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The Humanities in Crisis

Spring 2010 - Vol. 52, No. 2

The Times Literary Supplement has provideda forum over recent monthsabout the crisis in research funding forthe humanities in British universities. Themost notable recent statements have comein lengthy commentaries by Martha Nussbaum(April 30) and Keith Thomas (May7), followed by numerous letters endorsingor denigrating their arguments. The sourceof the crisis in scholarship and educationis—no surprise here—financial. At a timeof severe budgetary constraints, the governmentbureaucrats who dole out the moneyhave established a set of quantitative, utilitariancriteria for determining which programsand departments will receive such"resources" as remain available. It will,again, come as no surprise that the criteriaare heavily biased toward scientific and—especially—technological research initiatives,which can at least make a show ofproviding concrete practical benefits tothe general public. After all, knowledge ofclassical metrics or Kantian epistemology ishardly going to offer a cure for cancer orfurnish a clean, renewable source of energy.Somewhere the beatific countenance ofCardinal Newman must be graced with awry smile.

We shall consider this issue more specifically in a later issue of Modern Age, butat this point it is sufficient to note that therole of humanities in our modern, highlytechnical culture has been a principal concernof the journal since its founding, andthe current number is particularly richin articles that vindicate the intellectualpower of humane discourse in dealingwith the most troubling and controversialissues that confront our society. ThomasPatrick Burke and Jude Dougherty bringtheir considerable skills in historical andphilosophical reflection to bear on the originsof many of the political dilemmas thatvex contemporary society. Michael Henryreminds us that when science and technologyare cut loose from the bonds of humannature—that is, from a realistic sense of thelimitation of actual men and women thatemerges from philosophical, historical, literary,and theological reflection—then theresult is likely to be a Frankenstein's monster.Finally, Thaddeus Kozinski's observationsabout education under a regime ofdemocratic, secular liberalism suggest thatthe crisis of the humanities is as much aresult of betrayal from within as assaultfrom without.

I close on a sad note by remarking thepassing away in March of my predecessoras editor of Modern Age, George A. Panichas.The departure of such a man is a fargreater loss to the humanities than any cutin funding; but, conversely, as long as theacademic departments can attract scholarsof his caliber, then humane letters will continueto flourish. This issue is rounded outwith a tribute to Dr. Panichas' memory byhis former pupil, colleague, and friend oflong standing, Robert Champ. May GeorgePanichas rest in peace, and may his survivingfriends and family find consolation.