Why Conservatives Dislike What Passes For The Liberal Arts


JAdamsStuart (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

John Adams famously wrote to his wife, Abigail in 1780, saying, “I must study Politics and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematics and Philosophy.” And that is the glory of a civilization, that it makes the time to study.

You, who know me, know that there are few stronger proponents of a liberal education than me. You also know that I think it is nearly impossible to obtain one in the University system. One cannot learn when one is subject only to one side of an issue. There must be (at least) two sides argued effectively of every issue.

Arguing does not consist of personal attacks and telling people to “sit down and shut up”. But invariably that is what is happening today, in our ‘elite’ institutions, and so I submit, they no longer have any utility, whatsoever to someone who wishes to obtain an education. They exist simply to credential those, who mistakenly think themselves fit to rule their betters.

David Patten writing in The Federalist has some things to say recently on this.

Christopher Scalia has a product to sell, and he’s wondering why conservatives aren’t buying it. As an English professor at an elite university, he’s troubled that so many high-profile conservatives have been speaking dismissively about the liberal arts.

His sales pitch is reasonable enough: the liberal arts can make an important contribution to producing the sort of well-informed and critically engaged public that democracies need to thrive. A liberal-arts education exposes students to a wide range of facts, ideas, and experiences, making it harder for the government to control the minds of its citizens. Likewise, the critical-thinking skills students develop from wrestling with complex and sophisticated ideas enable them to ask better questions and challenge authority more effectively.

Actually, he’s right about the liberal arts, but that’s not what they are teaching these days. Continuing:

Perhaps the best example of the problem with how the liberal arts are being taught at today’s universities occurred last year at Marquette University. In an ethics class, a young teacher’s assistant (TA) was confronted by a student who wanted to debate the ethics of gay marriage. The TA told the student this issue was not up for debate. She asked the student to stop talking about the possibility that there could be an ethical argument against gay marriage. This line of thought made him a homophobe, and a gay student in the class might feel hurt if he discovered one of his classmates harbored doubts about the legitimacy of his choices.

Sadly, the consensus in the academy seems to be that this young TA got it right. Meanwhile, her colleague who exposed the incident to the public—thinking people would be horrified by what was going on in Marquette’s classrooms—was stripped of tenure and fired.

This is disheartening, for multiple reasons. The TA seems oblivious to the fact that if everyone else were as closed-minded as she, no one would have questioned the former consensus that homosexuality is a form of deviancy. But someone, quite possibly in an ethics class, challenged the prevailing point of view. This person asked how someone’s rights could be denied on the basis of a moral code he did not subscribe to. This started a debate. The objector was not told to shut up and stop making everyone feel uncomfortable.

Another reason this incident was so ironic is that it occurred in a philosophy classroom. If there is one discipline that cannot survive in an atmosphere of political correctness, it is philosophy. Philosophy critically evaluates ideas. It does not remove some from discussion just because someone might find them offensive.

John Adams also said, “There are two types of education… One should teach us how to make a living, and the other how to live.” When one trains as an electrician, and sometimes alas as an engineer, one doesn’t take many courses in English, let alone philosophy, that is unfortunate, but perhaps necessary. perhaps we do need electricians more than philosophers, but I think it in large part a false dichotomy. A goodly part of philosophy can be understood as simple common sense, and mechanical skills should never be denigrated either,

As a philosopher myself, I too balked when Sen. Marco Rubio discouraged an audience from pursuing a degree in Greek philosophy. While he accurately cited the lousy job market for Greek philosophers, a bad job market is an insufficient reason to discourage the study of philosophy. Ideally, a liberal-arts education would help produce the sort of citizen that can contribute meaningfully to our nation’s political discourse. That is more important in the long run than a steady paycheck straight out of college.

But the price is only worth it if liberal-arts universities remain committed to fostering open-minded, free-thinking individuals. Increasingly, conservatives are coming to doubt this commitment, so they are left wondering whether students might not be better served spending their college years preparing themselves for the job market.

Why Conservatives Dislike What Passes For The Liberal Arts.

Remember most of us are not attacking the liberal arts, we are attacking the way the are (not) taught any longer. When they are again taught, we will again support them, because we agree with the Adam’s quote that opened this article.

About NEO
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

10 Responses to Why Conservatives Dislike What Passes For The Liberal Arts

  1. the unit says:

    A lot of food for thought here. I agreed with it all. I think though I have a bit of dyslexia with the sentence…”They exist simply to credential those, who mistakenly think themselves fit to rule their betters.” Not criticizing your sentence, but I think my thoughts are… mistakenly think themselves fit to rule, as they think, their underlings. But who they want to rule really are their betters. “The trouble with our Liberal friends is not that they’re ignorant; it’s just that they know so much that isn’t so.” 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Yep, you got my meaning perfectly. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. the unit says:

    And as “John Adams also said, ‘There are two types of education… One should teach us how to make a living, and the other how to live.'” I think both are suffering and imperiled today. Destruction of values and jobs. Jobs created by this Trans Pacific thing, like before will be trans alright, and some people from there will be trans here to take whatever is created here.
    Maybe I’m looking into that John Doe guys some kind of MBA crystal ball. I forget the name of it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. John Doe says:

    I suppose the first question would be where did you go to school and what was your major?


    • NEO says:

      I suppose it would be yours, simply because it is an irrelevant question. Since I was educated without regard for credentialing, you would find it unremarkable.And besides, my readers already know, because I’ve said it many times.


      • John Doe says:

        I assume you were educated with regards for credentialing, since you have to have credentials for your chosen profession. Also, as it appears that you do not have a liberal arts education, and you did not graduate from your university (if I am reading that correctly?).

        What is so interesting, besides the obvious ill feeling the simple question brought out, is that a good liberal arts education could have prevented this need in the first place. A good liberal arts education teaches one how to think, independent of what to think. But part of how, is anticipating what one says and the response it could elicit. It means thinking through an issue from all sides, considering all sides. In your post above, you clearly did not consider that as someone who never graduated, from an elite institution or otherwise, and certainly without a liberal arts education, this is going to open you up for criticism. This does not mean that the criticism could/cannot be dealt with, but by trying to cover up the huge critical issue, it only brings it to the forefront. It is called “begging the question” if you are interested. You begged someone to ask about your own education, but effectively hiding it by saying nothing. This does not mean your comments cannot stand in light of the omission, but when framing your comments you should have taken the omission into consideration. This is what a good liberal arts education really does, is teach general analysis. It teaches skills that are honestly almost essential, but few know how to utilize them in many cases. And yes, I did go to a somewhat elite school. And it was well taught there.


        • NEO says:

          Actually, no. I received my certificates as a journeyman power lineman, a journeyman electrician, and a surveyor for my eighteenth birthday, having fulfilled all the requirements, and passing all the tests. If you must know, I went to Purdue in Electrical Engineering, better engineering program than Notre Dame, which also accepted me, and a lot cheaper than MIT, especially in-state. And you are correct, I didn’t finish because of family responsibilities.

          Funny how that criticism thing works though, two of the people that liked this post, one is a Yalie lawyer, another got his history doctorate from Oxford and is now a professor in a prestigious British University, and has had that title since before he was forty years old. He’s commented to me several times that schooling often drives out a real education, and their encouragement is one of the main reasons that this blog is here.

          I don’t so much hide it, as am bored talking about it since I have many times.


        • John Doe says:

          “I received my certificates as a journeyman power lineman, a journeyman electrician, and a surveyor for my eighteenth birthday, having fulfilled all the requirements, and passing all the tests.”

          Are all of these things not credentials?

          The definition that popped up first when I Googled “Credentials” was…

          “a qualification, achievement, personal quality, or aspect of a person’s background, typically when used to indicate that they are suitable for something.”

          Also, given your lack of liberal arts degree, or degree at all, do you think you might want to shore up your argument a little? This is the exact sort of thing a liberal arts degree would have prevented, as I said before.

          But this is not the root of the problem. The problem is the whole basis of your argument is false. Historically Conservatives have done well in the liberal arts, William F. Buckley as one example, and what is considered traditional Conservative Economics (supply side) is alive and well. Somehow Ted Cruz, who I honestly do not like at all, but nevertheless managed to get through liberal schools with his Conservative views intact. He has even praised his professors for fighting with him, developing his ideas. I believe it was Alan Dershowitz who recommended him for a SC Clerkship. The problem is not that liberalism dominates campuses, it is that Conservatives are often completely unfit for discussions with liberals. Simply put, most Conservatives are pathetic crybabies. I do not see any liberal posters here, but I am betting that that is not because you have not had them. I know a few liberals who could tear your posts apart, and would likely get banned, but the problem is not that they could do so, but I do not think you are ready for that level of critique. In universities, you cannot simply exert electronic dominion.

          I pointed out a problem in your argument and you got huffy, and I was ridiculed for going to elite institutions. You made a rather simplistic mistake, and you got angry when it was pointed out, and somehow I am supposed to be embarrassed by having made an effort at universities and succeeded? That is a really weird dynamic, but it is what you have here. you can cite whoever “likes” your posts, but I notice none of those people really comment here. Those who do are poorly educated, and in one case appears to have a few fake doctorates. It is what it is, but pretending that it is something else hardly helps you, or Conservatism.

          The odd thing is that William Buckley LOVED debates and arguments. He relished in that sort of intellectual exercise. And that is really what it is, exercise. You would get pummeled for a while if you invited liberals to critique you, but I think the long term benefits would outweigh the short term embarrassment.


  4. Pingback: My Article Read (6-29-2015) | My Daily Musing

  5. the unit says:

    Surely this j.d. can put forth vetting credentials other than just his word. Are his records sealed? Blogger friend says any commenter that comments more words than host needs his own blog site. I encourage him to try it. Google says of him…”John hasn’t shared anything with you.” Uh-oh. Another teleprompter type, but with typed words. All talk and his walk is all talk too?
    Now also besides attack on our host, attack on ” you can cite whoever “likes” your posts, but I notice none of those people really comment here. Those who do are poorly educated…” Me and mine, your betters are going to ignore your garbage, no further response one way or the other from unit. 🙂
    Compare yours elite doings with accomplishments of me and my friends…http://seehere.blogspot.com/2005/12/redneck-pictures.html

    Liked by 1 person

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