Suppose I had scads of money (I don't) and wanted to found a new college (I don't). What would I do about the humanities departments? I'll set aside Philosophy, where I do happen to know that there are lots of excellent candidates out there looking for jobs and that one could easily fill a department. In fact, even if one were founding a Christian school, so long as it wasn't denominationally restricted, I'm pretty sure that one could fill a good analytically-oriented philosophy department.
But what about English? Indulge me for a moment and imagine that I want to have an English department entirely staffed by people who are completely opposed to postmodernism. No "critical theorists," no "Well, Foucault had some good points" folks, nobody wishy washy on this subject. Everybody should take a traditional approach to the humanities, should believe that texts have meaning outside our heads, and should be seeking to teach them. Also, nobody should require students to read The Color Purple. Traditional canon scholars, as well. I'll take old-fashioned New Critics, though probably if I had happened to live when they really were "new," I would have been one of the Old Historicists opposing them. But as it is now, they are the Old Guard, and at least they usually hate and are hated by the postmodernists; and they are by and large real scholars and know their stuff. If there are any of them left, that is.
Now, the trouble here is that we need to staff our hypothetical English department in our hypothetical new college with people who are alive, healthy, active, and willing to teach for a good while, not people who are retired or on the point of retiring.
Is it possible?
I have been saying for some time (though not on-line) that people do not seem to realize that a formal, institutional discipline can indeed die. Literature itself cannot die. Shakespeare is already dead, and you can't do him any harm. And as long as his works are available, it will be possible for people to read them and understand them in a normal way. But I'm speaking of the formal discipline of English literature as taught in the academy, in places where people can actually get a degree for studying it. There is an odd idea out there that it is literally impossible that things should come to such a pass that no one should try to take a degree in a particular field of the humanities. Yet it might not be possible to get a real education in a field and get a credential at the same time. I myself would never send a young person who actually loved literature through many of the literature classes I have seen and known of. The last thing such a young person needs is to be taught how to (shudder) "do readings."
If one wishes to man a college department, though, one has to get people with a credential in the field. You can't just hire sensible people to teach English whose degrees are all in other fields and who know their stuff from normal reading without having had their heads stuffed with baloney. That is, unless one is going to start a Great Books school. But then you usually don't have named departments.
Lawrence Auster at VFR asked a couple of months back what practical steps conservatives can take to reclaim Western culture. I have puzzled for some time over whether there is any way to reclaim the humanities at the college and university level, as opposed to reclaiming our knowledge of them on an individual level. Here I've focused on English, but a similar question might be asked about History, a field where I know little about just how bad things have gotten but have an inkling that it might be pretty bad.
It's because of the sorry state of higher education that some conservatives are questioning the idea that everyone has to get a college degree. I think that's a healthy thing to question for many reasons. But if you wanted to save the humanities, where would you start?
Here's one idea: Traditionalist professional associations within given disciplines. Are there such? I'm thinking of something that might be called the "Traditional Literature Association" with a membership list that could be made available to departments wishing to hire sensible and well-qualified scholars. Would it have many members among the younger generation of graduate school students and young professors?
What say you, readers: Is it still possible to do anything practical to save the formal humanities disciplines from postmodernism? And if so, how?