The Worth of the Humanities

In a series of recent blog posts for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Frank Donoghue discusses traditional and new defenses of the humanities and why these defenses are failing. His most recent post, “How and Why the Humanities Lost Touch,” critiques Martha Nussbaum’s recent book, Not For Profit, and its defense of the humanities as that which teaches students to be good citizens of democracy:

Today’s undergraduates want to be rich, and so they will strenuously resist any effort to resuscitate the humanities, since the humanities have long been associated with liberal politics (at least as far back as William Bennett’s 1984 white paper, “To Reclaim a Legacy,” and Lynn Cheney’s stint as director of the NEH). According to the popular website myplan.com, 161 of America’s major universities have a majority of students who identify as conservative, and who would thus likely endorse the Ryan budget, which would entail the obliteration of government support for the humanities.

Nussbaum seems to be out of touch with the desires of America’s students and with their political allegiances as well. Either that or she imagines colleges of humanities as re-education camps. But she’s hardly the only academic making this argument.

Other posts in the series include “The Traditional Rationale for the Worth of the Humanities” and “The New Defense of the Humanities (It’s No Better Than the Old One).”

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