Conservative Critiques of the Liberal Arts: A Reply to Ben Shapiro

Conservatives have long been critical of universities and the liberal arts. The intellectual roots of this outlook can be traced to the founder of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke, who was famously critical of the overeducated philosophes who agitated for the French Revolution. In place of their clever but abstract speculations, he far prefers the good common sense and practicality of the everyday patriot and even the career politician. As he puts it in his classic Reflections on the Revolution in France:

A man full of warm, speculative benevolence may wish his society otherwise constituted than he finds it, but a good patriot and a true politician always considers how he shall make the most of the existing materials of his country. A disposition to preserve and an ability to improve, taken together, would be my standard of a statesman. Everything else is vulgar in the conception, perilous in the execution.

Many contemporary conservatives made their names attacking the alleged or real biases students are exposed to in the course of a liberal arts degree. The intellectual founder of modern American conservatism, William F. Buckley, published God and Man At Yale in 1951. In this text, Buckley draws on his personal experiences as an Ivy League undergraduate, to argue that elite universities suppress the expression of conservative positions and teach a curriculum heavily slanted towards supporting liberal permissiveness, critiques of religion and economic interventionism. Since then, a minor industry has grown up, peopled by many conservatives and classical liberals—including Dinesh D’Souza, Roger Scruton and Jordan Peterson—who make similar claims in various media. The culmination of this tendency is the recent claim that liberal arts degrees—and even the liberal arts and humanities as fields of study generally—are effectively useless. This accusation has been most prominently leveled by Ben Shapiro, who has variously described liberal arts degrees as unprofitable and dominated by Democrats. As a result, Shapiro has recently argued that non-STEM degrees are a “scam.”

There is something unusual in this recent tendency to regard the liberal arts as useless. It runs counter not simply to progressive arguments about their enduring value, but to the claims of many conservatives through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Shapiro et al’s rhetorical dismissal of the liberal arts—even if it is simply the result of allegations of bias—goes against the history of conservatism, which has always been highly critical of instrumental rationality and its technical way of apprehending the world. Examining why can tell us a great deal about what distinguishes unreflective postmodern conservatism from its earlier iterations.

The Conservative Critique of Instrumental Rationality

Edmund Burke famously dismissed the Enlightenment philosophes for their dedication to abstract forms of reasoning. Burke was highly critical of their demand that all political and human questions be subject to rationalistic calculus about how best to maximize human happiness and economic prosperity. Against the tendency to emphasize pure facts over feelings, Burke argues that the influence of reason on human life is far slighter than many assume. As he puts it in his Philosophical Enquiry into the Beautiful and the Sublime:

I am afraid it is a practice much too common in inquiries of this nature to attribute the cause of feelings which merely arise from mechanical structures of our bodies, or from the natural frame and constitution of our minds, to certain conclusions of the reasoning faculty on the objects presented to us; for I should imagine that the influence of reason in producing our passions is nothing near so extensive as it is commonly believed.

This objection to unbridled rationalism by the father of modern conservatism had an immense impact on the conservative tradition. Many strands of conservatism framed themselves as emphasizing the affective and emotional attachments human beings make against the tyrannical power of what Max Weber called “instrumental rationality,” which was regarded by conservatives as a thoroughly modern and anti-traditionalist way of approaching the world. It essentially maintained that the world was little more than a collection of material objects interacting with one another according to scientific laws. The point of reason was to understand these laws, so the idle objects of the world could be manipulated and engineered to satisfy subjective human preferences. As Alasdair Macintyre puts it in After Virtue, instrumental rationality is a way of thinking about the most effective means of satisfying our desires. It remains neutral about the ends we choose to pursue, regarding all kinds of reasoning about which ends good human beings should pursue as embedded in superstitious traditionalism and religious pieties.

Many conservative figures came to attack instrumental rationality and the technically proficient but emotionally stunted societies they associated with it. British conservatives like Benjamin Disraeli reacted forcefully against both the hedonistic rationalism of utilitarianism and the myopic self-interestedness of free market capitalism. They regarded the argument that the sole point of politics was either to “maximize the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people” or to generate as much wealth and productivity as possible as philosophies for swine. These conservatives instead stressed the need to pay attention to the romantic and transcendent values in life, which could neither be fully apprehended through science or have their worth reduced to monetary quantification. Their critiques were so effective that, by the early twentieth century, even countercultural icon Aldous Huxley incorporated elements of them into the dystopian classic Brave New World, which depicts a society in which everyone learns how to master mechanical tasks, but the study of Shakespeare is forbidden.

Similar criticisms were also leveled in the United States and continental Europe. From John Adams to Russell Kirk, American conservatives have often voiced cautious admiration for capitalism, while condemning the moral vacuity of instrumental rationality and the unadulterated pursuit of self-interest. This outlook is nicely expressed in Allan Bloom’s classic book The Closing of the American Mind, which criticizes the easy, consumerist relativism of American students in the 1980s. Bloom observes that, as far as they were concerned, political and moral ideals were simply a matter of subjective preference, and could neither be criticized or espoused with any real passion. They therefore regarded the humanities and liberal arts as little more than passing interests: just as one might choose a seasonably fashionable outfit to wear, one could spend a few days as a Platonist or a Marxist if one wished. To Bloom’s mind, the idea that there were any ends to which one should commit one’s self was an obscure concept. These kinds of criticism were even sharper in Europe, sometimes reaching the level of shrill denunciation in the work of figures like Joseph de Maistre. De Maistre slams the Enlightenment’s scientifically minded skepticism and focus on individualism, demanding a return to throne-and-altar authoritarianism. Other figures, often inspired by Christian traditionalism, took the gentler approach of stressing how technological advances would need to be tempered by respect for tradition and a deep education in the humanities. This outlook was to inspire many of today’s European conservative movements and parties, from French Gaullism to Germany’s Christian Democratic Union.

The Conservative Argument Against the Liberal Arts

I highlight this position to show how unusual the current conservative reaction against the liberal arts and humanities happens to be. Defenders of these positions might say that this overstates the case, and that conservatives like Shapiro are chiefly angry about are two things. The first is the fiscal disadvantage getting a liberal arts or humanities degree imposes relative to a degree in STEM fields. This economic position is presented by Stephen Crowder in his article “Dear High School Students: Don’t Go to College. No Seriously”:

Don’t go to college. No seriously, don’t. Those essays college admissions want you to write about overcoming your greatest challenge? Don’t write them. Those SATs and ACTs? Don’t take them. All those hours your parents would spend filling out the FASFA form as you dream of what posters to plaster on your college dorm? Spare them. Think of college as an illicit drug and Just. Say. No. Also throw away that Justin Bieber poster. Set it on fire. College or no college, you should feel great shame. General exception clause: if you intend to be a doctor, lawyer, or some kind of scientist … man does it suck to be you. You have to go to college. There’s no getting around this massive problem of fat-feminist proportions. Here’s the obvious reason you should skip the four year degree: it’s a giant waste of money and time. Especially if you’re thinking of dabbling in: gender studies, feminist theory, philosophy, anthropology, fine arts, liberal arts, music, physical fitness and parks recreation, history, art history, communications, theatre/drama. Why? Because on the whole they’re useless degrees.

The second argument one frequently hears from conservatives is that they are not really opposed to people studying the liberal arts or humanities, or even trying to reinforce their value by increasing career options for those who go into those fields. Instead they are reacting against left-wing biases in the teaching of these subjects. This second position was articulated as far back as Buckley’s God and Man at Yale, and is regularly made by conservatives today.

But the question here is not whether a degree in the liberal arts can be financially helpful. There is evidence to suggest debate that the argument that there is no value to such degrees is overstated. Nonetheless, I am all for moving education out of a purely university setting and am often impressed at the growth of new educational media and formats. Nor am I going to tackle the claim that liberal arts and humanities are taught with a left-wing bias. Suffice it to say that even progressives should be doing more to engage with conservative viewpoints, as I have argued elsewhere. My point here is to highlight how the recent denigration of the liberal arts constitutes a radical break with the history of conservatism.

When Stephen Crowder talks about liberal arts and humanities as a “giant waste of money and time,” or Ben Shapiro claims that non-STEM disciples are a “giant scam,” they are—intentionally or not—reinforcing a cultural commitment to instrumental rationality. The implication is that it is better to specialize in a set of technical skills with little obvious connection to normative modes of analysis. This may seem like a harmless piece of advice. But this myopic dismissal of other forms of knowledge poses a danger earlier conservatives were well aware of. By implying that society has little need for individuals trained in the liberal arts and humanities, and that the primary occupations of value are purely technical, Shapiro et al reinforce the instrumentalist conceit that moral issues are purely a matter of opinion and partisan affiliation. If there is no value in learning about, say, how to reason through moral conundrums then we’re left with the conclusion that such questions are largely subjective. If learning about history is simply to be a profitless esoteric hobby, than can one be surprised when interest in the traditions and heritage of a given society bottoms out?

This also has implications for issues conservatives care about. Shapiro and others are well known for their crude arguments against the trans movement. But the argument that the only thing that matters is a purely scientific approach to the world inadvertently supports the position of transgender individuals (as it should). If all we care about are the facts of the world, and how they can be manipulated to service our ends, there is no intrinsic reason why the fact of our biological sex at birth cannot be manipulated if we so desire. Indeed, since, according to the instrumentalist position, there can be nothing inherently wrong with pursuing the end of transcending our initial biological sex, we should be applauding those scientists who are better able to satisfy the wishes of individuals by bringing individual biology closer to that of preferred sex. Shapiro may object that this is simply unscientific, because sex is determined at birth. But that is no real argument, since the facts about the world simply exist to be manipulated through scientific reason, which can reconfigure reality according to our wishes. Indeed, the more STEM fields advance, the fewer immediate barriers there will be to people doing just that. The only argument against this position is a (bad) moral one, and encouraging indifference to learning about moral argumentation can only entrench the belief that almost everything is a matter of opinion, bias and perspective.

One Dimensional Reason

The kind of argumentation deployed by Shapiro and others is characteristic of what the Frankfurt School’s Herbert Marcuse would call “one dimensional” instrumentalist reasoning. It takes itself to be a factual approach to the world, when really the content of its argumentation operates at only one level. This is why many conservatives have been insistent that the liberal arts and humanities must play a central role in everyone’s education. Without a deep understanding of different approaches to normative reasoning, and a robust sense of how those approaches developed historically, political discourse is reduced to little more than assertions of fact and opinion.

While there is something to these conservative critiques, they lack the bite of their left-wing counterparts. This is particularly true of cultural analyses of the Frankfurt School, which hold a special value in today’s partisan times. Marcuse, Horkheimer and Adorno are often attacked as “cultural Marxists,” determined to destroy Western civilization. In fact, they were very keen to save it from the threat of barbarism they saw in uninhibited instrumentalism and its one dimensionality. For the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School, it was more essential than ever to embed oneself fully in the philosophical, religious and artistic history of Western civilization because new forms of technical media and culture industries were gradually stripping away our capacity to think critically and carefully about complex subject matters.

Take political discourse. Modern day technology has wonderfully advanced our capacity to research and analyze political topics. But it can also flatten our understanding, since new media must compete with one another to compress complex topics into a simple, entertaining and fast format, which can be easily digested by consumers. This can drive commentators to present dualistic narratives, which are easily understood and presented in a short period of time: one side is good, the other is bad, and the triumph of our partisans over theirs will solve all pressing political problems. The Frankfurt Schoolers were also very concerned that the emphasis on financial gain and profit would gradually encourage societies to abandon education in the liberal arts and humanities, in favor of purely technical fields, since the latter contribute to economic efficiency and growth, while the former incline individuals to critically analyze their society and demand change. Indeed, as Jürgen Habermas points out, this has been the duty of liberal arts and humanities since Socrates, who famously inaugurated Western philosophy by declaring that the abstract sciences were less interesting to him than questions about human nature and justice.

Today, these criticisms have an eerie relevance it would be unwise to ignore. Maybe universities are becoming outdated in some respects, do not return sufficient value for dollars and teach a biased curriculum. These are all issues that can and should be discussed across the political spectrum. But the claim that the only fields of value are technical and that we should simply stop incentivizing and committing resources to the study of the liberal arts and humanities is a strange one. It would have been very strange to any historical conservative, and it is even more vulgar when we consider the critiques of acute commentators like the members of the Frankfurt School.

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24 comments

  1. Leftist =/= progressive. From what I can tell these people are actually deeply conservative about their own established world view and more hostile to fresh ideas than the most rabid right wingers that have crossed my path.

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  2. Compare the hysterical red baiting antics of YouTube celebrity entertainers like Shapiro, Crowder and Peterson to a genuine conservative philosopher like Roger Scruton. The aforementioned clowns have no respect for their ideological opponents and misconstrue their positions regularly. They are patently dishonest and their speciality is bellicose ranting and telling their young male hangers on what they want to hear, not genuinely debating contentious issues.

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  3. I wrote the following about one paragraph in this essay.

    Me to my friends:

    ….If any of you care to peruse and comment, I’d be obliged:

    As it happens, Ben Shapiro seems to me to have mechanistic view of sex and gender, namely a boy is a boy is a boy, a girl is a girl is a girl and and any individual’s internal confusion over that, gender dysphoria, is a disease to be cured. But without getting into the merits of Shapiro’s view—I disagree with it—what about this?
    ————————————————————————————————————————

    I break down one paragraph from McManus’s essay.

    McManus:

    ….Shapiro and others are well known for their crude arguments against the trans movement. But the argument that the only thing that matters is a purely scientific approach to the world inadvertently supports the position of transgender individuals (as it should)…

    Me:

    On transgenderism, how but by a scientific approach can we come to understand, then make judgments about it and deal with it? It involves how we’re sexually constituted, genetically wired and how in our minds we relate to our sexuality. By what but the different sciences raised by transgenderism and their integration into a workable theory can ever come to terms with it? Objection can be taken to what Shapiro thinks, but for that to be meaningful, it will need to be grounded in better science than what avails Shapiro.

    McManus:

    …If all we care about are the facts of the world, and how they can be manipulated to service our ends, there is no intrinsic reason why the fact of our biological sex at birth cannot be manipulated if we so desire…

    Me:

    Firstly, how does wanting a scientific approach to transgenderism necessarily morph into tendentious reasoning? And what says that Shapiro by his argument only cares about manipulating facts to service his ends? That says he’s being a propagandist of a kind. Maybe he is but who’s to say he doesn’t sincerely reach a good faith conclusion based on his understanding of the science? And why even impugn his motives? Why not make a better argument from better science? And, finally here, why move from a complaint, as I read it, of the bad faith manipulation of facts to serve ends, to the repetition of such bad faith arguing in the service of justifying transgenderism? It deserves better than that.

    McManus:

    …Indeed, since, according to the instrumentalist position, there can be nothing inherently wrong with pursuing the end of transcending our initial biological sex, we should be applauding those scientists who are better able to satisfy the wishes of individuals by bringing individual biology closer to that of preferred sex…

    Me:

    McManus earlier in this essay has described instrumental reasoning as:

    …the world was little more than a collection of material objects interacting with one another according to scientific laws. The point of reason was to understand these laws, so the idle objects of the world could be manipulated and engineered to satisfy subjective human preferences. As Alasdair Macintyre puts it in After Virtue, instrumental rationality is a way of thinking about the most effective means of satisfying our desires. It remains neutral about the ends we choose to pursue, regarding all kinds of reasoning about which ends good human beings should pursue as embedded in superstitious traditionalism and religious pieties…

    As I’ve noted, the dive into instrumental reasoning as here defined and applying it to transgenderism distracts us from and ought to be irrelevant to the issue wanting a proper approach. McManus could say, I suppose, “I’m just showing how Shapiro’s instrumentalism can work against him here.” But I’d say, stipulating for argument that Shapiro so reasons, “So what? It ought to be enough to say that instrumentalism has no place in a good faith discussion or debate about transgenderism and, so, enough said on that.”

    McManus:

    ….Shapiro may object that this is simply unscientific, because sex is determined at birth. But that is no real argument, since the facts about the world simply exist to be manipulated through scientific reason, which can reconfigure reality according to our wishes….

    Me:

    Isn’t a little incoherent to posit for Shapiro his objection based on science? He either is an instrumentalist—as McManus defines it—or he’s not. If he is, then the posit flies in the face of his instrumentalism since facts are mere means to a desired end. And if he’s not, then why parade him as one and then posit him asserting science and then on top of that then provide an instrumentalist answer to his assertion of science?

    McManus:

    ….Indeed, the more STEM fields advance, the fewer immediate barriers there will be to people doing just that. The only argument against this position is a (bad) moral one, and encouraging indifference to learning about moral argumentation can only entrench the belief that almost everything is a matter of opinion, bias and perspective….

    Me:

    I can’t make out this conclusion. Who’s to say instrumental reasoning follows from the advance of STEM education (in tandem with the decline in or dismissal of by certain conservatives humanities education, the main theme of the essay)? Who’s to say that STEM graduates are more likely to be instrumentalists than liberal arts majors, that an education in moral reasoning is a barrier to the instrumentalism STEM allegedly breeds? In fact, if we observe what’s going on in the humanities on college campuses, the infection by a kind of dictatorial political correctness emanating from the now current notion of intersectionalism suggests a much greater instance of instrumentalism in the humanities than in STEM faculties, which, to reverse McManus’s argument, seem a barrier to that infection.

      1. Its a clever bit of dialogue. I’ve always wanted to be an interlocutor in a Platonic dialogue so thank you for this opportunity 🙂

  4. I wrote this to some friends about one paragraph that intrigued me:

    Me to my friends:

    ….If any of you care to peruse and comment, I’d be obliged:

    As it happens, Ben Shapiro seems to me to have mechanistic view of sex and gender, namely a boy is a boy is a boy, a girl is a girl is a girl and and any individual’s internal confusion over that, gender dysphoria, is a disease to be cured. But without getting into the merits of Shapiro’s view—I disagree with it—what about this?
    ————————————————————————————————————————

    I break down one paragraph from this essay.

    McManus:

    ….Shapiro and others are well known for their crude arguments against the trans movement. But the argument that the only thing that matters is a purely scientific approach to the world inadvertently supports the position of transgender individuals (as it should)…

    Me:

    On transgenderism, how but by a scientific approach can we come to understand, then make judgments about it and deal with it? It involves how we’re sexually constituted, genetically wired and how in our minds we relate to our sexuality. By what but the different sciences raised by transgenderism and their integration into a workable theory can we ever come to terms with it. Objection can be taken to what Shapiro thinks, but for that to be meaningful, it will need to be grounded in better science then what avails Shapiro.

    McManus:

    …If all we care about are the facts of the world, and how they can be manipulated to service our ends, there is no intrinsic reason why the fact of our biological sex at birth cannot be manipulated if we so desire…

    Me:

    Firstly, how does wanting a scientific approach to transgenderism necessarily morph into tendentious reasoning? And what says that Shapiro by his argument only cares about manipulating facts to service his ends? That says he’s being a propagandist of a kind. Maybe he is but who’s to say he doesn’t sincerely reach a good faith conclusion based on his understanding of the science? And why even impugn his motives? Why not make a better argument from better science? And, finally here, why move from a complaint, as I read it, of the bad faith manipulation of facts to serve ends, to the repetition of such bad faith arguing in the service of justifying transgenderism? It deserves better than that.

    McManus:

    …Indeed, since, according to the instrumentalist position, there can be nothing inherently wrong with pursuing the end of transcending our initial biological sex, we should be applauding those scientists who are better able to satisfy the wishes of individuals by bringing individual biology closer to that of preferred sex…

    Me:

    McManus earlier in this essay has described instrumental reasoning as:

    …the world was little more than a collection of material objects interacting with one another according to scientific laws. The point of reason was to understand these laws, so the idle objects of the world could be manipulated and engineered to satisfy subjective human preferences. As Alasdair Macintyre puts it in After Virtue, instrumental rationality is a way of thinking about the most effective means of satisfying our desires. It remains neutral about the ends we choose to pursue, regarding all kinds of reasoning about which ends good human beings should pursue as embedded in superstitious traditionalism and religious pieties…

    As I’ve noted, the dive into instrumental reasoning as here defined and applying it to transgenderism distracts us from and ought to be irrelevant to the issue wanting a proper approach. McManus could say, I suppose, “I’m just showing how Shapiro’s instrumentalism can work against him here.” But I’d say, stipulating for argument that Shapiro so reasons, “So what? It ought to be enough to say that instrumentalism has no place in a good faith discussion or debate about transgenderism and, so, enough said on that.”

    McManus:

    ….Shapiro may object that this is simply unscientific, because sex is determined at birth. But that is no real argument, since the facts about the world simply exist to be manipulated through scientific reason, which can reconfigure reality according to our wishes….

    Me:

    Isn’t a little incoherent to posit for Shapiro his objection based on science? He either is an instrumentalist—as McManus defines it—or he’s not. If he is, then the posit flies in the face of his instrumentalism since facts are mere means to a desired end. And if he’s not, then why parade him as one and then posit him asserting science and then on top of that provide an instrumentalist answer to his assertion of science?

    McManus:

    ….Indeed, the more STEM fields advance, the fewer immediate barriers there will be to people doing just that. The only argument against this position is a (bad) moral one, and encouraging indifference to learning about moral argumentation can only entrench the belief that almost everything is a matter of opinion, bias and perspective….

    Me:

    I can’t make out this conclusion. Who’s to say instrumental reasoning follows from the advance of STEM education (in tandem with the decline or dismissal in humanities education, the main theme of the essay)? Who’s to say that STEM graduates are more likely to be instrumentalists than liberal arts majors, that an education in moral reasoning is a barrier to the instrumentalism STEM allegedly breeds? In fact, if we observe what’s going on in the humanities on college campuses, the infection by a kind of dictatorial political correctness emanating from the now current notion of intersectionalism suggests a much greater instance of instrumentalism in the humanities than in STEM faculties, which, to reverse McManus’s argument, seem a barrier to that infection.

  5. There’s an empty hole in society where the liberally educated used to be. But conservatives didn’t dig it by discouraging people from taking humanities degrees; humanities faculties dug it by abandoning liberal education. I don’t know where a young person can get a liberal education anymore. The good programs (in Canada, at least) have been watered down and scholars continue to be replaced by activists, careerists, and know-nothings. (I shuddered at the CVs of the people my alma matter has hired.)

    Have a look at McMaster’s Arts and Sciences program. It still pretends to be an elite program, yet it dropped the language requirements and replaced them with sections on “indigenous ways of knowing,” “Eastern philosophy,” and other fashionable piffle. What’s a better example of instrumental reason at work than commodifying the zeitgeist? A student might as well go directly into the sciences because he can pick up the arts portion by reading celebrity tweets. If he wants a real liberal education, he’ll have to pursue it on his own with likeminded others.

    A worse indictment, perhaps, is that I’ve been a life-long lover and defender of the liberal arts, yet I’m steering my own children away from humanities education. Is it because I’ve embraced instrumental reason? No, it’s because you’ve abdicated your responsibility in favour of your pet causes, careers, and, well, your vulgarity. No one talks much about the latter these days, but the invasion of pop culture into the classroom is as much a problem as institutional capture by activists and the constant lowering of standards. In fact, all three seem to be connected: talking about tweets, zombies, gaming, celebrities, and pop music in a philosophy seminar is safer than talking about philosophy, especially when Professor Call-Me-Dave doesn’t know anything else.

    As for the other matter, the Frankfurters’ position is self-refuting. The traditional account says reason for the engineer is a tool to solve human problems in the material world, which is only bad or good insofar as the ends are bad or good. The Frankfurters say that to make people engineers is to make them cogs in the capitalist machine. But the Frankfurters’ critique is also an instrumentalization of reason. It is not knowledge, virtue, or wisdom or the pursuit of these ends, but a tool for attacking the social order. Frankfurt’s students, in other words, are nothing more than social demolition engineers trained to attack the existing order in the pursuit of Cosmic Justice, a fairy-tale world that exists only in the alienated minds of progressives.

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    1. Yikes, that was scathing.

      “indigenous ways of knowing,”

      Yes, it is to weep. I must say tho that I have a morbid curiosity what actually happens in an indigenous ways of knowing class.

      1. @Ray Andrews

        I wish I could remember where I saw it and who it was who said it, but there was an American Indian activist in Chicago who once said something to the effect of: “History is what we agree to remember.”

        Jonathan Raban, in his book “Passage to Juneau” describes a Native American dance presentation where the dancers invent their movements ex tempore because no one in the tribe can remember how the original dances were performed.

        Much of what passes for “indigenous ways of knowing” in the US and Canada is pure fantasy. Hoakum for gullible white people.

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        1. Ray and Morgan,

          I wouldn’t object to the kids being sent to Northern Ontario or Quebec for a semester as part of the program to learn from some real Indigenous people. Walking the trapline isn’t liberal education, but it is education worth having. But “indigenous ways of knowing” is progressive platitudes and cultural relativism dressed up with feathers and wampum. They will learn nothing about Indigenous people of Canada.

          If you guys think that’s bad, here’s the bio of the space cadet and head of the Omar Khadr Cheerleading Squad teaching the second year course on social and political thought—again, at an elite academic program in Canada:

          Dr. David L. Clark teaches ARTSSCI 2A06 / Social and Political Thought. He is Professor in the Department of English and Cultural Studies and Associate Member of the Department of Health, Aging and Society at McMaster, where he teaches courses in critical theory, queer theory, critical animal studies, Romantic literature, and the history of HIV/AIDS activism. He is a recipient of the President’s Award for Excellence in Graduate Supervision and the McMaster Students Union Teaching Award for Humanities. He was George Whalley Visiting Professor in Romanticism at Queen’s University in 2012 and Lansdowne Visiting Scholar at the University of Victoria in 2013. He has also twice been Visiting Professor at the Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism at Western University. With Dr. Henry Giroux, he is co-editor of the Review of Education, Pedagogy and Cultural Studies. He currently sits on the McMaster University Senate.

          Dr. Clark began his career as a scholar of the poetry and engravings of the radical British visionary, William Blake, but subsequently turned towards contemporary critical theory, on the one hand, and late eighteenth-century philosophy (especially Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Schelling), on the other. Dr. Clark has published research on a wide range of subjects, from HIV/AIDS to the surgical separation of conjoined twins to queer theory, and from photographing atrocities to the question of addiction in philosophy to what it means to fall under the gaze of the non-human animal. He also contributes to the on-line public affairs journal, Truthout, including two interviews conducted by the Public Intellectuals Project: “What does it mean to welcome Omar Khadr? University students and the lesson of hospitality” (link removed) and “The Canadian university and the war against Omar Khadr” (link removed) He is also founder of The Hospitality Project: Five Hundred Letters of Welcome to Omar Khadr.

          Two research projects currently preoccupy Dr. Clark: Immanuel Kant and the role of the public intellectual during wartime; and the nature of ethical obligations towards animals–human, non-human, and everything in between.

          1. @X. Citoyen

            Yup, real Indians can be cool people to know, it’s a treat to go hunting with them (I’m told, I wish I was a hunter but never have). Anyway I do know many Indians, have employed them and worked for them. They are mostly just regular people, who neither need nor even want special status. The Victim professional Indian is another matter entirely.

        2. As you probably know, Chief Seattle’s famous eco-speech was written by some white guy from Chicago or someplace. Yup, I suspect much or most of it is carefully crafted to pull on the white guilt strings.

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  6. Perhaps a dichotomy would be helpful. It is the conservative in me that laments the death of what used to be meant by ‘liberal education’. Likewise the taking over of the humanities by the Warriors and Victimologists. So are the conservatives above really opposed to the study of what makes our civilization work, or, like me, are they opposed to the madrassas that the humanities departments have become? As for the progressives, the current situation is what they sell, so naturally they praise the product.

  7. My criticism of the liberal arts as taught in today’s university is two fold:
    First that they teach a method thinking and analysis which ignores or devalues empirical evidence in favour of theory. In doing so they reinforce confirmation bias, arguably mankinds greatest cognitive weakness instead of providing means of reducing and guarding against its effect.
    Second they teach a deeply illiberal and intolerant moral philosphy which justifies silencing of critics asa moral good.

    To me this is a complete reversal of the meaning of ‘liberal’.

    The utility of arts and humanities degrees and perhaps more pertitently the proportion the should be of such degrees comapred to practical, vocational and scientific degrees is a seperate question although I do think there is merit in arguing that for average students such degrees have no merit either for teh student or for society.

    1. @AJ

      One of my greatest criticisms is the myth of “critical thinking” that is pushed by faculty in liberal arts departments.

      It doesn’t take many conversations with undergraduate students to understand that what is going on the classroom is thinking that is guided by the instructor in a pre-determined direction with the students being led to a consensus where all agree, more or less – with the instructor.

      Every instructor denies that they are doing it. Every student denies – to authority – that they were willingly led with the expectation of a good grade for going along.

      After graduation, in private conversation with people they trust, those students tell a different story.

      It’s not critical thinking, or anything that resembles it.

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  8. “For the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School, it was more essential than ever to embed oneself fully in the philosophical, religious and artistic history of Western civilization because new forms of technical media and culture industries were gradually stripping away our capacity to think critically and carefully about complex subject matters.”

    I’m not at all convinced that people were better able to think critically prior to the invention of television.

  9. @Matt McManus

    “The implication is that it is better to specialize in a set of technical skills with little obvious connection to normative modes of analysis.”

    Clarification, please.

    Who believes that “a set of technical skills”, by which I presume you mean STEM studies, can be learned and profitably used throughout a person’s lifetime without resort to “normative modes of analysis”? Who is saying that?

    1. It isnt that people arent going to use normative modes of analysis, since we are compelled to do so whenever making evaluative judgements. The issue is the extent to which these modes of analysis are developed into skill sets based on a level of knowledge and aptitude.

      1. @Matt

        Is it believed by some in the liberal arts, then, that scientists are not best qualified to teach STEM students about normative modes of analysis?

        1. They absolutely can, and in fact there are some scientists do a good job. But I have many friends in STEM fields and have never heard of ethics, philosophy, history, or literature being of especial importance. Nor should they be if people decide to go into those fields.

          1. @Matt

            interesting list, but “normative modes of analysis” covers much more ground than that, surely.

            I’m surprised that you have friends in STEM fields who don’t believe ethics to be of special importance in their professions. That has not been my experience with scientists.

  10. Many of the critics of universities are not conservatives, but liberals who believe in individuals, freedom, and human rights, and who respect the achievements of the Enlightenment and Western civilization. Their objection is not against “individuals trained in the liberal arts and humanities,” or “a deep understanding of different approaches to normative reasoning.” Their objection is that the liberal arts have been captured by progressives and marxists who offer their students indoctrination in leftist propaganda rather than training in the liberal arts. The much acclaimed “diversity” of higher education is diversity of gross census categories, but excludes and sometimes punishes diversity of opinion and “different approaches to normative reasoning.” I have seen this first hand as a long time professor in one of the social sciences.

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