Three great books professors at Columbia University give ideological political reasons for studying the classics. David Randall at First Things says that although it is unfortunate that political progressives talk about the classics in ideological terms, it may be simply that these academics see such language as the best or only way to reach those on the political left:

Their argument should be understood with an awareness of its intended audience. Blake, Montás, and Tweel note a recent op-ed in the New York Times by Molly Worthen, detailing how progressive teachers and students frequently condemn Great Books as instruments of oppression when they don’t ignore them entirely, and disdain them as fit only for conservatives. Blake et al.’s argument may be the only one that can persuade progressives to support reading Great Books at all …

And in asking about the propriety of having any purely political reason to study the great books, Randall delineates the two purposes of education–both the political or civic (making us better citizens) and the personal or individual (intellectual and character formation):

The problem is when you focus too much on the civic arts and not enough on formation of character. Man may be a political animal, but that isn’t all he is. We read Jane Austen to learn how to love with a happy mixture of sense and sensibility. We read King Lear not just for its political lessons, but for some shock of sympathy with a foolish old man whose loving daughter died. We read Montaigne (among other reasons) so we may learn to die well. We read Great Books to become better people, and to share in the long tradition of readers who have read these works before us.

Read the rest here.

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