Liberal Education and the Quest for Truth, Freedom, and Greatness - The Objective Standard

America’s universities are collapsing into a miasma of postmodernism and multiculturalism. They have been approaching peak radicalization for several decades now, but in recent years the cultural left has pushed toward a complete takeover of our campuses. A hyper “political correctness”—with trigger warnings, safe spaces, micro-aggressions, censorship, and sometimes even physical violence—has enveloped our universities. Leftist professors, administrators, and students have created a stifling, anti-intellectual monoculture, and they are now attempting to remove the last pillars of the traditional university: free thought and free speech. Once those are gone, America’s universities will have become little more than seminaries of intolerance and indoctrination.

I have been a witness to this tragedy for the past thirty-five years, initially as a student and now as a professor, currently at Clemson University, where I teach political science and head the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism. I came to intellectual maturity during the first wave of the academic culture wars of the 1980s. As a graduate student at Brown University, one of America’s most “politically correct” universities, I saw up close the hypocrisy, dishonesty, intimidation, and violence used by the campus left to impose its psychological and moral hegemony on students, faculty, and administrators.

As just one example, in 1987, during my second year at Brown, a group of student radicals broke into one of the grand old buildings on campus and defaced ten historical portraits of distinguished Brown personages from centuries past. These “social justice warriors” spray-painted one large white letter onto each portrait, visually adding up to the words “ELITE? WHO US.” Pathetically, as is typically the case with leftist vandalism on campus, the Brown administration did nothing to identify, much less arrest, expel, or prosecute the criminals. Although a few administrators and faculty members huffed and puffed about the incident, the general tone on campus combined with the inaction on the part of the school indicated that many were secretly supportive of this faux act of revolutionary violence.

What I saw at Brown in the 1980s was just the beginning. The leftist assault on higher education has become much worse over the past thirty-five years. Most universities today, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, are thoroughly politicized. Administrators and faculty have corrupted, gutted, and repackaged the idea of a liberal education to serve the ideological interests of the postmodernist and multiculturalist agendas. To the extent that the history and culture of the West are still even subjects of serious study in today’s humanities departments, they are there only to be “deconstructed” and condemned. . . .

Endnotes

1. Heather MacDonald, “The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity,” Wall Street Journal, January 3, 2014: http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304858104579264321265378790.

2. Heather MacDonald, “The Humanities and Us,” City Journal (Winter 2014): http://www.city-journal.org/html/humanities-and-us-13635.html; Allison Flood, “Yale English Students Call for End of Focus on White Male Writers,” (June 1, 2016): https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/jun/01/yale-english-students-call-for-end-of-focus-on-white-male-writers.

3. W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (Chicago: A. C. McClurg, 1903; reprint: Dover Publications, 1994), 67.

4. Tom Tancredo, “Banishment of Western Civilization at Stanford Shows Pervasive Cultural Rot,” Breitbart.com: http://www.breitbart.com/big-government/2016/04/23/banishment-western-civilization-stanford-shows-pervasive-cultural-rot/.[groups_can capability="access_html"]

5. Epictetus, Discourses and Selected Writings, translated by Robert Dobbin (New York: Penguin Books, 2008), 99–100.

6. Thomas Jefferson, “A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom,” in The Portable Thomas Jefferson, edited by Merrill D. Peterson (New York: Penguin Book, 1975), 252–53.

7. Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787, in The Portable Thomas Jefferson, 252–53.

8. Seneca, “On the Shortness of Life,” in Dialogues and Essays, translated by John Davie (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 156.

9. Petrarch’s Letters to Classical Authors, translated with commentary by Mario Emilio Cosenza (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1910), 28, 101–2.

10. Niccolò Machiavelli to Francesco Vettori, December 10, 1513, in The Prince, translated and with an introduction by Harvey C. Mansfield (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), 109–10.

11. John Adams, Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, 4 vols., edited by L. H. Butterfield (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1963), I: 72–73.

12. Cicero, On Obligations, translated by P. G. Walsh (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 118–24.

13. Alfred North Whitehead, The Aims of Education (New York: Free Press, 1929), 67.

14. George Trumbull, Observations upon Liberal Education, edited by Terrence O. Moore Jr. (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003), 3.

15. Abraham Lincoln, “Speech at Springfield, Illinois, June 26, 1857,” in Abraham Lincoln: His Speeches and Writings, edited by Roy P. Basler (New York: De Capo, 1946), 361.

16. John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, edited by John M. Robson, vol. 21, Essays on Equality, Law, and Education (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984), 218.

17. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile, or On Education, translated and with an Introduction by Allan Bloom (New York: Basic Books, 1979), 41–42.[/groups_can]

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