According to Pannapacker, the Great Books were popular because they "were expressions of hope for many people who had historically not had access to higher education." People wanted to better themselves, and knowledge held the key.
Pannapacker acknowledges the issues surrounding the canon and the idea of "greatness:"
By the end of the 1980s—when I was an undergraduate—it had become clear to seemingly everyone in authority that the notion of "Greatness" was a tool of illegitimate power; Adler and Hutchins were racist and sexist in their choices of texts; their valorization of the "Western World" made them complicit with imperialism and worse.
Regardless, Pannapacker and others believe there is still a place for the Great Books. They speak to an earlier time when the intellectual life was more highly valued:
What has been lost, according to Jacoby, is a culture of intellectual effort. We are increasingly ignorant, but we do not know enough to be properly ashamed...The rejection of the Great Books signifies a declining belief in the value of anything without a direct practical application, combined with the triumph of a passive entertainment—as anyone who teaches college students can probably affirm.
We need a resurgence of the intellectual life; we need to wrest education away from those who are proudly ignorant and feel no shame about it. As Pannapacker notes: "The Great Books had a narrower conception of "greatness" than we might like today, but their foundational ideals were radically egalitarian and proudly intellectual."
We could do worse than to teach "Arnold's vision of culture as 'the best that has been thought and known in the world'."