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Liberal Education and Politics: Twenty-Five Years in the Academy

Liberal Education And Politics: Twenty-Five Years In The Academy

Everything is Political

Just as I began my college teaching career twenty-five years ago, the whole academy seemed to have accepted as axiomatic the assertion that “Everything is Political.” This self-evident universal truth (curiously, my relativistic colleagues have quite a few of them) came to be uttered frequently in response to complaints from a few recalcitrant professors who objected when other professors used their scholarly publications and their courses to promote their political views. The argument was that, since everything is political, all scholarship and all teaching inevitably promote political views. Those who pretended to be objective and apolitical in their writing and teaching were implicitly and unconsciously promoting a conservative position. It is preferable (the argument concludes) to make the political assumptions of one’s courses explicit, allowing the students to consider consciously the ultimate political consequences of the materials on which the professor has chosen to focus. Because this argument makes some sense, it deserves to be considered seriously, but if we think about it in the context of liberal education it becomes incoherent, as I hope to show, using examples from the curricular battles at my own university, Grand Valley State University, a growing regional state university in Grand Rapids, Michigan—and using examples of the theoretical and curricular battles in my own department, English.

In the early days of my quarter century at GVSU, a proposal for a new general education core curriculum explicitly adopted the political assumption as one of its basic principles. The proposal spoke of “the inevitably political dimension of culture—the senses in which any cultural expression is also an expression of power relationships based on race, class, gender, religion, and nationality.”  This is a dangerous half-truth which should not be adopted as the core idea of a core curriculum. As David Bromwich puts it at the beginning of his excellent book Politics by Other Means, “Politics is not education; the means make a difference to the end.”[i]

During that particular curricular debate, I began from a fairly profound sympathy with the statement that everything is political. The political arena, after all, is a context that affects everything within a particular polity, including education. For that reason, political philosophy has long held an honored position in the academy. In fact, Aristotle, in the Nicomachean Ethics, calls politics “the master science.” However, when he says this he is considering education from a strictly practical point of view, for the science of politics, he says, “determines which sciences ought to exist in states, what kind of sciences each group of citizens must learn, and what degree of proficiency each must attain.”[ii] When we deliberate about our curriculum, what we are doing is political in this way, for we are deciding what sciences (or disciplines) students should learn before they take control of our world. Although Aristotle calls politics the master science in this sense, it would never have entered his mind to focus a whole educational program on current political issues. If politicians must determine the place of the other disciplines in the state, I believe he would agree, they must know those other disciplines in themselves, not merely as manifestations of power relations.

Similarly, Plato, in the Republic, sees the whole educational process leading toward just governance. Only the best philosophers will rule in his republic. But this does not mean for him that political issues are given pride of place in the fundamental course of studies his future Guardians pursue. On the contrary, the preparation for becoming wise rulers is an education in mathematics, music, and the rest of the liberal arts, culminating in the study of philosophy, dialectic. There is no course in politics. Thus in the views of these formative thinkers there is a double vision: though politics will rule over the educational process, and though one of the highest aims of the educational process is to form wise politicians, particular political views are not included in the course of studies, and political philosophy itself is subordinated to other philosophical subjects—primarily to ethics. Professors today should try to hold these two thoughts in their minds at the same time: everything is political, but politics isn’t everything.

I am not suggesting that we follow only Plato and Aristotle in our approach to education. I merely want to point out that educators from their time to our own have made a distinction between the role of politics in human society and its role in liberal education, affirming continually that, precisely because politics is an art which encompasses all others in practical life, it must be distanced from a liberal education. In other words, wise rulers will be ones who have studied the academic disciplines in a relatively disinterested way (in an “academic” way), so that when they practice the art of politics they will be guided by a principled, philosophical understanding of human beings and their world, not by the hot doctrines of the moment.

The distinction between liberal education and political indoctrination has remained fairly clear in the academy down through the ages, but a couple of serious challenges to it arose in the twentieth century. The National Socialists in Germany and the Marxists in the Soviet Union both attempted to make political ideology central to their educational systems. Our traditions of tenure and academic freedom are designed to protect us from such attempts to politicize higher education. They are not designed, however, to protect us from retribution as we politicize education, which is what has been happening more recently.

It is true that nearly everything about human life has political ramifications and that we are, indeed, political animals. But this is only a partial truth, for there are several other functions which are inherent in human nature and hence in virtually all human activities. For example, we are sexual beings, and it has been said with equal truth (and equally limited truth) that “everything is sexual.” All human experience might be studied from a psycho-sexual perspective. We are also religious animals, and Carl Jung, along with many other thinkers, has asserted that even atheists have some ultimate value which is numinous for them. For hundreds of years theology was considered the master discipline in the university, and one could still profitably approach all humanistic subjects from that standpoint today. Yet the definition of humanity that must be held foremost when we discuss the aims of a liberal education is the one that names man the rational animal: the liberal arts are essentially exercises of our rational faculty—not of our religious, sexual, or political nature.

An exaggerated emphasis on politics in the curriculum and in the classroom causes academic disciplines to cease functioning as they should. As the word implies, a “discipline” trains us to think in certain ways and with a certain control. Our disciplines may narrow our field of vision, but they also clarify our insights. They help keep us from making wild, unsubstantiated generalizations about our material. The disciplines try (with some success) to make our thinking more precise, reasonable, and objective. Some general education programs set the disciplines aside—not in the interest of achieving a bigger interdisciplinary picture but in the interest of making precisely the kinds of over-simplified, doctrinaire claims which any academic discipline tries to prevent.

The highly political atmosphere in the academy today leads students to expect courses designed to promote political doctrines. For a number of years I regularly taught our “Introduction to Liberal Studies” course, a course which introduced students to a wide range of essays defining and contemplating the purposes of liberal education. On the first day of the course many years ago, I asked the students why they had chosen that course to satisfy the “Values and Ideas” category of our general education program. Many had chosen it because it fit their schedules. Some admitted they had the idea that “liberal” promised a relaxed course in which there would be little work and high grades (these would be disappointed in the outcome).

One student, however, said that she expected it to be a course in which we would study liberal ideas and question the conservative ideas prevalent in west Michigan. I explained that “liberal” here meant something about the free search for truth wherever it might be found, that it meant we would, in fact, try to free ourselves from doctrinaire assumptions, including political assumptions, so as to seek that truth. She dropped the course. As the course progressed, the political leanings of the students and the professor did become fairly evident, demonstrating that the political dimension will indeed enter every field of study. We cannot, in practice, drop our basic political assumptions, and they do affect our thinking on all topics. Nevertheless, it is a mistake to design courses and curricula to focus on political assumptions as the ultimate meaning of all academic inquiry. Our approach should remain liberal in the educational sense, the free search of the mind for truths about ourselves and the world.

The Liberal Arts

Before continuing with my argument and my narrative, I must define my terms, and here I am following primarily Mark Van Doren’s fine book Liberal Education.[iii] Liberal Education is education in the liberal arts, which are the thinking arts, as opposed to practical arts (such as engineering, farming, or carpentry) or the fine arts (such as music, sculpture, and dance). The medieval universities, following ancient tradition, designated seven liberal arts in two groups. The trivium (the three language arts) included grammar, rhetoric and logic. The quadrivium (the four mathematical arts) comprised mathematics, geometry, astronomy, and music. Today we have many more disciplines in the university, but all of them still make use of symbolic systems to study and represent the world. And the two fundamental symbolic systems in use are still language (the primary intellectual tool of the humanities and some of the social sciences) and mathematics (the prime intellectual tool of the sciences and some of the social sciences). We acknowledge the importance of students’ facility with these symbolic systems when we require (as nearly all universities do) that all students achieve a certain degree of competence in writing and mathematics as prerequisites to most other liberal arts courses.

In the medieval universities it was of course Latin grammar and rhetoric that were studied, but today the vernacular language, English, is the primary linguistic tool at use in the American university. Therefore, those of us who teach in English departments have an essential responsibility for helping students develop their ability to use English well in all their studies and endeavors. For a long time the collective belief in our field has been that the best way to do that is to introduce the students to the greatest writers—to what the Victorian poet and critic Matthew Arnold called “the best that has been thought and said” (and of course the list of these fine works is not fixed forever but grows and changes as new thinkers emerge and older ones who were neglected are discovered). Arnold claimed that in studying those great works we are “turning a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits. . . .”[iv] The purpose of a liberal education is just this attempt to rethink important questions about the world and humanity and to do so in a “liberal” (meaning “free”) manner—releasing, as Arnold says, “fresh and free thought.” Liberal education is liberating to the mind.

The third linguistic liberal art, logic, is primarily in the domain of the philosophy department, where students should be taught to reason carefully, intelligently, and honestly. Because this training in thinking is foundational for all academic disciplines, the professors in all of those disciplines hold the same degree, Doctor of Philosophy.

The mathematical disciplines of the quadrivium have given birth to many new fields of study in the modern university, but they all continue to make use of mathematical symbols to study and explain the processes of the natural world. We in the humanities sometimes forget that the sciences are also liberal arts, but all academic disciplines which seek to understand ourselves and the world around us are liberal arts. More recently, the social sciences—psychology, anthropology, sociology, etc.—have properly claimed a place among the liberal arts. These fields tend to use hybrid methodologies, involving both mathematical and linguistic analyses of their subjects. They are legitimate liberal arts, but they cease to be such when (as often happens today) they become centers of indoctrination in cultural relativism and left-wing political views.

A liberal education is free in the sense that it is free of practical goals. We study our language and our literature or biology and chemistry and psychology just because it is a human instinct to do so, and because it is enjoyable to do so—though, to be sure, we inevitably take some of the joy out of it when we require students to fulfill certain Gen. Ed. requirements in the liberal arts). As Aristotle said at the beginning of the Metaphysics, “All men by nature desire to know.” We practice the liberal arts and seek a liberal education because we are driven by our very nature to do so. Even Cardinal Newman, when writing about the proper role of a liberal education in a Catholic university, says that a liberal education does not serve the purpose of producing morally upright people: it makes, he says, “not the Christian but the gentleman”—by which he means someone who has developed a “philosophical habit of mind.”[v] Our students do not take away knowledge and skills that have immediate applicability in the practical world. Nevertheless, we know that people who possess the thinking, speaking, and writing abilities that are fostered in our courses are able to analyze problems and discover solutions in any practical circumstance and will therefore become leaders in all fields. But the profound usefulness of a liberal education is attained, paradoxically, by not aiming at utility. And this paradox is easily forgotten by well-intentioned people who want to use liberal education to make good citizens. They become what Bromwich calls “the new fundamentalists.”[vi]

Liberal Education and the English Department

In the medieval universities it was of course Latin grammar and rhetoric that were studied, and that course of study is still offered in classics departments, but the vernacular language, English, is the primary linguistic tool at use in American universities. Therefore, English departments have an essential responsibility for helping students develop their ability to use language well in all their studies and endeavors. We believe that the best way to do that is to have students practice extensively (with the critique of experienced writers to help them improve) and also to introduce the students to the greatest writers—to “the best that has been thought and said.” Liberal education is liberating to the mind, and the study of English is an important part of that liberation.

Thus liberal education as it is practiced in the English department helps students to think more clearly, reasonably, deeply, and accurately. Another closely related benefit of studying the excellent writing of the past and present is the engagement of students’ imagination, for imagination is a faculty that allows us to transcend our own time and place, to go beyond our narrow personal concerns and envision what life is like for other people in other places and times. This mental liberation happens more or less automatically for people who are reading the great works, but if we attempt to use the curriculum to herd the students toward certain prescribed social and political ideas we take the freedom out of liberal education.


The issue that has brought liberal education and political goals into the greatest proximity in recent decades is that of race. Racial injustice has indeed created a serious problem in our society, but the question we must address is how best to solve that problem. Many well-intentioned professors and administrators have sought to use affirmative-action college admissions to assist particular racial and ethnic groups (primarily African-American, Hispanic, and Native American groups) to get a leg up on the socio-economic ladder; meanwhile, they have sought to use the curriculum to change the attitudes of the dominant group towards people of those groups. Affirmative-action admissions did help some people to succeed, but many students were admitted to elite universities where they found that they simply did not have the academic training and abilities that their classmates did. The dropout rate among such students was shockingly high, as Dinesh D’Souza showed.[vii] These programs were obviously practicing reverse racism, and they have since been struck down or at least modified by the voters and the courts. The curricular initiatives, on the other hand, have been thoroughly institutionalized.

In Christianity and Culture, T. S. Eliot recounted Coleridge’s warning that certain nineteenth-century educational reforms would turn education into mere instruction. Confirming a century later that what Coleridge feared had to a large extent taken place, Eliot went on to make his own prediction as to the next phase of reform: “This revolution has been effected: to the populace education means instruction. The next step to be taken by the clericalism of secularism, is the inculcation of the political principles approved by the party in power.”[viii]

As Eliot implies, one of the reasons that the modern educational reform movements are supported so fervently and dogmatically is that they are quasi-religious in nature. A largely secularized educational establishment sees itself as the new enlightened clergy of the post-Christian era, and it intends to save us. The rapid acceptance of required courses in multiculturalism or diversity at universities around the country in the 1980s and 1990s was strong evidence that Eliot’s prediction was coming true. Many people who were politically liberal, such as Arthur Schlessinger, expressed concern about this educational movement, but it had few opponents on campus.

At Grand Valley State University—perhaps a little behind the times—we did not see a proposal for a required diversity course until 1991, but then it seemed from the beginning a fait accompli. The proposal was written by some colleagues of mine who genuinely valued liberal education, so it came with some provisos indicating that such a course should not be relativistic, remedial, or expiatory. It was not meant to indoctrinate our students but rather to allow them to think critically about an important social issue. Still, the inclusion of all these caveats and warnings left many of us wondering, what sort of course proposal would need to define so carefully what the course should not do? A course that needs so many negative definitions is essentially a politically motivated one that would invite abuse.

When the proposal attempted to give positive definition of the course’s aims, it became quite vague. The first principle enunciated was “openness,” and even though that was followed with “definiteness,” one could not help feeling that nothing had been defined. The committee proposing the course decided not to include a sample syllabus, making this lack of definition yet more obvious. The only part of the proposal that gave a good sense of what the course would really be was the bibliography, and that made it obvious that it would be a course in remedial race relations and breast-beating denunciations of European culture. As part of my argument against this proposal, I suggested that if we really wanted to do something useful we could work intensively with the city schools to help disadvantaged students to achieve more academically and thus to be truly prepared for entrance to the university. However, many of my colleagues seemed to be content with making an expiatory curricular sacrifice in place of genuine community involvement.

At a faculty forum on the question, proponents ignored the serious arguments. Some pointed out that the proportion of non-whites in our population was increasing and that it was therefore necessary to have a course that acknowledged that—without being willing to say why the curriculum should reflect demographic changes. In place of academic debate we listened to a series of speeches filled with platitudes. The worst was given by the director of the school of social work, who breezed in and proclaimed such things as this: “If we fail to plan, we are planning to fail.” Several supporters made explicit their intention of using the course to remediate their students’ social views. One professor stated, for instance, that she would use the course to enlighten her poor benighted students by informing them that “Not everyone is white, Christian, and married to the same person for their whole life.” In the hands of this professor (and she was not alone) the course would clearly have been indoctrination, not education. The comment about divorce, along with several comments about including issues of sexual orientation in the course, made it obvious that these teachers would not stop with political re-education but would actively attempt to change the moral views of their students. The only “critical thinking” allowed in their sections of the course would be thinking that was critical of our traditions of ethics, religion, and justice.

My own counter-argument in this non-debate focused on the question of the literary canon. In the interest of promoting diversity, I sang to my colleagues a song from my native Montana: “I come from Montana; I wear a bandana. / My spurs are of silver; my pony is grey. / While ridin’ the ranges, my luck seldom changes. / With foot in the stirrup, I gallop away.” Then I asked them to think about a word that was being thrown around in the discussion, the canon. The canon of great works (I argued) is not a closed system used to exclude writers of a particular race or ethnic group. It is not a fixed list but has always been subject to discussion and has added new works along the way. It is formed, as Samuel Johnson said, of works that have been able to “please many and please long,” works judged by many readers over time to meet high standards of wisdom, grace, beauty, wit, and vision.[ix] The canon is never closed to new membership, but entrance is through a strait gate. Nor is the canon monolithic; rather, the works included represent a bewildering diversity of cultural backgrounds and viewpoints. Study of the great works is in fact a powerful experience of diversity. It is true that women were long excluded—simply because they were not taught to write and therefore had little chance of contributing—but for some time now the list has included many great women writers. For similar reasons, other racial and ethnic groups were not included, but writers from those groups have more recently won acceptance. No doubt that process has been slower than it should have been, but it has happened. However, the Doctors of Diversity, instead of proposing fine works by minority authors for inclusion, would include writers because of their race, not their quality. Their affirmative-action canon is to be determined by demographic, not literary, criteria.

At GVSU the required U.S. Diversity course was duly approved by the Executive Committee of the Faculty Senate. A number of us who were members of the full Faculty Senate signed a petition, which required that the decision be made by a vote of the full Senate. At that meeting, I expected a drubbing and was surprised when the proponents abruptly withdrew their motion. Apparently there was more opposition than they expected or than I knew. I consider this my one major success in the long rear-guard action that has been my role in the curricular battles. Eventually, a more reasonable proposal was passed, requiring all students to take a course from a list of courses in various disciplines that deal with issues of cultural diversity. At least some of these courses are real college courses rather than indoctrination camps.

Literary Criticism and Literary Theory

For a long time people who wrote about literary works were called “critics,” and what they did was called “criticism.” This terminology implied making judgments of quality, the way the book and film critics who write for newspapers and magazines still do. Critics valued written works that seemed to be beautiful and engaging, and that also seemed to convey some profound truths about the world and humanity. Horace summed this up famously in the Ars Poetica, saying that “Poets would either delight or enlighten the reader, / Or say what is both amusing and really worth using.”[x] This dual purpose of literary art has long been paraphrased as the requirement “to entertain and instruct.”

The entertainment provided by literature is accomplished by its beauty. This is not an easy term to define, but thinkers from Aristotle on have spoken of beauty as a satisfying wholeness created out of disparate parts. St. Augustine says beauty is a harmonizing of parts in an ordered whole, and St. Thomas Aquinas says beauty involves integrity, a very similar concept. The Renaissance humanist Pico della Mirandola says “harmonia est discordia concors” (harmony is a discordant concord), emphasizing the idea of a union of opposites in a harmonious or beautiful creation.

Literature instructs us by revealing in new and striking ways truths about our world and ourselves. One of the most famous treatises on poetry is Sir Philip Sidney’s Apology for Poetry, written in response to Puritan attacks claiming that all poetry was essentially immoral. Sidney engages the relation between aesthetics and ethics, between the beautiful and the good. Following Aristotle, he argues that poetry reveals universals and is therefore deeply philosophical, deeply true. But he goes farther, asserting that poetry is a better ethical teacher than philosophy, for poetry touches our emotions and moves us to moral action, while philosophy can teach us what is right but not move our hearts to act on that knowledge.[xi] By the way, this argument is later echoed by Shelley, who says that imagination allows us to experience life from the perspectives of others and is thus essential to love itself.

Literary art touches our hearts and minds using metaphors and symbols derived from our experience of the world we inhabit, a world which has been found by the great writers to be inherently meaningful. Samuel Taylor Coleridge writes that a symbol “always partakes of the Reality which it renders intelligible.”[xii] Symbols are not chosen randomly but point to an abstract meaning naturally because of what they are physically. Water symbolizes cleansing because it cleanses. The rose symbolizes beauty because it is beautiful. T. S. Eliot makes the same point when he says, “No symbol, I maintain, is ever a mere symbol, but is continuous with that which it symbolizes.”[xiii] One more recent theorist who acknowledges the reality of symbols is Paul Ricoeur, who begins with what he calls the “non-linguistic dimension of the Sacred” found in religious ritual. Ricoeur outlines the way a sacred view of the world entails a belief in symbols that are united with that world:

“Within the sacred universe there are not living creatures here and there, but life is everywhere as a sacrality, which permeates everything and which is seen in the movement of the stars, the return of life of vegetation each year, and the alternation of birth and death. It is in this sense that symbols are bound within the sacred universe: the symbols only come to language to the extent that the elements of the world themselves become transparent. This bound character of symbols makes all the difference between a symbol and a metaphor. The latter is a free invention of discourse; the former is bound to the cosmos.”[xiv]

Natural symbols, unlike the arbitrary linguistic signifiers spoken of by the structuralists and post-structuralists, are essentially non-linguistic symbols bound to the physical world. Ricoeur’s description of the sacral cosmos bears comparison with a passage in East Coker in which Eliot describes country people participating in an ancient celebration of the seasons, dancing around a bonfire in a circle (another natural symbol), “Keeping time, / Keeping the rhythm in their dancing / As in their living in the living seasons . . . .” Perennial symbols such as the four seasons, the four elements, trees, and sky and mountains and sea and stars—these symbols are, as Ricoeur says, bound to the cosmos.

Since symbolic meaning is derived from the cosmos, it has the possibility of being objective and of conveying objective truth. These truths, as Sidney says, have the advantage over truth abstractly expressed in that they move our hearts to right action. This idea was given a name by Edmund Burke. It was not in his treatise on the sublime and the beautiful but rather in one of his political essays that Burke spoke of the “moral imagination.” The phrase might never have gained much currency had it not been for a great American writer, Russell Kirk, who (in his book Eliot and His Age) defined and elaborated Burke’s concept. By the “moral imagination,” Kirk says, “Burke meant that power of ethical perception which strides beyond the barriers of private experience and events of the moment.”[xv] This definition is a challenge to the notions of relativism and “cultural constructionism” that rule much of the Academy today, asserting that our thoughts can never go beyond “the barriers of private experience and events of the moment.” Kirk defines moral imagination in contrast to what Irving Babbitt called (in reference to Rousseau) the “idyllic imagination,” which ignores the tragic experience of the past and concocts visions of human perfection to be brought about by rationalist ideological programs. As Kirk puts it later in his book on Eliot, “Like Burke, Eliot came to dread not the intellect itself–certainly not to dread right reason–but rather to dread defecated rationality, arrogantly severed from larger sources of wisdom.”[xvi]  The idyllic imagination ignores fundamental human limitations in concocting its schemes of social perfection, but these utopian schemes tend to result in massive disasters whenever they are forced on the populace.

Unfortunately, many of the literary scholars of our day reject the categories of entertainment and instruction–beauty and truth—and practice what they call “theory” instead of criticism. Now, “theory” is an ancient word designating the kind of abstract thinking we do in the liberal arts, but in this new development it has come to mean an approach to “texts” (a word the theorists prefer to the elitist term “literature”) that does not seek beauty and truth in them but rather revels in denying that such things exist. The motto of the theorists is Pontius Pilate’s scornful response to Jesus, “What is truth?” Nevertheless, theorists of all types do seem to have political and moral doctrines of their own which they press on their readers and students quite zealously. As Stephen Miller points out in his history of conversation, however, the “countercultural theorists” who arose in the 1960s “were not interested in having a conversation about their ideas. They usually dismissed their critics as repressed souls who suffered from false consciousness.”[xvii] Serious debate and conversation decline when people assume that there is no objective truth and at the same time assume that anyone who disagrees with them is simply a tool of the bourgeois establishment. Both of these assumptions are alien to liberal education.

Marxist Theory

The most thoroughly and overtly political literary theory is, of course, the Marxist one. It is a standing joke that the only place where one can find a Marxist these days is in an English department, the theory having been tried out in many places in the past century, always with disastrous economic results and always accompanied by a mass slaughter of innocent people (some 70 million in the Soviet Union alone, according to the estimates of Alexander Solzhenitsyn) and the rise to power of a ruling class more brutal and self-serving than any aristocracy. But, these politically naïve English professors will still say, it has not been tried in its pure form (God help us if it ever is).

It is strange to construct a theory of literature on the basis of a philosophical idea that has only contempt for literature and all other arts. Marx was a thorough-going materialist who contended that all cultural creations were merely expressions of the material conditions of the author’s class and the economic system of the author’s society. He asserts that:

“The phantoms formed in the human brain are also, necessarily, sublimates of their material life-process, which is empirically verifiable and bound to material premises. Morality, religion, metaphysics, all the rest of ideology and their corresponding forms of consciousness, thus no longer retain the semblance of independence.”[xviii]

In this view, literary works are merely “phantoms formed in the human brain.” Notice that Marx uses the same term as that other great scientific materialist, Freud, when he asserts that these unreal phantoms are “sublimates” of material realities. For Freud, all artistic creations are sublimations of repressed physical (erotic) impulses; for Marx, they are sublimations of purely material economic and political realities. Marx claims that all spiritual and mental experiences are a “superstructure” (Überbau) built upon and reducible to the economic “base” (Grundlage). Some Marxist critics have attempted to concoct a more subtle theory, but this is really all they have to work with if they are going to be true to the master’s ideas. In practice in the college classroom, “Marxism” often comes to mean an extremely watered-down liberal political agenda.

Let us glance at a couple of Marxist critics. Catherine Belsey, a prominent feminist scholar, wrote the Afterword to a collection of essays entitled The Matter of Difference: Materialist Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare. She begins by referring to a “classic essay” on this hybrid theory by Judith Newton and Deborah Rosenfelt:

“Not quite conceding that ‘materialist’ is a euphemism for the unacceptable, unspeakable ‘Marxist’, but not quite denying it either, Newton and Rosenfelt emphasise materialist feminism’s concern with the social and the economic, as opposed to the purely psychological, and with historical difference, as opposed to the universal and essential categories of ‘woman’ or ‘patriarchy’.”[xix]

Note first the embarrassment that has led these critics to use “materialist” in place of “Marxist.” But why not acknowledge why the latter term is “unspeakable”?  Because of the unspeakable atrocities Marxist regimes have visited on their peoples? Because of the grinding poverty to which those peoples have been subjected?

The other notable element here is the shift to opposing all “universal and essential” categories, an idea that has nothing whatsoever to do with Marx. Belsey’s anti-essentialism derives rather from another theory, post-structuralism, which (following the existentialists and Martin Heidegger) denies that there are any essences, seeing all reality as constructed in the mind. Marx, by contrast, was a realist, and his followers typically reacted with scorn to such existentialist ideas. For instance, Georg Lukács blames Heidegger (and others) for creating the subjectivist way of thinking that dominates modernist literature.[xx] Lukács calls the Marxist perspective “realism,” and indeed it is a version of philosophical realism, which means it claims that there are certain realities about the world and ourselves that are objective and not alterable by our minds. In contrast, the existentialists, Heidegger, and (even more radically) Jacques Derrida and the post-structuralists, utterly deny that there is any such objective reality, asserting that we construct our reality—either individually or as cultural groups.

Returning to Belsey’s statement with all this in mind, we see that she slides from the Marxist idea to its polar opposite when she rejects universal and essential categories. This forced marriage between Marxist essentialism and post-structuralist anti-essentialism is found in much theoretical writing, but it will not work out. What really unites these antithetical movements is a denial of anything transcendent—a denial, first and last, of God. In a world without any meaning given to it by a divine mind, one chooses between a reductive materialism and an irreducible freeplay of signifiers that have no connection to any material reality. But since both of these are antithetical to any sense of traditional wisdom, they get along with each other somehow. Belsey makes an effort to avoid turning her theoretical ideas into dogmas, writing, “Commitments become dogmas; positions are institutionalized; potential allies are excluded. Feminism’s newest category could rapidly become a force for conservatism.”[xxi] However, the end of this statement enunciates an absolute dogma: whatever we do must avoid conservatism, which is by definition always wrong. What all the new theories have in common is an irrational hatred of all traditional knowledge and wisdom.

One of the best Marxist critics is Terry Eagleton, and I wish to glance at an excerpt from a book he published back in the 1970’s that was more recently included in a collection of theoretical essays on T. S. Eliot. Many of Eagleton’s comments stand the test of time, for he is a gifted writer and insightful critic. Yet his more blatantly ideological statements seem oddly dated, like the music and fashions of the 70s. He labels Eliot an:

“industrious servant of Lloyd’s bank, necessarily supporting the economic system which practically ensures . . . the conditions of élitist culture. It is in the blank space between the ‘form’ and ‘content’ of The Waste Land, between its cosmic detachment and guilty collusion, that the ideology which produces it is most visibly inscribed.”[xxii] 

This begins as a fallacious ad hominem argument, assuming that all who work for banks must support in all ways the current economic system (and what about Marxist scholars who draw decent salaries from state-supported universities or universities whose endowments are funded by bankers?). Because he must account for the avant-garde form of the poem, Eagleton characterizes The Waste Land as a blend of “progressive form” and “reactionary content,” exhibiting both “cosmic detachment” and “guilty collusion.”  He sneers at Eliot’s “pathetically nostalgic fantasies of a hierarchical Christian order.”[xxiii]  Read today, it is Eagleton’s essay that will evoke a nostalgic longing in greying academic “revolutionaries.”  There is an almost touching naiveté in Eagleton’s attacks—an unconscious assurance similar to that of a political billboard I remember seeing in Spain in that era proclaiming that “Socialism is liberty.”

Yet Eagleton’s phrase “guilty collusion” seems to me to call for a more serious response, for while reading this volume of theoretical approaches to Eliot I also happened to be reading Hilton Kramer’s Twilight of the Intellectuals, which recounts the collusion of many American intellectuals with Soviet Communism, long after it had become clear that tens of millions of people had been brutally tortured and murdered by the Stalinists.[xxiv] Another book I finally got around to reading about the same time was Whittaker Chambers’ Witness. Chambers (the former spy for the Soviet Union who exposed the treason of Alger Hiss) calls Communism a “rational faith” and makes a simple and profound statement that is almost equally applicable to all the ideologies that dominate the Academy today:

“It is not new. It is, in fact, man’s second oldest faith. Its promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: “Ye shall be as gods.” It is the great alternative faith of mankind. Like all great faiths, its force derives from a simple vision. Other ages have had great visions. They have always been different versions of the same vision: the vision of God and man’s relationship to God. The Communist vision is the vision of Man without God.”[xxv]

Today the last Marxists in America, securely established and fairly well paid in their university positions, somehow cling to the sophomoric notion that what Eagleton calls the “hierarchical Christian order” and the free market economy are responsible for nearly all the suffering in the world. These academic Marxists are guilty of complicity with a materialist political philosophy that is inherently evil (because, in denying the sacred, it denies the sanctity of each human being) and has proven so in one bloodbath after another in the past century.

A decade after Eagleton’s book, John Xiros Cooper (another good literary scholar who has done better work when not riding this hobbyhorse) wrote a Marxist book on The Waste Land, and included in the same collection of theoretical essays is his section on the episode in which a clerk has loveless and even passionless intercourse with a typist in her tiny flat. Cooper reduces the incident to an attack by Eliot on the lower classes, claiming that “In the period of The Waste Land Eliot consistently characterized people from the lower classes and other marginalized groups either as subhumans or nonhumans.”[xxvi] Sometimes one wishes that literary critics would be required to produce control groups the way scientists must: where, we could ask Cooper, is the glowing portrait of the upper-class or middle-class couple in the poem?  Perhaps Queen Elizabeth and the Earl of Leicester, with their hopeless, unfulfilled, sterile love? Perhaps the middle-class couple in the apartment in Part II who long since ceased to communicate (“Speak to me. Why do you never speak?  Speak”)?  The fact is that Eliot’s early verse is largely satiric, and rather brutally so. He paints unsavory portraits of all classes, both sexes, Christians and Jews, and every ethnic group he knows—including his own. Cooper’s reductive Marxist interpretation is thoroughly irresponsible, but it is not untypical.

Feminist Theory

Feminist literary theory is similarly political in nature, and tends in similar ways to use literature for its purposes rather than taking it on its own terms. Most of us in the academy are sympathetic to many of the goals of feminism as a political movement, but it does not follow that we should adopt feminism as an approach to literary analysis. The results of doing so are often heavy-handed and sometimes delusional. Early feminist criticism aimed at increasing the representation of women writers in the anthologies and in the curriculum. To some extent this was a reasonable and long-needed change, but it quickly developed into an affirmative-action approach to the canon. How much does it further the cause of women’s rights to have second-rate and third-rate women writers included in the textbooks and in the curriculum? To rectify the imbalance in the canon, separate courses including only women writers were added to the curriculum and required, which tended to ghettoize literature by women. Some of the more highly-regarded women writers came to be taught so frequently that many English majors read them more than once, and soon we had English majors who had never read Spenser or Pope but who had read Kate Chopin’s The Awakening in three different courses.

Then feminist criticism, like Marxist criticism, became “theoretical” (a word which now means “post-structuralist”), with the result that the primary term of feminist theory, “woman,” was itself called into question and was seen as “essentialist” (as in Belsey’s sentence, quoted above). Again, one may question whether it is much of a service to the cause of women’s rights to deny that one can know what a woman is, but the feminists had done about all they could with more traditional means and needed a more subtle and smart approach. Perhaps one of the first feminists to question the word “woman” was Simone de Beauvoir, who wrote that “One is not born, but becomes a woman. No biological, psychological, or economic fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society: it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature, intermediate between male and eunuch, which is described as feminine.”[xxvii] Of course this is merely an extension of the absurd contention by some social scientists (including the behavioral psychologists, who ruled the field for some time and are now in full retreat before the overwhelming evidence of genetic influence on psychology) that everything, including sexual identity, is entirely a cultural construct. Feminist theorists speak not of one’s “sex” but of one’s “gender,” implying in this word choice that the phenomenon in question has nothing to do with biology.

One version of this new feminist theory is Catherine MacKinnon’s insistence that in a patriarchal culture women are defined as “rapable,” a dark fixation which becomes the focus of Sharon Stockton’s The Economics of Fantasy: Rape in Twentieth-Century Literature. Stockton finds rape everywhere, including the intercourse between the clerk and the typist in The Waste Land.[xxviii] Just as the Marxist reader insists that this passage expresses Eliot’s hatred for the lower classes, the feminist reader finds in it his hatred for women and desire to rape them. What the passage actually says is that the young man’s caresses “are unreproved, if undesired.” The sexual relationship is explicitly consensual, however defective and degraded. After the young man leaves, the young woman thinks to herself, “Well now that’s done: and I’m glad it’s over.” No, Eliot has not described a rape here, but the postmodern theorist is not constrained by the text, or by reality. Perhaps the leading light of this highly theoretical feminism is Judith Butler, who speaks repeatedly of the “performativity of gender,” an unfelicitous phrase which simply asserts the same old notion that one’s sex is constructed entirely by one’s society. Butler argues by repetitious assertion rather than with any coherent reasoning or evidence. Nevertheless, a whole group of feminist theorists has taken her lead. Once again, a valuable partial truth is turned into an absolute by thinkers who supposedly abhor absolutes.

I recently taught Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, using the Norton Critical Edition, which gives excerpts from a number of commentaries on the novel, and a brief glance at the feminist pieces gives a good idea of how feminist scholarship has gone overboard. The first feminist selection is from a book by Nina Auerbach, published in 1978, and we find ourselves all at once in the dark wood of post-modern feminist criticism. Auerbach (unlike nearly all ordinary readers) finds nothing inspiring in Austen’s moral vision; instead, she essentially accuses the novel of complicity in male domination:

“In the family microcosm, the male whom all await can alone bring substance. . . . We are not allowed to see Longbourn House until a man does.” Instead of celebrating the strong and independent female characters created by one of the great women writers, Auerbach asserts tendentiously that “men also create whatever strength of sisterhood we see in the novel” (yes, she is writing about the novel that contains the profound sisterly affection and loyalty of Elizabeth and Jane Bennet).[xxix]

Only by completely ignoring Elizabeth’s aunt, Mrs. Gardiner, can Auerbach assert that in Austen’s novels “female power is effectively synonymous with power abused.” (And of course Auerbach also ignores all the male abuses of power described by Austen.) I do think we could spare our students such palpably false diatribes, which make one wonder why the critic even bothers to read Austen’s works (except to provide grist for her ideological mill and publications to maintain her cushy academic sinecure).

But wait—it gets worse. In another excerpt included in the Norton edition from a 1993 book, Susan Fraiman, speaking of Elizabeth’s relationship with her father, declaims that “sooner or later, what Adrienne Rich calls ‘compulsory heterosexuality’—a conspiracy of economic need and the ideology of romance—forces Elizabeth out of the library, into the ballroom, and up to the altar.”[xxx] Fraiman and Rich follow contemporary sociological doctrine in claiming that heterosexuality is a cultural construct, but of course it is in plain biological fact “compulsory” for any group of people who do not want to die out. Such a total disdain for reality is characteristic of much contemporary criticism. Fraiman goes even further, claiming (creatively and perversely) that “marriage substitutes for the incestuous heterosexual act a homoerotic exchange in which the father gives his own flesh, as it were, to the other man.”[xxxi] Golly. In passages such as these, feminist theory makes an all-out attack on the institution of marriage itself, helping pave the way for the redefinition and ultimately abolition of marriage in the political and social arenas.

Like the Marxists, the feminists take the high moral ground by attacking past oppression (much of which really was oppression that needed to be attacked), but like the Marxists they make their theory into an all-encompassing quasi-religious dogma, reducing reality to simplistic categories (however complex and subtle their rhetoric may be). And like the Marxists, most feminist scholars are in collusion with a blood-stained political movement. In their attempt to separate women from their biology, many feminists are so focused on women’s reproductive autonomy that they have helped override the right to life of the smallest and most vulnerable human beings, resulting in the legalized slaughter of tens of millions. The goddess of their ideology has demanded, and received, human sacrifice.

Queer Theory

The denial of traditional understandings of sex and marriage is, of course, essential to the homosexual movement. Queer theory (so-called by its practitioners to take over the old negative term) has devoted itself to indoctrinating the current generation of students in service of this political goal. It is usually a two-pronged attack: recruiting well-known writers to the fold, and criticizing heterosexual assumptions in other writers. As an example of the “outing” of past writers, Shakespeare is often said to have been homosexual. The only basis for this claim is his sonnet sequence, which begins with sonnets addressed to a fair young man. Shakespeare’s poetic persona (not necessarily identical to the author) does express love for this young man, but what the theorists conveniently ignore is that the sonnets repeatedly urge him to marry and have children. Hardly any other work has a stronger heterosexual assumption.

Poor T. S. Eliot (who offended the intelligentsia by being a great poet and a conservative Christian) is again a favorite target. In 1952, John Peter wrote an article suggesting that Eliot had a homosexual love affair with Jean Verdenal, a young man with whom he formed a strong friendship during a year in Paris (1910-11).[xxxii] Eliot’s solicitor threatened to bring a libel suit, and the article was withdrawn. Several scholars argued that there is no evidence of a sexual relationship between the two friends, but James Miller expanded on Peter’s theory in T. S. Eliot’s Personal Waste Land (1977), and Miller’s recent biography advances the idea again, though in a more muted way.[xxxiii] With the aid of postmodern theory, Colleen Lamos is able to describe Eliot as both homosexual and homophobic in Deviant Modernism (1998). She argues (using a queer kind of logic indeed) that Eliot’s allusions to the works of male poets is homoerotic.[xxxiv]

In most universities today it is taken as self-evident that homosexuals should be treated as equal to heterosexuals. Of course in many respects persons with homosexual tendencies certainly should (and generally do) have the same legal rights, protecting them from mindless and vicious abuse and harassment. But the pressure now is to redefine marriage so that there is no legal difference between heterosexual and homosexual couples. It is fairly easy to make this case when heterosexuals have become so unclear about the meaning of marriage and have themselves undermined the foundations of that institution. It seems to be nearly impossible to hold a debate on the essential questions: What is the purpose and meaning of human sexuality? What is marriage, and what is it for? Of course post-modern theory, with its insistence that there are no objective realities is helpful to the homosexual lobby.

But there is in fact such a thing as human nature, and our sexuality is a reality which can be understood in better ways or in worse ones. Anyone who says such things in an open forum at a university (as I have) is simply shouted down. Or that person is excluded from the discussion altogether. The tradition of debate in the universities (a tradition going back to their beginning in the Middle Ages) is dead when it comes to such sacred issues. Meanwhile, the university hires a whole cadre of expensive administrators (some of them hired during the worst economic times in two decades, when the university had raised tuition 13 % in one year) whose job is to promote the homosexual agenda. When James Dobson’s organization was scheduled recently to show (on a local commercial channel) a documentary of theirs on people who had succeeded in changing their sexual orientation, these university administrators objected strenuously and succeeded in having the showing canceled. Then they held their own forum on campus to affirm that sexual orientation was innate and unchangeable. When one of Dobson’s staff offered to speak at the forum the offer was rejected. So much for free and open debate. The provost of the university was recently quoted in the newspaper as saying that the most important thing in the university is “diversity,” but this clearly does not include intellectual diversity on issues such as homosexuality.

The Theorized (and Politicized) English Curriculum

Many English departments are changing their curricula to give ever greater emphasis to these politically charged theories. At Grand Valley State University, our capstone course for English majors gradually devolved into a course on Theory, making use of a textbook written by one of my colleagues that gives simplified explanations of the theories. I began to notice some years ago that when I had a student in one of my other courses who had already taken the capstone the student would assume when choosing a paper topic that he or she had to use one of those theories. Students would visit my office to talk about a topic and say, “I can’t decide whether to take a feminist or Marxist approach.” This course has thus succeeded in narrowing the field of vision for our majors. One characteristic essay I received in a Shakespeare course asserted that in The Tempest Miranda makes herself subservient to Ferdinand. It did not seem to help when I pointed to Ferdinand’s words to Miranda while he is hauling logs for her father: “The very instant that I saw you, did / My heart fly to your service; there resides, / To make me slave to it; and for your sake / Am I this patient log-man.”[xxxv] The student was determined to find Shakespeare a misogynist.

Now a whole new curriculum has been proposed in my department, modeled on changes that have already taken place at elite schools like Harvard. In place of the historical surveys of British and American literature we now require, the departmental theorists have proposed one course on literary genres and one course in literary theory. Now English majors at GVSU will begin and end their study with theory, for no change has been proposed for the capstone. The faculty who teach literature are split roughly in half on this proposal, with many of the senior faculty bitterly opposed to it and some senior faculty members allied with newer members in support. Little debate of the proposal was permitted among the literature faculty: instead, the proposal was moved quickly to the full department. There, with the additional support of all of the English education faculty and all but one of the linguistics faculty (professors who did not teach the currently required survey courses, would not teach the newly proposed courses, and generally have a superficial understanding of the issues), the proposal passed easily and was sent on to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Curriculum Committee. During such discussion as there was, someone argued that those students who were going on to teach at the high school level needed the survey courses because they would be teaching similar courses there, to which one of my English Education colleagues responded by saying that our students should be “agents of change” in their schools. This change apparently needed no definition or rationale: it was clear that the desirable change was to dismantle the literary canon (in order, no doubt, to more readily politicize the high school curriculum as well).

As usual, there was no real debate on the merits of the proposal. Those who opposed it had their say and were ignored as the departmental leadership pushed on to a vote. This proposal reflects a change in teaching that has already occurred among the newer professors. Their graduate programs were highly specialized and highly theoretical, so they lack the breadth of literary background that was valued previously and are therefore not interested in teaching surveys which attempt to give a sampling of literary works from all the major historical periods. Also, because their graduate schools were generally anti-canonical, they decline to focus on “the best that has been thought and said,” denying that such a thing as “the best” even exists (though they do not hesitate to grade their students’ work and to proclaim each other’s work to be excellent when they come up for review). In a survey of American literature from the beginnings to the Civil War, one of my younger colleagues (and I do like and respect these intelligent and energetic new professors) left out these writers: Hawthorne, Melville, Emerson, Thoreau, and Dickinson. Instead, the students read such writers as Cabeza de Vaca, Harriet Jacobs, Charles Brockton Brown, and Catherine Maria Sedgwick. Some of the students complained in their evaluations that it was more of a history course than a literature course and wished that they had read some of the excellent literary works of the period, but these complaints were dismissed as insignificant by the department.

At one of our meetings, I tried to find something we could agree on, suggesting that we might all want every English major at GVSU to have some significant experience of the works of Geoffrey Chaucer. A newer colleague responded by saying that she sometimes preferred to teach Margery Kempe. Now, Kempe is a fascinating figure, a 14th-century married woman who experienced religious visions and wrote a spiritual diary. She is interesting from a historical perspective, but as a writer she is simply not in Chaucer’s league (or in the two leagues below his). At this point the discussion took another turn, but after the meeting I checked with my colleague to see whether she meant she would teach Kempe instead of Chaucer. She said she would, especially since Chaucer represented the values of the aristocracy while Kempe represented values of a lower class. I questioned whether Chaucer could be reasonably described as favoring the aristocracy, when The Canterbury Tales includes characters from all social classes and he treats them all rather even-handedly. I also asked her whether it shouldn’t be a consideration that Chaucer was a much superior writer to Kempe, to which she responded that all such judgments of literary quality were “utterly subjective.” I pointed out that this was a surprisingly absolute statement, coming from someone committed to relativism, and that was the end of the discussion. It seems clear that what some teachers value in Kempe is that she was a woman writer and that she was somewhat anti-authoritarian (in that she resisted the authority of the bishop when he enjoined her not to teach). In other words, she is useful as a channel for their political views. Here we have a clear example of the shift from an interest in beauty and truth to an interest in theory and politics. This is the way of the academic world at present. It is a dead end.

In closing, let me give an example from another university. In a recent article, Professor Donald Hall of the University of West Virginia describes the way he was able to revolutionize the curriculum there, making it multicultural, international, and theoretical. This feat was accomplished by Professor Hall and his band of “change agents” in spite of “the outspoken opposition of a coalition of older, tenured professors.[xxxvi] With the support of the administration, Dr. Hall got control of the hiring process and “my search committees and I hired with a preference for people eager to continue the curricular transformations.”[xxxvii] He assures his readers that “This effort is not a zero-sum exercise. Indeed, to think of it that way would be to replicate in a progressive movement the same hierarchical, binaristic thinking that some of us are working to undercut through our curricular and institutional revisions.”[xxxviii]

This might be reassuring, except that curriculum is in fact a classic zero-sum game: there are only so many credit hours, and if something new is inserted, something else must be pushed out. I wonder whether the older professors who were flattened by the steamrollers of Hall’s political activism (backed by the arbitrary power of university administrators) would agree that he has not fallen into his own form of hierarchical thinking. Hall admits that he has exercised a fairly strong form of authority in pushing through these changes when no students were requesting them. However, he maintains (correctly but rather hierarchically) that the faculty are supposed to have more judgment than the students about what to include in the curriculum. He hastens to add that this:

“authority needs always to be tempered with humility, sensitivity, and an openness to challenge, but we have to be willing to examine critically our disciplines and embrace the complexity of lives lived today in ways that far exceed the outdated categories of our old anthologies now gathering dust on sagging bookshelves.”[xxxix]

Oops. By the end of his sentence he has forgotten the admonition to humility and sensitivity with which he began it, falling right into binaristic thinking about those poor old anthologies and expressing it in an arrogant and insensitive way. Hall’s essay exemplifies the unconscious authoritarianism of the radical intellectual, the new fundamentalist.

The counter-argument to what I am saying will be the one that has regularly been used, the claim that I too wish to politicize liberal education by clinging to ideas that are conservative. It is partially true that the plea I have been making for finding truth and beauty in literary works implies a conservative assumption, namely that there are objective truths and that the great thinkers and artists of the past know something about them. However, taking the literary tradition on its own terms does not necessarily lead to conservative positions on contemporary political issues. My allies in the opposition to the new theory requirement are nearly all liberal in their politics. The writers who have composed the “best that has been thought and said” are hardly all in agreement with each other: rather, the canon is a grand debating society whose members differ with each other sharply on fundamental issues. (In fact, Matthew Arnold himself was a 19th-century liberal.) Still, it is basically true that few of the great writers of the past—even the more radically left-wing writers such as Shelley—would agree with the extreme anti-essentialist positions taken by the post-modern theorists. My colleagues should be free to espouse their strange and foolish notions in their courses, but they should not be free to restructure the curriculum so that those notions become the (anti-foundational) foundation for all our students. Let us object.



[i] David Bromwich, Politics by Other Means: Higher Education and Group Thinking (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992), ix.

[ii] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, trans. Martin Ostwald (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1962), 4. (1094a)

[iii] Mark Van Doren, Liberal Education (Boston: Beacon Press, 1959).

[iv] Matthew Arnold, Preface to Culture and Anarchy (1869), in Culture and Anarchy and Other Writings, ed. Stefan Collini (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 190.

[v] John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University (New York: Holt, 1960), 91.

[vi] Bromwich, 3-52.

[vii] Dinesh D’Souza, Illiberal Education: The Politics of Race and Sex on Campus (New York: Vintage, 1992), 39-43.

[viii] T. S. Eliot, Christianity and Culture (New York: Harcourt, 1940), 33.

[ix] Samuel Johnson, Preface to Shakespeare, in The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, 3rd ed., ed. David H. Richter (Boston: St. Martin’s, 2007), 217.

[x] Horace, The Art of Poetry, trans. Smith Palmer Bovie, in The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, ed. David H. Richter, 2nd ed. (Boston: St. Martin’s, 1998), 75.

[xi] Philip Sidney, An Apology for Poetry, in The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, ed. David H. Richter, 2nd ed. (Boston: St. Martin’s, 1998), 139-43.

[xii] Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Lay Sermons, ed. R. J. White (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1972), 30.

[xiii] T. S. Eliot. Knowledge and Experience in the Philosophy of F. H. Bradley (New York: Farrar, 1964), 132.

[xiv] Paul Ricoeur, Interpretation Theory: Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning (Fort Worth: Texas Christian University Press, 1987), 61.

[xv] Russell Kirk, Eliot and His Age: T. S. Eliot’s Moral Imagination in the Twentieth Century, 2nd ed. (Wilmington, DE: ISI Books, 2008), 4-5.

[xvi] Kirk, 37.

[xvii] Stephen Miller, Conversation: A History of a Declining Art (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006), 247-48.

[xviii] Karl Marx, The German Ideology, trans. R. Pascal, in The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, ed. David H. Richter, 2nd ed. (Boston: St. Martin’s, 1998), 391.

[xix] Catherine Belsey, “A Future for Materialist Feminist Criticism?” in The Matter of Difference: Materialist Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare, ed. Valerie Wayne (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991), 257.

[xx] Georg Lukács, “The Ideology of Modernism,” in The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, 3rd ed., ed. David H. Richter (Boston: St. Martin’s, 2007), 1219-1221.

[xxi] Belsey, 268.

[xxii] Terry Eagleton, “Ideology and Literary Form,” in T. S. Eliot, ed. Harriet Davidson (London: Longman, 1999), 113. Reprinted from Eagleton’s Criticism and Ideology: A Study in Marxist Literary Theory (London: Verso, 1978).

[xxiii] Eagleton, 115.

[xxiv] Hilton Kramer, The Twilight of the Intellectuals: Culture and Politics in the Era of the Cold War (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1999).

[xxv] Whitaker Chambers, Witness (Washington: Regnery, 1952), 9.

[xxvi] John Xiros Cooper, “Reading the ‘Seduction’ Fragment,” in T. S. Eliot, ed. Harriet Davidson (London: Longman, 1999), 121. Reprinted from Cooper’s T. S. Eliot and the Politics of Voice: The Argument of “The Waste Land” (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1987).

[xxvii] Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex (New York: Bantam, 1952), 249. Quoted by Monique Wittig, “One is Not Born a Woman,” in The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, 3rd ed., ed. David H. Richter (Boston: St. Martin’s, 2007), 1638.

[xxviii] Sharon Stockton, The Economics of Fantasy: Rape in Twentieth-Century Literature (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2006), 30-33.

[xxix] Nina Auerbach, “Waiting Together: Pride and Prejudice,” in Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, ed. Donald Gray, 3rd ed. (New York: Norton, 2001), 329-332. Reprinted from Auerbach’s Communities of Women: An Idea in Fiction (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978).

[xxx] Susan Fraiman, “The Humiliation of Elizabeth Bennet,” in Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, ed. Donald Gray, 3rd ed. (New York: Norton, 2001), 358. Reprinted from Fraiman’s Unbecoming Women: British Women Writers and the Novel of Development (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993).

[xxxi] Fraiman, 359.

[xxxii] John Peter, “A New Interpretation of The Waste Land,” Essays in Criticism (July 1952), ii: 242-66.

[xxxiii] James E. Miller, T. S. Eliot: The Making of an American Poet, 1888-1922 (State College, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2005).

[xxxiv] Colleen Lamos, Deviant Modernism:Sexual and Textual Errancy in T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, and Marcel Proust (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 72.

[xxxv] William Shakespeare, The Tempest, in The Complete Pelican Shakespeare ed.Stephen Orgel and A. R. Braunmuller (New York: Penguin, 2002): III.ii.64-67.

[xxxvi] Donald E. Hall, “Internationalizing the English Curriculum,” ADE Bulletin 146 (Fall 2008): 53.

[xxxvii] Hall, 53.

[xxxviii] Hall, 55.

[xxxix] Hall, 55.


This excerpt is from The Democratic Discourse of Liberal Education, Lee Trepanier, ed. (Southern Utah University Press, 2009).

Benjamin G. LockerdBenjamin G. Lockerd

Benjamin G. Lockerd

Ben Lockerd is a Professor of English at Grand Valley State University in Michigan. He is past president of the T.S. Eliot Society and author of T. S. Eliot and Christian Tradition (Fairleigh Dickinson, 2014).

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