Monday, December 3, 2007

A Vote for Taking Two Minutes to Stop Gazing at One's Own Navel

Harry Mount's NYT op-ed "A Vote for Latin" opines that learning Latin makes better statespersons. He deplores politicians' tendencies to have majored in -- oh, no! -- political science instead of classics. According to Mount, learning Latin makes you smarter. In his piece, Mount more or less sits there and extols the wonderful things he has learned from classics.

It's great that he had such a good experience with Latin, but it's ridiculous of him to suppose that other fields of study are not equally rich (in particular, the whipping boy, political science). To turn one's personal love for Latin into a prescription for all politicians reveals only ignorance and self-centeredness -- not to mention privilege, since it's often only élite high schools that even offer Latin, and even then only as an elective. Generally speaking, you don't enter college from a working-class background with no high-school exposure to Latin and say, "golly, I think I'll major in classics."

Meanwhile, Mount's claims that Latin is "the eternal language" or that it's "crucial . . . to learn Latin to become a civilized leader" (as opposed to, say, an uncivilized leader? like maybe those barbaric Turks, or some other, browner people?) simply disclose his reprehensible ethnocentrism.

I'm not opposed to people learning Latin, but to see it as the INDEX OF CIVILIZATION is not only absurd but contemptible. That they printed this op-ed is just one more reason to hate the New York Times.

Mount: "Because Latin is a dead language, not in a constant state of flux as living languages are, there’s no wriggle room in translating."

I wonder if Mount knows that, over the centuries of its use, Latin changed just like any other language? The proposal that a dead language is a static language, or worse still, that it leaves "no wriggle room in translating," only reveals what Harry Mount has not learned from his studies.


Gladys said...

excellent rant. good points all around.

captain birthday said...

damn straight.

your rants are always so well-written and concise! one day i hope to learn to channel my rage as gracefully as you do.