On the Sins of the Fathers

Cicero

An article published on Berlingske.dk this afternoon doesn’t have much “news value” at first glance, but I’m glad to see it because I so desperately want Denmark not to follow America down the road to hell.

The headline is “American elite university drops Latin and Greek to fight racism,” and that’s a straightforward summary of its contents.

The lede fills in a few blanks:

America’s Princeton University has dropped Latin and Greek as requirements for the study of Greek and Roman culture. It’s being done to fight racism, explains the faculty leadership, who want to ease access for black and colored students.

If Princeton’s classical studies faculty wants to fight racism, the first thing they should do is remove all the professors who think “black and colored” students aren’t smart enough to master Greek or Latin (or both). That’s not even the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” it’s straight up racism, no chaser.

Princeton is all-in on the woke parade, and apparently this move was already being contemplated last year, when the University began trying to disassociate itself from Woodrow Wilson (Democrat, progressive, racist) and some of the other founders and benefactors of the school who were involved in the slave trade or owned slave themselves.

The article references and paraphrases bits from a faculty “declaration” on a website: I found some of the statements so hard to believe I had to go to the website myself and have a look. Here’s a key passage Bent Blüdnikow references in his article:

The history of our own department bears witness to the place of Classics in the long arc of systemic racism. Our department is housed in a building named after Moses Taylor Pyne, the University benefactor whose family wealth was directly tied to the misery of enslaved laborers on Cuban sugar plantations. This same wealth underwrote the acquisition of the Roman inscriptions that the department owns and that are currently installed on the third floor of Firestone Library. Standing only a few meters from our offices and facing towards Firestone is a statue of John Witherspoon, the University’s slave-owning sixth president and a stalwart anti-abolitionist, leaning on a stack of books, one of which sports the name “Cicero.” So great a fan was Witherspoon of the Roman orator and politician that he named his nearby estate—where he regularly hosted George and Martha Washington after purchasing two enslaved people as farm-hands—Tusculum. This statue is no artifact of the distant past: it was erected in 2001.

Let’s get some disclaimers out of the way: I am not a classicist. I took four years of high-school Latin, most of which is forgotten or misremembered at this point. The only Greek words I know are ouzo, and moussaka, and opa opa! (which is what the Greek waiters would shout in Chicago’s Greektown as one downed one’s ouzo). My love affair with classical Greek and Roman history, philosophy, literature, theatre, statuary, and culture are entirely amateurish. But I’m a very enthusiastic amateur in this area, and will happily talk your ear off, if given a chance, on the Oresteia, or Plato’s Gorgias, or the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides. (And I’ve obviously got a soft spot for the Iliad.)

But one doesn’t even have to have an amateur interest in antiquity to realize that seeking to place classical studies in “the long arc of systemic racism” is an act of obvious and monumental stupidity.

Something so stupid, in fact, that—as Orwell said—only an intellectual could believe it.

Let’s take a closer and more critical look at the “equity” statement set forth by the faculty of one of America’s premier classical studies programs, at one of America’s most prestigious Ivy League universities.

The history of our own department bears witness to the place of Classics in the long arc of systemic racism.

This is presumably the topic statement for the whole paragraph: our own department is a proof by example of Classics’ involvement in the history of systemic racism.

Fair enough: you all chose to align yourselves with a racist organization. Were you too stupid to recognize the racism inherent in Princeton’s classics program before you signed on, or did you just not care? Neither option inspires much confidence in whatever else you have to say, but let’s move on to those proofs.

“Our department is housed in a building named after Moses Taylor Pyne, the University benefactor whose family wealth was directly tied to the misery of enslaved laborers on Cuban sugar plantations.”

The building is named for a benefactor whose money was morally tainted.

One wonders what kind of classics professor believes that the sins of the fathers should be visited on the sons. Pyne chose to use his inherited fortune on educational and philanthropic causes. Princeton has an entire page chronicling the unsavory aspects of the fortune Pyne inherited, but the worst they can say about Pyne is that “the account books documenting his transfers of funds from Moses Taylor’s estate to Princeton certainly gave no indication of the long line of yesterdays that preceded the transaction, much less of the thousands of lives who had been systematically reduced from persons to property.”

Well, no, they wouldn’t. That’s not how accounting works. Account books generally concern themselves with payors, payees, dates, and amounts. That’s why they’re called “accounting books” and not “ledgers of moral integrity.”

“This same wealth underwrote the acquisition of the Roman inscriptions that the department owns and that are currently installed on the third floor of Firestone Library.”

The classics department is in a building that bears the name of a benefactor whose money was (also) used to buy hunks of Roman history that were donated to the department.

I guess the point is that the department is not only saddled with the name of a man who inherited money from a family that made its money trading with people who used slaves, but they also bear the taint of having received historical artefacts from that same man.

This moral indignance is fascinating.

Do you think the classics professors are aware that there’s a Princeton China Center, located in a country where slave labor is rampant? Let Princeton describe it to you themselves:

“Princeton China Center is a Beijing-based center with administrative functions. It aims to support Princeton faculty, students and staff studying and conducting research in China. The Center was launched in the summer of 2014, and the office is on the campus of Tsinghua University.”

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is no friend of Mankind. They are not even a friend of China: the people bearing the heaviest burden of the CCP are the people of China—including, of course, the Uighurs. The citizens of Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Tibet might also have a thing or two to say about the morality of the CCP.

But I guess classics professors don’t get out of their books often enough to look around the contemporary world.

“Standing only a few meters from our offices and facing towards Firestone is a statue of John Witherspoon, the University’s slave-owning sixth president and a stalwart anti-abolitionist, leaning on a stack of books, one of which sports the name ‘Cicero.'”

It’s not quite post hoc ergo propter hoc, but it’s pretty close metaphorically: there’s a statue of a slave-owner near our building, therefore our building is… no, wait, our department—which is in the building that’s so close to that statue, is… what, exactly?

“So great a fan was Witherspoon of the Roman orator and politician that he named his nearby estate—where he regularly hosted George and Martha Washington after purchasing two enslaved people as farm-hands—Tusculum.”

It’s bad that Witherspoon was a fan of Cicero? The sins of Witherspoon are being visited back across a gulf of two thousand years to taint one of the great orators and essayists of human history?

But wait! Witherspoon hosted the Washingtons after he purchased slaves for use as farmhands? Why is the fact that he bought them as farm-hands significant? Why is his having hosted the Washingtons at his estate significant? Why is the order of operations significant?

It’s enough to say that Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the sixth president of Princeton, was an owner of slaves and an anti-abolitionist. That was bad of him. I spit on his grave. But what’s that got to do with Cicero, or the Washingtons?

Are you guys letting the undergraduates write your web pages for extra credit?

“This statue is no artifact of the distant past: it was erected in 2001.”

Just think! A mere twenty years ago, Princeton erected a statue of their sixth president, and instead of casting him in a pose with two enslaved farmhands serving him and the Washingtons dinner, the university chose to have him leaning on a stack of books.

Disgraceful. And yet you still chose to work there?

Again: were you to stupid to see the obvious systemic racism, or did you see it and just not care?

And either way, why should anyone give a damn what you have to say? You are, after all, every last one of you, either racists or idiots. (Let’s not overlook the power of and.)

But there’s even more to object to in this ridiculous posturing.

Slavery was an important part of Greek and Roman culture. Of very nearly every ancient culture, in fact. There seems to be a notion that slavery was invented in Britain’s North American colonies back in 1619, and that America is unique among the nations of the earth in having a history smeared with that moral stain. In fact, the practice of slavery dates back to before recorded history begins. Historically speaking, slavery is not the exception but the rule.

I never knew whether Cicero himself owned slaves, or whether his family profited from slave labor, and I never cared but I do know—and professors of Mediterranean antiquity surely know—the the Greek city states and the republic and empire of Rome were indeed reliant on the institution of slavery.

(I skimmed the net to find out anything I could about Cicero and slavery, and gleaned some interesting nuggets from a website that, for all I know, was thrown together by some lying teenaged prankster. It includes this bit: “Cicero never challenged Roman slavery, which was among the most brutal in history, but he was more humane than his contemporaries. He preferred to have his farms worked by tenants rather than by slaves.” If that’s true, and I have no time to verify it with more reliable sources right now, then Cicero actually just went up a notch in my estimation, which I wouldn’t have thought possible.)

So the Princeton classics department is a bunch of racists or idiots (or both), at a University endowed by slave-tainted money—and with an active presence in a country where slave labor is even today an indispensable building block—dedicating their careers to the study of cultures in which slavery was a cultural norm.

Who cares whether or not Greek and Latin are required of their classics majors? The only sensible thing to do is tear it all down and salt their earth where it stood.

Bent Blüdnikow wraps up his article with the following paragraph, the subtext of which is not subtle:

In the 1970s, Princeton University was the center of some of the most extreme Marxist groups fighting against capitalism and the Vietnam War. For the past couple of years, there’ve been multiple cases where attempts have been made to push research personnel with attitudes that didn’t suit the new radicalization, known as woke, out of the university. This reportedly happened to Joshua T. Katz, who was a professor on the very faculty just discussed. According to Joshua T. Katz, his ouster was sought because he disagreed with the faculty that students should be given advantages based on race.

Well, sure: a department full of racists isn’t going to just stand there and do nothing when someone in their ranks starts objecting to differential treatment based on skin color.

Blüdnikow’s skepticism of the mass hysteria sweeping America is important and useful. I’d like to see more of this kind of coverage all over Danish media. Because the roads are diverging, and our choices are limited: explicit racism in the name of anti-racism (just as antifa gives us explicit fascism in the name of anti-fascism), or laughing contempt for the perverse intellectual suicide it represents.

Count me in for the laughter and contempt.

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