Mark Mancall, Professor Emeritus of History at Stanford and founder of Structured Liberal Education (SLE), yesterday surprised a group of SLE students by expressing his support for the Stanford Review’s petition to reinstate a mandatory Western Civilization requirement.
Although admitting his ideological differences with the Review run deep, Mancall contended “there is only one canon”, and thus that the Western Civilization debate was about whether to study nothing of coherence, or the Western canon. Indeed, he linked the rise of some great nations to the study of Western Civilization, claiming that “Singapore is Plato’s Republic” and that “it’s true” that the West is at the centre of the foundation of human thought.
Mancall defended the absence of women in the Western canon – with the notable exception of Simone de Beauvoir in the 1940s – by explaining that at the time of the canon’s crystallization “women were oppressed; that’s a fact”. “Identity politics […] doesn’t help us answer” the crucial questions society faces where core Western texts do.
The famed lecturer on Marxism and Buddhist philosophy also caused audible surprise at the talk – billed as a discussion on humanities requirements – when he launched into anti-safe space arguments. Specifically, he implied it absurd that “we should warn [students] not to read Hamlet because it might make [them] suicidal”. He also lamented that students did not engage in more “intellectual combat”, and suggested that “maybe you need to feel unsafe to learn new things”.
Students interested in hearing further faculty perspectives on Western Civilization may be interested in a panel convening in Humanities House at 7pm on Tuesday 8th March, a day before the petition deadline.
More information on the Western Civilization ballot initiative can be found here.