahrir Square, it is now Egypt itself that is toppling. Street violence has pitted various groups against each other—anarchists against Islamists, policemen against protesters, men against women—and has left scores dead throughout the country.
China and the United States both launch leadership transitions this week. Earnest persons, in fear or hope, turn a raindrop of coincidence into a storm of meaning. In fact, November 6 here and November 8 in Beijing, when the Chinese Communist party (CCP) opens its 18th congress, have nothing in common except dual fascination to a jumpy world.
A group of protestors gathered this afternoon outside the Russian ambassador’s Washington residence to protest the jailing of the three Russian punk rock musicians from the group Pussy Riot. The musicians—Maria Alyokhina, 24, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, 22, and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 29—were sentenced to two years in prison today for “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred,” the BBC reported.
In his latest fundraising email to supporters, President Barack Obama seems to suggest that this presidential election will be a test for democracy.
"This election will be a test of the model that got us here," Obama writes. "We'll learn whether it's still true that a grassroots campaign can elect a president -- whether ordinary Americans are in control of our democracy in the face of massive spending."
In a remarkable development, the people of Libya on Sunday voted against the seemingly-irresistible advance of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in the “Arab Spring” countries of North Africa. Until Libyan ballots began coming in, Western media seemed assured that the MB would repeat, in that country, its successes elsewhere over the past year. In Tunisia last October, the Ennahda or Rebirth party won 37 percent at the polls. In Morocco’s November contest, the MB’s Justice and Development party gained enough strength to form a government under its leadership.