How ‘White’ Western History Has Become an SNL Skit on Campus

In National Review this week, George Weigel writes a pointed commentary on another example of humanities professors undermining their own field. It’s a curious phenomenon, but one you often see. A scholar-teacher steps forward to condemn or distort the materials of his own field, or to rebuke past and present practitioners of it, not realizing the consequence of his actions. I just opened the Chronicle of Higher Education website and found an essay at the top of the Opinion section entitled, “The Whitesplaining of History Is Over.”

It’s written by a history professor at Stanford who begins by noting how the academy used to be “the exclusive playground of white men [who] produced the theories of race, gender and Western cultural superiority that underwrote imperialism abroad and inequality at home.” Fortunately, we are told, women and people of color are now correcting that vile record of white supremacy and changing the profession for the better.

Many conservatives might judge the Chronicle harshly for publishing an essay so packed with ressentiment and clichéd in its reasoning. Instead, however, we should thank the editors for revealing the presence of such bilious attitudes among the elite professorate. It helps explain why history enrollments are plummeting. Would you like to spend an entire semester at Stanford proselytized by this personality?

Weigel’s exhibit comes from College of the Holy Cross. There, he reports, the incoming chairman of religious studies wrote some years before this about how the Gospel of John presents the last days of Jesus:

Oddly, John defines Jesus’ masculinity with a body that is open to penetration. . . . Even more oddly, Jesus’ ability to face his “hour” is repeatedly associated with his acknowledging and communing with his Father (12.27–28; 14.12,28; 16.10, 17, 28; 17.1–25; 18.11), who is, as Jesus explicitly states, “with me” (16/32) throughout this process, which Jesus describes as one of giving birth (16.21–22). What I am suggesting is that, when Jesus’ body is being penetrated, his thoughts are on his Father. He is, in other words, imagining his passion experience as a (masochistic?) sexual relation with his own Father.

This is beyond parody. We would wonder about the mental state of the author if such readings weren’t so common. As Weigel notes, it is “exceptionally inane,” just another hack rehearsal of queer interpretation, one that says more about “the exegete and his imagination than about St. John and his intentions.” It has a high “yuck factor,” too, but that hasn’t stopped the author from enjoying considerable authority at his Catholic institution.

One thing we can be sure of when we read such things by the Stanford historian and the Holy cross theologian: they don’t give a thought to the impression they make on outsiders. Their colleagues may nod in approval, but the vast majority of Americans, including students who attend such schools, realize instantly that this is a teacher they shall avoid.

If you love history and learned it from popular historians such as Bruce Catton and Stephen Ambrose, you will learn from the Stanford prof that those figures were just a pack of “whitesplainers.” And your enjoyment of them is shameful. If you’re a devout Christian who regards the Last Supper as the first step in the “holy hush of ancient sacrifice” (to borrow a line from Wallace Stevens), the Holy Cross theologian’s speculations are sickening. One couldn’t imagine a mathematician “queering” topology in this way. An engineer can’t denounce the white men in his own field and profit from it. Progressives are, certainly, trying to introduce identity politics into STEM fields, of course, but the empirical element and analytical rigor are steady forces of resistance.

No doubt many humanities professors would praise these and similar figures as brave and edgy intellects, but that’s only comforting pretense. The truth is the opposite. A scholar who shows gratitude for traditionalist projects such as Great Books of the Western World is the one who risks his reputation among those who count—that is, among the people who will review him for hiring and promotion.

There is a greater sin than self-regard here, though. These fools don’t realize that you can’t knock your own field and be an advocate of it. As long as history and English and theology were secure in the undergraduate curriculum, with enrollments high and resources steady, one could play the adversarial game, treating your own field and colleagues with a hermeneutics of suspicion. But now that the Golden Age has passed, when Boomers poured onto campus and the humanities fields were a default major, the professors must think more about their image.

And there’s the problem. They don’t want to do it. To inspire students with the greatness of the materials of their field, they would have to believe in that greatness. They don’t. To allow students to savor literary and history and art would be to fall short of the critical thinking professors say is essential to humanistic study. These figures prefer guilt, or risqué irreverence, or demystification. They don’t realize how much of a downer they are. They have presided over the fields during their downfall, but they won’t look in the mirror and acknowledge their responsibility. Their shtick is set, and it’s worked for them for so long that they don’t see any reason to change.

Mark Bauerlein

Mark Bauerlein

Mark Bauerlein is a professor of English at Emory.

14 thoughts on “How ‘White’ Western History Has Become an SNL Skit on Campus

  1. They don’t see any reason to change it because they refuse to look beyond their own lifetimes. It seems with almost all progressives that emotion is *the* driving force behind their decisions. Most of them either don’t have kids or at least know their own kids aren’t planning to have any, so what may happen 50 years from now as a result of their efforts is practically irrelevant to them; all that matters is what they can see happen and feel good about. So they gleefully sally forth daily, “effecting change”, battling to dismantle the dominant social system (the details of the system are actually irrelevant; the enemy is the current set of societal norms of the culture in which they were raised), and nightly resting their heads comfortable in the knowledge that they did their part that day for their Team, accompanied by the almost post-coital warmth that comes from the unchallenged assertion of self-righteous superiority over those who, by being members of the common majority, are by definition inferior.

    They don’t call it the “lust” for power for nothing.

  2. Professor Bauerlein is right to note the genuinely spectacular lack of self-awareness of humanities professors digging the graves of their own disciplines. The most galling discourse I see these days is liberal arts professors looking everywhere but in the mirror for an explanation for why their major is shrinking.

  3. bluntly, i believe mr bauerlein misses a more important point: it would be one thing if these ‘scholars’ ignored ‘the image’ of their discipline in pursuit of some sort of serious pedagogical or scholastic/academic ‘insight’ – it’s quite another when their writings reflect the rankest, crudest, most cavalier and reflexive excretions of agitprop….if humanities/history/theology programs want to educate, graduate, employ and give tenure to people who have all the qualities of a comedian except a sense of humor, they are welcome to do so….but they shouldn’t then be surprised when they are regarded as ‘jokes’ themselves

  4. You forget their primary purpose the destruction of Western Civilization.
    They MUST tear it down, stop people from studying it and increase the student’s ignorance, otherwise they fail in their purpose.
    They have no clear idea what will replace it, they just hate Western Civilization.

  5. An accusation, as in “whitesplaining,” doesn’t appear to be an argument beyond ad hominem. Neither do assertions of white supremacy appear particularly collegial. Yet, enrollment in the humanities declines. I wonder why that is…

  6. These history departments forget that the history lovers among us now have alternatives that cost little or nothing. We can choose among some excellent podcasts and YouTube channels. I’m particularly enjoying The History Guy, whose five to ten minute snippets of history are always fascinating.

  7. Midgets need to tear down the giants who came before them because they are incapable of rising to their heights in any context. A sad commentary on our degraded times but alas, true in so many cases.

    Just have any college graduate look at an eight grade exam from the early 1900’s to see how far we have fallen.

  8. What this “scholar” hasn’t realized yet is that his precious postmodernism, critical theory, etc. are also the “exclusive playground of white men [who] produced the theories of race, gender and Western cultural” inferiority.

    So he’s using whitesplaining to attack whitesplaining. Oh, my head!

  9. I’m a BA English UWash circa 80s. Great then, true professors of lit and writing. I became a BSEE later and made money. I still read the old stuff and write blogs for money in my senior years. The old stuff informs my style. I love it. My professors, proud of their art, gave me this gift.

    1. Its sad because the classical humanities as you formerly knew them have been destroyed by these worthless loons. No sensible person can learn a thing from these people. For anybody who still wants to find out about our Western Civ heritage, the only option left is to read the great books series yourself. You certainly will learn nothing useful by going to a college and paying worthless America hating loons like this prof, other than to get constant one sided screeds n how worthless america is, and if you are a white male how worthless you are, or even if you are a white woman how worthless your race is.

  10. Bruce Catton was “whitesplaining”, was he? I seem to remember his history of the Civil War, which freed the slaves, but in which up to a million people died, most of them white, was sympathetic to the Union.

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