Posts Tagged ‘Humanities’

The new assault on the liberal arts

June 2, 2015

A generation or two so, liberals and conservatives fought over the nature of a liberal arts education.  Now there’s a question as to whether the humanities will survive at all.

education-in-liberal-artsOnce conservatives were represented by people such as Secretary of Education William Bennett, was that the purpose of a liberal arts education was enable American students to understand the roots and moral values of their civilization—the Western civilization, based on the Bible and the culture of ancient Greece, which emerged in western Europe.

The common progressive view was that Western civilization was one of many civilizations, and students should try to understand them all.   This was a political as well as a cultural question, because defending Western civilization was supposedly one of the goals of U.S. foreign policy.

But now liberal arts education is under attack by certain self-described conservatives on the grounds that it contributes nothing either to the lifetime income of individuals nor to the economic growth of society.  They equate conservative values with money values.

The problem, from the standpoint of self-described liberals, is that many of us are intellectually disarmed by the idea that there are no objective values to defend—only certain personal preferences that are conditioned by society and mostly serve the purposes of the powers that be.  Stanley Fish and Richard Rorty are examples of this kind of thinking.

Money values are not the highest values, but money values have the advantage that they can be measured and nobody doubts they exist.  When all other values are taken down, it is the money values that are left standing.