A Genuinely Transgressive Act

Regular readers of this column know that we are often engaged in a species of cultural pathology. We regularly chronicle absurdities, malignancies, outrages, and insanities throughout the world of culture: in museums and the art world, theater and “performance art,” the media, and above all in the world of academia. Every now and then, it is true, we have espied and celebrated a glimmer of hope, a sliver of good news from the ramparts of ridiculousness. Despite the occasional rosy bulletin, however, our Notes & Comments, especially when dilating on academia, have tended more towards the denunciatory and satirical than the celebratory. Think Cicero on Catiline or on Mark Antony, Jonathan Swift or Evelyn Waugh on anything that attracted their ire.

Anyone who casts his eye across the landscape of academia today will understand why this is the case. The unedifying truth is that our culture, and the petri dish that harbors it—our educational establishment—is in thrall to debilitating toxins. Alas, although it is possible to write amusingly when exposing the malignant absurdities that compose this drama of decline, there is nothing amusing about the reality thus chronicled.

It is therefore a rare pleasure to be able to write in full-throated commendation of a signal event at an important academic institution. Last month, Hillsdale College marked its 175th anniversary by dedicating Christ Chapel, a magnificent new building designed by the distinguished ecclesiastical architect Duncan Stroik, a professor of architecture at Notre Dame. The chastely sumptuous, classically inflected structure occupies a prominent spot on the college’s central quad. It is, the college reports, the largest classical chapel built in America in seventy years. It must also be the most beautiful.

Which brings us to the first item to note: the cheek—the audacity—of a liberal arts college circa 2019 choosing to build and give such prominence to an explicitly Christian chapel. It even features a cross on the roof above its main entrance. Talk about transgressive! In a brochure about the chapel, we read that Hillsdale College since its founding “has been dedicated to the immemorial teachings and practices of the Christian faith. It is dedicated as well to high learning, moral formation, and the perpetuation of civil and religious liberty.”

Most older colleges and universities were founded to promulgate such “immemorial teachings and practices.” How many would dream of acknowledging them today? Stone by stone they have dismantled that foundation. New-age nostrums such as radical environmentalism, racial grievance-mongering, or sex-in-the-head gender mania are pursued with a fervor that seems almost religious in its intensity, but they offer sparse support for the teetering edifice they have excavated.

Most of our readers will know something about Hillsdale College. Located in Hillsdale, Michigan, it was founded in 1844 by abolitionists. Frederick Douglass once spoke there. The college unashamedly puts the American Founders and traditional humanistic education at the center of its curriculum. Hillsdale has, since its founding, accepted students regardless of race, sex, or religion. Compare that record to the record of any college in the Ivy League or the gold coast of super-expensive Ivy-enviers . . .

Read the rest at The New Criterion.

About Roger Kimball

Roger Kimball is editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the president and publisher of Encounter Books. He is the author and editor of many books, including The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine's Press), The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee), and Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity (Ivan R. Dee).

Photo: Hillsdale College

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