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James Poulos Summer Ours is a time of institutional crisis.
It is our institutions that are in crisis, and because they dominate and define our public order, it is our institutions that have plunged us into crisis. While a host of reasons might be summoned to explain how and why this is so, the identifying mark of our dominant institutions is that they are critical bodies.
Whether in academia, media, jurisprudence, social science, or other prestigious knowledge-work industries — increasingly, even beyond that ambit, in sports and entertainment — criticism is what the institutional elite practices, produces, and promulgates.
One of the many consequences of this state of affairs is that this is an uncanny, uncertain time for what critics have long called the "Great Books" — what the great critic Harold Bloom called with a bit more specificity the "Western Canon.
Bloom, in his influential book on the subject, sets his humane pantheon against the postmodern, deconstructionist schools of "resentment," each of which has its brief against the canon as a repository of obsolete power plays carried out by men whose once-supreme identities must now be overthrown.
But among Bloom's 26 canonical heroes he includes only a few authors whose work lays claim in some degree to political philosophy, the discipline best suited for wrestling with today's crisis of institutional criticism.
There is Goethe and Freud, Tolstoy and Kafka, Dante and Shakespeare, but nothing in the centuries-old line of political thought — the now-familiar genealogy of modern theory running roughly from Machiavelli and Hobbes through Locke and Rousseau to Nietzsche and on to the putative triumph of contemporary liberalism.
Indeed, the hallmark of the Western political-theoretical canon is criticism so deep that its effect, by the lights of some of our most respected and discerning readers, has been to prepare the destruction of some of the West's most important founding and sustaining institutions.
Machiavelli's political science overthrew Aristotle's. Hobbes's mechanism and materialism ground down medieval custom. Locke's atomized individual, and Rousseau's general will, sowed dragon's teeth in the culture of the commonwealth. Nietzsche announced the end of political theology and the reduction of all politics to power.
But the case against the canon as a saving resource of masterful criticism goes deeper still. Many of the core works of modern philosophy and science reject the very idea of a core of such works. Francis Bacon's Novum Organum, as Notre Dame professor Patrick Deneen has written, "is now one of our great books — a great book that recommends against the lessons of previous great books.
The other argues against the study of great books and asserts a form of human greatness that seeks the human mastery of nature, particularly by the emphasis of modern science. This latter conception of liberty does not seek merely to coexist alongside an older conception, but requires the active dismantling of this idea of liberty and hence the transformation of education away from the study of great books and toward the study of "the great book of nature" with the end of its mastery.
The obsession with greatness that defines and distorts the canon, Deneen concludes, bears out in the mercilessly destructive course of Western progress. Fueled by this distorting form of megalomania, Western development has culminated in a series of technological conquests that feed ceaseless desires and fixate the mind on mastery, yet ravage nature and deracinate our souls.
Better to read and to teach humble books, Deneen counsels, than to remain in sway to the greatest of our false prophets. The weight of the charges against the canon is daunting; that the charges come from all directions, "left" as well as "right," ought to give us pause.Few things are as obnoxious as an out-of-tune Great Highland Bagpipe (GHB), or for that matter any untuned bagpipe.
Bagpipes heard out-of-tune are the major reason why many people dislike the . Every age has a theory of rising and falling, of growth and decay, of bloom and wilt: a theory of nature. Every age also has a theory about the past and the present, of what was and what is, a.
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In this Article: Article Summary Crafting Great Thesis Statements Getting it Right Finding the Perfect Thesis Community Q&A Whether you’re writing a short essay or a doctoral dissertation, your thesis statement can be one of the trickiest sentences to formulate.