Rejecting the Narrative of Decline

I suppose it’s no surprise that, as a publication for lovers of Classics, we would have to be drawn into the continued fallout from this year’s SCS meeting at some point. Politics has a way of doing this regardless of one’s own personal intentions. That happened this past weekend. Roger Kimball, Editor-in-Chief of The New Criterion, wrote a provoking editorial about the world of Classics, entitled “Decline and Fall: Classics Edition.” The article viciously attacks Eidolon and its Editor-in-Chief Donna Zuckerberg, Sarah Bond, and Dan-El Padilla Peralta, and their responses to the recent and highly controversial SCS annual meeting in San Diego. It is a very aggressive piece, and patently offensive on multiple occasions. It also gets a few things factually wrong. On Sunday, Donna Zuckerberg responded, tweeting that it was “obvious to anyone familiar with the situation” that the article was “written after tips from/in consultation with staff of Paideia,” and that “the entire piece should be read as aligned with the ideology of Paideia.”

These assertions are completely untrue. Roger Kimball, the author of the editorial, emailed me for a quote; I turned him down flat. I then forwarded the email to Jason Pedicone, president of the Paideia Institute, who told Kimball we wanted no part in such an editorial and should be left out entirely. Kimball wrote on his own steam and any criticisms (which are deserved) should be sent directly to him. Pedicone also issued a public correction, that the separation of Paideia and Eidolon could not be described as a “palace coup.” No one at Paideia would describe it that way. We feel the separation has proven mutually beneficial.

There are reasons why the separation makes sense for Paideia. There are students who would want to study at a summer program designed by Eidolon, and students who would want to study at a summer program designed by The New Criterion; but also many who would specifically avoid such programs because of their politics. At present, neither of them run student programs. They are journals, and they profit by having a unified and focused message, even if that message might offend certain constituencies.

Paideia’s role is different. As our mission states, the Paideia Institute has always been committed to teaching all students to love Latin, Greek, and the ancient world, to helping them form their own personal relationships with antiquity, and to expanding access to Greek and Latin to those who might not otherwise have it. We are not a monolith capable of espousing one ideology, we are a collection of people with different visions of what Classics means and why it is important, and we learn from one another and try to cultivate an atmosphere of mutual respect and good will. We have always been proud that the Institute’s programs provide fora (and ἀγοραί) where different types of people can come together in beautiful, historic places, and, around a shared passion for ancient languages, can become familiar with and interrogate each others’ ideas, hopefully becoming more learned, wiser, and more empathetic. This is something I think our society needs right now. A recent incarnation of Living Greek in Greece produced a moment which for us is emblematic: a conservative Catholic from Dallas was walking along the beach in Greece with a very liberal New Yorker. Their social and religious views could not have been more different. They were trying together to figure out the sixth principal part of βοηθέω.

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