Defending the Humanities

When politicians claim that there is an education crisis, they generally mean that there is a science, technology, engineering, and math crisis. If we want to remain competitive in a global economy, we're told, we need more chemists and biologists, more doctors and engineers, more inventors and innovators.

But what of the humanities? Who is coming to their defense? Who is arguing that life isn't just about inventing the next smart phone but about understanding the self, that philosophical introspection, aesthetic contemplation, and historical examination are goods that can't simply be replaced by a faster computer?

Leon Wieseltier is, for one. Here is his full-throated defense of the humanities, given at Brandeis's commencement ceremonies last week. I've included his opening below:

Has there ever been a moment in American life when the humanities were cherished less, and has there ever been a moment in American life when the humanities were needed more? I am genuinely honored to be addressing you this morning, because in recent years I have come to regard a commitment to the humanities as nothing less than an act of intellectual defiance, of cultural dissidence.

Anthony Domestico is an assistant professor of literature at Purchase College, SUNY, and the author of Poetry and Theology in the Modernist Period (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017). He writes Commonweal's "Bookmarks" column.

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