The Humanities in Crisis - Intercollegiate Studies Institute: Think. Live Free.

The Humanities in Crisis

The Times Literary Supplement has provided
a forum over recent months
about the crisis in research funding for
the humanities in British universities. The
most notable recent statements have come
in lengthy commentaries by Martha Nussbaum
(April 30) and Keith Thomas (May
7), followed by numerous letters endorsing
or denigrating their arguments. The source
of the crisis in scholarship and education
is—no surprise here—financial. At a time
of severe budgetary constraints, the government
bureaucrats who dole out the money
have established a set of quantitative, utilitarian
criteria for determining which programs
and departments will receive such
“resources” as remain available. It will,
again, come as no surprise that the criteria
are heavily biased toward scientific and—
especially—technological research initiatives,
which can at least make a show of
providing concrete practical benefits to
the general public. After all, knowledge of
classical metrics or Kantian epistemology is
hardly going to offer a cure for cancer or
furnish a clean, renewable source of energy.
Somewhere the beatific countenance of
Cardinal Newman must be graced with a
wry smile.

We shall consider this issue more specifically in a later issue of Modern Age, but
at this point it is sufficient to note that the
role of humanities in our modern, highly
technical culture has been a principal concern
of the journal since its founding, and
the current number is particularly rich
in articles that vindicate the intellectual
power of humane discourse in dealing
with the most troubling and controversial
issues that confront our society. Thomas
Patrick Burke and Jude Dougherty bring
their considerable skills in historical and
philosophical reflection to bear on the origins
of many of the political dilemmas that
vex contemporary society. Michael Henry
reminds us that when science and technology
are cut loose from the bonds of human
nature—that is, from a realistic sense of the
limitation of actual men and women that
emerges from philosophical, historical, literary,
and theological reflection—then the
result is likely to be a Frankenstein’s monster.
Finally, Thaddeus Kozinski’s observations
about education under a regime of
democratic, secular liberalism suggest that
the crisis of the humanities is as much a
result of betrayal from within as assault
from without.

I close on a sad note by remarking the
passing away in March of my predecessor
as editor of Modern Age, George A. Panichas.
The departure of such a man is a far
greater loss to the humanities than any cut
in funding; but, conversely, as long as the
academic departments can attract scholars
of his caliber, then humane letters will continue
to flourish. This issue is rounded out
with a tribute to Dr. Panichas’ memory by
his former pupil, colleague, and friend of
long standing, Robert Champ. May George
Panichas rest in peace, and may his surviving
friends and family find consolation.


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