Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Shameless Self-Promotion

I will be speaking next Saturday as part of a first-rate conference at St. Vincent’s in Latrobe, PA (no longer the home of Rolling Rock) on the idea of the university in our country today. The conference begins Thursday and it’s one great presenter after another.

I will also be speaking at the meeting of the Pennsylvania Association of Scholars at Duquesne tomorrow at 4 p.m. on something like Berry College and academic freedom.

Here’s my take on that Kronman book mentioned below: I actually see a lot good in the idea of liberal education as the display of the best arguments for and poetic presentations of a variety of forms of human excellence--such as the saint, the poet, the philosopher, the inventor, the artist, the statesman, and even the agrarian gentleman. But the way Kronman tells the story, this sort of education is "secular humanism" because it depends on the obvious untruth of religious dogma (which is usually all about the tyannical, "supernatural" God). One limitation of that view is that it’s obviously contrary to the self-understandings of many great men and women, past and even present. Kronman presents the choice for religion or a personal God as obviously a choice against the truth about the responsibilities given to self-conscious mortals; all "real religion" is fundamentalism to him, and one goal of college, for him, is to get over that sort of thing. All "humanism" and so the humanities are secular. That view can hardly make the study of the humanities attractive to our evangelical and orthodox believers. But before we’re too critical of Kronman, we have to think about how many defenders of liberal education today more or less agree with him. One Christian criticism of his approach would be its inability to even search for dignity or even holiness in ordinary life; not all virtue is about greatness.

Discussions - 15 Comments

What??!! No Rolling Rock in Latrobe any more? Say it ain't so! That was one of the major attractions, along with Mr. Rodger's boyhood home (now occupied by our pal Bill Boxx), and Arnold Palmer's reserved parking space at the local country club.

What happened to Rolling Rock? Was it outsourced to China or Mexico? Why isn't it in the stimulus bill?

But it's still the boyhood (at least) home of Arnold Palmer! Rolling Rock still exists; don't recall where it's made now--doubt it's in Mexico though.

Rolling Rock of Latrobe, PA is owned by Anheiser Busch of St. Louis, MO which in turn is owned by InBev of Belgium.

Why do I know this? I looked it up, I swear I haven't been boozing and blogging, pace Lawler's remarks on the pathetic nature of drinking alone.

"Er. Um. Ay reassemble dat remurk!"

Three very good and American responses. And if you think about them they illustrate the truth of Toqueville...it isn't that religion is anti-intellectual per se...anymore than business is (and business distrusts philosophers, or anyone whose interests aren't closely tied to food, drink, God, Country)

Toqueville says: "The imagination of the Americans, therefore, even in its greatest aberrations, is circumspect and hesitant; it is embarrassed from the start and leaves its work unfinished. These habits of restraint are found again in political society and singularily favor the tranquility of the people as well as the durability of the institutions they have adopted...Thus, while law allows the american people to do everything, there are things which religion prevents them from imagining and forbids them to dare."

The study of the humanities allows you to imagine and dare things no one is comfortable with, it does bring with it an autonomy and religious belief and the status of all beliefs is never the same again.

"One Christian criticism of his approach would be its inability to even search for dignity or even holiness in ordinary life; not all virtue is about greatness." Fair enough, but the christian criticism will hold true naturally, in the average course of american life to include this virtue and greatness no great existential search is ever encountered or confronted that is not redirected towards beer or the things of ordinary life.

You academics might protest, but I am not sure simply giving each instructor in the humanities what they each want to hear isn't a sign of health. If I could do it over, I am not sure I wouldn't council myself: Do what you have to do to get the grade...do not linger long, listen not to the sirens, arm yourself with wax, be young and wear your inability to read Kant proudly. Do not allow yourself to be derailled by studying philosophy, you haven't the mind to haunt yourself with it you will over eat and die in the land of the lotus...

You won't know anything of Kronman, but you will have read Karl Popper and Hegel and your mind will wander finding ironic greatness in Soros(my newest addiction/topic of study.)

You might even start thinking that Soros isn't in it for the money, that his greater scheme actually involves and applies seriously to the questions of manliness/greatness/jewishness in this post...that he is a man haunted and driven by the 20th century...and that he has declared war and is a formidable serious and possibly correct opponent...

Where can you go to Grad School to study George Soros in light of Hegel, Toqueville, Karl Popper, the holocaust, and currency markets?

For as much as John Lewis likes to make half-baked quotes from German philosophers, it comes as no surprise that he counsels others to stuff their ears when studying them, and wear their inabilities to do so proudly. Ignorance of philosophy worn proudly. Such is the american way. Such are the dreams Limbaughs and Ayn Rands are made of.

I think the gist of Stertinius' post is that you are your own, John Lewis, relegated to autodidact in the study of Soros and your specific related topics. Inasmuch as that what he is kindly suggesting, I think he is quite right.

What the heck just happened here?

What is happening? nothing much...the dollar is improving against the Euro in an interesting way, oil futures are down and I am smelling Soros. What else is happening? Well a recession is putting a serious crimp in the humanities and everyone is worried about the end of study that isn't explicitly utilitarian. The idea that the humanities sells vagina day and piss christ is comming home to roost and folks aren't buying it. Meanwhile the prospect of Obama's new tax system will severely crimp donations from the upper middle class, and only those with a coherent picture of the 20th century and 21st century and where america needs to go will provide funds to shore it up in that direction. As it stands defenders of liberal education will need a serious government bailout or large private funds. One of the folks with a large amount of private funds is George Soros and George Soros's answer for a host of complex and ideological reasons not the least of which is the fact that he is a jew with a vivid memory of the holocaust...is to disband the humanities, or teach them in a way that reduces them to the methodology of Karl Popper, since everything else simply results in communism or fascism(according to the one with the means of production, and the will to put it to use in the culture).

The irony is in trying to argue that we have bureaucratic monstrosity, wrenched in all directions by a clamor for subsidies, and then asking for subsidies from people who have none or government(the current plight of PAC's and Universities without large endowments like Harvard)...in other words the Humanities is the institution that in expanding the immagination of man also burdens society with the competing demands of social groups, so as to limit economic growth and overload the political system with multiple claims.

In any case I seriously appologize to Kate and everyone else, but I can't help shaking my head at the complexity of this situation...I am certainly in over my head, past my horizon as Nietsche might say, or in some way wrapped up intellectually with apocolyptic ideas that blind me to the mundane, or being aware of this redirect me to it in earnest.

Hegel as popularizer and philosopher of the prussian state grounded dignity and holiness in ordinary life.

I appologize to everyone except Stertinius who obviously hasn't read any german political philosophy, not that I am even a graduate student or even a german speaker. I don't claim the authority to speak on behalf of the germans and if I misrepresent them then I claim dumb-founded originality in so far as the misrepresentation holds.

Soros may understand the humanities as a teaching simply geared toward avoiding tyranny, but Jefferson also spoke of an education in the "useful facts of history" for the same purpose.

In this way, "humanistic" education serves the specific goals of the regime--and surely this is a useful part of political education. However, the existence and maintenance of the regime of self-government also presupposes individual self government. In this way, the humanities can also provide some guidance here in teaching the "best that has been though and written" (but with additional supports of family and church). The humanities can serve as a guide and instructor for oneself and others in understanding the meaning of the question regarding what is the good life. They can present the alternative views and answers to this question, as well as present the fundamental problems, dilemmas and paradoxes related to it. Jeffersonian agrarianism alone will not provide a solid enough foundation for virtue in modern commercial society as it may not have been enough in 18th century Virinia. Economic job training is not enough.

Unlike Mr. Lewis, I'm not sure that education in the humanities overburdens the public councils with demands based on the overfed imaginations of liberal arts students. But is universal instruction in Kant required? Most won't understand it or care to understand it anyway. They may, at the least, acquire a decent respect for the life of the mind which is not necessarily a bad thing. Nonetheless, some aspect of humanities education can be good for all. Even Jane Addams had Shakespeare reading groups at Hull House. Though if humanities education is simply secular, and views all religious and divine claims as antithetical to the proper study of man, then the overcrowding of politics with Rawlsian "comprehensive views" may be its result. If it is simply secular then Rawlsian "political liberalism" of overlapping consensus seems reasonable and plausible. This may be a problem with Kronman's defense of humanities education as purely secular.

Lawler seems correct to point to limits of this kind of education. It inadequately understands the best that has been thought and written, and it is entirely impertinant to orthodox and evangelical students. It will encourage them to passionately defend their convictions ("comprehensive views") which can be a good thing, but it will provide no grounds for self-reflection and evaluation. It would not provide them with means to form opinions they can articulate to others. It would justify them remaining (in an unthinking way) a minority united by a common impulse of passion. This is perfectly legitimate (or legal, i.t., they have the right to do this), but may hinder the possibility of individual self-government.

John Lewis, I am on a flying visit to the site and thought I did not have time to respond to anything, but feel compelled. My dear, you have no apology to make to me. I like your comments, even when they ramble humanistically. An essay is meant to meander through thought and to have an unfinished quality about it. One of the pleasures of this blog is the essay-like quality of the comments.

All, my apologies: I missed an "is" in that comment up there, between my that and my what in my last sentence.

Also to all, I like Rolling Rock beer, too, and am grateful that with all the buying and selling of the company, the beer seems much the same.

Finally, students understand philosophy when it is not put to them as such. If I talk to my students about philosophy and philosophers they panic. If I talk to them about ideas, even the ideas of philosophers, they are delighted. They all think about life and what it means to be human all the time, even though they are just kids at a community college. They think about being human in relation to God, too.

Philosophers, anyone, can tell God he doesn't exist and can complain at tedious length about the inadequacies of man. As one kid put it, "If God is so great, how come I am not better?" and so much of modern philosophy is in that. Just try stopping people thinking about God and humanity, singly or in combination. Even atheists can't stop going on about it.

Look at this. I am late and it's all your fault.

To John via email, I say: your last paragraph with regard to Lawler puzzled me. Since when do evangelicals need encouragement to passionately defend their convictions? You are correct in that they remain in an unthinking minority united by a common impulse - of dogmatic foolishness. A little Rawlsian overlapping is desperately needed by this bunch. To John Lewis: come back and apologize when you can tell your Moralität from your Sittlichkeit. I worry that you read your Hegel through Popper, which of course is a joke.

Stertinius, You're right, evengalicals need no encouragement for their own defense.

I was trying to say (always the excuse for bad writing) that a presentation of liberal arts education as purely secular is impertinent to the real lived stance of evangelicals (and the orthodox). This position on the humanities may serve to encourage the common impulse of passion by which evangelicals are already united, but without any reflection. It may encourage a belief that the humanities as a course of study are pointless. I wish to discourage such a belief, not by making such study comport with a specific theological doctrine, but by avoiding an unnecessary antagonism--n antagonism anathema for any possibility for free thought.

Let me add, the position I'm arguing for is not merely amelioratist to evangelical enthusiasm. The claim that the humanities (in terms of Matthew Arnold's the best thought and written) is purely secular, is untrue to the facts--Augustine, al Farabi, Averroes, Maimonides, St. Thomas, Dante etc. Literature, let alone sculpture and painting make no sense in purely secular terms unless one thinks all the world was mad (then one can blink). A major theme in Thucydides is piety. Etc., etc. The gods and/or God cannot be sociologized out of existence of the humanities. One may not be a theist, but having a tin ear to the claims of revelation is simply untrue to the questions the liberal arts raises.

Bach ended all his works AMDG. 'Nuff said. Obiter Dicta. Amen. Kronman is full of s**t.

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