Postmodern Conservative

Trashing the Liberal Arts and the Truth about Political Correctness

So there was a decent article in the WSJ calling upon conservatives to stop trashing the liberal arts. The argument: Conservatives respect the wisdom of our Founders, and Jefferson and the others really thought that liberal education as bookish civic education, at least, was indispensable for self-governing citizens. We need to be educated to be citizens, or not just producers, consumers, and hobbyists.  It’s easily possible to go further and say that our Founders knew that studying the Greek and Roman authors was indispensable for understanding who we are as beings with free minds who were born to live well in light of what we really know. Not only that, it’s a “classical education” that’s the best antidote for the leveling effects the modern technological orientation has on our language. In our time, after all, so many Americans have the experience of being deprived of the words that correspond to their longings as beings who are far more than consciousness downloaded into machines.

Going further still, we might remember that our Founding Puritans were insistent that liberal education is for everyone. Because we’re all equal under God, we were all born to work and practice the virtues of justice and charity. But we’re also all born for a singular destiny that’s all about personal progress toward both wisdom and virtue, and none of us, as St. Augustine says, should think of himself or herself as so busy or so saddled by work that there’s no leisure for contemplating the strange and wonderful truth about who each child of God is.

Thomas Sowell, here at NR, got really defensive about the WSJ article, saying it’s the liberals, with their political correctness and all that, who have trashed the liberal arts at our colleges and universities. They spend much of their polemical time on campus trashing conservatives, and in the name of “academic justice,” as opposed to academic freedom — they don’t even give conservative opinions a fair hearing. Liberal education has shamelessly morphed into liberal indoctrination.

My reponse, as usual, is that Sowell (like the economists in general) don’t yet see that saying college is all about jobs — or techno-vocationalism — and nothing more actually plays into the hands of the politically correct. The dominant force in America now is Silicon Valley, with Google, for example, pretty much owning the Obama adminstration. Silicon Valley, of course, combines the “diversity” kind of political correctness (or multiculturalism understood as globalizing or virtualized cultural detachment) with a contempt for all that is traditional or not innovative, for all that is old or not young. (That’s why there’s more cosmetic surgery in Silicon Valley now than about anywhere else.) For my friend Peter Thiel, for example, “political correctness” actually means any hostility to putting all of our hopes in the founders of start-ups and the (transhumanist) Singularity to come.

In my opinion, the political correctness of the humanities professors (which really has ripped the guts out of liberal education in places) is being displaced by the political correctness of administrators, foundations, bureaucrats, Google, and Microsoft. The new political correctness is at the core of the ambition of Bill Gates’s Common Core, which aims its combination of techno-vocationalism and political correctness at our colleges as much as at our primary and secondary schools.

Republicans, in my opinion, should campaign against the ambitions of Silicon Valley, beginning, of course, with its brand of crony captialism meant to stifle competition and generate the huge profits required to intrusively transform the lives of ordinary Americans in the name of condescending control. Some Democrats claim that our real oligarchic threat is from industrialists such as the Koch brothers, but they are clueless by comparison.

It’s time to defend the relational lives of ordinary Americans against the profoundly anti-biological (or transhumanist) bias of Silicon Valley’s theoreticians. It’s time for the Republicans to defend a world in which citizens and creatures and parents and children and friends have their proper place. The recovery of liberal education can play a big role of reminding each of us of who we are by nature (and, for that matter, through grace).


Peter Augustine LawlerPeter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...


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