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Don’t Decolonize Your Bookshelf

August 19, 2021 Featured Today No Comments


In the iconoclastic rage that is anti-Westernism masked by the supposed virtuous veil of anti-racism and critical hate theory, one of the popular suggestions for white people is to “decolonize” your bookshelf. In other words, stopping reading white authors. Especially dead white European males, but dead white European females also qualify. Who needs Homer, Dante, or Shakespeare; Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, or the Bronte sisters? Not the new vandals.
It must be understood that anti-racism is simply the battering ram to destroy everything Western — from art to literature to music to monuments. Anything celebrating the achievements of Western civilization must be torn down, destroyed, burned, in this new fire of hate packaged and sold as “healing” and “progress.” Of course, we only have ourselves to blame if we allow this campaign of hateful desecration to succeed.
Let us look, now, at why we shouldn’t decolonize our bookshelves.
The literary achievements of Western civilization stand atop the mountain of human awe and wonder. From Homer and Virgil to Dante and Shakespeare to Austen and the Bronte sisters, the classics of Western literature are magnificent achievements of our civilizational genius and remain an important patrimony for us in late modernity.
The reason why the anti-Western vandals need to destroy our literature is because our literature teaches us about what Matthew Arnold considered “the best which has been thought and said” about the human condition.
I will take just a few examples which have been pilloried by the new philistines but why we should exalt and read, or reread, our cherished classics.
The origins of Western literature lay in Homer, that blind poet of Antiquity who brought together two of the grandest epics to have ever touched the human heart and soul: The Iliad and The Odyssey. There is much debate as to which is the superior epic. I, personally, prefer The Iliad.
Homer’s epic, as we know, begins at the end of the Trojan War with the “rage of Achilles.” The poem focuses in on the dispute between Agamemnon and Achilles, leading to the near destruction of the Greek army at hand of Hector and the Trojans as Achilles sulks in his tent because of Agamemnon’s lust for glory in stealing Briseis, Achilles’ war bride.
Though the story is set in the midst of war, Homer develops the poem to a most shocking ending: peace through forgiveness of an enemy.
Spurned by the death of his beloved friend Patroclus, Achilles rejoins the battle and vows to wipe out Priam and his sons from the face of the Earth. He mercilessly cuts down a pleading and unarmed Lycaon and proceeds to kill Hector and subsequently attempts to defile his body after winning the famous duel that moved the hearts and minds of readers from Antiquity to the present.
Priam, moved by his love for Hector, ventures into the tent of his enemy. Defenseless, the King of Troy meets his nemesis face-to-face. Achilles looks into the awesome eyes of Priam.
Here, Achilles can slay his foe; to make good his vow to wipe out the seed of Priam from the face of the Earth. He doesn’t. Priam begs Achilles for the return of Hector so that he may bury his son properly.
Touched by the devotion of a father for his son, Achilles remembers the love of his father (Peleus) toward him. His heart of stone is broken. He embraces Priam no longer as an enemy but a friend, and they weep in each other’s arms as Achilles forgives his avowed enemy. He returns the body of Hector and grants the Trojans a sort peace to give Hector his burial rites.
What is amazing about The Iliad is how the poem starts in war and hatred but ends in peace and friendship. We know how the rest of the story goes: The Trojan Horse, the burning of Troy, the death of Achilles. But that is not what Homer wants us to focus on.
Instead, the greatest poet of Greece ends his epic on the peace bestowed by Achilles to Priam and the rest of Troy. What began in war has concluded in peace, a peace forged through a mutual love of family as the highest virtue in the human world. When Odysseus later meets Achilles in the underworld in The Odyssey, Achilles scoffs at Odysseus’ heroic praise and claims that he would rather be a poor farmer with his family than be master over the shadows of the dead.
Let us fast-forward over two millennia to another great novel with filial love and forgiveness as its main theme. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre is rightly considered a classic. It is, in my humble opinion, the finest work of romantic literature in nineteenth-century England. That isn’t easy given my own liking for Jane Austen, but Jane Eyre is a truly moving work.
The eponymous narrator details her life from youth to young adulthood. Jane is an orphan living with her cruel aunt and cousins. She is sent away to school. There we see Jane’s compassionate heart when she says goodbye to her dying friend Helen Burns.
Eventually, as we know, she falls for the Byronic hero Lord Edward Rochester. Rochester has lived an adventurous and profligate life. He is touched by the kindness of Jane who helps him when he is injured in a riding accident.
Rochester makes her governess of his estate and subtly courts her in the process. He eventually proposes marriage but is revealed to be married to an insane woman, Bertha, and incapable of marrying Jane because of it. Jane flees Thornfield Hall and nearly dies of starvation until taken in by the stern but merciful clergyman St. John Rivers.
Through the twists and turns of Jane’s life, Jane Eyre is a novel that extols the virtue of forgiveness and the coming into a filial inheritance centered on love rather than material possessions. Jane does come into a great wealthy inheritance from her uncle, but she divides it among the Rivers’ siblings who have so graciously taken her in. It is revealed that they are cousins, and she finally has a family of love which has been absent her entire life. Her filial inheritance is richer than her material inheritance.
Jane eventually returns to Thornfield, compelled by her love for Rochester and his love for her. Finding it burned down and desolated, she finds Rochester at a small manor house. He has been crippled during the fire while saving his servants and attempting to save Bertha.
The ever-loving Jane, so soft and tender, still loves Rochester even after his own tragedy which has robbed him from the physical graces that were so enticing earlier in the story. They forgive each other for their previous actions and happily marry. Rochester’s love, as if touched by the miraculous hand of Love itself, leads to a partial restoration of his sight. He is able to see the birth of his child with his own eyes, or more appropriately, eye.
Throughout Charlotte Bronte’s novel, forgiveness is the bridge to loving acceptance and reconciliation. Jane implores her aunt, on her deathbed, to forgive and makeup. Sarah Reed cannot. They die estranged.
Meanwhile, Jane’s time with the Rivers’ siblings eventually leads to a quarrel with St. John Rivers. However, they do eventually forgive one another as Jane makes clear in her telling her escapade to Rochester at the novel’s conclusion. There, Jane and Rochester embrace each other — forgiving their prior interactions, folly and pride, that led to their estrangement.
Forgiveness, you see dear reader, leadeth to love and family. What began in orphanage and estrangement ended in family and love. Jane is finally surrounded by what she lacked in childhood: a loving family to call her own.
The great works of the Western tradition all deal with the reality of love and forgiveness and how only love through forgiveness forges a life worth living. Precisely because these works touch on the eternal themes of life, the vandals must desecrate the temple of Western literature. No love and forgiveness for them. Only hatred and animosity leading to destruction governs their spirit.
May we forgive those who destroy these treasures! But may we continue to cherish the truth of love found in forgiveness epitomized by “the best which has been thought and said” contained in the great books of Western civilization. Let us, therefore, be the loving guardians of the books that can guide us up to Heaven’s light and move the soul from Earth to Paradise.

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