17 January 2019

From Fraenkel to Finnis

When I was an undergraduate, the Faculty of Litterae Humaniores in this University was still enjoying the glorious aftermath of the arrival, in the 1930s, of the flower of European Classical scholarship from the great German universities. Not least, of Edward Fraenkel, still occupying the Corpus Chair of Latin when I came up in 1960.

He, like most of his fellow refugees, was a Jew. Jews were not much welcomed in the universities of Hitlerite Germany. Oxford, to her credit, welcomed them with enthusiasm. (And how it benefitted!)

Forward to 2019. The young people ... correction: a few of them ... are now trying to get rid of one of modern Oxford's most distinguished scholars: John Finnis, Fellow of University College, one of modern Oxford's main claims to fame and respect throughout the world of academic Jurisprudence.

Professor Finnis is also a Catholic who is articulate in his expression of the Teaching of the Church.

Of course, these dim youths and youthesses will not be successful in their campaign of intimidation. (Although it might have been amusing to see the University being sued in the courts by one of her own best known jurists.)

But I think we all know, or have heard of, less well-known academics in less well-known institutions who have been deprived of their livelihoods because of their Catholicism or even, may God help us all, their unenlightened pronouns.

They came for the Jews, but I said nothing because I was not a Jew ... ... ... lastly, they came for me ...

They are indeed "coming for us" now.

[That, incidentally, is why I would defend the rights of Jews to eat according to inherited traditions. S Paul agrees with me.]


Nicolas Bellord said...

A severe case of what Mgr Ronald Knox called Ignorantia Undergraduatorum which he said seemed to be almost universal when he was chaplain at Oxford - and that was a long time ago!

Fr William R Young said...

Last week on the Today programme on Radio 4 Justin Webb interviewed Prof. Finnis about views he had expressed in a reprinted paper and which had been selectively quoted by a student member of the University of Oxford to imply that Prof. Finnis was a homophobic troll who ought to be hounded out of office for his odious views. Prof. Finnis defended his published positions and their republication, and was clearly at pains to point out to Justin Webb and his interlocutor that any sexual activity outside of marriage was immoral. Justin Webb repeatedly presented this point from being made clearly by interrupting Prof. Finnis each time he tried to make the clarification. And then they ran out of time. It was a disgrace, and I regret now that I did not complain to the BBC about the appalling bias against truth that has become usual in that corporation.

william arthurs said...

I remember reading Finnis's body of work when I was at the university, 35 years ago. It stands on its own merits without needing to be defended on the radio by its author. This is indeed a very good example of what happens when someone holding unpopular views (unpopular with the media class, that is) gives any kind of interview. Even a live interview permits one's views to be misrepresented or traduced in some way. Ask me, I would have advised against it.

I sometimes think that the humanistic disciplines of today resemble the devastated WW1 battlefields portrayed by Paul and John Nash, with a few tree stumps left poking up ! Each stump represents some student obsession, egged on by their youthful lecturers, with a supposed instance of racism or sexism, etc., in a work of literature or fine art or in an attitude displayed in a sequence of historical events... While the main field of study known hitherto, has been obliterated. Maybe this is a generational thing and I am just too old to understand the point of this exercise.

Nicolas Bellord said...

Mr Arthurs: If you have the time it is well worth listening to:

Sir Roger Scruton/Dr. Jordan B. Peterson: Apprehending the Transcendent

to be found at:


I think you will find your views on the humanistic disciplines to be very much avant garde!

Tony V said...

Fr Will, you can still make a complaint. Do it!

Albrecht von Brandenburg said...

So the little brat, at supposedly the best(?!?) university in the Anglo-sphere, engages in a bit of unethical misrepresentation by taking certain words out of their proper context. And gets away with it. Shouldn't such conduct be seen as academic misconduct, at least at large, even if it has nothing to do with any written work or examination??


Paul-A. Hardy said...

Disgraceful! I matriculated in 1973, when a move was on to rid the theology faculty of patristic texts in its syllabus and substitute the kind of rubbish churned out by Vatican II. That was defeated. But it looks like what's really needed is to turn Oxbridge into research centres gradually getting rid of undergraduates altogether. The model would be All Souls. One could start with the richest colleges, then work one way down to the poorest. Towards the end there would only be the newest colleges. Places like Keble, will be the undergraduates last refuge. Then these colleges will either close altogether or become minor research institutions. Undergraduate life in Oxford would then be found only at the "Poly" —I forget what they renamed it—and Ruskin College. Of course, Britain's aristocracy has had no real need for undergraduate university training. This has been a post-war training. in the US the high bourgeoisie has abandoned it as well. I remember a distant relative of the Churchhill's being interviewed in the eighties on local television in New York City. She was asked, "What will you do after this year of balls and coming out parties, attend university? She asnwered: "Why would I do that? Universities are for immigrants; I'm not an immigrant."
In short, let those who believe that their material life is improved by having an undergraduate degree attend universities and make them pay for it, relieving the tax burden on the average citizen. Force industry to undertake training for their future employees. Let a future mandarinate apprentice itself to the holders of research fellowships at Oxbridge.

william arthurs said...

These children's crusades against the use of the wrong words are becoming a regular feature of life at the university. The youngest tutor at my old college was one of the most vociferous in condemning the "imperialism" of the Revd Prof Nigel Biggar about a year ago, if you remember that story. Good for him. But if he has the right to exercise his academic freedom of speech, I also have the right to amend the bequests in my will. With hindsight, indeed, we can look back on Oxford's campaign, starting in the 1980s, to tap alumni for endowments in the way that the Ivy League does, as a historical phase which has now passed. No-one will give any substantial amount of money to an institution where one's opinions are liable to be subjected to posthumous scrutiny, and to be condemned for breaching future tenets of political correctness whose nature we cannot, today, even imagine.

Mark said...

When I was in Oxford for the past Michaelmas Term, I was pleasantly surprised to hear concern about free speech from students. And I felt more comfortable sharing my decidedly right-of-center views than I expected. I had expected that I needed to shut up.

And then Steve Bannon was allowed to speak at the Oxford Union without too much mayhem.

I wonder if Oxford has taken a good look at SJW hatred of free speech and genuine academic freedom and patiently but firmly said, "No."

Wishful thinking on my part?

Stephen Barber said...

Eduard (sic) Fraenkel was a great scholar, to whom all those interested in the classics are indebted. he was also a serial groper of young women, as the philosopher Mary Warnock and the classicist Mary Beard have testified. Human beings are imperfect.

John Patrick said...

Mark, the real test will be if Milo Yiannopoulos is allowed to speak there. He has been banned from universities in the US by the liberal fascists.

Fr John Hunwicke said...

My information is that Fraenkel was a stroker of arms and that women tutors sent their brightest girls to him with the admonition "He'll probably paw you a bit but it'll be worth it".

Nicolas Bellord said...

By contrast one can see speeches by Jacob Rees-Mogg, Sir Roger Scruton and Jordan Peterson at the Oxford Union on youtube. Judging by the questions afterwards they were all treated with respect; so all is not lost.