12/27/2019

Some Advice to Fellow Lovers of Liberal Learning

"Here is the point I want to make: It is too late for us to make an innocent and naive return either to youthfully spontaneous individuality or to venerably traditional ancestral ways. We are too much caught in the regularity, efficiency, and rationality of our Cartesian world. That is why our enthusiastic attempts in those directions always look a little like a costume party.

And yet I believe in some such return. I think most of us have a feeling that some sort of a new beginning is needed, and I have never heard of a true beginning which was not a return. What I want to claim is that a liberal education, like ours, here, this summer, is the beginning of that beginning.

Some people say that the correct meaning of the phrase “liberal education” is “food for the free.” “Liberal” means “suitable for free people,” and the word “education” has its root in common with our word “edible.” I don’t know if this etymology is correct, but I will use it to help me say something opposite: It seems to me that in modern times a first, preliminary function of a liberal education must be to serve as a purgative, a cleansing, of those who wish to be free. By its means we can cleanse ourselves of our undigested and unconscious prejudices, most of which turn out to be associated with just that rationalized sameness I was describing before. Isn’t that just the effect which the study and discussion of Descartes, Rousseau, Hume, de Tocqueville, and Marx had, if they had any?"