Commentary: Donald Kagan: A Classicist Who Fought for Freedom of Expression on Campus

Eliana Johnson

Excerpt: Donald Kagan, who died on Friday at the age of 89, was the world’s undisputed authority on ancient Greece. One of a dwindling number of conservatives in academia, Kagan never backed away from a fight, advocating for a traditional core curriculum focused on Western civilization and for unfettered free speech on campus, a message that rippled out from the Ivy League and became a flashpoint of national debate. As far back as 30 years ago, the New York Times quoted Kagan describing a Yale education as “a mutual massage between liberal students and professors.”

Kagan’s unapologetic advocacy for the study of Western civilization and for protecting the right to air unpopular and even abhorrent views made headlines not just at Yale but around the country. He never understood the tenured academics who claimed to be afraid to speak up, and he loved to say that he kept making trouble — and getting promoted.