Reactionary Ideas, Anti-blackness, & Historismus in the FAZ Op-Ed

Reactionary ideas

JG’s essay begins by painting a picture of an academic world made topsy-turvy by anti-racism. Even the famous University of Cambridge has compelled its elite faculty to undergo training in equality and diversity, to leave their position of authority (Katheder) in order to sit in the debased seats of students (Sitzreihen der Studenten). It gets worse, as traditional distinctions get broken down when students and alumni write open letters requiring the recognition of entanglements with racism and colonialism. It is an image of carnivalesque chaos wrought on traditional authority: Professors should speak ex cathedra, and students should dutifully listen. But in the Oxbridge world, students speak on moral issues, and professors sit in the seats of students to learn. Madness!

Anti-blackness

Despite lacking a precise definition of identity politics, identity constitutes a central problem in the essay. After describing the topsy-turvy world of Oxbridge, the author turns to the United States where [please read in a sarcastic voice] black classicists must receive preferential treatment and be given space to publish based on their skin color. He calls this “positive affirmative action” and claims it leads to a new conception of scholarship. “Scholarship appears to be less the production of scholarly discoveries than the expression of identities through which oppressed minorities can be emancipated.” [end sarcastic voice] This bizarre summary of the situation invokes the Jeopardy Thesis since the new (and completely imaginary) proposal for scholarship endangers traditional scholarly norms and practices. But the worst is yet to come because it is in the context of black scholars supposedly being favored solely for the skin color than JG invokes Dan-el, implying that he fits into this imaginary affirmative action dynamic.

Historismus

Much of JG’s piece assumes that a scholar and teacher’s identity is fundamentally unimportant for scholarship, and those who act as if subjectivity has relevance are undermining scholarship. The last part of the essay seeks to give a philosophical basis for that position. JG insists those who derive their values from the past and those who want to purify it match modern values (who are these people?!?!) are missing the basic insight of Rankean historicism: every epoch has its own unique measure of value and is, to speak with Ranke, immediate to God ( dass jede Epoche ihren eigenen Wertehorizont hat und, mit Ranke gesprochen, unmittelbar zu Gott ist.). I’m convinced that classical scholars have not given up historical contextualization as an important principle so much as taken the insights of Nietzsche, Gadamer, and others that consider the interpreter's situation as important as well.

MC Hammer: You bore us tweet. When you measure include the measurer.

Conclusion

In the end, the historicism of the essay is not particularly nuanced. It appears simply to be an attempt to give philosophical heft to what is essentially a reactionary essay made in fear of social changes that seem to threaten traditional professorial authority and the scholar’s position of a disinterested interpreter. This world view informs many of the responses, which if less intellectually astute than this one (or at least less likely to name drop Max Weber), still seem to express a longing for a world in which the white scholar, secure, objective, and olympian, need never have any of his essential categories challenged.

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Maximus Planudes

Maximus Planudes

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The online pseudonym of the other online pseudonym Leopold “Poldy” Bloom. Really, tho, who I am doesn’t matter.