Rod Dreher

Patrick Deneen writes that the woebegone state of humanities education is not simply a legacy of the Sixties, with its Marxist fetish for oppression studies, but actually is the result of a process that began centuries ago. In short, it’s science’s fault — or to be precise, scientism’s fault. Excerpt:

However, to reclaim the rightful place of the humanities, it is necessary first to diagnose the origins of their descent. Those origins must be seen on a wide canvas, not merely starting in the liberationist climate of the 1960s, but having a pedigree that goes back centuries rather than decades. The crisis of the humanities in fact began in the early modern period with the argument that a new science was needed to replace the “old science” of the liberal arts, a new science that no longer sought merely to understand the world and its creatures, but to transform them. This impulse gave rise first to a scientific revolution in theory, and eventually a scientific, industrial, and technological revolution in fact. Importantly, it afforded theories of rationalization and standardization in method, while rejecting older claims of tradition and culture, of cult and creed, of myth and story. It has given rise to unprecedented prosperity, opportunity, openness, discovery, and technology — contributing greatly to what Francis Bacon called “the relief of man’s estate.” But at the same time, in displacing the humanities, it has made modern humanity increasingly subject to a kind of ungovernable hubris. Ultimately, modern science aspires to reach beyond the mastery of nature to the mastery of human nature, the last frontier for its dominion. The displacement of the humanities has led inevitably to a Gnostic disdain for the human.

Deneen goes on to argue in his essay that the near-miraculous accomplishments of science destroyed the old understanding of liberty as how to live meaningfully and well within limits, replacing it with an idea of liberty as the overcoming of obstacles to the free exercise of one’s will. Because of this, defenders of humanities education are reduced to arguing pathetically for the “relevance” of the humanities, based on their “usefulness” to the cause of liberation from limits. Deneen:

While few professors of the humanities are now able to articulate grounds for protest, I would think the humanities of old would be able to muster a powerful argument against this tendency. The warning would be simple: at the end of the path of liberation lies enslavement. Liberation from all obstacles is finally illusory, because human appetite is insatiable and the world is limited. Without mastery over our desires, we will be eternally driven by them, never satisfied by their attainment.
The response of the leadership of our nation and our institutions of higher learning to the recent economic crisis is not promising in this regard. Absent in the attempt to master the situation with quasi-scientific tools — the calls for regulation, for better technical knowledge of the financial markets — is a simple but forgotten moral truth: We cannot live beyond our means.

I like this next part very much. It reminds me of Archbishop Martin’s recent remarks in which he asks where on earth were all the Catholic pundits who now know so much about what theChurch’s managerial class is supposed to do in the face of the child sex abuse scandal, when the scandal was going on? Did they not see what was happening, or have any clue? If so, why didn’t they say anything? Here’s Deneen:

At colleges across the land, panel discussions organized on the economic crisis have bemoaned such things as the absence of oversight, a lax regulatory regime, failures of public and private entities to exercise diligence in dispensing credit or expanding complex financial products. But what university president or leader has admitted that there was some culpability on the part of his own institution for failing to well-educate its students? After all, it was the leading graduates of the elite institutions of the nation who occupied places of esteem in financial and political institutions throughout the land that helped to precipitate this crisis. Our universities readily take credit for their Rhodes scholars and Fulbright award winners. What of those graduates who helped foster an environment of avarice and get-rich-quick schemes? Are we so assured that they did not learn exceedingly well the lessons that were taught them in college?

Read the whole thing.
Read the whole thing.

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