A few months ago I heard the president of a major university defend the humanities. He praised the profundity of the West’s great thinkers, the civilizing effect of major poets and novelists, and the aesthetic delight afforded by masterpieces. I kept asking myself: How can he lie like that?

As the president well knew, this description of the humanities has provoked derision—and a lot worse—for the past three decades. In English departments, it is the literary equivalent of creationism. Instead, we are told, there is no such thing as intrinsic literary greatness, there are only works called great because they serve oppressive elites (not including college professors). I began to notice that academics use one description of the humanities with their colleagues while gulling the public with another.

If English professors don’t believe in great...


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