Naomi Kanakia:

Notice, I leave aside the question of whether knowledge of the Classics makes you a better thinker or more capable leader. I would argue that it probably does but that, in most eras, the wisdom conferred by the Classics is more likely, as Tocqueville noted, to discourage you from pursuing paths to power. As we can see in our own culture, nuance and wisdom are nowhere particularly desired. This is a time for anger, action, and black-and-white thinking.

Moreover, during this time, power is increasingly wielded only by the few, and they wield it due to their birth rather than their merits. It’s obvious in the biographies of our politicians, our business leaders, our actors, singers, biographers, and academics. Increasingly, only the extremely well off and well connected are achieving prominence and wielding power. In this environment, only the education of those few can be a matter of public interest. For the bulk of Americans, who are destined to be employees rather than bosses, and whose public role, even as citizens, has been increasingly devalued by the slipping-away of our democracy, there is little need to concern oneself with their education, nor do I think it will be possible to get them to ignore the fact that the wisdom conferred by a Classical education will be useless to them in the life of precarity and drudgery to come.

I participate with great reluctance in the rote recitation of identity so common to these tedious essays (this one included), as if any of you should care who or what I am, but: as one of those mythical working-folk who also enjoy reading old classics, I particularly appreciate hearing a severely-educated MFAer living in an overpriced slum like San Francisco opine about the lives of “precarity and drudgery” we lead out here in the “Here There Be Carhartt Coveralls” section of the map, foolishly believing that wisdom is worth striving for even, or especially, if it doesn’t lead to wealth or political power. Imagine combining an autodidactic hunger for knowledge with a university education and still remaining within the limited imaginative horizons of a petty political functionary!