I love the military metaphors with which this article leads:
Acknowledging that 20 years and millions of dollars spent loudly and bitterly attacking the liberal leanings of American campuses have failed to make much of a dent in the way undergraduates are educated, some conservatives have decided to try a new strategy.
They are finding like-minded tenured professors and helping them establish academic beachheads for their ideas.
I also love how the spokesperson for the Manhattan Institute denies that the programs have ideological aims, then states the obvious ideological aims:
“These are not ideological courses,” said James Piereson, a senior fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute, which created the Veritas Fund for Higher Education to funnel donations to these sorts of projects. The initiatives are only political insofar as they “work against the thrust of programs and courses in gender, race and class studies, and postmodernism in general,” he said.
The article is actually a good little treatment of the resurgence of Great Books in certain universities and how folks receive such a resurgence. Personally I don’t see how people who have actually read Plato can equate reading his dialogues with advancing the cause of liberal democracy (anyone who’s read Republic with me can attest to that, and I would think anyone who’s read Plato at all would be dubious of his value for commending democracy), but I’m also concerned that folks are separating Plato, which was after all Derrida’s starting point for his body of theory, from postmodernism, which if anything is a continuation of the skepticism that became the most prominent stance of the Roman-era Academy and of Cicero. If anything, the books that I most love to teach and to read (that is to say, the same old books that these “Great Books” types hold up as the buttresses of the Capitalist Cathedral) tend to be Socratic in disposition, poking holes in the supposed truths of their day and proposing, with varying degrees of acumen, ways to do things differently.
But once again I have to wonder why, during the most heated bits of the culture war, when the cries were the loudest that liberals had taken over the university, why organizations like Heritage and Cato didn’t just start up their own colleges. The nasty part of my soul is suspicious that they’d rather gripe at a distance rather than jump in alongside me and do the actual teaching that they claim should be going on, that if they had to spend the years to earn the kind of respect that real professors earn (not to mention earning the kind of dollar that a liberal arts professor earns), they wouldn’t be able to hack it. But I’m not yet willing (hopefully never will be willing) to ascribe such nastiness simply because I resent their meddling. I suppose I’ll acknowledge the finite scope of my knowledge and leave their deepest motivations a mystery.
I will say that I would be all in favor of the institution of the Cato University and the Heritage University, if nothing else then because we’d finally find out whether their ideas can actually compete for and win tuition dollars, if they really had the chops to compete with the so-called liberal academy or if they were trying to scam the system for the cultural influence that they couldn’t earn on their own merits. Judging from this article, I don’t think that’s becoming any more likely, and I think that’s a pity, mostly because if they ever did start their own schools, I’d probably be one of their best candidates for a gig. (I am, after all, gunning for a gig. What do you expect?) I wouldn’t mind at all spending a few decades teaching Plato to young Capitalists, since I’ve been doing it for three years now, and I do think that precisely those young ‘uns most exposed to AM radio and Ann Coulter and such could best use some exposure to some real thought. I suppose I’ll just have to keep looking at the Bible colleges and community colleges, places where faculty teach, where students gripe but at least have a sense of going somewhere or at least a sense that education is actually something to do rather than a pretext for doing nothing, where research is something that people do (if they do it) for the sake of teaching, not the other way around. That said, if you Veritas boys want to start up a college and need a Milton teacher…