And the irony is that the very forces that have undermined strictly Western and white-male approaches to canon-making have also made it easier than ever to assemble a diverse inheritor. This should, by rights, be a moment of exciting curricular debates, over which global and rediscovered and post-colonial works belong on the syllabus with Shakespeare, over whether it’s possible to teach an American canon and a global canon all at once. Instead, humanists have often trapped themselves in a false choice between “dead white males” and “we don’t transmit value.”

Escaping that dichotomy will not restore the academic or intellectual worlds of 70 years ago. But the path to recovery begins there, with a renewed faith not only in humanism’s methods and approaches, but in the very thing itself.