Here is a somewhat different way of analyzing the campus battles over
"great books" versus "multiculturalism" or "diversity."
Participants can be sorted into groups depending on what kind of works
they think should be available or required in schools, colleges, and other
venues. "Canonical classicists" want everyone to read great
works from Plato to NATO. "Diversity proponents" want everyone
to be exposed to works written (or composed, or painted) by people
of multiple ethnic, cultural, religious, sexual, and racial identitiesin
order to promote empathy, respect, tolerance, etc. And true "multiculturalists"
want people of different cultural backgrounds to be able to study intensively
works created by people like them, so that a campus will be home to multiple
This is one dimension that we can use to categorize the antagonists in
the campus culture wars. But there is also another dimension. At one end
of this second spectrum are those who emphasize that students should experience,
appreciate, understand, or at least be exposed to works created in the
past or in other places. Somewhat contentiously, I’ll call this the "consumerist"
approach. At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who stress that
we should create new cultural products, including stories and paintings,
performances, critical interpretations, and historical narratives.
Putting the two dimensions together, we see that there are at least six
possible positions in the debate:
The standard conservative view is (a)there is a fixed supply of
great works from the past that students should experience and appreciate.
The standard diversity view is (b)everyone should experience works
by authors of color. And the standard multiculturalism view is (c)people
should be encouraged to study works by members of their own groups, using
their own cultures’ criteria of excellence. These positions are "zero-sum":
adding a text to the curriculum may require taking another text out. In
contrast, options (d)-(f) are potentially "win-win," and I think
they are underdeveloped. There is a fair amount of (e)i.e., people
of all colors and creeds should collaborate because this will create the
most interesting new works of art. But I think conservatives should work
on developing (d), if indeed it is a viable position. And multiculturalists
should develop (f), which would amount to the view that people of various
cultures should be assisted in producing new works, thereby contributing
to the global commons.