Greek, Latin; Homer, Ovid, Cicero, Aristophanes; Anabasis, The Aeneid; The Iliad…
If there was one area of learning guaranteed never to be hijacked by the forces of ignorance, political correctness, identity politics, social justice and dumbing down, you might have thought, it would be Classics.
But you’d be wrong, unfortunately, as we learn from a distressing piece in Quillette titled: How I Was Kicked Out of the Society of Classical Studies Annual General Meeting.
It was written by Mary Frances Williams, an independent scholar from California, with a Classics PhD from University of Austin, Texas, who decided to attend the 150th anniversary AGM of the Society of Classical Studies (formerly the American Philological Association) in San Diego.
Williams went for the San Diego weather, the chance to see the USS Midway, the intellectual stimulation and, she hoped, the opportunity of making a contribution to the debate on the future of Classics.
She left accused of “racism”, her professional reputation in tatters, and subsequently lost her editing job at the Association of Ancient Historians.
What did she do wrong?
Simple. She made the mistake of trying to speak out against the corruption of the Classical curriculum by identity politics, race-baiting and anti-male hysteria.
One speaker at the conference, Dan-el Padilla Peralta (Princeton University), argued – to much applause – that Classics was a bastion of white, male privilege, riddled with injustice.
If one were intentionally to design a discipline whose institutional organs and gatekeeping protocols were explicitly aimed at disavowing the legitimate status of scholars of color as producers of knowledge, one could not do better than what Classics has done.
Among his proposed solutions to this problem was that white men should be censored by classical journals, which should instead give priority to people of color, and women, and gender-non-conforming scholars, regardless of the quality of their work.
Classics, Peralta explained, is racist:
[Peralta] said he had exhaustively searched the internet to try to determine the racial and ethnic backgrounds of contributors to Classical Antiquity, the American Journal of Philology and Transactions of the American Philological Association between 1997 and 2017. He concluded that “the hegemony of whiteness is everywhere in evidence across the three journals”—between 91–98 percent of contributors turned out to be white Americans or white Europeans: “These percentages remind me of nothing so much as the figures for those intensely segregated suburbs that define the childhoods [sic] and adolescence of my partner; publication in elite journals is a whites-only neighbourhood.”
Williams, though shocked by the anti-intellectualism and lack of rigour in these claims (what if the shortage of “people of color” and women published in Classics journals is a reflection not of sexism and racism, but simply of the sexual and racial balance of people familiar with Latin, Greek and classical literature?), decided not to confront this race-baiting nonsense directly.
Instead she began by making what she thought was a perfectly unexceptionable point about Classics being the bedrock of Western Civilization.
1) It is important to stand up for Classics as a discipline, and promote it as the political, literary, historical, philosophical, rhetorical, and artistic foundation of Western Civilization, and the basis of European history, tradition, culture, and religion. It gave us the concepts of liberty, equality, and democracy, which we should teach and promote. We should not apologize for our field;
Williams had three more points to get through after this one, but was never allowed beyond the first.
Unfortunately, I was interrupted in the middle of my first point by Sarah Bond, who forcefully insisted: “We are not Western Civilization!”
What can one say to that? I didn’t respond; but as I then attempted to move on and make my second point, I was interrupted by her and others, and not permitted to finish what I had hoped would be four very brief statements. A member of the audience with no connection to the panel, Michael Gagarin (University of Texas Emeritus) rose, came over to me, and told me I wasn’t allowed to speak.
It got worse:
In the hope of making my position clearer—that race should not be a determining factor when it comes to assessing the value of scholarship—I said to Padilla [Peralta], “You may have got your job because you’re black, but I’d prefer to think you got your job because of merit.” Admittedly, I was under stress and did not express myself as clearly as I might have done, but what I was trying to convey is that the principle he was advocating clearly didn’t apply to hiring decisions—and nor should it—because he had got his job on merit, not because he’s black. Indeed, if I thought the opposite, and I imagined there was a chance of him saying, “You’re right, I was only hired because I’m black,” that would have contradicted the point I was trying to make, which is that it would have been wrong to hire him based only on his race, just as it would be wrong for an academic journal to publish an article based on the race of its author.
Padilla [Peralta] did not respond to my point directly. Instead, he let out a whoop of what sounded like triumph.
Afterwards the Society of Classical Studies issued a statement which speaks volumes about where it stands in regard to the defense of Western Civilization:
The Board of Directors of the Society for Classical Studies (SCS) condemns the racist acts and speech that occurred at the 2019 SCS annual meeting. The Society’s policy on harassment addresses, among other things, hostility and abuse based on race and ethnicity. There is no place for racism on the part of members, attendees, vendors, and contractors at the meeting. In addition, the Board reaffirms its statement of November 2016 in which the directors condemned “the use of the texts, ideals, and images of the Greek and Roman world to promote racism or a view of the Classical world as the unique inheritance of a falsely-imagined and narrowly-conceived western civilization.”
Loosely translated, this statement says:
“Welcome, barbarians! The gates of Rome are wide open!”
We also have a pretty good idea where Princeton stands on this issue. A report in Daily Princetonian, headlined U. classics professor met with racist comments at conference [the Princetonian seems to have an ee cummings-style aversion to initial caps in its headlines], presents a completely one-sided account of the event.
It dwells on the magnificent credentials of its Professor:
Peralta graduated from the University summa cum laude in 2006, having written two senior theses and four junior papers on his way to salutatorian. He has since earned an M.Phil in Greek and Roman History from Oxford and a Ph.D. in the Classics from Stanford, and was a member of Columbia’s Society of Fellows before returning to the University to teach.
Perhaps Peralta is indeed the brilliant Greek and Latin scholar that these credentials suggest. But it seems equally possible, judging by his remarks at the Society of Classical Studies AGM, that what has really propelled his career is not the rigor of his scholarship or the depth of his classical learning, but rather his fashionable and aggressive wokeness.
To yearn for more women and people of color to study Classics is a perfectly reasonable and commendable position. But Peralta, it is clear, goes much, much further than that. You only have to read his comments at the AGM to realize that he is now using Classics – and his unassailable, Ivy-League-tenured position within that field – as a race-baiting stick to beat white people with; but he is also adopting a stance which is quite explicitly anti-intellectual.
Williams may not have expressed herself as clearly as she would have liked in the heat of the moment. But it is perfectly clear from her background, her tone, and the context of her remarks that she is simply a diligent and honest scholar defending Classics from a concerted attack by the barbarian forces of ignorance, weaponized victimhood and “social justice.”
The fact that Peralta’s position has been effectively endorsed not just by the Society of Classical Studies, but also by Princeton, Oxford, Stanford and Columbia tells you all you need to know about the decline of Classics at our leading universities.