Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Some Quick Thoughts On 'The Great Conversation'

I wasn't expecting to post a blog on The Great Conversation, the introductory book to The Great Books of the Western world by Robert M. Hutchins, but here I am. 

This book started out about how the traditional Western education was founded on the Great Books and how the Books have since fallen under the radar. Some good stuff about how modern thinkers threaten to outmode the Books, labelling them as archaic, illusory and irrelevant in the light of modern science. Hutchins then went on to lament against modern education and, while I am so with him on this, I felt he was getting a little of track. 

However, it wasn't until Chapter VIII when things started to get... trippy. For the next two chapters Hutchins asserted that a "world law" was needed for the future. Effectively, a world democratic government. The Great Books were needed for wisdom to bring this visionary Babel of his to life. In all honesty, I was astonished by this. I have to say, though I hate to say it as it sounds terribly pretentious coming from an 18 year-old to a well-educated man, this ideal is so naive. We've all learned from Star Wars that republics turn to empires. What do you do when the government becomes corrupt and starts gunning for you? Flee the country. If this vision became a reality, there would be no other country. Not to mention the inevitable assimilation of the world's cultures and moral relativistic quagmire resulting from compromise. Everyone must be happy. This isn't the only example of this naivete. He also said, in the same chapter,

"The United States is unlikely to endanger peace through malevolence. The people of this country do not appear to bear any ill-will toward any other people; nor do they want anything that any other people have. Since they are devoted to their own kind of society and government, they do not want any other nation to threaten the continued prosperity of their society and government Any military moves made by the United States will be made in the conviction that they are necessary for the defence of this country."

I'm sorry, but since when were Americans exempt from human depravity? Or good old human stupidity? We're all in the same boat.

The following chapter outlined how an understanding of the Great Books is essential for unity with the East (esp. Russia, this book was published in 1952), making the introduction to a timeless collection of books dated. These two chapters presented the Books as a means to an end, a very specific end. What happens if you don't share the author's political opinions?

Luckily for me, the Great Books stand for much more than a political agenda.

As a side note, Hutchins said that he felt, in some ways, a student who hadn't grown up in public school might be better prepared for the Great Books, because he wouldn't have the prejudices (or 'chronological snobberies' as C. S. Lewis would say) that the schools would impart on him. Good thing I was home-schooled then. 

Next up: Plato's Apology.

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