I rarely read a book that changes my opinion of anything. I learn new facts every day but those facts usually confirm conclusions I have come to long ago. The book The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature by Elizabeth Kantor has however changed my mind about something that I thought I had long ago decided.

I am a very literary person. I am known for reciting on some social occasions large slabs of the poetry of Geoffrey Chaucer — in the original Middle English, of course. And I even know by heart a bit of “Beowulf” in the original Anglo-Saxon. And every year I celebrate with some ceremony the birth of the world’s greatest lyric poet — Robert Burns.

So I have always been secure in my belief that literature is NOT important. The great poems of the past and classical literature generally have always seemed to me to be something that are simply to be enjoyed. If you don’t happen to enjoy that sort of thing, go and read “The Phantom” and good luck to you.

So when I discovered that my son had learnt almost nothing about the great literature of the past during his High School years, I started to read him some of the wonderful poems of the past, not because I thought it would be good for him but because I thought he had been deprived of a great enjoyment. And, fortunately, he does enjoy hearing bits from our vast literary heritage that modern Leftist education had hidden from him.

Dr Kantor in her book has however made clear something that I had not taken much account of: The literature of the past introduces us to different worlds from the one we live in now. I had always known that but had taken it for granted that everyone would somehow have visited different mental worlds in some way. Dr. Kantor, however, has pointed out what really goes on in so-called “Literature” courses these days — an attack on literature rather than an introduction to it and an appreciation of it. So the many different environments and value-sets we encounter in literature are NOT any more available to most of the young. Young people these days have been deprived of the perspective on human values and human arrangements generally that the literature of the past can give.

And that deprivation is vital to the Left. There is nothing more destructive of Leftist nonsense than a knowledge of history — which is why they regularly distort history if they have to mention it at all. They even tell us that the socialist Hitler was a Rightist! But the Left cannot well distort something that was in fact written in the past. The Medieval England that Chaucer describes was not written ABOUT the past but rather IN the past. It is eyewitness testimony to what people were like then and what arrangements they had between themselves and what values moved them. And it is certainly clear from Chaucer that people have remained basically the same under the skin over the last 600 years. What differs is their values and social arrangements.

So the past is a natural experiment that tells us how various policies and arrangements work out long-term and, given the evils of the French revolution and Communist Russia, one can understand why Leftists hate people to know about the past. Those who know the past should readily be able to see the follies and shallowness of Leftist ideas and there is nothing like the imaginative literature of the past to bring the past alive in our minds.

The book does what all literature courses once did: Introduces you to the main works of the past and explains words and allusions that are not familiar today so that you can understand them readily. Parents should buy this book for their kids at least. Anybody who reads it and absorbs it will end up knowing more about the great literature of English than most professors of English these days do. And they will certainly have a very different perspective on what is important.

There is a slogan on the cover of the book that I rather like: “Dead white males rock!”

 

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