Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Doom and Gloom

Just what was so great about the middle ages or the medieval universities? Not much, if you read the media. The New York Times recently had an article about a medieval manuscript (a shocking event in itself), but the tenor of the piece was that it was written by catholic "rebels", ie the spiritual franciscans inspired by Olivi. All that matters is that they were against that nasty catholic church, so no need to mention anything they actually thought, or what the controversy was actually about. Leiter recently featured a quote from a book that claims the "Islamic" universities are much older than the western ones. But what takes the cake is Victor Davis Hanson's slur that was vomited forth today:

"The lies and academic fraud of Climategate reminded us that it is almost impossible for even disinterested scientists to fathom the complex history of global climate change. But it also — and more importantly — reminded us how Western universities have turned into rigid medieval centers of intolerant orthodoxy. Our new academic monks, in their isolated sanctuaries — cut off by grants, subsidies, tenure, and cadres of obsequious graduate students from the grubby efforts of others to stay alive — have for years breezily issued all sorts of near-religious exegeses and edicts about the public’s ruination of the planet. We lesser folk were supposed to find salvation through installing windmills and junking our incandescent light bulbs under the tutelage of wiser overseers."

So it's not a political thing. The liberal New York Times and Leiter, and conservative Victor Davis Hanson may not agree on much, but they agree that the middle ages were bad bad bad. 150 or years of research on various aspects of the middle ages have apparently had no effect, even on people like Hanson who hold PhD's (of course, he was a classicist, who are notorious for hating medieval latin). All the middle ages are apparently good for is scoring political points, or, if you're catholic, indulging in nostalgia. This hits close to home, naturally, because unlike my co-blogger Michael, my own degree, which is nearing completion, will not be in philosophy but medieval studies. Philosophy is commonly regarded as useless, but I can imagine the fun I will have convincing people that I deserve a job and that the middle ages are worthwhile when even prominent conservatives have such a low opinion of, oh, 1,000 years of human thought and history.

1 comment:

Michael Sullivan said...

Sad about the VDH. I like his classical books. He spoke at my undergrad commencement and gave a great speech. He's just spouting stereotypes here.

Philosophy isn't just useless, it can still make people mad. Like my father. About five minutes ago.