Western Canon Great Books University|
Science, Religion, and
Meaning: Humility's Gifts & THE GREAT BOOKS OF THE WESTERN CANON
Hosting the earth's greatest conversation.
Uniting the world's intellectuals in eternity.
"Faith is the father of patience." --Drake Raft
Ahoy there mates! Allow the three sonneteers to set aside our patented pirate style for a moment, and address you in a more
conventional manner on this pristine, windless September day, which we know to be the quiet before the storm. Soon, when you
feel the NNW wind beginning to rise, you shall receive the final boarding call for the autumn's adventures. We
hope that you forward them to all your culturally landlocked friends who have been denied the fresh sea breeze and have
contracted sea fever.
It was almost ten years ago that we came down with a bad case of sea fever ourselves. We showed up on the Princeton campus
hoping to acquaint ourselves with the greatest that had ever been thought and said, and too, we were looking forward to being
united with others in the common context of the Western tradition, for cultures only truly come to life when they are shared.
But upon arriving, we soon found out that there was no program of study centered about the Great Books. There existed programs
of study which were centered about various vocations, a gender, and some selected cultures, but one could not major in Western
Civilization. We were at the number one University in the greatest country, and yet we could not major in our own heritage,
nor minor in it, nor even receive a certificate in Western Culture. No curriculum existed which would aspire to introduce us
to the greatest that had ever been thought and said. No professor nor provost possessed the courage to step forth and say,
“This is what you must know! This is where you must go! Come now, I'll lead the way!” A Princeton legend has it that back in
the seventies a provost did speak these very words and was shot the following sunrise.
And even when we did enroll in a Shakespeare course of our own volition, it turned out to be no more than an arena for the
Bard's deconstruction. Shakespeare was no better nor worse than Madonna, the professor lectured to the apathetic class, for
both were merely arbitrary products of their random cultures in this whimsical universe where we have all descended from apes
and are no more than highly-ordered chemical reactions. “Absolute aesthetic standards,” she said, “are but an illusion.” She
wishes they were. Recently in our Shakespeare Campfire Chatroom at http://killdevilhill.com/shakespearechat/wwwboard.html, a
young lady wrote,
I believe that not many other writers captured the whole concept of true, eternal love as Shakespeare did. I would truly
enjoy meeting a man who could recite sonnets to me (and would want to) and “woo” me with beautiful poetry. Men don’t court
women nowadays like they used to and I believe this to be tragedy, not a triumph!!”
So it is that we have taken it upon ourselves to leave a better world in our wake, and we have instituted a University where
the students can be united in a most profound context wherein the poetry rhymes, words mean things, promises endure, and the
mystic romance of the higher intellect endows our lives with a more fundamental meaning. We have faith that Princeton, as a
flagship institution, will soon follow suit, straighten her rudder, and institute a new department modeled after Western Canon
So welcome to Western Canon University, where the professors are the Great Books of the Western Heritage, the lecture halls
extend throughout the watery globe, and the daily homework assignment is to live one’s life in the context of the Greats. All
students will be expected to adhere to gentlemanly standards of conduct while ruggedly pursuing the Truth with a sense of
honor equaled by a sense of humor. The advent of the new school year each September accents the passage of time, and it has
been on the minds of the Jolly Roger’s crew as of late that we cannot remain dashing young buccaneers forever. In the distant
future there shall come that day whence our sea fever will have been cured, and then shall we trade our bandannas in for tweed
jackets, light our pipes like Captain Stubb, and lecture at a University about the gallant seafaring adventures of our youth.
We have considered Princeton, Harvard, and Yale, but there is no guarantee that the students there will have been required to
read the Great Books prior to attending our lectures, and without a foundation in the rich context, their minds shall be
unable to fathom the majesty of our narrative. They will be immune to the supreme boldness of our selfless actions in the
postmodern night, and thus our lectures shall be robbed of their significance. I say that our golden years will be far more
thoroughly enjoyed upon the campus of Western Canon University, which has been instituted in honor of the over 15,000 stalwart
crew members of The Jolly Roger. It shall forever stand here, simultaneously everywhere in the world, to commemorate the first
two years of our perilous quest to restore Law and Order to Literature.
Woodrow Wilson, while president of Princeton University, stated,
“I believe that the catholic study of the world’s literature as a record of spirit is the right preparation for leadership in
the world’s affairs, if you undertake it like a man and not like a pedant.”
Herman Melville, who never went to college, and yet has provided so many with dissertations, thesises, enlightenment,
inspiration, and significance, once wrote that his, “Harvard, Yale, and Princeton had been the deck of a whaling ship.” Joseph
Conrad stated that he preferred the soldier to the philosopher, and in this same spirit we are sailors first and scholars
second. The Great Books enrich our lives—they do not replace them. At Western Canon University we do not define morality nor
justice nor virtue through contemplation and dialogue alone, but rather we ultimately define our souls by our actions. We are
not content to merely document decline, nor are we here to preach platitudes that we ourselves do not aspire to. If there’s a
man overboard, we do not simply yell, “man overboard!” but we join him in the tempestuous seas so as to save him. Upon this
campus, as upon the decks of The Jolly Roger, leadership is defined as doing first, and then delegating.
At www.westerncanon.com you’ll find the world’s largest collection of Lecture Halls and Live Recitation Chats devoted to the
Greats. Books, like life, gain their fullest glory as a shared experience, and the founders hope that the lecture halls of
Western Canon University will foster the world’s greatest conversation. Many of the over one hundred and fifty authors at
westerncanon.com possessed diametrically opposing views, and the prudent student shall seek to acquaint their minds with all
philosophies, while arguing for the good and refuting the bad. Thomas Jefferson and Karl Marx had very different ideas as to
the role of God and government in people's lives, and it is no mystery that Western Canon University netcasts from a country
influenced far more by Jefferson’s thought than by Marx’s.
Much of the contemporary intellectual landscape has been left spiritually bereft in the wake of postmodernism's leveling
scythe, but whence the scythe has swung, and the bleak winter has passed, it is time to plant anew. At the age of twenty-seven
Kurt Cobain shot himself in the head and was christened the voice of this generation by the postmodern media. At the same age
we’ve instituted Western Canon University, but as the corporate conglomerate presses are blind to the subtle beauty of the
printed word, so too shall we remain invisible to them. But ‘tis no matter out here upon the WWW, for we perceive the deeper
element of this generation to be awakening to a profound renaissance.
The Western Canon is man’s greatest intellectual achievement. The words form the source of our Laws, our Government, Science,
Religion, Philosophy, Literature, and our Freedom. The Great Books contain the foundational theories at the basis of all
contemporary theories, the philosophies from which all modern philosophies spring, and the laws which Lord over all other
laws, passing judgment over all judges, deciding every lawyer’s case, long after the jury has delivered its mortal verdict.
For men are ultimately governed by eternal laws, not by fleeting whims.
The Western Canon owns the seed of the moral, rational conscience. One gains a first glimpse of morality in The Iliad, when
Achilles proclaims his fundamental aversion towards dishonesty,
For as I detest the doorway of Death, I detest that man, who hides one thing in the depths of his heart, and speaks forth
another. –--Achilles, The Iliad
The Great Books contain the crests of man’s consciousness, the troughs of his desperations, and the foundation of his vital
meaning. The classics own the origin of the laugh, the primal acknowledgement of irony, the imperishable experiences of the
richest souls, and the Word of God. The Western Canon is the final gem that is sought by those who have obtained all other
forms of worldly treasures and material wealth. Thousands of Temples, Churches, Synagogues, and Universities have been
inspired by the works, and thousands more shall yet be built. Fortunes have been traded so that children might be introduced
to the wealth of words, or at least to some purported semblance that a modern University might advertise to provide. Men have
perceived the nobler elements of their souls reflected in the Canon’s words, and throughout history they have often chosen to
part with their material possessions and property rather than to dishonor those abstract forms which render one’s soul
immortal. Men have given their lives for the Western ideal of freedom, and we are forever indebted to them. It was not all
that long ago that the authors of modern democracy wrote, "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on
the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor." It was
words penned in the rich context of the Western Canon which they pledged their lives to, and it are these words which
propelled the noble battle against slavery, stated the Natural right of a woman to vote, provided the foundation for the Civil
Rights movement, and made America the beacon of the free world. As members of Edmund Burke's eternal community of souls, we
feel it’s our duty to pay humble tribute to the brave creators and defenders of our democratic inheritance. For not only is
the Western Canon our heritage, but it is also freedom's. Freedom cannot exist without a profound reverence towards our moral
imagination’s written tradition. Plato and d'Tocqueville knew that the higher democracy must be accompanied by a higher
morality, for the tyranny of the majority is something to be feared in a dark, foundationless age.
Thomas Jefferson's original ideal conception of the University of Virginia consisted of an institution where attendance would
not be taken, where there would be no formal classes, and where scholars and students would be free to come and go during a
perpetual conversation centered about the Greats. His ideal assumed a noble view of man's natural intellectual inclinations,
and we share Jefferson's fundamental philosophy. We believe men are taught far more effectively by inspiration than by
coercion, and that the greatest teachers are not those who proselytize, but rather those who write the Great Books, or humbly
point us in their direction. We believe that although the idea of the Truth is often scorned, castigated, ridiculed, and
sanctimoniously regarded as an unwieldy, unnecessary burden in the postmodern, politicized world of academia, the Truth is
that which is ultimately valued more than anything else by all men, as without it, the deeper meaning cannot be known, for the
vital significance of one’s eternal soul is lost.
President McCosh of Princeton once stated, “Agnosticism has no answer to it, and I know that many a heart in consequence is
crushed with anguish till feelings more bitter than tears are wrung from it.” In a sense modern liberalism, like many aging
ideologies, favors the less perceptive, less querulous mind. For such minds cannot formulate the more fundamental moral
questions. Because they do not ask, the answers are unnecessary. Because they do not seek, the darkness satiates. Because they
are blind, the decline is not perceived. If only given a salary and an academic title, they are content. MTV values and
daycare shall raise their children, and thus their children shall not mind that dad is off with his girlfriend, or something.
It’s all relative, until a child is born who naturally feels their soul’s immortality, and then seeks to awaken the sentiment
within others. For although some might say that the superficial and insensitive are the happy, it is difficult to believe that
a rock or a tree knows more about happiness than Socrates, who reminds us,
"Those, then, who know not wisdom and virtue, and are always busy with gluttony and sensuality and fornication, go down and up
again as far as the mean; and in this region they move at random throughout life, but they never pass into the true upper
world; thither they neither look, nor do they ever find their way, neither are they truly filled with true being, nor do they
taste of pure and abiding pleasure. Like cattle, with their eyes always looking down and their heads stooping to the earth,
that is, to the dining-table, they fatten and feed and breed, and, in their excessive love of these delights, they kick and
butt at one another with horns and hoofs which are made of iron; and they kill one another by reason of their insatiable lust.
For they fill themselves with that which is not substantial, and the part of themselves which they fill is also unsubstantial
With a tacit sense of triumph matched by a humble respect for all who have thought deeply before us, we continue to voyage
forth along one of the profoundest opportunities afforded by the recent advances in information technology: the creation of a
global culture founded upon what T.S. Eliot deemed the Permanent Things. So many aspects of the contemporary culture are
temporal in nature, from jobs to husbands to wives to boyfriends to girlfriends to promises to college curriculums to the
meaning of words to Columbia House’s sensuality CD of the month. We live in a disposable culture, and as of late too many have
been throwing out the baby along with the bath water, often in a most literal sense. Change is not always a bad thing, and
progress is often good, but change is not always progress. In the same way that Holden Caufield found himself drawn to the New
York Museum of History, where the exhibits never change even while one’s innocence wanes, so too do we find ourselves drawn
towards our eclipsed spiritual heritage, formed by the immutable words of the Greats. My generation needs a permanent beacon
in the midst of this postmodern fog, and the will to provide one is the driving spirit behind all of our endeavors on the WWW.
Come back to Western Canon University in a year, or ten years, or a hundred years, or a thousand, and not much will have
changed, for we shall still value knowledge, virtue, prudence, and Truth over all else.
By what authority were the Greats eliminated from the modern campus? Many people believe that Nietzsche’s value relativism was
the seed of the postmodern sea change, but we perceive this seed to have a seed. Nietzsche said, "God is dead, but it was not
so much a declaration of Nietzsche’s as it was an observation—he perceived that his contemporaries faith in God had waned,
but what, might we ask, had caused this erosion of faith amongst aspiring academics?" Long before the first feminist scholar
theorized that Shakespeare's works and the Bible were no better than her dissertation, Woodrow Wilson possessed insight into
the cause of this general cultural decline, as he stated, "I am much mistaken if the scientific spirit of the age is not
us a great disservice, working in us a certain great degeneracy." President Wilson later elaborated, "We believe in the
present and in the future more than in the past, and deem the newest theory of society the likeliest. This is the disservice
scientific study has done us; it has given us agnosticism in the realm of philosophy, scientific anarchism in the field of all
politics. It has made the legislator confident that he can create and the philosopher sure that God cannot. Past experience is
discredited and the laws of matter are supposed to apply to spirit and the makeup of society."
The misapplication of the scientific method to the study of the human soul has contributed vastly to the degradation of
literature. For this reason the reductionist scientific method has been favored by intellectual socialists and Marxists over
the years, as it bestows the envied glories of science upon the intellectually mediocre humanists (in a strictly superficial
manner) while simultaneously tearing down the Greats, which once reminded them of their mediocrity. They enjoy commandeering
Nietzsche so they can consider themselves one of the elite supramen—the manipulators of the “masses”, the understanders of
psychology. The supposedly scientific Freudian view allows them to assimilate traditional morality with repression, and thus
amorality and the disintegration of the traditional family is progress, as it liberates people from the mythical agents of
tradition, like religion. By deconstructing the authority of the Greats, they are able to exalt the omnipotent, whimsical
bureaucracy, and too, they are able to make vast amounts of money off of marketing crass temptations to children. Because
science says nothing about literary aesthetics, the ambitious scholar concludes that literary aesthetics cannot exist. It is
as if a fisherman, after a day of fishing with a net possessing a four-inch mesh, concludes that there are no fish smaller
than four inches within the sea. Because science can make no moral judgements, it follows that God's absolute morality must
not exist. Politics is all, they theorize, and then they make it that way. There is no physical scale for weighing good and
bad, no formula by which we might determine Shakespeare's brilliance. Thus literature must be nothing more than a wild dream,
an illusion, a fable, just like God; a private delusion and social construct of each man's arbitrary choosing or conditioning.
All the words in the Bible—nay, all the words in the Western Heritage, must be founded upon nothing more than a fairy's wing.
And so it is that literature comes to be written to serve the political aims of the state, rather than God and the people.
Ideas have consequences, and while the aspiring postmodernists could not blast the rock of ages with deconstructionism, they
were able to demolish the Greats and then bury the rock of ages beneath the rubble of nihilism, feminism, and
multiculturalism. In a sense this inspired our classic pirate motif, as it is our mission to unbury these treasures and
resurrect the deeper context. Postmodernism is a destructive ideology. It preys upon order, and it cannot exist where men have
not first of all labored to erect a noble culture. It requires the pre-existence of traditional institutions which it can gut.
It temporarily empowers the leaders along the culture's downward spiral, as the selfish, rudderless commodores disregard the
future as much as they scorn the past. Postmodernism has provided a habitat for the element of society that at one time or
another found themselves laughing at things that weren’t funny or believing things that weren't true, and now, they have their
revenge. Like communism, it is a bitter philosophy, as it recruits the scorned, pulls everyone else down to their subservient
level, and empowers shameless, morally indifferent kings who promise absolute equality en route to gaining absolute rule over
other men. Postmodernism dislikes the individual, and it finds it too burdensome to coexist with a fixed set of absolute
The leveling postmodern worldview is highly seductive for people whose talents are shadowed by their ambitions, and it is no
mystery that Nietzsche’s postmodernism walks hand-in-hand with communism and fascism, as both philosophies favor the razing of
individual characteristics, achievements, liberties, and independence. When words mean nothing character cannot matter, for
character cannot be defined. Nor can prudence, virtue, justice, equality, nor art. Without words to anchor their rational
thoughts, men find themselves ruled more by pleasure and pain than by logic and reason, and they are more easily manipulated
with shallow, superficial gestures and spurious shows of sincerity. For a time the cultural boomers coasted along on borrowed
moral capital, supposing that morality descended from the divine compassion of liberal bureaucrats, believing that children
can raise themselves, and convinced that the institutions which were painstakingly erected by prior generations, which were
designed to enhance life, bestow liberty, and allow the pursuit of sober happiness, could be replaced with secular forums,
new-age self-help books, divorce, daycare, talk-shows, welfare, lollapalooza, shrinks, lawyers, astrologers, and Prozac.
It is little wonder that one often hears of promises failing to endure in this postmodern age where the words by which they
are made have been declared to be meaningless. It is not surprising that relationships are capricious in this Freudian era
where we have cast aside society's traditional, divine institutions while embracing and exercising our baser inclinations.
Administrators have convinced us that there is little more to be known than administration, as courses on the Great Books
subside, while classes on administration abound, as if Man was created to administrate administration. And all the while the
leading economic indicators mysteriously fail to characterize the rising demand for traditional families and words that mean
things. 'Tis why although the economy is soaring, there is little inflation, for the products that are most in demand, the
Permanent Things, can never cost more, for they are priceless. Value, like values, is ultimately rooted in meaning, and the
ultimate meaning derives not from money, but from God. In spite of all this the Darwinian experts, economists, and dismal
scientists have declared that there is no more to life than the production and accumulation of material possessions, that
prosperity should be measured by charts and tables and graphs, and that popular entertainment should register only within our
hearts and never in our minds. But here upon the pristine campus of Western Canon University, things are not so. Here we
acknowledge that unfathomable, ungraspable phantom of life. We acknowledge our immortal souls.
The commandeered scientific method, ... GREAT BOOKS CONTINUED