Oh, the Humanities!

New data on college majors confirms an old trend. Technocracy is crushing the life out of humanism.

the years since the Great Recession have been “brutal for almost every major in the humanities.” They’ve also been bad for “social science fields that most closely resemble humanistic ones — sociology, anthropology, international relations and political science.” Meanwhile the sciences and engineering have gained at the expense of humanism, and with them sports management and exercise studies — the “hygiene” and “sport,”
..Notably this trend is sharper among elite liberal arts colleges, the top thirty in the US News and World Report rankings, where in the early 2000s the humanities still attracted about a third of all students, but lately only get about a fifth.
.. it’s not just a matter of the post-Great Recession middle class seeking more practical degrees to make sure their student loans get repaid quickly; the slice of the American elite that’s privileged enough and intellectually-minded enough to choose Swarthmore or Haverford or Amherst over a state school or a research university is abandoning Hermes for Apollo at the fastest clip.
.. the absence of a post-Great Recession bounce-back for the humanities suggests that the economic calamity of 2008 was a precondition but not the only cause, and that other cultural shifts had left the humanities ripe for another era of collapse... many conservatives blame the humanists themselves, for being politicized and marching lock step to the left and for pursuing postmodernist obscurantism in their scholarship and prose. But I think it’s more useful to step back a bit and recognize both politicization and postmodern jargon as attempted solutions to a pre-existing problem, not the taproot of the crisis.

..  the poet and the novelist and the theologian struggle to find an official justification for their arts. And both the turn toward radical politics and the turn toward high theory are attempts by humanists in the academy to supply that justification — to rebrand the humanities as the seat of social justice and a font of political reform

.. First, there was a stronger religious element in midcentury culture, visible both in the general postwar religious revival and in the particular theological-intellectual flowering that Jacobs’s subjects embodied, which rooted midcentury humanism in a metaphysical understanding of human life

.. Second, there was the example of a rival civilization, totalitarian Communism,

.. And third, forged in response to the Communist threat, there was a sense of Western identity, Western historical tradition, that could be glib and propagandistic in a from-Plato-to-NATO style, but at its best let people escape the worst of late modern afflictions, the crippling chauvinism of the now.

..  a regained sense of history as a repository of wisdom and example rather than just a litany of crimes and wrongthink.

.. Finally, a cultural recoil from the tyranny of the digital and the virtual and the Very Online, today’s version of the technocratic, technological, potentially totalitarian Machine that Jacobs’s Christian humanists opposed.

.. where the last piece of advice doesn’t seem like a contradiction in terms, and you’ve imagined the beginnings of humanism’s revival. May we live to see the day.