Rush Limbaugh Needs a Dose of the Western Tradition

It seems that Rush Limbaugh has gone and made a bit of a fool of himself. On reading the preceding statement, some of you may be outraged, whereas others may be thinking, “So what else is new?”

Once upon a time (around 1991), when my car had a working radio and I didn’t mind listening to commercials for 30 minutes out of every hour, I tuned in to Limbaugh occasionally. I still remember being persuaded by him that George H.W. Bush was a conservative (I was more gullible in those days), but I haven’t paid any attention to him in a long time.

However, I’ve learned that a few weeks ago Limbaugh went on a rant against classical studies on his program:

Any of you at random listening all across the fruited plain, what the **** is classical studies? What classics are studied? Or is it learning how to study in a classical way? Or is it learning how to study in a classy as opposed to unclassy way? And what about unclassical studies? Why does nobody care about the unclassics? What are the classics? And how are the classics studied? Oh, so you’re going to become an expert in Dickens? You’re assuming it’s literature? You’re assuming we’re talking about classical literature here? What if it’s classical women’s studies? What if it’s classical feminism? Who the **** knows what it is? … For all of you young skulls full of mush out there, … when you go to college, do not do classical studies. What the **** is it anyway?

Whose skull is full of mush here, exactly?

So that my exasperation does not lead me to say any more uncharitable things, I’ll stand aside and let Martin Cothran of Memoria Press respond to this diatribe in a temperate manner:

The classics are the natural ally of conservatism, and when a prominent conservative like Limbaugh uses the excuse of the liberal assault on him to assault them himself, he is only contributing to the decline of the civilization he prides himself on defending.

In fact, in many ways Limbaugh’s attack on classical education was an unfortunate case of friendly fire. Before the advent of the modern education agenda we see at work now, studying the classics was what education consisted of—almost exclusively. In fact, we ought to be glad the founding fathers didn’t have Limbaugh’s attitude about classical studies, since it was through their knowledge of classical political theory that they were able to frame the government which we still enjoy to this day.

Read the rest of Cothran’s thoughtful response here. And if you are interested in learning more of the classical political theory that influenced the Founding Fathers, we just happen to be working our way through Aristotle’s Politics during the next few weeks (see yesterday’s post for more details).

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About Dr. J

I am an Associate Professor and head of the Department of Humanities at Faulkner University. I am also Associate Editor of the Journal of Faith and the Academy.
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10 Responses to Rush Limbaugh Needs a Dose of the Western Tradition

  1. Garret Myhan says:

    Good post, Jason. I rarely listen to Rush (the blowhard, not the band), but I know many, including members of my own family, who soak up everything he says and regurgitate it ad nauseum. Ironic that Mr. Limbaugh is creating legions of followers who are unwilling or unable to think for themselves, the very skills that classical studies cultivate.

  2. Fred Jewell says:

    All true enough. But to give Rush the benefit of the doubt for a second, maybe he’s just raising the larger issue of disciplinary definition. Is there any consensus in academia about what constitutes “the classics?” I’ve met history majors who never spent one minute being exposed in their history classes to any of the content I taught for 40 years in the guise of a history professor.

    • Dr. J says:

      Classical studies means the study of Greece and Rome. That holds true everywhere in the academy as far as I know. The broad definition of “the classics” is something different.

  3. Robert McAdams says:

    Its sad that those that don’t listen to Mr. Limbaugh can’t grasp
    his meaning when trying to read his text. You see, the spoken word has
    implication, innuendo, tone, sarcasm, connotation and context….that
    you can’t convey when you selectively edit text on the internet. Mr.
    Limbaugh has long been a critic of the dumbing down of education and
    frequently pointed to articles written in the main stream press about
    the watering down of degrees. He was nearly alone among national media
    figures to point out nearly 20 years ago that students in the University
    of California school system were chanting “hey hey, ho ho, Western Civ
    has got to go”…..what is the foundation of western civilization based
    on, if not the classics??
    So you can now understand, when Mr. Limbaugh played audio of
    this unemployed person, with a degree in the classics, …his natural
    instinct was to question the usefulness of a degree issued by BIG
    university. Can anyone doubt that the social “sciences” have been
    politicized in ways that math, accounting, chemistry etc. have not??
    Further, none of the founders made their living from the classics, did
    they? They were farmers, real estate speculators, and businessmen. No,
    Mr. Limbaugh is not opposed to the “classics”…only to what he believes
    they’ve become in most universities and their economic usefullness as a
    “skillset”. This must be why William F. Buckley, clearly a friend of
    the classics, was such a huge supporter and friend of Mr. Limbaugh and
    his show.
    I find that non-leftist detractors of Mr. Limbaugh fall into 2
    camps. One group is humorless, arrogant and proudful. They don’t get
    the schtick…and don’t want to. Any mistatement by Mr. Limbaugh is
    simply confirmation that they were smarter all along. The second group
    wants every conservative to be Buckley or Will. They reject that the
    foot is different from the hand. But both have a purpose! Mr.
    Limbaugh is not Buckley…nor should he ever try to be. Mr. Limbaugh
    is primarily a socio-political critic. And he does it all live 15 hours a week, without
    rewrites.

    • Dr. J says:

      I appreciate what you are saying, although I imagine that there are plenty of non-leftist people who don’t care about Limbaugh and are in neither of the two categories you mention. Still, it’s a tall order to ask us all to contextualize this rant by remembering that Limbaugh defended Western Civ courses in the UC system 20 years ago. If you read Cothran’s post in its entirety, you’ll see that part of the problem is that Limbaugh seems to have accepted the utilitarian premises of this griping unemployed person: college=job.

      If you can provide me with a balancing quote where Limbaugh has praised the classics recently, I will gladly post it here. Thanks for your participation on the blog.

  4. Robert McAdams says:

    Not caring about Limbaugh is different than being a dectractor. Some people just might not like talk radio. Anyway, I didn’t catalog everything the man said for the last 23 years, but if you read this til the end, you’ll see he is most assuredly not opposed to the classics, or critical thinking.

    http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/daily/2011/11/01/deciphering_the_sad_sack_story_of_a_classical_studies_scholar

    Just one quote:

    ” Well, you know, it’s obvious as I look into this Classical Studies business it is obvious at one time it was something of great esteem, something of tremendous import and value. I have to think like everything else in higher education today that it’s been dumbed down. In fact, about Victor Davis Hanson, he actually created the classics program at California State University Fresno in 1984, and he was a professor there until recently. He created it because of the deterioration in the whole field because of how it’s lost whatever specialness that it once had”

    • Dr. J says:

      The quote you reference comes after he had just finished implying that Karl Marx’s classics degree made him unemployable (which is false, of course). So at what point was classical studies of tremendous value? Only at times when a Republican like Victor Davis Hanson runs the program? And he certainly did not give a ringing endorsement to the classical Christian school model (one of the brightest spots on the educational landscape today) at the end; instead, he gave the credit to the mother. It just looks to me like he’s speaking from ignorance.

      I’m not disputing his larger point about the harmful influence of the Left in higher education over the last 50 years. He’s certainly correct, for example, that people are graduating with degrees in areas like Classical Studies with the false impression that this automatically qualifies them for a high-paying job. But the problem is not the content of the program; it’s that people are misleading the students about the purpose of the degree. You don’t blame a saw for not being able to drive nails.

      There’s no nuance in Limbaugh’s treatment of any of this; he just tells people to major only in things that will give them job skills. That’s good advice if and only if the sole purpose of a university education is job training. I suppose that’s another reason I don’t like talk radio: there’s no room for nuance in anything.

  5. worldtake says:

    So, Rush used to impress you, but now that this evil, pathological lying, money grubbing, religious and racial bigot has touched on your little world with his vitriol, you register your outrage. How impressed by that am I? Not at all.

  6. Robert McAdams says:

    Ouch, somebody woke up angry. Worldtake, now that Dr. J has confessed and repented….can’t you find it in your heart to forgive him??

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