February 18, 2004

The Opium of the Professors

Edward Feser on contemporary academy:

The civilization of which I speak is, of course, Western civilization, whose origins lie in Greece, Rome, and ancient Israel, and whose characteristic modern elements include the Judeo-Christian religious tradition, the political ideals of individual rights, limited government and the rule of law, and a free-market or capitalist economic order. One would expect, then, that a curriculum designed to impart to the young a sophisticated understanding of the intellectual foundations of this civilization would emphasize, for example: Plato and Aristotle, the Old and New Testaments, Augustine and Aquinas, Locke and Smith, Burke and Tocqueville, Oakeshott and Hayek. But of course, it is extremely easy to acquire a bachelor's degree from a modern university without having encountered a single one of these figures or texts. It is also extremely easy for the student's sole encounter with the issues dealt with in such serious sources to be mediated instead by a steady diet of such spiritual poison as the shrill screeds of Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky, works which amount to little more than vulgar political pamphlets devoid of intellectual heft, third-rate even by left-wing standards.

Fully to appreciate this shift in institutional purpose, let's imagine a young man just entering the contemporary academy, at great cost to immigrant parents of simple religious faith, who fled foreign tyranny to find in the United States the political liberty and economic opportunity that have always been its hallmark. Their ambitions for him are: that he comes to love his new country as much as they do and makes the most of the freedoms it offers him; that he thanks God continually for the great blessing He has provided in making that freedom possible; and that he strives to live his faith in a way that is worthy of that freedom -- a way that will make of him an asset to his country and to his fellow citizens, and that will bring honor to his family. In short, they dream of him returning from school an educated gentleman, whose piety and patriotism have been enhanced by an exposure to learning and high culture. Yet what remains after four years at the contemporary university, after the professors have had a chance to mold him according to their own vision of New Progressive Man? A dope-smoking, Che-Guevara-T-shirt-wearing foul-mouthed serial fornicator, whose conception of the higher moral life comprises recycling and voting a straight Green Party ticket, and whose idea of "spirituality" is hanging out with other New Age flakes at a Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert. He has been taught nothing about his religion except that it is a repressive sham, nothing about sexual morality except that there isn't any, nothing about his country and its history except that it is "racist," "sexist," "homophobic," and insensitive to people in wheelchairs, and would be much better if only if it was more like the country his parents had crawled under barbed wire to escape from.