Terry and A.C.

A.C. GRAYLING‘s Oxbridge-rival-to-be, The New College of the Humanities planned for Bloomsbury, has already taken a fair amount of stick since being unveiled in a Sunday Times splash at the weekend. The tone of the criticism is essentially: Elitist bastards! There are loudish whispers that he may face a few tough questions about the £18,000 a year private university, possibly a few heckles, when he appears at Foyle’s bookshop tonight.

One of the quickest critics of the mark, however, was Marxist writer Terry Eagleton, who feasted til he was hungry no more with a comment piece for The Guardian. The headline: A.C. Grayling’s private university is odious pretty much tells you what he thinks. But here’s a sample of the anger:

The master of the college will be public sage and identikit Islington Man, AC Grayling. Many observers, he comments, will be surprised to see a group of “almost pinko” academics pitching in to the project. If Dawkins, Colley, Ricks and Ferguson are pinko, I’m a deep shade of indigo. Anyway, why should anyone be surprised at the prospect of academics signing on for a cushy job at 25% more than the average university salary, with shares in the enterprise to boot?

What would prevent most of us from doing so is the nausea which wells to the throat at the thought of this disgustingly elitist outfit. British universities, plundered of resources by the bankers and financiers they educated, are not best served by a bunch of prima donnas jumping ship and creaming off the bright and loaded.


What’s not said in Mr Eagleton’s piece, why should it?, is that he and Professor Grayling have had reason to disagree before. Back in 2006, Professor Grayling wrote to the London Review of Books to say that Eagleton’s assessment of one of Richard Dawkins’ books ‘misses the point‘ – the charge every journalist, writer and book reviewer hates the most. The Professor added:

Eagleton’s touching foray into theology shows, if proof were needed, that he is no philosopher

Then last year, Professor Grayling picked up Mr Eagleton’s book, On Evil, and reviewed it for New Humanist. Within a couple of sentences he concludes that Mr Eagleton’s is ‘wrong’. He later adds that a theme in the book ‘adds nothing‘.

It is scarcely news that evil, in this sense, exists. Eagleton’s excursions into literary hermeneutics and such theological absurdities as original sin are entertaining, but add nothing – rather the opposite – to our understanding of what we mean by evil, a feature of our world which is alas all too clear already.

Get the pair of them on the same stage. Who’s better? There’s only on….

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