By Stephen Joel Trachtenberg

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Sometimes it was called tenure. Often it was students thanking you for making the Ottoman Empire come alive or teaching them the beauty—and harmlessness—of calculus. The course you helped get them into saved their lives and you or someone restored their faith in education. Today’s university has given up much of that automatic praise. It’s common to hear academics complain about the sheer rudeness they feel from the world around them. It may on occasion be bad manners, but often they are resenting the amount of administrative handling that is typical of modern civilization and, therefore, of the civilized units called universities.

Or sentiment may reach a higher pitch and nudge the American president toward actual, physical war. ♦ The sense of Utopian perfectibility. ” Meanwhile, many foreigners find the United States an exhausting place to live because every American— Page 9 every businessperson, every government employee, every academician, and so forth—seems dedicated to doing his job even better. ” As Alexis de Tocqueville noted long ago, Americans never tire of forming voluntary citizens’ associations aiming to make ours a better world.

But closer inspection taught us something else. The humanities were in fact the western humanities—from Homer to Plato to Saint Augustine to Dante to Shakespeare to Tolstoy. The faculty teaching Asian literature and history were lobbying either to get their texts into the humanities program or to have a separate Oriental humanities program. At the time, I thought it was a good idea. Why not add the Bhagavad-Gita and Rashoman and Persian architecture and Chinese military history to keep company with the Bible and Hamlet and Chartres Cathedral and the Duke of Wellington?

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