Socrates is on trial… again. In fact, a growing chorus of voices is arguing that reverence to the classics is not only flawed, but also enmeshed with long-standing power imbalances. Princeton University said its “own department bears witness to the place of Classics in the long arc of systemic racism.” Others claim that such literature has been historically weaponized to justify systems of control, often to the exclusion and oppression of non-white and non-European cultures. At very least, these works should be incorporated within a broader diversity of literature, if not stricken from the required readings altogether. Still others express caution. The study of Plato, Homer, and Aristotle, they contend, engenders just the sort of critical thinking universities are meant to foster. Inspiration, they add, can be found from a variety of sources, and not just from figures who bear physical resemblance to those who are inspired. In fact, celebrated African American authors, such as Toni Morrison, studied the classics, and drew empowerment from them. Furthermore, they argue, underprivileged students indeed benefit from understanding the very literature that influences the society in which they live. In this context, we debate the following question: Are the Classics Overrated?
This debate took place in front of a live audience, outdoors at The Wharf in Washington, D.C., on September 22, 2022. It was produced in partnership with The Atlantic Festival.
Intelligence Squared U.S. has released The Atlantic LIVE video of the debate along with bookending performances by special guest FLS+, the minds behind the Broadway hit Freestyle Love Supreme, on our YouTube channel. Watch now.