The humanities have been suffering for a long time. Ever since John Dewey’s promotion of progressive education, the Stanford University protests of “hey, hey, ho, ho, Western civ has got to go,” and now the philistinism of removing everything associated with dead white European males and the proliferation of critical race theory in education everywhere, the humanities seem to be on their last legs.
Yet the humanities, the central foundation of a liberal arts education, are more important than ever in resuscitating Western civilization. That’s why they’re scorned and belittled by the very people meant to promote it. It is important for conservatives to understand the great importance of the humanities to the future of their civilization and the heart of love that compels us to defend all that is good, true, and beautiful.
Studying the humanities isn’t sexy. In the world of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and virtual reality, why spend time with dusty old books? Why bother reading people who lived centuries, or even millennia ago, who seemingly have no similarity to us? For conservatives, especially, why are the humanities important?
The humanities are fundamentally about us. It is about being human. The humanities remain important, especially in our world today, for several reasons.
The most obvious is that the great writers, thinkers, and poets of the past are very much like us. Or rather, we are still very much like them. They were flesh and blood humans, with hearts and souls no different than ours, living and loving, struggling and wandering through the world as we ourselves do.
These denizens of the humanities provided what Matthew Arnold said was “the best that has been thought and said” about the human condition. We too dream dreams like Homer, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Leo Tolstoy. We too struggle with the complex realities of living an embodied life in this world, with all the twists and turns that heroes of yesteryear struggled with. In their writings, in their songs, in their laments, we find ourselves.
Destroying Western Culture
Moreover, in the crisis of Western culture, the individuals who adorn the pantheon of the humanities are essential for any future of Western civilization. This is the primary reason desecrating vandals who claim to be guardians of our culture seek to destroy the very icons of what they supposedly defend.
In the all-out assault on Western civilization, anything that highlights the exceptionalism of Western culture, the beauty, the truth, the goodness contained in our literature and music, the values they instill — love, forgiveness, mercy, compassion, marriage — all must be wiped away for the blank slate of totalitarianism to be built. For if we have nothing to love in our culture, we have nothing to conserve.
Culture is born from the songs that we sing and tell ourselves, our children, and our communities. From those songs our souls are nourished, and from these songs we have the courage to not only sail stormy seas and the gale winds that threaten us, but to also construct and create new inspirations that lift us up to “the good things the heavens hold.”
Virgil could not have written without Homer. Dante could not have written without Virgil. C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien couldn’t have written without the Norse and Anglo-Saxon sagas and songs of the past. Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart could not have composed without the many stories — sacred and secular — that inspired their compositions of beauty, love, and marriage.
In steeping in our own cultural patrimony we can be filled with inspiration of the past to create new inspiration for the future. We still see this reality with us even in fanciful contemporary retellings — often laced with contemporary political issues — of old stories.
The songs of Homer and the Arthurian legends still grip our hearts and move us to tears even if the revisionist writers of today put their own spin on things. The flexibility and adaptability of the past prove their enduring legacy. There is no reason to discard the baby with the bathwater unless one wants to kill the baby. And the vandalistic philistines of culture seek exactly that.
Destroying Western civilization requires the cutting of the very roots of culture. To achieve this the false guardians of culture replace everything that Western civilization has been built on. In wiping away those foundations — pillars they claim are acidic and poisonous — they create a barren emptiness in its place.
This is what the vandals want. For in the barren hell these false guardians create, they dream they can create ex nihilo whatever fits their twisted desires. This is their expressed and purposeful goal. In the empty wasteland they create, the totalitarian vandals believe they can construct anew; a new Tower of Babel, a New Eden, built on the ash of what they destroyed.
Furthermore, the humanities are our birthright as the descendants of the culture shaped by the noble and beautiful past of songs which inspire. If we are pilgrims sojourning across earth, we are not orphaned pilgrims and we shouldn’t want to be orphaned pilgrims.
We are pilgrims with a rich inheritance, deep roots, a storied past that feeds us and propels us through dark forests and thunderous storms to reach that bright horizon that calls us to a better future and a better home. To be orphaned pilgrims is to be aimless pilgrims. And to be aimless pilgrims means we can be easily deceived and twisted to terrible ends.
But we journey with a purpose. We are governed by beauty and love. Reacquainting ourselves with the rich and noble tradition of our ancestors, which has shaped songs and moved mountains and inspired many a sailor and soldier, husband and wife, teacher and student, is our loving duty we must embody in our lives and, where applicable, in our schools.
Learning to love reading and telling stories again; learning to love beautiful music again; learning to support those few bright lights in education again; all of the above are necessary for the resuscitation of the heart of love that our civilization requires to survive and thrive.
Tending the garden of culture is a long, and sometimes painful, pursuit. But it is a worthwhile one. It is an endeavor that feeds the soul and can inspire us to see all that is good, true, and beautiful about our past and that continues to inspire us to create new things that are good, true, and beautiful which will inspire future generations to come. The fate of Western civilization hinges on the love of the humanities. It hinges on our hearts and minds of love.
Love is the quintessential conservative value because one does not destroy what one loves, but love leads to unity and the want to save. And the treasure of our cultural tradition reveals who we are and what our future entails, if only we have the courage to love that culture and invite its company alongside our pilgrimage.
Perhaps it is no wonder that only in religious circles, especially independent Christian schools, the humanities still flourish. But it can also flourish with you and in your home — we need that as well. Culture often starts, and flourishes, around the kitchen table and the family home.