Joseph Bottum at First Things has written an essay about the benefits and demise of Latin education.Â The study of “dead” languages is something near and dear to my heart.Â The two languages I have studied for any length of time whatsoever have been Latin and Biblical Hebrew.Â Here’s Bottum’s conclusion about practical benefits of Latin:
Thereâ€™s a superior command of English granted by the study of Latin, but even to make that argument is to admit that Latin requires some practical result. For that matter, thereâ€™s plenty to learn from the ancient worldâ€™s experience of politics, social life, and art, and yet, again, thatâ€™s not, in itself, a reason to demand that students study Latin. Translations will do as well, if thatâ€™s all we want, and the real argument for Latin runs deeper than mere practicality.
However, as he readily admits, practical benefits are, ultimately, beside the point when it comes to Latin.
In fact, Latin was a measure of education, not a portion that could be added or dropped. Admittedly a somewhat arbitrary measure, though it kept us tied to the continuity of Western civilization. But without some such measure, the entire idea of education becomes vulnerable to the skepticâ€™s relativistic question of â€œWhoâ€™s to say?â€ Whoâ€™s to say whatâ€™s right or wrong? Whoâ€™s to say whatâ€™s true or false? Whoâ€™s to say what knowledge we should share?