Tags: university | college | western civ | civilizing

American Universities Derelict in Duty to Western Civ

American Universities Derelict in Duty to Western Civ
Photo taken on February 11, 2010, shows the statues of Greece's ancient goddess Athena (R) and ancient philosopher Socrates outside Athens' Academy. (Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

By Monday, 14 August 2017 04:15 PM Current | Bio | Archive

In a recent poll conducted by Pew Trust, 58 percent of Republicans view higher education as negative influence on the country. This is a profound shift in sentiment: until very recently, college ranked along with motherhood and freedom of speech as one of our unassailable sacred cows. What has happened?

We can point to political correctness, intolerance of dissenting voices, and the monopoly of leftist thought, but all of these have a deeper explanation. The liberal arts in America have abandoned and then forgotten their defining purpose, selling their sacred role as transmitters of civilization for a bowl of the warmed-over porridge of progressive politics.

The seven liberal arts of antiquity formed the basis of all higher education in America until the 1870’s. The original purpose of the college and university was to preserve and transmit civilization, not to create new knowledge. The German research university introduced this new aim, which eventually crowded out all other purposes.

The liberal arts, especially English, history, and philosophy, were originally the most conservative of all subjects. They resisted the research model the longest, instead focusing on introducing students to “the best of what has been thought and written, the history of the human spirit,” as the English educator and scholar Matthew Arnold put it.

Today, the humanities and liberal arts suffer from physics envy: the hopeless aspiration to construct “theories” of the human world that are as powerful and enduring as the great physical theories of relativity or quantum mechanics. Humanists no longer claim to perpetuate or inculcate Western civilization; in fact, they have largely forgotten that this was ever their purpose. Instead, they see the great texts of the West as providing nothing but raw data for cultural “theorizing” (a form of pseudo-science). Students study all cultures equally, treated as mere subject matter, not as models to follow or ideals to emulate or partners in a Great Conversation that spans the millennia.

Students are not initiated into the high culture of the West. The result is a breakdown in the transmission of civilization. You do not become civilized by merely studying a smattering of various world civilizations in a superficial travelogue of courses. Becoming civilized is a matter of internalizing the models, practices, and virtues of a single civilization, the one within which one’s family, community, and college is ensconsed.

Nature abhors a vacuum. Once the old meaning disappeared, academics sought a new purpose: progressive politics. Most liberal arts fields now define their educational purpose in terms of social justice: eradicating inequality, promoting sexual diversity, and “transgressivity,” and inculcating racial identities. Conservatives are both systematically excluded by the academic gatekeepers on admissions and hiring committees and self-excluded, given their lack of interest in the political purposes of the fields.

Should we simply shut down the liberal arts, and make all public universities into STEM institutes? This sidesteps the real problem: if universities have forsaken the task of transmitting Western civilization to new generations, who will do so? As Ronald Reagan pointed out, we are always only one generation away from barbarism.

The natural sciences are not a self-sustaining enterprise. The scientific revolution of the seventeenth century took place in a very specific cultural milieu — the Christianized Platonism of western and central Europe. The breakdown in transmission of Western civilization means the loss of our confidence in the power of human reason to understand the world around us — to grasp the absolute truths about nature. This loss of confidence in reason lends increasing power to politics and ideology in science. More and more of the reported results of scientific experimentation cannot be replicated, signs of negligence and fraud.

The university itself is a fruit of Western civilization. As G. K. Chesterton put it, the progressive is always clipping the blossoms from the tree of Western civilization and expecting them to flourish by being “liberated” from their stems, roots, and leaves. Science, political freedom, and the university itself can survive only so long as we maintain the healthy roots of our civilization, and we can accomplish this only through a conservative renaissance in the ancient liberal arts.

The governors of thirty states are Republicans. In most states, the regents of the state universities are appointed by these GOP governors. Trustees must create safe havens within universities for conservatives and for the task of transmitting civilization. It is not enough to create isolated “chairs of conservative studies,” like that at the University of Colorado-Boulder. We need self-sustaining schools of conservative arts, dedicated to the study of Western civilization, with an emphasis on required lists of Great Books, regardless of how many dead white European males are included.

Rob Koons is a professor of philosophy specializing in logic, metaphysics, philosophical theology, and political thought. He is the author and editor of six books, including "The Atlas of Reality: A Comprehensive Guide to Metaphysics" (with Tim Pickavance, Wiley-Blackwell, 2017). He has been active in conservative circles, both nationally and in Texas, including the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, the National Association of Scholars, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the Philadelphia Society, and the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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In a recent poll conducted by Pew Trust, 58 percent of Republicans view higher education as negative influence on the country.
university, college, western civ, civilizing
Monday, 14 August 2017 04:15 PM
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