A Conservative Professor's View From a Liberal Wasteland

Self-Mastery, Academic Freedom and the Liberal Arts


Robert P. George

Self-Mastery and the Liberal Arts Ideal

In the revisionist understanding of many of today’s academic humanists and social scientists, liberal arts education is ultimately about liberation from the traditional beliefs and structures by which earlier generations of Americans and Westerners generally had been taught to govern their conduct for the sake of personal virtue and the common good.  For it has become a matter of dogma that traditional norms and structures are irrational—superstitions and phobias that impede personal development by restricting people’s capacities to act on their desires.

In this dogmatic context, teaching and scholarship are aimed at exposing the texts and traditions once regarded as the intellectual treasures of our civilization—the Bible, Plato, Dante, Aquinas, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Austen, Locke—as mere propaganda meant to support and reinforce unjust (racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.) social orders.

Moreover, since for liberationists, what one fundamentally is, is one’s desires, being true to oneself means acting on one’s desires, in defiance of any “hang-ups” based on putatively outmoded moral ideas and social norms.  The very essence of liberation, on this view, is transcending the traditions that ground these “hang-ups” to embrace one’s desires by, for example, “coming out” as a homosexual, transvestite, polyamorist, or member of some other “sexual minority.”

Nowhere is this clearer than in freshman orientation programs in colleges and universities throughout the United States that feature compulsory, one-sided events designed to undermine new students’ traditional beliefs about sexual morality and decency. 

Shortly after arriving at the prestigious Williams College, a young friend of mine was placed in a group with other new students to discuss campus life. An official moderator asked them to introduce themselves as “gay” in order to understand sympathetically how it felt to “come out.” (The presupposition, of course, was that a person who experiences dominant homosexual inclinations must come out as “gay” in order to be true to himself.)  When his turn came, my friend politely but firmly refused on the ground that this absurd exercise had nothing to do with the reason he came to Williams College—to learn to think critically and for himself.

Of course, what goes on in these collegiate re-education camps, and in far too many classrooms, is radically different from the classical understanding of the goal of liberal arts education, which is not to liberate us to act on our desires, but precisely to liberate us from slavery to them.  Personal authenticity, under the traditional account, consists in self-mastery—in placing reason in control of desire. 

How can it be liberating to enter into the great conversation with Plato and his interlocutors?  According to the classic liberal-arts ideal, doing so enables us to grasp more fully the humanizing  truths by which we can direct our desires and our wills to what is truly good, beautiful, worthy of human beings as possessed of profound and inherent dignity.  The liberal-arts ideal is rooted in the conviction that there are human goods, and a common good, in light of which we have reasons to limit and even alter our desires, thus becoming masters of ourselves.

Now if you accept this ideal, you are seeking answers to the question:  What qualities make for an upright life?  In a talk at Princeton a few years ago, Richard Brookhiser explained that George Washington came to be who he was by imagining an ideal, noble individual and then trying to become that person by acting as that person would and ridding himself of wayward desires that would have no place in that person’s character. 

On the classical view, Washington’s was an act of the most profound authenticity.  He sought to be master of himself, rather than a slave to his desires.  But to some students, Washington’s conduct seemed radically inauthentic.  He was play-acting, being untrue to himself by reshaping his desires in line with standards drawn from “outside himself.”  Overlooked entirely was the classical liberal-arts view of man as a rational creature, capable of understanding reasons in light of which he can discipline his desires.

Academic Freedom

True liberal-arts learning will flourish only under conditions of freedom.  It is compromised when well-qualified scholars are denied positions or promotions for dissenting from campus orthodoxies at institutions that claim to be non-partisan and non-sectarian.   It can be smothered by an atmosphere of political correctness.  It can fail to emerge as a result of the sheer lack of diversity of opinions among students and, especially, faculty.

Crystal Dixon is Associate Vice President of Human Resources at the University of Toledo.  She is an African-American woman and a faithful Christian.  Recently, she wrote a letter to the editor of her local newspaper, rejecting the claim that “sexual orientation” is like race and should be included as a category in anti-discrimination and civil-rights laws.  When her letter was published, the President of the University of Toledo suspended her from her job and threatened further punishment if she did not recant and apologize for publishing a view that he evidently regards as heretical.

What is remarkable about this case is how unremarkable it is.  Scarcely a week passes without some offense being committed against academic freedom.  Given the strong leftward tilt in most of the academy, the victim is typically a student, professor, or administrator who has dared to dispute a left-wing dogma.

But all is not darkness.  A few months ago the Department of Sociology at the University of Virginia voted against granting tenure to an outstanding young scholar of family sociology named Bradford Wilcox.  Despite his extraordinary record of intellectual achievement and distinguished teaching, Professor Wilcox was punished for his conservative religious and moral opinions.  But the University’s president, John T. Casteen, reviewed the case and reversed the decision, thereby striking an important blow for academic freedom and the liberal arts ideal.  His example will encourage (in the literal sense of the term) those who dissent from prevailing opinions to stand up and say what they actually think; and it will serve as a warning to those who would attempt to punish their dissent. 

As we consider the appalling behavior of one university president in Crystal Dixon’s case, and the encouraging conduct of another university president in Bradford Wilcox’s case, perhaps it is worth pausing to ask why we should care so much about intellectual freedom in the academy. 

In my view, it is not merely a passion for freedom for its own sake.  We should honor academic freedom as a great and indispensable value because it serves the values of understanding, knowledge, and truth that are greater still.

Far from being mutually antithetical, freedom and truth are mutually supportive and even dependent.  A defense of academic freedom must at least implicitly appeal to truth, and a complete defense will present understanding, knowledge, and truth as the intrinsic values that make sense of freedom as something indispensable to their pursuit and meaningful appropriation.  On the other side of the question, the overwhelming evidence of history shows that freedom is as necessary to the intellectual life of man as oxygen is to his bodily life.

Academic freedom should not be boundless, but its scope, as a value ordered to truth, must be generous—especially in the academy, where free inquiry and exploration are often essential to insight and richer understanding—even if that freedom will sometimes be abused. 

But why must we permit even securely known truths to be questioned and denied?  The most important reason is that freedom is the condition of our fuller appropriation of the truth.  Knowledge and truth have their value for human beings precisely as fulfillment of capacities for understanding and judgment.  Education liberates the human spirit because knowledge of truth attained by the exercise of our rational faculties is intrinsically and not merely instrumentally valuable.  Knowledge that elevates and enriches must be appropriated.  It cannot be merely a matter of affirming correct propositions.  It is knowledge not only that something is the case, but why and how it is the case.  Freedom to inquire, to assent or dissent as one’s best judgment dictates, is a condition of the personal appropriation of the truth by the human person for the sake of whom—for the liberation of whom—intellectual inquiry, understanding, and judgment are intrinsically valuable.

The full essay will be published in the September issue of The American Spectator

Americans are losing faith in our justice system and the idea that legal consequences are applied equally — even to powerful elites in office.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) joined Glenn Beck on the radio program to detail what he believes will come next with the Durham investigation, which hopefully will provide answers to the Obama FBI's alleged attempts to sabotage former President Donald Trump and his campaign years ago.

Rep. Nunes and Glenn assert that we know Trump did NOT collude with Russia, and that several members of the FBI possibly committed huge abuses of power. So, when will we see justice?

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The corporate media is doing everything it can to protect Dr. Anthony Fauci after Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) roasted him for allegedly lying to Congress about funding gain-of-function research in Wuhan, China.

During an extremely heated exchange at a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Paul challenged Dr. Fauci — who, as the director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, oversees research programs at the National Institute of Health — on whether the NIH funded dangerous gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Dr. Fauci denied the claims, but as Sen. Paul knows, there are documents that prove Dr. Fauci's NIH was funding gain-of-function research in the Wuhan biolab before COVID-19 broke out in China.

On "The Glenn Beck Program," Glenn and Producer Stu Burguiere presented the proof, because Dr. Fauci's shifting defenses don't change the truth.

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Critical race theory: A special brand of evil

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Part of what makes it hard for us to challenge the left is that their beliefs are complicated. We don't mean complicated in a positive way. They aren't complicated the way love is complicated. They're complicated because there's no good explanation for them, no basis in reality.

The left cannot pull their heads out of the clouds. They are stuck on romantic ideas, abstract ideas, universal ideas. They talk in theories. They see the world through ideologies. They cannot divorce themselves from their own academic fixations. And — contrary to what they believe and how they act — it's not because leftists are smarter than the rest of us. And studies have repeatedly shown that leftists are the least happy people in the country. Marx was no different. The Communist Manifesto talks about how the rise of cities "rescued a considerable part of the population from the idiocy of rural life."

Studies have repeatedly shown that leftists are the least happy people in the country.

Instead of admitting that they're pathological hypocrites, they tell us that we're dumb and tell us to educate ourselves. Okay, so we educate ourselves; we return with a coherent argument. Then they say, "Well, you can't actually understand what you just said unless you understand the work of this other obscure Marxist writer. So educate yourselves more."

It's basically the "No True Scotsman" fallacy, the idea that when you point out a flaw in someone's argument, they say, "Well, that's a bad example."

After a while, it becomes obvious that there is no final destination for their bread-crumb trail. Everything they say is based on something that somebody else said, which is based on something somebody else said.

Take critical race theory. We're sure you've noticed by now that it is not evidence-based — at all. It is not, as academics say, a quantitative method. It doesn't use objective facts and data to arrive at conclusions. Probably because most of those conclusions don't have any basis in reality.

Critical race theory is based on feelings. These feelings are based on theories that are also based on feelings.

We wanted to trace the history of critical race theory back to the point where its special brand of evil began. What allowed it to become the toxic, racist monster that it is today?

Later, we'll tell you about some of the snobs who created critical theory, which laid the groundwork for CRT. But if you follow the bread-crumb trail from their ideas, you wind up with Marxism.

For years, the staff has devoted a lot of time to researching Marxism. We have read a lot of Marx and Marxist writing. It's part of our promise to you to be as informed as possible, so that you know where to go for answers; so that you know what to say when your back is up against the wall. What happens when we take the bread-crumb trail back farther, past Marxism? What is it based on?

This is the point where Marxism became Marxism and not just extra-angry socialism.

It's actually based on the work of one of the most important philosophers in human history, a 19th-century German philosopher named Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

This is the point where Marxism became Marxism and not just extra-angry socialism. And, as you'll see in just a bit, if we look at Hegel's actual ideas, it's obvious that Marx completely misrepresented them in order to confirm his own fantasies.

So, in a way, that's where the bread-crumb trail ends: With Marx's misrepresentation of an incredibly important, incredibly useful philosophy, a philosophy that's actually pretty conservative.

This post is part of a series on critical race theory. Read the full series here.

We've heard a lot about critical race theory lately, and for good reason: It's a racist ideology designed to corrupt our children and undermine our American values. But most of what we see are the results of a process that has been underway for decades. And that's not something the mainstream media, the Democrat Party, and even teachers unions want you to know. They're doing everything in their power to try and convince you that it's no big deal. They want to sweep everything under the rug and keep you in the dark. To fight it, we need to understand what fuels it.

On his Wednesday night special this week, Glenn Beck exposes the deep-seated Marxist origins of CRT and debunks the claims that it's just a harmless term for a school of legal scholarship. Newsweek opinion editor Josh Hammer joins to argue why we must ban critical race theory from our schools if we want to save a very divided nation.

Watch the full "Glenn TV" episode below:

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