The Liberal Arts

Thomas Sowell:

An op-ed piece titled “Conservatives, Please Stop Trashing the Liberal Arts” appeared last week in the Wall Street Journal. But it is not conservatives who trashed the liberal arts.

Liberal professors have trashed the liberal arts, by converting so many liberal arts courses into indoctrination centers for left-wing causes and fads, instead of courses where students learn how to weigh conflicting views of the world for themselves. Now a professor of English, one of the most fad-ridden of the liberal arts today, blames conservative critics for the low esteem in which liberal arts are held.

Surely a professor of English cannot be unaware of how English departments, especially, have become hotbeds of self-indulgent, trendy fads such as trashing classic writings — using Shakespeare’s works as just another ideological playground for romping through with the current mantra of “race, class and gender.”

Surely he cannot be unaware of the many farces of the Modern Language Association that have made headlines. And when our English professor uses a phrase like “critical thinking,” he must be at least dimly aware of how often those words have been perverted to mean uncritical negativism toward traditional values and uncritical acceptance of glittering catchwords of the left, such as “diversity.”

Diversity of political ideas is not to be found on most college campuses, where the range of ideas is usually from the moderate left to the extreme left, and conservatives are rare as hen’s teeth among the faculty — especially in English departments. Academics who go ballistic about an “under-representation” of ethnic minorities in various other institutions are blissfully blind to the under-representation of conservatives among the professors they hire. On many campuses, students can go through all four years of college without ever hearing a conservative vision of the world, even from a visiting speaker.

The problem is not political, but educational. As John Stuart Mill pointed out, back in the 19th century, students must hear opposing views from people who actually believe them, not as presented by people who oppose them. In the 18th century, Edmund Burke warned against those who “teach the humours of the professor, rather than the principles of the science.”

During my years on the lecture circuit, I liked to go into college bookstores across the country and see how many of their courses assigned “The Federalist” among the books students were to buy, as compared to how many assigned “The Communist Manifesto” or other iconic writings on the left.

“The Federalist” is a classic, written by three of the men who were among those who wrote the Constitution of the United States. It is a book of profound thoughts, written in plain English, at a level aimed at the ordinary citizen.

It might even be called “The Constitution for Dummies.” There are Supreme Court Justices who could benefit from reading it.

My survey of college bookstores across the country showed “The Communist Manifesto” virtually everywhere, often required reading in multiple courses — and “The Federalist” used virtually nowhere. Most college students will get only the left’s uncritical negativism toward the American form of government, under the rubric of “critical thinking.”

The liberal arts in theory could indeed make valuable contributions to the education of the young, as our English professor claims. But the liberal arts in practice have in fact done the opposite, not just in the United States but in other countries as well.

The history of the 20th century shows soft-subject students and their professors among the biggest supporters of extremist movements, both fascist and communist — the former in central and eastern Europe before World War II and the latter in countries around the world, both before and after that war.

Those who want liberal arts to be what they were supposed to be will have to profoundly change them from what they have become. Doing that will undoubtedly provoke more denunciations of critics for “trashing” the liberal arts by criticizing those who have in fact already trashed the liberal arts in practice.

Case in point: Apparently there is a poll out there that says that the American people are in favor of giving Nuclear Weapons to Iran so they can nuke us with them in the future. Now, how could that be?

Oh, right, the Liberal News Intelligensia (The Liberal Art of TV News) said so and then you click over to “Dancing with The Stars”…That’s how. 🙂

Political Cartoons by Bob Gorrell
Political Cartoons by Chip Bok
Political Cartoons by Gary Varvel

Is thinking obsolete?

Is thinking obsolete?

Is thinking obsolete?

By Thomas Sowell

(well, if you ever got in an “argument”with a mindless leftist you’d think so.)

Some have said that we are living in a post-industrial era, while others have said that we are living in a post-racial era. But growing evidence suggests that we are living in a post-thinking era.

Many people in Europe and the Western Hemisphere are staging angry protests against Israel’s military action in Gaza. One of the talking points against Israel is that far more Palestinian civilians have been killed by Israeli military attacks than the number of Israeli civilians killed by the Hamas rocket attacks on Israel that started this latest military conflict.

Are these protesters aware that vastly more German civilians were killed by American bombers attacking Nazi Germany during World War II than American civilians killed in the United States by Hitler’s forces?

Talk show host Geraldo Rivera says that there is no way Israel is winning the battle for world opinion. But Israel is trying to win the battle for survival, while surrounded by enemies. Might that not be more important?

Has any other country, in any other war, been expected to keep the enemy’s civilian casualties no higher than its own civilian casualties? The idea that Israel should do so did not originate among the masses but among the educated intelligentsia.

In an age when scientists are creating artificial intelligence, too many of our educational institutions seem to be creating artificial stupidity.

It is much the same story in our domestic controversies. We have gotten so intimidated by political correctness that our major media outlets dare not call people who immigrate to this country illegally “illegal immigrants.”

Geraldo Rivera has denounced the Drudge Report for carrying news stories that show some of the negative consequences and dangers from allowing vast numbers of youngsters to enter the country illegally and be spread across the country by the Obama administration.

Some of these youngsters are already known to be carrying lice and suffering from disease. Since there have been no thorough medical examinations of most of them, we have no way of knowing whether, or how many, are carrying deadly diseases that will spread to American children when these unexamined young immigrants enter schools across the country.

The attack against Matt Drudge has been in the classic tradition of demagogues. It turns questions of fact into questions of motive. Geraldo accuses Drudge of trying to start a “civil war.”

Back when masses of immigrants from Europe were entering this country, those with dangerous diseases were turned back from Ellis Island. Nobody thought they had a legal or a moral “right” to be in America or that it was mean or racist not to want our children to catch their diseases.

Even on the less contentious issue of minimum wage laws, there are the same unthinking reactions.

Although liberals are usually gung ho for increasing the minimum wage, there was a sympathetic front page story in the July 29th San Francisco Chronicle about the plight of a local non-profit organization that will not be able to serve as many low-income minority youths if it has to pay a higher minimum wage. They are seeking some kind of exemption.

Does it not occur to these people that the very same thing happens when a minimum wage increase applies to profit-based employers? They too tend to hire fewer inexperienced young people when there is a minimum wage law.

This is not breaking news. This is what has been happening for generations in the United States and in other countries around the world.

One of the few countries without a minimum wage law is Switzerland, where the unemployment rate has been consistently less than 4 percent for years. Back in 2003, The Economist magazine reported that “Switzerland’s unemployment neared a five-year high of 3.9% in February.” The most recent issue shows the Swiss unemployment rate back to a more normal 3.2 percent.

Does anyone think that having minimum wage laws and high youth unemployment is better? In fact, does anyone think at all these days?

I’m not sure they do. And that is sad. I have said that critical thinking skills are not in fashion anymore and they don’t seem to teach people how to think, just WHAT to think, Then it’s pretty mindless from there.

Have you ever tried to install Critical Thinking into the mindless?

I think that’s harder than trying to discover the true origins of the universe because sometimes, many times, the truth is outside of your ideological cage but you have to be smart enough to recognizxe it and wise enough to use it.

Political Cartoons by Glenn Foden

Political Cartoons by Bob Gorrell