Classics for all? Or classics for a few, funded by all?

There is an encouraging post by establishment blogger Mary Beard at the Times website (freely accessible, tho) entitled Classics for all.  She discusses how the tide is now starting to flow in favour of the classics generally.

In fact, so widespread is the feeling in favour of Classics that the rumour is that the Today Programme had to scratch an interview with Classics-fan Bettany Hughes, because they couldn’t find anyone to go on air and dump on the subject.

This is good news, and we must all be glad of it.  The rediscovery of the classics triggered the creation of the modern world, to which all of us owe everything.  When we thank God for modern central heating, warm clothes, medicine, and science, we need to remember the origins of it all in a few enthusiasts excitedly reading the works of Cicero. 

She’s also encouraging a fund-raising campaign:

So far so good. But it is one thing to claim how much you love Latin and Greek; quite another to find the cash so that kids at most schools in the land can actually study them.

That’s where a new campaign called “Classics For All” comes in. … The aim is to raise a large amount of money to support teaching and other classical initiatives in state schools. Classics for All will not be doing the teaching, but administering grants to kick start projects that “will meet or stimulate demand for Classics in a school or area”… from after school clubs, to GCSE classes, using teachers wherever they can be found.

This too is excellent.

But the post ends on a different note, which I found troubling:

There’s a more general point about Humanities funding here. It is much harder for us to get a hearing when the government line is how wonderful History, English, Theology or whatever are… but that sadly (ministerial tear in the eye at this point), when so many people are being asked to tighten their belts, Humanities are realy (sic) not something that can be funded out of public money.

That kind of argument puts us on the back foot. But the truth is that Humanities have never thrived on private enterprise; they have always needed the state, the monarch or the church.  So all power to our students who are having a (peaceful) demonstration in Cambridge tomorrow.

It is certainly the case that the humanities have always relied on the patronage of others.  But … just why should the humanities be exempt from the cutbacks that the state sector now must undergo?

We refer to the “state sector”, but let’s call it what it is: the “parasite sector”.  It is that part of the economy which exists entirely on the back of forced contributions from the rest.  In East Anglia, where I live, 25% of the workforce is employed in the parasite sector, and so paid for by the rest of us.  I’m not enthusiastic about working, not to provide for myself, but to provide for them. 

Most people pay PAYE and NI taxes, which amounts to 46% of any transaction for employment, at basic rate.  Let’s think about what that means.  It means some poor woman who can barely afford to heat her home going out to work for 40 hours a week, and for 18.4 of those hours she earns nothing.  She sells 40 hours of her life, and has to work unpaid for 18.4 of them, in order to fund the parasite sector.

I believe the prophets of biblical times would have something to say about that.

It is morally justifiable for our rulers to raise taxes on us all in order to keep the streets safe from the thug who would prey on us; the country safe from foreigners who would plunder and enslave us; the roads functional, so that we can all earn a living; a small pension to keep the old and the poor from starving; perhaps some form of healthcare, although there are differing views on this; and a range of services of the same, limited kind, which should be freely available to all.  These are essential public services that it makes no sense for anyone else to do, and without which the country could not function.

But these make up a small proportion of the huge spending of a modern European government.  It is not in providing these essentials that one in four East Anglians are employed.

The sense of entitlement among many working in the parasite sector is enormous.  There is no trace, in the article, of any suggestion that money does not fall from the sky.  No, what is needed — applauded — is “protest”.  She applauds those whose response to hard times is demand the money keeps coming, and never mind from where.

Times are hard.  All of us are cutting back our spending.  Except, apparently, people in the humanities?  This will not do.

Is there any pressing reason, for instance, why that poor woman should fund the study of theology?  Let the church fund it, if it is so inclined, would be my own view.  Camouflaging this under “religious studies” does not work for me.  We do not need study of Anglicanism.  We do need study of Islam, because Islam is a danger at present — so let it be funded under the security budget.  We do not need study of Bahai’s.  We do need study of some cults; but again, only for police purposes.

But what about classics?  Who will pay for this?

I am very sympathetic to this.  It is, as I began by saying, a foundational subject for the modern world.  I think that a civilised country must have courses of study in classics.  I believe that the systems of study at Oxford and Cambridge need reform — the laziness of students and dons is legendary –, but I do not dissent from the principle.  Let them be funded, yes. 

But let them recognise, as they would do if a private patron funded them, that it is not by right that they enjoy their privilege.   The real humanists had to depend on patrons.  The state may act as a patron — although surely private patronage would be better — but it should be seen as one. 

3 Responses to “Classics for all? Or classics for a few, funded by all?”


  1. Matthew Hamilton

    “Is there any pressing reason, for instance, why that poor woman should fund the study of theology? Let the church fund it, if it is so inclined, would be my own view”

    I’m in two minds about this. Against your views:

    Perhaps we should make people with cancer pay for cancer research, victims of crime to pay for criminology, and people who own land near the sea and waterways pay for research into flooding. Why should the church be singled out to pay for research when we don’t expect the same of other areas of research that are funded by the taxpayer?
    The churches have priorities on their finances that places research way down the list. Lecturers in theological colleges are busy with training student ministers so they do research in their spare time. Ministers are busy in their parish work leaving little time for research. Lay individuals (like yourslf and myself) are busy earning a living so we do research early morning, in the evenings, on the weekends, and during annual leave – little snippets of time that cause research that would otherwise take months to end up taking years. If theological research is to be of the same calibre as medical or scientific research it needs to be properly funded.

    For your views:

    The real problem is not taxpayer funding of theology, it is that the system mostly funds people who have a liberal or anti-religious agenda – and then any response to them has to be funded either by the churches or by individuals. If we remove taxpayer funded liberal or atheistic theology we reduce the need for the church and individuals to fund responses to taxpayer funded theology.

    >
    Matthew Hamilton
    Sydney, Australia

  2. Roger Pearse

    The “against” argument looks dodgy to me, logically — surely someone campaigning for free opera for the upper classes could make the same argument.

    The “for” argument is true, but again not really what I was shooting at.

    I think we have to stop talking about “stuff being funded” (which makes it sound as if money just appears) and think “men in uniforms taking money from poor widows in order to hire people to do XYZ”. Because that is the reality.

  3. Matthew Hamilton

    Short of a widespread taxpayer revolt via the ballot box (which at best will only replace one high taxing political party with another high taxing political party) taxes are an unavoidable reality and if we don’t pay then willingly then men in uniforms as well as faceless officals will take the money anyway. So the best we can hope for is that some of the money will be used to fund things that are useful – which cancer resaearch, criminology and flood mitigation certainly are, theology should be but is distorted in the universities, and opera is not. Cutting funding to theological research might take the oxygen away from some questionable research, but it won’t lower taxes as the money will be spent elsewhere in the parasitic sector. The poor widow remains poor either way.
    Matthew



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