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The Devil Knows Latin: Why America Needs the Classical Tradition Paperback – April 1, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-1882926572 ISBN-10: 1882926579

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 327 pages
  • Publisher: Intercollegiate Studies Institute (April 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1882926579
  • ISBN-13: 978-1882926572
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #830,757 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A classicist at the University of Colorado, Kopff believes that the elimination of Latin and Greek from the standard university curriculum has severed our culture from the literature, history, philosophy and political traditions that should constitute its mental infrastructure. He therefore wants colleges to teach liberal arts students to read the classics in the original languages?Dante in Italian; Plato, Homer and Ovid in Greek and Latin; the New Testament in Greek?and insists that the elementary school curriculum should concentrate on ancient languages and mathematics. As the accompanying conservative polemics indicate, Kopff's desire is for a radical return to the past. For instance, he advocates the repeal of the Fourteenth Amendment, which he sees as merely a tool in the Supreme Court's "misguided war against religion in general and Christianity in particular." He also takes potshots at multiculturalism (calling it "culturally promiscuous"), postmodernists, liberals, modernist art (to his mind, "ethically out of touch with ordinary people's hopes and fears" and "frequently downright disgusting") and, in a moment of insensitive hyperbole, even Martin Luther King ("the true American thus stands opposed to the martyr of the inevitable future, whether Che Guevara or Martin Luther King"). Kopff's diatribes are less heavy-handed in several pieces of film criticism and in an interesting essay on Boston Transcendentalist Margaret Fuller's historic stay in Rome in 1847-1849, which led to her History of the Roman Republic. Ultimately, however, the book is for a very specific audience: those conservative enough to believe that the different social positions of men and women were assigned by nature and to view California Republican Pete Wilson as a "liberal."
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

The chapters of Kopff's book betray their origins as separate articles by not homogenizing into one continuous argument, yet they sort most agreeably into three sections. Those in "Civilization as Narrative" do form a single argument, one for reestablishing Latin and Greek, together with English and math, as the basic subjects of U.S. education from the earliest grades on. The reason for taking this step, which many will think retrograde, is that just as our language is based on Latin and Greek, so are our fundamental institutions and operating philosophies, such as our politics. The essays in "The Good, the Bad and the Postmodern" are controversial, decrying the baleful effects of liberalism on education and affirming the positive accomplishments of such traditionalists as J. R. R. Tolkien. "Contemporary Chronicles" contains profiles in classical courage drawn from academe and the movies; especially noteworthy are the sketch of classicist and Scottish nationalist Douglas Young and the considerations of The Godfather, the films of Clint Eastwood, and The Lion King as enactments of classical Greek ethical concepts. Kopff concludes with practical proposals for restoring Latin and Greek to elementary and secondary curricula and with guidance for adults who want to learn them. His clean and lively style throughout constitutes a very cogent arguing point for teaching the classical languages again: would that we all wrote this well. Ray Olson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Martin Asiner on October 25, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The serious study of Greek and Latin has been eroding in America's schools since the early 20th century. In THE DEVIL KNOWS LATIN, E. Christian Kopf attempts to explain why this is so and what can be done to bring about a resurgence in the classics. In this, he is only partially successful. For the first half of his book, Kopf is right on target as he provides numerous examples of how western culture has been so thoroughly entrenched in classic learning that we scarcely notice it anymore and hence too many otherwise elite now think that we can dispense with it. His most telling points involve the Great Books controversy. Traditionalists believe that Great Truths do exist, are eternal, and spring from our Greek ancestors. As a consequence, those books that celebrate these truths provide an anchor by which we may not forget where we came from, where we are now, and where we may go in the future. By contrast, postmodernists hold that since words point only to other words in a closed linguistic loop, there is no possibility that a text may connect to external reality. Thus, they argue, the Great Truths of any age are no more than a fiction that stand for no more than the ephemeral biases and prejudices of their writers. Kopf argues that it is no less than insanity to construct a philosophy, let alone a culture, on such a relativistic basis. All this is sound enough and had Kopf cut his book in half, it would have still been an impressive effort. However, the second half devolves into pointless digressions of writers, actors, and film directors whose collective contribution to classic learning is minimal.Read more ›
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Bobby Bambino on April 7, 2010
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This is my first book arguing in favor of a return to the classic works and classic languages. I found the book very well written and clever. Though it seems that many other reviewers found the author's tone condescending, I think most of the time the author's seemingly "condescending" tone is a symptom of his frustration for the mass exodus from classics in both popular culture as well as academia. The author argues that while there are very good translations of many classics, nothing is a proper substitute for being able to read works in their original Greek or Latin. He also emphasizes the importance of tradition, which make up the roots of our Western civilization, and why simply abandoning those traditions just for the sake of not clinging to traditions is irrational. A good introduction to the mind of a classicist.
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23 of 30 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 7, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I recommend this book to anyone interested in the clear exposition of how America needs to reawaken to its roots and real tradition. The author masterfully demonstrates how the classical and may I add, Christian tradition relates to today. He provides an eye-opening view of the cults of postmodernism and the failed enlightenment programs. I was outraged by the lack of reverence and general destructiveness that results when we reject our classical traditions. This author needs to be read by anyone who still can transcend the present lies in our culture and elevate themselves to an appreciation of our past as we move to the future. Kopff convinces me to go back to the roots of culture and language.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Fuller on October 10, 2011
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at first, it seems rather offputting kopff attempts to write on the topic of the classical tradition while doing so for a postmodern attention span. in the beginning of the book, he touches on several topics: the need for the classical tradition in America, a very brief survey of modern economics, and the depravity of modern liberalism, all without delving too deep into his subjects he discusses. however, in the chapter where margaret fuller arrives in Rome and finds her true Self and Home there, the pieces begin to fall into place. following are analyses and biographies of various intellectuals who include J.R.R. Tolkien, James Frazier, and Douglas Young among others who were steeped in the western classics and ultimately made contributions to the conservative culture at large.

this is not a clarion call, but a gentle reminder it is not too late to be initiated into the western classical tradition, and a cogent argument for reviving the humanities in our schools by prying them from the hands of the new critics and postmodern loonies who hijacked them in the sixties and injecting them once again with a good dose of the liberal arts.

sounds plausible to me!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Alan Wingo on August 11, 2012
Format: Paperback
Mr. Kopff's "The Devil Knows Latin" is a typical example of classical apologia derived from MacIntyre's "After Virtue". The author not only argues MacIntyre's argument for the rejection of the Enlightenment, a return to classical philosophy, and revision of primary and secondary education, he also promotes the elimination of the Great Books curriculum in favor of classical language studies. Both authors ignore the benefits of the scientific method and experiment in favor of pure logic and community values in the static conditions of the pre-Enlightenment world. The real failure in these types of works is that such minds should be focused on synthesizing a postmodernist heritage that combines the logic of the Enlightenment and the humanistic traditions from Classical period, rather than attacking the postmodernists and leaving the human condition in a state of declining irrationality.

Both scholars emphasis the importance of reading in the primary textual language but at the same time refuse to acknowledge the importance of the postmodernists in promoting the critical nature of such activity. They are too caught up in the defense of the Western Judeo-Christian metanarrative up to the Enlightenment to realize that the postmodernists that they criticize and revile are their intellectual comrades in arms against Modernism. Kopff specifically lowers himself to ad hominem attacks, a tactic rather interesting in a classical scholar who promotes logic over rhetoric.

However, some of his best work in the book is found in his review of significant persons and events in the 20th century. He is not Fredric Jameson but his insights are delightful and thought provoking at times. Overall, "The Devil Knows Latin" is a wonderful introduction to this line of thought and a more accessible book than MacIntyre's and well worth the easy read.
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The Devil Knows Latin: Why America Needs the Classical Tradition
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