The two cultures are, of course, those identified by C. P. Snow half a century ago: the humanities and the sciences. A lament of Snow and others is that the practitioners of these cultures are drifting apart, making an integrated intellectual life impossible. There are worse things than ignoring each other, though. Resources are finite, and status is always a zero-sum game, so competition and fighting are to be expected. Snow himself thought English universities favored the humanities too heavily; proposals for reconciliation are usually to be on one party’s terms or the other’s, with a corresponding adjustment of relative status.
The two cultures differ both in subject matter and, I think, in fundamental goals. One could say that both aim at the augmentation of knowledge and at the cultivation of students’ minds, but the first is more dominant in the science departments and the second is (or should be) more dominant in the humanities departments. Science rests its claim to status on possessing a uniquely reliable and far-reaching method for acquiring truth about the world. Its weakness is that it is mute on normative matters, so its competitor will always claim uncontested moral superiority.
As to the question of who should be king of the university, the answer must be philosophy, because even to adjudicate the various claims one must step into the role of a philosopher. And what is philosophy? Is it a science or a humanity? One might say that the two traditions of philosophy, analytic and continental, represent the two possible answers.
I’ve read many English professors lamenting STEM’s supposed domination of the universities. In terms of funding, this may be true, but clearly the humanities culture has a more dominating influence on thinking and action both inside and outside the university. Consider that a humanistic dogma like “systemic racism” has had a greater influence on the contemporary mind than Newtonian mechanics, atomic theory, and the theory of evolution by natural selection all taken together. Or consult the lists of most important nonfiction books of the year that highbrow periodicals sometimes put out. Or consider the books that are assigned university-wide to incoming freshmen. People don’t care about the natural world; they care about the wars for social status on which the sciences have little influence. All of this should put worries of a STEM takeover to rest.
Let us sharpen the question by focusing on the kings of each culture. Philosophers are pretty clear on who those are. Physics is the king of sciences. The world is just a bunch of particles, and physics tells us how those particles act, right? (The second statement, at least, is true, in an aspirational sense.) All other physical sciences (astronomy, chemistry, etc) have essentially become branches of physics, and most biologists will tell you that their subject is ultimately reducible to physics, since they are eager to avoid being accused of believing in an elan vital. “To be understood” means, at least by this way of thinking, “to be reduced to physics”.
Among the humanities, the situation was less clear until recently, when critical theory ascended to his throne. The categories of white male oppressor and other oppressed is now the universal hermeneutic, the lens through which all art, history, and social phenomena must be interpreted. This is a pity. Critical theory is a crude, barbarous mentality, a Manichean worldview whose solution to every problem is to hunt down the scapegoat, a totalitarian mania, a reversion to pre-civilized thinking. “To be understood” means by this way of thinking for the white patriarchal culprit to have been exposed.
So, for modern man, the question is, which tells the ultimate truth about the world, physics or critical race theory? It’s not a very attractive choice, scientism or mob obscurantism, but between the two I would much prefer the first for maintaining at least a truncated connection to the Logos. Unfortunately, science has already surrendered, with journals, laboratories, and collaborations making grotesque proclamations of anti-white bigotry and promising stricter policing of the beliefs of researchers.
Ever since the great purges following the communist victories in 1945, to prove that one is to the Left of one’s opponent is ipso facto to win the argument. When “The Two Cultures” was written, it was possible to insinuate that English professors were backward-looking romantics with a soft spot for fascism, while scientists were the harbingers of progress. Today, the humanities have gotten decisively to the Left of the sciences, despite most scientists–like everyone else with intellectual pretensions–considering themselves men of the Left. After all, ideological conformity is not yet enforced in engineering and the hard sciences, so there are bound to be a non-negligible number of quiet intellectual nonconformists in their ranks.
More damning yet, science has been thrust into a structurally conservative position. The majority of scientists, run-of-the-mill liberals but wanting to devote their time to research rather than politics, are not only behaving the same way as their secretly conservative colleagues; they are performatively endorsing a key conservative position. For it is today a matter of disagreement whether any organization is allowed to devote itself fully to goods other than social justice. The Left is openly totalitarian, declaring that all organizations must be not merely non-racist but actively anti-racist (i.e. anti-white), that neutrality (“silence”) is itself a form of intolerable racism. Few dare openly dispute this (hence I said a matter of “disagreement” rather than of “dispute”), but it must be disconcerting to moderate liberals and those rightward of them. A research collaboration simply carrying about its business and failing to “take action” and “speak out” against “white supremacy”, treating such things as beyond its scope and competence qua scientific collaboration, is engaging in a radically reactionary act.
Some time ago, the collaboration of which I am a part decided to issue a Black Lives Matter statement. Heaven knows what made them think they had the competence for such a thing. They wanted all the senior members to sign. Only I refused, and so a small outpost of the Logos officially joined the Enemy. I should still be grateful that we have had only one anti-racist struggle session, with the next a semester away; my parish church has had two already.