Donald Kagan is engaging in one last argument. For his "farewell lecture" at Yale, the 80-year-old scholar of ancient Greece uncorked a biting critique of American higher education.
Universities, he proposed, are failing students and hurting American democracy. Curricula are "individualized, unfocused and scattered." On campus, he said, "I find a kind of cultural void, an ignorance of the past, a sense of rootlessness and aimlessness." Rare are "faculty with atypical views," he charged. "Still rarer is an informed understanding of the traditions and institutions of our Western civilization and of our country and an appreciation of their special qualities and values." He counseled schools to adopt "a common core of studies" in the history, literature and philosophy "of our culture." By "our" he means Western.
Democracy, wrote Mr. Kagan in "Pericles of Athens" (1991), is "one of the rarest, most delicate and fragile flowers in the jungle of human experience." It relies on "free, autonomous and self-reliant" citizens and "extraordinary leadership" to flourish, even survive.