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04/25/2016

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Zena Hitz

Dear Eric, I'm hugely flattered that you thought my essay worth engaging with this way. Thank you so much for this thoughtful post.

I would like to defend myself against some of your charges, which indicate that I did not quite convey what I meant to convey. First of all, I'm not attacking the active or politically engaged life or those who lead it. I think that an inner life (of which the intellectual is only one mode) is necessary to protect the humanity of those engaged in an active life. I would think that most people would be active in some way or other and this is important for all sorts of reasons. But I also want to defend a purely withdrawn life--not for everyone, but as something worthy. So I am only attacking a so-to-speak purely active life, because I fear it results in the diminishment of the humanity of the people who lead it.

The essay is really a piece of rhetoric. As such, it assumes a pressured environment of background assumptions. Those assumptions are that *only* the active is worthwhile, that only the political or the financial or the 'making a difference' that fuses both could justify our institutions. To combat this, I emphasize its opposite: total withdrawal. Without a sense of that pressure in the other direction, the essay doesn't make much sense for the reasons you say.

Of course I know that the people I criticize are trying to reach taxpayers and decision-makers. But I have two fears about this endeavour. One is that in our concern for what others think we ourselves forget what we are doing and why. This is why I began with the self-doubts of the humanist, which in my experience are epidemic. Of course I'd love it if my argument touched decision-makers, but the self-doubting humanist is my main target.

The second fear is that these instrumental defenses of the humanities set conditions for the pursuit of these studies. So for instance, if you say that philosophy flies in Silicon Valley, suddenly you find liberal arts colleges supporting founding tech start-ups as senior projects. If you say that the humanities is for promoting social justice, you find that all your courses end up with a social justice angle. And, most importantly, if someone asks you, "So how exactly does studying Greek mathematics help you become a better citizen / make more money?" you've got nothing to say. My thought is: let's get clear on why these studies really matter, and hope that we can communicate the truth about it. It would be surprising if I'd done anything more than make a primitive gesture in that direction with my short, rhetorical essay.

In addition, briefly: (i) The cultivation of the inner is not exclusively Christian; it was also pagan, and it was a part the study of the liberal arts in the 19th and 20th centuries. The threat we face has old roots, but it is also unprecedented. (ii) I used "communion" rather than "friendship" to cover the bond between you and the person you can't stand who nonetheless says something true. And: (iii) I agree completely about the flaws of the Hedgehog, and find your analysis a helpful expression of them.

Thanks again.

Schliesser, Eric

Zena, I really like your brief (ii). Let me reflect on your other comments before I respond more fully.

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Here's a link to my past blogging (and discussions involving me) at: New APPS.

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