The Citizen Thinker

ThinkingManby FJ Rocca7/6/15
A Celebration of Unqualified Discourse  •  It is a fact that most people do not possess doctorates. This is probably a good thing for America, because today there appears to be a corollary between high levels of academic education and disastrously poor thinking. A degree from a well-known university still may be a fast way to get into certain professions; but the possession of a degree no longer means what it once did, that its possessor is truly educated. Many people, including employers, no longer trust university degrees as they once did, equating the diploma with useful knowledge. This depends of course on what major is taken. But the degree itself no longer guarantees that the holder is truly educated.[pullquote]We appear to be living in a time when, to become truly educated, one has to rely on educating oneself by reading and analyzing, and learning through discussion with others for whom enlightenment is equally important…[/pullquote]

Tradition over a thousand or more years holds that the purpose of a university education is to develop the discipline of learning itself. This was the model for the Liberal Arts, having nothing to do with Liberal ideology. In the classical model of the university education, one was trained to think critically by analyzing the meaning of events and great ideas through careful study. This was guided by teachers who possessed wisdom and experience, who were respected not for their allegiance to a set of dogma, but for their ability to invite debate and discussion, once considered vital to discourse on a university campus. Freedom of thought and the challenge provided by disagreement and honest argument were the fertile ground in which generations of wise human beings developed, thrashing out the pros and cons of contrasting ideas and world views. Each subsequent generation was expected to contribute to the spread of ideas with their own innovative and original contributions.

But that no longer proves to be the case. Nowadays, free thought is locked out and conformity is locked in. No longer the bastion of Liberal Arts, many of today’s once great universities have traded Liberal Arts for Leftist dogma, Liberal Indoctrination instead of Liberal Arts. Common sense is evaporating at an alarming rate from the campuses of US universities, where Political Correctness has replaced justice and doctrinaire lies have replaced truth. Cries of “Check your privilege!” replace learning based in actual historical context.

Even the subject matter being taught has descended in value. Is “gender studies” a legitimate discipline with a large body of scholarly work to be added to by way of dissertations based on serious research? What about Feminism and Gay Studies? Is there a thousand-year history from which to draw conclusions about the field and to contribute to it materially? The daughter of a friend of mine majored in Environmental Art at Harvard. When I asked what that was exactly, he shrugged. “Who knows?” he said. “It’s from Harvard, so who cares?” Are these even disciplines or merely very small—dare I say insignificant— parts of the study of history or criticism? Can in depth study of gender even be worth $30,000 or $40,000 tuition per year? I may be wrong, but to me these seem like little more than exercises in egotistical laziness, and the only profession in which it can be considered of any value is that of academe. So can we look at this as a kind of intellectual incest, in which one generation of professors propagate nonsense in their successor, all of whom will be locked in the confines of a university Ivory Tower? What is the study of Feminism compared, say, to philosophy or history, art or music, literature or drama?

We appear to be living in a time when, to become truly educated, one has to rely on educating oneself by reading and analyzing, and learning through discussion with others for whom enlightenment is equally important, but ad hoc, not on a controlled college campus. There are opportunities outside the university campus for debate, with questions and answers carefully ruminated and understood without the need for sitting in the stifling bubble among the captive audience of an expensive university cauldron. Maybe there will even be a time when a university degree is completely disregarded in favor of a demonstration of real knowledge, perhaps some kind of a test, an interview in which one is put upon to discuss in detail what one knows about the subject matter on which he will work.

For myself, I have always favored the intelligent amateur, the intellectual whose learning has been the result of a hunger to know, rather than the rigid requirements of some syllabus that includes as much useless pap as it does useful data. Our Founding Fathers were largely self-educated men, which is to say that their love of learning was what they learned and learned early.

A university education is supposed to teach one how to go on learning. But how can one nurture a love of learning when there is so much indoctrination on college and university campuses these days, and so much Political Correctness to stifle open thought and dialog, that the love of learning is lost through fear and pressure? The value of a degree comes with dubious distinction that it is not the result of a love of learning, but of a procession of educational rituals one is put through by doctrinaire eggheads with no more to give than dusty paradigms long proven unworkable!

Citizen journalism is rapidly replacing the collective chant of an atrophied mainstream media. Perhaps it is time for people to think for themselves, to weigh the pros and cons, the worth and disvalue of certain ideas being thrust at us by an academic class whose value is nearing an end because its ideas are dead and their preaching scolds no longer respected by people of common sense. Especially with the power of the internet, self-education is eminently possible and in this regard self-educated Citizen Intellectuals may be the future. An educated common man may very well restore sanity and common sense to our culture.


FJ Rocca was born the day after Pearl Harbor in the same hometown as Johnny Appleseed. He is a trained classical musician, a published illustrator and a prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction. His website is candiddiscourse.com. • (2689 views)

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FJ Rocca

About FJ Rocca

FJ Rocca was born the day after Pearl Harbor in the same hometown as Johnny Appleseed. He is a trained classical musician, a published illustrator and a prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction. His website is candiddiscourse.com.

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74 Responses to The Citizen Thinker

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    Skepticism is a useful talent, but developing takes some effort. I’m not sure where my own talent developed (I certainly didn’t start out that way), though some high-school reading and conversations that led me to deism would probably be a good start. Then, too, much of modern liberalism is an apocalyptic cult, and at some level I don’t really want to be such a pessimist. This is why, when I encountered pro-nuclear material by Samuel McCracken in the late 1970s, I chose to believe him rather than the anti-nuclear material I had read. I had no personal knowledge of who was right, but McCracken just made more sense to me. Of course, the falsity of apocalyptic liberal writing has become a lot more obvious since then — for those who are willing to see it.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    This is outstanding, FJ. This is among the best that has ever been published here. And you darn near gave a manifesto for StubbornThings itself.

    • FJ Rocca says:

      Thanks, Brad. This is indeed a great compliment. I have always favored self-education, not because formal education is valueless, but because a real education is supposed to be based on a love of truth. A University education should be treated as a service, that one scrutinizes with great care to be sure of its authenticity, sincerity and purity. Today’s universities do not provide a service that is educationally and academically reliable. This is obvious when one considers the level of leftist dogma spouted by professors who scream “white privilege” or who use Political Correctness as weapons against the free exchange of ideas. When education ceases to be a relentless quest for truth, beauty and goodness, the three unshakable norms of Western Civilization, it ceases to be real education.

      • FJ Rocca says:

        Incidentally, I’d be delighted to help you craft a manifesto that is concise and definitive. My wife and I drafted one that was intended for use in an organization of conservative teachers. I’d be happy to e-mail you a copy. Let me know.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I’ve got a simple few words about the general Zeitgeist of StubbornThings under the About menu item. Send your manifesto and, if it’s appropriate, I could add that there.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I have always favored self-education, not because formal education is valueless, but because a real education is supposed to be based on a love of truth.

        FJ, I think we’d all agree that even a stupid piece of paper from Harvard with a degree in “gender studies” is useful. And I think the hard sciences, more or less, still are the hard sciences, although Cultural Marxism has certainly infected them as well (global warming, for instance). One bubble that is perhaps slowly bursting now though is the worth of that slip of paper for those “soft sciences.” My general anecdotal imperfect understanding is that businesses have to do a lot of retraining of people who possess that piece of paper (hard or soft). I’ve even been told by one businessman that there is real benefit in hiring someone who hasn’t been to college (but is still reasonably intelligent) because they have fewer bad habits to unlearn.

        But I don’t deny the marketability aspect of that piece of paper, whether there is any real knowledge and wisdom behind it. The world is what it is. And perhaps there is no deeper realm than market value, the idea being that collective beliefs and conceits define reality. And we certainly see more and more of that every day. I’m somewhat resigned to that. Spitting into the wind gets old.

        But love of truth — or even of just random factoids, history, or other less lofty-sounding pursuits — certainly is not the same thing as chasing a piece of paper or majoring in “gender studies” (which apparently Mr. Kung did at quite a reduced cost from the rates that Harvard or Yale is charging). Even then, this pursuit can easily become tainted with intellectualism where, for all intents and purposes, you cram facts as a kind of substitute for measuring penis lengths.

        I think if and when the insanity (for it is certainly that) of Cultural Marxism softens a little, it could happen that education systems (perhaps many online) pop up that begin to gain renown for, A) Actually educating people and, B) Being 1/20th the cost of your typical university. Yes, it’s a pipe dream I have to live in a world where real skills, not pieces of paper, are valued most. But forgive me, please, my dream.

        When education ceases to be a relentless quest for truth, beauty and goodness, the three unshakable norms of Western Civilization, it ceases to be real education.

        It’s interesting to note that the general trend in the arts (as “inspired” by the Left) is toward ugliness, not beauty. Truth has obviously been deemed relative, if not actually racist or a vestige of “white privilege.” And goodness also is relative, a product of whatever Progressive government and those at the choke-points of our culture say it is. See the useful idiots gleefully embrace “gay marriage” today…and wonder what they will embrace tomorrow. But it will be something. It will be absurd. And they will tell you that they, of course, are on the “right side of history.” But have these types actually read any history? It’s doubtful.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Ideally, formal education will lead to a love of learning that will result in the sort of self-education you talk about. Few people will remember many of the details of most of their studies — but they will remember more of what they choose to study on their own.

  3. Steve Lancaster says:

    Rocca is right on many levels. The value of a bachelors degree is not the level of education that should be implied, but demonstrates to potential employers that the holder was able to stick out 4-5 years of bureaucratic jumping through hoops, a valuable skill, but not indicative of education.

    At masters levels it is possible, mostly by rejecting the idea of further academic employment, to have acquired enough class and reading time to begin to ponder real thought. This is the level that we used to expect of high school graduates.

    There are many exceptions but at the doctorate level future employment is the only goal. Publish or perish is still the watchword in the lounge and the few skilled teachers in the ranks are constantly thinned with post-docs seeking employment and tenure. And of course the entire process is ladened with administration and administers that more and more demand six figure salaries and seldom, if ever, enter a classroom.

    The modern university operates to provide employment and resources for faculty and staff. Students, if thought of at all, are considered an income stream, but most of the time a waste product of the system.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      The value of a bachelors degree is not the level of education that should be implied, but demonstrates to potential employers that the holder was able to stick out 4-5 years of bureaucratic jumping through hoops

      I couldn’t agree more with you. This is something I figured out while still in school some forty years back. People have called me a cynic, but I do honestly believe this is one of the most important aspects of a college education for employers, especially large bureaucratic employers.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      The modern university operates to provide employment and resources for faculty and staff.

      Dennis Prager calls them “Leftist seminaries.” I think that’s become the essence of the modern Western university.

  4. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    Can in depth study of gender even be worth $30,000 or $40,000 tuition per year?

    At that age, I made an in-depth study of gender and it only cost me the occasional drink or meal.

    • Steve Lancaster says:

      Cheap at twice the price, of course in the right environment the education becomes a lesson in economics, supply and demand 🙂

  5. Wonderful article — I’m sure that all of us here at ST mourn the passing of true education. While I have always championed creativity in the classroom, the recent offerings at our colleges and universities seem totally irresponsible. If a school is charging $30,000 a year why oh why is it OK to then offer courses like the following:
    Demystifying the Hipster — Tufts
    Feminist Perspectives: Politicizing Beyonce — Rutgers
    Tree Climbing — Cornell
    Stupidity — Occidental
    The Art of Walking — Centre College
    A History of the Pig in America — Xavier
    Deviance — University of Texas

    These courses and others like them demonstrate that both student and teacher are playing school as they were all 6-year-olds. College credit in tree climbing? Really? DIY education is indeed what we have to do these days, for ourselves and for our children.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I have the equivalent of a PhD in tree climbing. I earned it by the time I was 12. I was a free-range kid. We also used to kinda-sort fall out of trees. You could jump from the top of a medium-height thickly-branched pine tree and (sort of like in the movies where someone jumps from the fifth floor and his fall is broken by serial canvas canopies) have your fall broken by the branches and by grabbing the branches.

      Perhaps I could still teach a course, although I now don’t feel so comfortable with heights. Adults can’t quite do all the things that kids can. But there are all kinds of educational opportunities for such a course, including:

      + How to get pitch out of your hair
      + How to avoid killing yourself by putting your weight on dead branches
      + Looking down is not only okay, it’s required
      + What to do if an angry bull blocks your way from dismounting the tree (actually happened to me once)

      One might even include some credit for “gender studies” for from the height of a tree, you can sometimes see into neighbors’ windows.

    • pst4usa says:

      I do not know the real title of this course at Evergreen College Deana, but it was something like Intentional walking. I just hate it when I just keep walking
      accidentally.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Given how many (women) I’ve seen with casts, braces, and what-not, I’d suggest a course on “Intentional Walking” is just the thing. My mother is notorious for not paying attention while she’s walking. She fell down the stairs a few months ago. Luckily the damage was minimal.

        But for years now I’ve been exhorting her to “Think about walking when you are walking. Don’t cloud you mind with your typical 1000-and-one worries.”

        I keep reminder her that every elderly person is just one busted hip away form being immobilized for quite a long time, with perhaps this disability being permanent. Call me sexist, but I find that women have a particularly difficult time with “intentional walking.” Maybe that’s not such a bad course.

        And, yes, with the hiking I regularly do on steep trails strewn with marble-like pebbles, I “intentionally walk” quite a bit. You have to.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      One or two of those (such as the history of the pig in America) might be useful as small seminar courses (say, an hour a week where most courses might be 3 hours a week, as was the case when I was at Purdue).

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        I recently read a book about rats. I didn’t add it to the Bookshelf because I didn’t think it merited it. It’s a bit of a rambling book. This is good in that it includes a bit of New York history. It’s bad in that this book is more of a series of barely-connected essays. As one reviewer said, “Read like 20 New Yorker articles thrown together.” And at the end of the day, I wouldn’t say this is much more than an observer’s-eye view of rats. But there certainly is a Schadenfreude aspect to learning about New York’s rats.

        No doubt a good study of pigs would produce a bit of well-rounded knowledge to the well-rounded individual. Corn. Pigs. Sugar. Rats. Tattoos. Text messaging. Isn’t that 90% of what concerns most people’s lives?

        • Timothy Lane says:

          I read a book about rats once, titled More Cunning Than Man. One detail I recall is that when a large French open-air market was moved, they found that the rats had already moved to the new location.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Let’s see, if I could sum-up what I learned about rats from that book:

            + They can squeeze into amazingly tight places because their skull plates (or something) are flexible.
            + They have amazingly robust immune systems.
            + Because they are so difficult to get rid of, companies in the business changed their names from being “exterminators” to “pest controllers.” And even “control” might be pressing it regarding rats.

            And I suppose for a rodent, they are indeed very intelligent. I was thinking just the other day about man’s big brain. Many insects can do amazing things with a brain the size of a grain of sand or less. An insect can control flight, do advanced optical recognition and control, and other things that it would take a quite large robot to mimic even crudely.

            So if rats are smart enough (and clearly they are) to move to a new location (which is adopting a rational attitude to their day-to-day needs), why do humans, with their enormous brains, tend to think in terms that are often so idiotic? Are blacks too stupid, for example, to understand that if they want better schools for their children, then can’t keep blindly voting for Democrats? The same thing could be said regarding any race or people regarding any number of subjects. Perhaps in some way our blinkeredness serves us in the long run. But at times it’s difficult to see how.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              To be fair, most people are reasonably competent in running their own lives. The problem comes when they have to make decisions about who should run the country — and especially why. Since that doesn’t directly affect them immediately, they don’t think they need good sense in answering the question.

            • Anniel says:

              Brad, I have mentioned here before that we do not have rats in Anchorage and no one knows why. They exist in other places fairly close, like Seward, but none here. Dead ones are found near the port but they don’t last. I don’t know how much research has been done on the subject but it has always seemed to me that someone could make a fortune if they could really control them. I really don’t miss them.

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                There must have been the rat equivalent of St. Patrick in and around Anchorage. St. Ratrick?

      • FJ Rocca says:

        But at Purdue wasn’t the course called “The History of the Chicken in America”? Incidentally, I believe I went to school with one of Frank Purdue’s sons, at least that’s what everybody said. I remember him, a very fine musician, a singer. Odd, what we remember.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Agriculture was a major part of Purdue (which started out as a land-grant college), so some such course may well have existed, though I wouldn’t know about it. I have no idea if Frank Perdue or Perdue Chicken is in any way linked to Purdue (I doubt Tyson Chicken would be, given that they’re based in Arkansas and were involved in the Clinton follies). In any case, I never took any of those seminars, though a few of my courses were fairly specialized (e.g., East Asian Diplomatic History in the 20th Century, which I was very interested a few years ago to hear that the Young Marshal, Chang Hsueh-liang [Wade-Giles transliteration] was still alive).

  6. André M. Smith says:

    Dear Sirs:

    Mr Brad Nelson has written about his personal bull as “What to do if an angry bull blocks your way from dismounting the tree (actually happened to me once)” There is historical antecedent with a shared plight. “Doctor Syntax being pursued by a bull,” was published by Ackermann’s Repository in one of the three Tours of Dr. Syntax by William Coombe, dated 1813. https://www.google.com/search?q=doctor+syntax+being+pursued+by+a+bull+image&biw=1024&bih=587&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=xZCcVZHTIISsyQSrno3oBg&ved=0CDIQ7Ak#imgrc=KEVuKRcdcQoheM%3A

  7. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    To be fair, most people are reasonably competent in running their own lives. The problem comes when they have to make decisions about who should run the country — and especially why.

    Timothy, most people definitely are *not* equipped to run their own lives…at least within the bounds of civilization. They must be taught. Children who are abandoned in the wild sometimes do survive. This phenomenon of the “wild child” has been written about. And it’s an interesting subject. I heartily recommend for reading Savage Girls and Wild Boys. Libertarians, in particular, should become aware of what man is in his “state of nature.” It’s not pretty…but not completely irredeemable.

    Conservatives should read this book as well to gain an understanding of how important culture is. A culture can facilitate a human being taking good care of himself and his family. A culture can facilitate and guide one to becoming a good citizen who is active in small-town community private organizations and such. A culture can facilitate a Zeitgeist of sobriety, thoughtfulness, reasonableness, and wisdom.

    Or it can do the opposite, as it is doing now. Many people — Theodore Dalrymple has written about the welfare underclass in England — are not competent to run their own lives. First, competency was never instilled. There is a lot of drug use, crime, single-parent families, adultery, sexual abandon, and just low-life ethics. A good culture was not passed onto them. Second, any chance of having good ethics and a good culture passed onto them is undermined by the Leftist “do gooders” who treat them all as Guinea pigs in their “social justice” secular government programs.

    Without good parents, good role models, good teachers, good friends, and good citizens, it is very difficult for people to be competent (in any fair definition of the term) to run their own lives. Perhaps the greatest outrage of all is those citizens who could be good role models but who have abandoned that role because they desire more to be “liked,” to engage in that sugar-coated brand of “compassion” than ever asking anything of another and always treating “the poor” as helpless victims of forces above and beyond them. They know how to make it but don’t have the guts to pass on these skills to others, instead playing the “Oh, poor them” game and thus not holding others to the standards and responsibilities of civilization…and thinking that somehow this will all just work out fine.

    The great shame — at least there ought to be great shame — rests on those who were reasonably tutored in how to get by well in life and then abandoned those lessons to teach bullshit like “social justice” or other aspects of Cultural Marxism.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      There certainly are plenty of people caught up in a dysfunctional underclass, but I suspect the majority can handle their own lives. Even many of the members of criminal gangs are functioning competently within their particular milieu — albeit with a general short life expectancy.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        but I suspect the majority can handle their own lives

        The devil is in the details. Everyone can “hand their own lives.” A newborn baby can “handle its own life.” Just not for very long or very well.

        What we’re being taught by Big Government every day is that there’s no way you can make it on your own. There’s truth to that…but what Big Government leaves out are all those necessary things we have always relied upon: family, church, neighbors, small community organizations, the lessons of failure, etc. Government has never been one of those things besides the narrow role we have circumscribed for it (at least traditionally).

        When Obama says “You didn’t build that,” he’s being a dishonest devil…truly evil. He want’s his Orwellian vision of a totalitarian state to completely subsume the non-governmental sphere (which used to define 95% of America). We are to be subjects of the state, not individuals pursuing honorable and worthy lives according to our own lights to a reasonable extent.

        What one could honestly say (and most successful people usually do) is “I couldn’t have made it without my spouse, without my school, without my hard work, without my perseverance, without that one crucial teacher who mentored me, without that grandfather who gave me such good advice, without a friend who gave me a business opportunity, without the banker who took a chance on me,” etc. Most people recognize this as, at least, good manners and representative of a suitably humble nature. But we also recognize that a lot of these successful people made it *despite* a lot of obstacles being thrown in their way. Sure, they had help. Everyone does. But what they had was the drive to succeed despite obstacles.

        We need culture. We need to be shaped into decent human beings. We need help. We even need government. What we don’t need is government as a surrogate parent, which is what we have now. And this parent is a jealous god. It does not brook dissent. It will not tolerate competitors, especially including religion, family, an educated populace, and eventually the rule of law itself.

        And this is what we see playing out. And few care to speak out against it. That is the cancer that eats away at America’s soul. And give Donald Trump some credit for playing the part of the immune system.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        The question is not one of only “handling their own lives”. The question is handling their own lives without leaving behind wreakage in the community.

        It is all well and good to punish a crime after it has been committed, but how much better would it be if we could minimize crime through teaching morals?

        And how much better would it be if close to fifty percent of births were not to unwed mothers? Would there not be fewer welfare and social services recipients, which would mean there would be less burden on the State, i.e. the community?

        I don’t know what the exact number is, but there is no doubt that a large number of people are not able to handle their lives very effectively in the context of a functioning society and frankly there is no other way for people to exist, Rousseau notwithstanding.

  8. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Rush read this on the air today. It’s an excellent article by Tom Nichols: The New Totalitarians Are Here

    • Timothy Lane says:

      An interesting article, though it tells me nothing new (other than a good basis for that definition of totalitarianism).

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Nothing new, but a good reminder that it’s not enough simply for the Left to win. They demand that you say 2 plus 2 equals 5.

        More and more people are caving to them. The dominos fall. What would the very beginning of Nazi Germany have looked like? Perhaps that’s not a fair analogy because Germany went through a wrenching Great War, humiliating defeat, and bad depression. The trigger was cocked for something major to happen.

        Perhaps all that we’ll do is slough further toward Gomorrah. What I can tell you is that the signs are all around me that the total moral collapse of our society is at hand. Those in their teens and twenties now (and perhaps even their thirties) are in no position than to be spectators of their lives. It’s not a noble lot. Hell, even Obama cannot expect these dullards to even carry on his sick tradition. God knows where this country is going.

  9. Misanthropette says:

    Mr. Rocca, your essay calls to mind Allan Bloom’s book published nearly thirty years ago, “The Closing of the American Mind”. Not much has improved in Academia since 1987. While it’s beneficial to discuss the citizen thinker, a list of works enlightening the citizen thinker would be beneficial. I am explicitly requesting a list of works which comprise the Western Canon. Some time ago, I found a set of Harvard Classics which to me represents only the jumping off point for serious inquiry. Please don’t laugh aloud when you read that sentence! The common set of ideas underpinning Western Civilization is censored, abridged, even invisible to most as they pass through institutionalized learning. Worse, the Thought Police in their various incarnations in Edumacation ensure students never read or learn about any of these works, all in the name of Diversity or Progress.

    Some time ago, Stubborn Things published a list of recommended books for its readers, which I sincerely appreciated. I’d like to suggest a permanent section titled “The Western Canon” listing works and possibly a spot for debating or discussing additions or deletions? That would include sections on Art and Architecture, Music, Sculpture, History, Philosophy, Science, Politics, Religion, and Literature. Thanks.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I’d like to suggest a permanent section titled “The Western Canon” listing works and possibly a spot for debating or discussing additions or deletions?

      Fine with me. I would do it along the line of the existing “Bookshelf” or “Videoshelf.” A very capsule review and links to buy the book. The comments section could then be for debate and discussion.

      But remember, it’s damn easy to send me an email for a book to put up. But it all takes me time. Therefore any books have to be beyond reproach in regards to being truly worthy of becoming “The Western Canon” and not just books that have lofty reputations. This distinction is often lost on many.

      As for sub-dividing between art, architecture, music, etc., I would say let’s keep it simple or it just has very little chance of being implemented. If something is truly worthy of being in The Western Canon (such as Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy), we can just group them all together for now. Later special tags could be added to them for subdivision. But I’d almost consider it a benefit if they were all mixed together because they would all serve the same purpose.

      And I would imagine if we do this right that fifty books, tops, would make the list. Not endless geeky tracks from various Scottish or French philosopher. But real meat-and-potatoes books (such as the Bible, for one).

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Besides, one can combine the genres. One book I might mention is a collection of European art, 1000 Masterpieces of European Painting from 1300 to 1850. It provides a large sample of paintings from a large number of artists (probably a couple of hundred).

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I say we get that collection of books going. We just need to be picky. Take none because of reputation alone, but because they are vitally good and interesting reads. We can sub-divide into categories later if need be.

          Or, if someone (in collaboration with one or more) wants to play God and put an entire list together at one time, in one article, telling us all what we damn well *should* be reading if we want to be breezily fluent in Western Civ, they can do so. I suggest they contact Glenn the Greater for a few suggestions. I’d ask Deane as well. And certainly Mr. Kung would be a resource.

          But let’s get together first on a general format. You know, perhaps a book thumbnail, a concise 100-word summary, a link where to buy it (or download it for free), etc. It would make a good article whereby you can mention the various facets of Western Civ (as categorized by Misanthropette) and have, say, five selections or so under each.

          An ambitious article, but that’s what we’re here for. Truly this would be flexing one’s muscles as an editor. You have to suddenly move beyond mere opinion and sort of think “for the ages.” Yes, what one likes is vital. But I’ve read some stuff that, while considered America classics of political philosophy, are boring as hell. The Federalists papers, although vital for getting into the brain of some of the Founders, I wouldn’t put on the list. The writing is just too opaque.

          Might something like McCullough’s “1776” make the grade? Maybe. It’s certainly readable and contains a lot of good history. But what I wouldn’t want (or wouldn’t suggest) would be some purely intellectual list of stuff that looked good on paper but, in practice, no one would actually read. Yes, maybe we ought to read a book of Lincoln’s letters. But even I wouldn’t want to read that (although I’m sure Mr. Kung would).

          That doesn’t mean to dumb it down. But do realize that much of the conservative and Tea Party movement obsesses just a bit on some of these books while the world is burning. Therefore let’s not make this an exercise in ego. What good, vital, and readable books would you want someone to read whose mind had been diminished by this culture and its education system?

          • Timothy Lane says:

            One interesting source is a book called The 100 by Michael Hart, which lists those he considers the 100 people who most influenced the world. Of course, scientists and religious leaders are important, and many conquerors and other political figures as well. But he does include some writers and musicians (Bach, Beethoven, Homer, and the Earl of Oxford — he was persuaded by Ogburn that Oxford was the real Shakespeare). Another good source would be Charles Murray’s list of major figures in various categories (which he based heavily on coverage in encyclopedias and other important reference works).

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              One interesting source is a book called The 100 by Michael Hart, which lists those he considers the 100 people who most influenced the world

              One way to approach this is to note that your average reader doesn’t likely give a squat who influenced the world. “What have you done for me lately?” is the watchword. Granted, reading takes effort and anything worthwhile is going to take some interest and dedication. But the way I would look at this list would be: “What books are perfect for bringing the Low-Information Voter up to speed and are engaging to read?”

              As nice as some of the books by Frederic Bastiat are, I would say they are irrelevant to the modern reader. I certainly think Rush’s first book should be considered. And his series of children’s books I would think are a no-brainer even though I haven’t read any of them.

              We want to engage the reader, not pummel him or her into submissions with political theories. Maybe “Tom Sawyer” says more about America than a hundred fancy-pants political books ever could. Books on art are fine, but maybe a book such as Henri Nouwen’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son” has more to say about art than a hundred fine color reproductions strung back-to-back.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                Well, a writer or musician (or artist) can’t influence the world unless people read or listen to his work. I think The Iliad, The Odyssey, and a decent sample of Shakespeare’s plays should be on any good list. (Annotated editions would be especially helpful, especially for the sort you’re talking about.)

              • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

                We want to engage the reader, not pummel him or her into submissions with political theories

                Heh, I already started this with my review of “Horton Hatches the Egg”, and think I will follow it up with, “The Little Engine That Could”.

          • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

            But even I wouldn’t want to read that (although I’m sure Mr. Kung would).

            You know me too well!

            The Federalists papers, although vital for getting into the brain of some of the Founders, I wouldn’t put on the list. The writing is just too opaque

            I agree that such books are too abstruse for most modern readers, but am not sure what to replace them with. This truly is a problem. We need to locate books with serious content, yet presented in a non-academic manner.

            In a way, what you are requesting is a “Cliff Notes” version of Western Heritage.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              I agree that such books are too abstruse for most modern readers, but am not sure what to replace them with.

              Well, unless we just want to schlep something out (after all, five minutes of Googling would get me a list of books), then such a project is necessarily going to be hard, not easy.

              Yes, serious content, in a non-academic manner. I read all kinds of articles on the web. And I think the end result is many do more to obscure than enlighten. If you can’t sum up what you’re trying to say, then did you say anything at all? Many books are that way as well.

              Many “great lists” of books are little more than guys measuring penis size. The message is: I’ve read this long list of “classic” books that are normally impenetrable to all but the most gifted minds.

              Well, good for you, I say. But what kinds of books (videos as well might be appropriate) would we present to someone that does a good, fair, and entertaining job of getting the gist of Western Civilization in all its glory…and more than a few warts?

              Looking through our own Bookshelf and Book Review here, I would nominate:

              + Animal Farm
              + The Way Things Ought to Be
              + Selected (selected being the magic word) essays from “The Virtue of Selfishness.”
              + The Mayflower and the Pilgrim’s New World
              + The Return of the Prodigal Son
              + What’s so Great About America
              + Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
              + Seeds of Discontent: The Deep Roots of the American Revolution
              + The World According to Mister Rogers
              + The Pillars of the Earth
              + Lords of the Sea
              + Life at the Bottom
              + How the West Won
              + Treasure Island
              + Brave New World
              + 1776
              + America Alone
              + Up from Slavery (and/or the autobiography of Frederic Douglass)

              That’s the type of book I’m at least talking about. A larger list would no doubt knock some of those off. Polemics are all well and good. But many of those books simply immerse you in good stories…stories that are central to Western Civilization as opposed to, say, the way Saudi Arabia turned out — or reflective of that difference.

              • Timothy Lane says:

                I would agree with Animal Farm and Brave New World, but would add 1984 and Fahrenheit 451. The Giver might be a possibility, but it’s too recent to be easily placed among the pantheon of dystopian novels. “Harrison Bergeron” would be worth including (it’s available in Vonnegut’s collection Welcome to the Monkeyhouse).

              • Steve Lancaster says:

                To your list I would add, James Fenimore Cooper, Last of the Mohicans and Kenneth Roberts Northwest Passage. They read well and present colonial history that even a 6th grader could understand, at least I did.

                Both have the added advantage of excellent movie interpretation

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          1000 Masterpieces of European Painting from 1300 to 1850. It provides a large sample of paintings from a large number of artists (probably a couple of hundred).

          I like this one. For those who are vaguely interested in art, this could be a good place for them to learn of how Western Art developed and much of it revolved around religion.

          Of course, this book is probably very expensive. That is something which will have to be considered for all books as many people don’t have a lot of money to spend on books.

    • FJ Rocca says:

      I remember Bloom’s book well. I agree with your sentiments completely. I suggest that we now suffer not merely morale relativism, but aesthetic relativism which permits (as I actually heard) a critical analysis and appreciation of Lil’ Wayne and MnM!; and rational relativism (!) which permits the extraordinary rationalization, “Well that makes sense if you consider things from the defective point of view!” I’m kidding in my example, of course, but it actually occurs when someone defends mediocrity or worse on the grounds that mediocrity and degradation are easier than quality and its representatives are greater in numbers.

  10. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I would agree with Animal Farm and Brave New World, but would add 1984 and Fahrenheit 451.

    Of all the dystopian novels I’ve read, I think Animal Farm is the most chilling and approachable. And if reading is too much work, today’s yutes could do worse than watch Equilibrium. There are all kinds of forbidden emotions and thoughts on the college campus today. How about no emotions at all? I wonder sometimes though if they recognize who the Bad Guys really are that are represented in these movies or books.

    • Steve Lancaster says:

      Brad,
      I see and hear from fresh out of high school minds full of mush university freshman on a regular basis. For most, about 85% the goal of university education is the credentials for a perceived better job on graduation. And, for some, engineers of all stripes civil to chemical that is true. For at least half all there is to university is debt, debt, debt; they will drop out after a year or two and carry student loans for years in amounts that, in Arkansas could purchase a new home.

      Our university has lowered standards for math, english and literature that almost anyone with a detectable pulse can get, “edumacated”. We may be fighting a holding action to preserve what is left of the traditions of Western Civilization from Europe. As I wrote earlier, IMHO Europe is toast. Political correctness from the center of the EU in Brussels, demographics (1.3) births per woman or Islam will turn Europe by 2050 into something so different no one will ever want to live there.

      The goal for Americans is to keep the faith in our civilization, teach the clinically foolish the values of America and oppose and ultimately roll back the statist onslaught. No one said it would be easy.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        The goal for Americans is to keep the faith in our civilization, teach the clinically foolish the values of America and oppose and ultimately roll back the statist onslaught. No one said it would be easy.

        Here’s how we present it. We say something like this on the title page of our Vault of Western Civilization:

        If you’re tired of environmentalism being inflated into a religion, with men being interchangeable with women, with thought and emotion control from academics, with politicians who don’t know how to tell the truth, with a culture that has grown crude and four-lettered, then let us take you to a place that is noble. It is not perfect. It is full of flaws. But that is the human condition. We will learn about the noble aspects and the flaws. And we will become better people for having an understanding of our world that won’t fit on a mere bumper sticker. Join us.

        • FJ Rocca says:

          Superb, Brad. Set it up and I’m with you. Incidentally, do you know of Wiseblood Books? They published a novel of mine last year entitled Master of Wednesday Night. Their motto is “We are wide-eyed for new epiphanies of Beauty. We are wide-eyed for epiphanies of Truth.” I can’t recommend all of their books because I’ve read only a few, but the Editor-in-Chief is very erudite and shares our values. Take a look at their catalog and, if you like, I can give you his e-mail address. You might enjoy corresponding.

  11. Anniel says:

    Just a thought on the Federalist Papers. Glenn Beck and another person updated and put them in modern language a few years back. I have not read them although I have heard they’re pretty good.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Yes, I’d heard about that but, like you, haven’t read it yet.

      One could say the purpose of a good essay (as opposed to book review) is that it is a good vehicle for taking something like the Federalist Papers and condensing down the meaning of it and presenting it to others. “Here’s why this document is important, and here are the vital points it is making.”

      I haven’t read even half of those papers. The ones I have can be difficult. And they’re probably, as Mr. Kung I think has pointed out before, best read in context with the anti-Federalist writings. But then the chore is doubled.

      What I find so interesting about the whole debate about the Constitution revolves around those who thought the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments, for those in Rio Linda) were absolutely necessary and those who thought, in essence, “Hey, we’re not going to be ruled by distant kings anymore. We’ll be a self-governing people. And so do we really need to be protected from ourselves?”

      Holy hell “Yes!” is the answer to that. But it’s amazing how some very great minds back then still were extremely naive. The anti-Federalists (or at least those who were not for ratifying the Constitution) had a good case…so good that it was considered a binding promise that a Bill of Rights would soon be worked out if the Constitution was ratified.

      Some of the arguments against the need for a Bill of Rights (some of these might even be contained in the Federalist Papers, I forget) are amusing to our ears. Idealism is all well and good, but it constantly needs to be checked by realism. And that, for sure, could be a certain lesson from that era.

  12. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    To your list I would add, James Fenimore Cooper, Last of the Mohicans and Kenneth Roberts Northwest Passage.

    I haven’t read either of those, Steve. But they sound like good ones.

    Maybe what we need to do is create an Editorial Board (3 members, tops), receive nominations, and then whittle it down based upon criteria, more or less, that your Editor in Chief decides upon.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      I read Last of the Mohicans, but that was around 50 years ago, so I don’t remember much about it. On the other hand, that does mean it’s suitable for reading at a young age (I read Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn around the same time, and Animal Farm when I was little older).

      I’ve also read Beck’s modernized updating of some of the Federalist Papers. Ideally, it should be combined with the various anti-Federalist writings. I have a couple of collections of those (naturally), but they aren’t modernized updatings, A good history of the Constitutional convention might be a worthwhile addition. Also well worth adding might be Eric Lurio’s Cartoon Guide to the Constitution.

    • Steve Lancaster says:

      Why go to all that work. I believe Hillsdale College has a required reading list that includes most of our list and others we have not thought to include. This is the only University/College that I give money to for two reasons:

      1. Hillsdale does not accept money from any government program and that includes Stafford loans and grants.
      2. Every student to graduate from freshman to sophomore must take classes on the Constitution regardless of major.

      A third reason but not a game changer, Larry Arn the President, is a graduate of the University of Central Arkansas.
      http://www.hillsdale.edu

      • Timothy Lane says:

        I followed the link, but couldn’t see where they had the reading list.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Why go to all that work. I believe Hillsdale College has a required reading list that includes most of our list and others we have not thought to include.

        Well, this is in just the blowhard stage at the moment, Steve. Words are cheap. But certainly I would take a look at Hillsdale College’s list for ideas. But I would suspect their list would be way too geeky.

        Our list would be better. It wouldn’t be about measuring penis length. It wouldn’t be about name-dropping. It would be about which books pass along, directly or indirectly, the essence and best of what is Western Civilization and that someone who is not an egghead would want to read.

        Myself, although this is not an easy book by any means, I think I got more out of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserable than three dozen conservative polemics.

        Our culture is not an argument to be won, per se. It’s something bigger and richer to be passed on and shared.

        • Steve Lancaster says:

          You may be correct. I copied the wrong link. This one will take you to faculty authors and recommendations.
          Some dance around our topic and others may as you say are too geeky.
          http://bookstore.hillsdale.edu/MerchList.aspx?ID=2294

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Well, I saw very little fiction, especially non-recent (only Gulliver’s Travels, which is a good choice), but the non-fiction does include several books by Victor Davis Hanson as well as some others I have or which seem likely to be readable. But it definitely would be merely a possible suggestion list for starting a list here.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            “How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football” sounds like a chapter of American history I knew nothing about.

            I’m not against scholarly works. But scholarly works and 5 cents still won’t buy you a cup of coffee. If scholarly works was all it took, we’d all be as conservative as George Washington.

            The annotated “Gulliver’s Travels” edited by Dutton Kearney looks interesting as well.

            • Timothy Lane says:

              I heard of the football book, but never read it. One thing I was reminded of reading the NR review of a book on education is that we should definitely include at least one good translation of the Bible. My Jerusalem Bible includes much of the Apocrypha, but others might prefer the KJV or RSV (Elizabeth says her father, a Southern Baptist missionary to Japan, thought the RSV was the best translation, but he also died 40 or so years ago).

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              I’m not sure where we are going here, but I think reading well written English might be advantageous for potential students.

              Just off the top of my head, I would recommend these;

              1. Great Expectations
              2. Pride and Prejudice
              3. Of Human Bondage
              4. Captains Courageous
              5. Silas Marner

              For political lessons I would go with

              1. Brave New World
              2. Animal Farm

              For understanding of history,

              1. The Birth of the Modern, Paul Johnson
              2. From Dawn to Decadence, Jacques Barzun

              For Americana,

              1. Huckleberry Finn
              2. Puddin Head Wilson
              3. The Purloined Letter (or other Poe tales)

              • Timothy Lane says:

                Well, the only one in the first group I’ve read is Pride and Prejudice. I have read some material by Johnson, though not the book you listed. I have read a modest amount by Twain (though not that book), and a great deal by Poe (I would recommend “The Cask of Amontillado” as a personal favorite, but at least one Dupin story probably should be included). Some poetry would be worthwhile (in Poe’s case, “The Raven” and “Annabel Lee” make a good start).

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                I’m not sure where we are going here

                I’ll leave it to you good people to finish this project. I was simply offering a suggestion as to how to approach it. Instead of just doing yet another “classic” list, like a wall of dead trophies to be looked at but not touched, consider what books might engage those already vulgarized and diminutized by the culture.

                I don’t mind getting book suggestions. But if someone is going to make a list of great Western Books, I would say to do so with a purpose more focused, and perhaps more effective, than the standard dry list of old trophies.

                If I ever have the time, I’m going to do some kind of Lexicon Buster series where I take each concept popular in our culture and clarify it. I’d do it one word at a time. Diversity. Equality. Feminism. Marriage. Love. Rights. Liberty. Etc. And I’d do it in the spirit of Dennis Prager’s “clarity over agreement.” Unless we start right at the very basic assumptions that people have, we’ll change no minds for the better. And each little lexicon entry would be no more than 400 words. It must be tight, focused, clear, concise, understandable, and relevant.

                Such words could apply to any article published here if people want to push themselves a little.

              • FJ Rocca says:

                You might want to look at “In Defense of Elitism” by William Henry and “The Culture of Complaint” by Robert Hughes. Both excellent books of cultural commentary with many sage observations.

        • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

          I wholeheartedly agree with “Les Miserables”.

  13. Anniel says:

    Just think we should add some Solzhenitsyn to the mix. My suggestion for showing the real effects of communism on people’s every day lives would be “The Third Circle.”

    I have never made it all the way through “The Black Book of Communism” but it is a masterpiece, both of writing, translation and research.

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