An extensive National Review cover article by Andrew Roberts asserts that “we must teach Western Civilization.” He is correct that Western Civ should be taught, and not just as an exercise in the self-flagellation of critical theory. But studying our cultural heritage without living it is only intellectual embalming, and some champions of Western civilization may prefer it that way. Preserving Western Civilization requires living it.
This distinction between information about a tradition and living it is obvious in religion, in which study does not in itself instill belief. Unlike instruction at the local parish school, a secular college’s religious studies course is not meant to inculcate Catholic belief and behavior, even if it is accurate about Catholic doctrines.
Intellectual knowledge is severable from practice, and this applies to the rest of the Western tradition, from art and architecture to literature and philosophy. In all of these, knowledge without works is dead, and universities teaching about them may be no more than museum tours of the intellectual and artistic artifacts of the past. Wisdom becomes knowledge, and knowledge declines into information.