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The Veritas of sophists

R. R. Reno, at the First Things weblog, flags the final report of the Harvard task force on general education. From Reno’s discussion it appears that “liberal education” is now understood as the training of technocrats to man the global machinery that is to govern 21st century society. In particular, Harvard students are to be trained to distance themselves from beliefs, ethics, culture, and aesthetics, and treat them as productions of the social apparatus they are destined to manage.

It’s always helpful when the enemies of humanity make it clear what they have in mind. It makes it easier to orient yourself. The problem with the system, by the way, is that a comprehensively manipulative approach to human life can’t work. We are all human beings before we are managers of human beings. The system gives the operatives nothing to live by apart from their own ambition and class solidarity, and that’s no way to get a system that’s stable either personally or socially. Also, no matter how smart the operatives are, people eventually catch on and stop listening when the things that matter most to them are treated with patronizing contempt.

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But ‘Lux et Veritas’ (or really אורים ותמים) is Yale’s motto. It was intended as a jab at Harvard, implying that the Cantabs’ pursuit of truth lacked a certain spiritual understanding. The Hebrew was to demonstrate Yale’s superior understanding of the scriptures. Harvard’s full motto, or at least an original version of the phrase, is almost unknown today but can still be still be seen on a few buildings in Cambridge: ‘Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae.’ For a little more than a century now they’ve been uncomfortable with the last two words.

Not, of course, that Yale is much better today. At the opening of the academic year, however, the president of the university quoted approvingly from the book Education’s End, whose author, one Anthony Kronman, while professing himself an adherent to the tradition of “secular humanism,” has few good things to say about modern education.

Kronman is a professor at Yale’s Law School, and he does mention some classes at Yale that encourage undergraduates to approach the great questions. The age of Christian one-upmanship in the Ivy League may be over and done, but things may not be as hopeless as they look.

I’ll have to change the title of the entry.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.

Rem tene, verba sequentur.