Sunday, November 23, 2014

Liberal Education and Freedom

In chapter 4 of his recent book, Conscience and its Enemies, Robert P. George makes a useful statement on freedom and the liberal arts.  Some people think that the purpose of liberal education is to liberate one from conventional opinions so that one can be perfectly free to construct one’s “self” in accordance with one’s inner desires and passions. Against that view, and appealing to the soul rather than to the self, George argues that we enter into the conversation with the great minds (Augustine, Dante, Shakespeare, etc.) to appropriate truths that can “liberate us from what is merely vulgar, coarse, or base.”  The kind of Intellectual knowledge made available through the study of these thinkers, he argues, has “a role to play in making self-transcendence possible. It can help us to understand what is good and to love the good above whatever it is we happen to desire; it can teach us to desire what is good because it is good, thus making us truly masters of ourselves.” He concludes in this way:  
The stronger and deeper reason (for respecting academic freedom) is that freedom is the condition of our fuller appropriation of the truth.  I use the term appropriation because knowledge and truth have their value for human beings precisely as fulfillment of capacities for understanding and judgment. The liberal arts liberate the human spirit because knowledge of truth – attainted by the exercise of our rational faculties – is intrinsically and not merely instrumentally valuable.  “Useful knowledge” is, of course, all to the good. It is wonderful when human knowledge can serve other human goods, such as health, as in the biomedical sciences, or economic efficiency and growth, or the construction of great buildings and bridges, or any of a million other worthy purposes.  But even “useful knowledge” is often more than instrumentally valuable, and a great deal of knowledge that wouldn’t qualify as “useful” in the instrumental sense is intrinsically and profoundly enriching and liberating. This is why we honor – and should honor even more highly than we currently do in our institutions of higher learning – excellence in the humanities and pure science (social and natural).
Knowledge that elevates and enriches – knowledge that liberates the human spirit – cannot be merely notional.  It must be appropriated.  It is not – it cannot be – a matter of affirming or even believing correct proposition. The knowledge that elevates and liberates is knowledge not only that something is the case but also why and how it is the case. Typically such knowledge does more than settle something in one’s mind; it opens new avenues of exploration. Its payoff includes new sets of questions, new lines of inquiry.  ... [F]reedom – freedom to inquire, freedom to assent or withhold assent as one’s best judgment dictates - is a condition of the personal appropriation of the truth by the human subject....

Many History and Political Science courses are seminars or conversations in which we read the kinds of works George mentions and examine and respond to one another’s opinions and arguments. George's statement is one way of understanding our approach.  That kind of conversation is the best way to understand the reasons for an opinion or theory - in George’s language, to “appropriate” it or make it your own.  And making the evidence and reasoning that supports an opinion your own is the only way to grasp the real meaning of an opinion and the only way it can truly benefit you. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Great Summer Study Opportunities (with stipends)

The Hertog Foundation is asking professors at AU to nominate students for its Political Studies Program in Washington, DC.  These are some great opportunities to study during the summer with good professors from other institutions, and all the programs come with stipends for participates or (in the case of the Political Studies Program) for some participants.  If you are interested, please talk to Dr. Foster.

The first program is the Political Studies Program, which will take place from June 21 – August 1, 2015 in Washington, DC. This program is geared to current undergraduates and very recent graduates. Many of the same outstanding faculty will be teaching in the program this year, including Bryan Garsten (Yale), James W. Ceaser (University of Virginia), Diana Schaub (Loyola), and Robert Kagan (Brookings Institution), to name just a few. Selected students will receive a $3,000 fellowship stipend for their participation and be provided with dormitory accommodations.

In addition, there is a second set of more specialized programs -- War Studies and Economic Policy Studies. These are intensive two-week summer seminars sponsored in conjunction with the Institute for the Study of War and National Affairs, respectively. They will be held in Washington, DC. Each carries its own stipend of $1,500 as well as dormitory accommodations.

Finally, Hertog has two weeklong offerings -- Advanced Institutes -- which are geared toward undergraduates, recent graduates, and graduate students. These programs come with a $750 stipend, plus room and board.

  • The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln with Allen C. Guelzo
    • August 2–7, 2015, in partnership with the New-York Historical Society

  • The Lessons of the Iraq War with Vance Serchuk
    • August 9–15, Washington, DC

The deadline for applications for all programs is February 9, 2015. Further information can be found the Hertog Foundation's website (  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Remembrance Day at Gettysburg

Last weekend, a group of AU students, most of them in Dr. Paddags' course on Democracy & War, descended on Gettysburg to study the most pivotal and most famous battle of the Civil War. While temperatures were chilly and the wind blustery, everyone gave presentations on the participants of the Civil War - from Robert E. Lee and Henry Halleck, to Elizabeth Thorn and Abraham Lincoln. Through the eyes of their characters, the history of the battle unfolded for the students. Moreover, by walking the battlefield everyone got a sense of the dimensions of the battlefield, the terrain, and an appreciation for the valor of the men who fought that battle 151 years ago. As last weekend was also Remembrance Day at Gettysburg, hundreds of reenactors paraded through town, waving civil war flags, marching in formation, and playing civil war era songs. At night, the national cemetery was illuminated by a candle on every soldier's grave, making for a solemn reminder of the sacrifice  which was made on those three days in July, 1863.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Latin Should be Required

If even half the arguments in this article in the New Criterion are correct, the best thing we could do for our students is require that they all study Latin: 
Specifically, it trains these: the ability to concentrate and focus; the use of the memory; the capacity to analyse, deduce and problem-solve; the powers of attention to detail, of diligence and perseverance, of observation, of imagination, of judgement, of taste. In fact, it trains the mind and character to the utmost extent in everything human that is valuable. It does all this as no other academic subject (other than classical Greek), or other activity of any kind at all, can come remotely close to doing.
There is much more in the article, including replies to some of the main contemporary objections: 

Later in this issue, the Yale classicist Donald Kagan writes about Sir James Headlam-Morley, the man who occupied the position of Historical Adviser to the British Foreign Office in the 1920s. Headlam-Morley was a fount of good advice about all manner of strategic issues, not least the threat of German militarism. Headlam-Morley’s deep acquaintance with the past allowed him to predict the future with a gimlet-eyed clarity that, unfortunately for the world, most of those charged with steering the ship of state in the post-World War I years lacked. Headlam-Morley, Professor Kagan observes, was “a man with the only proper training for an expert in almost any field of human endeavor, but especially for the conduct of foreign policy and diplomacy: I mean, of course, Classical Studies.”
We smiled when we read that, too. The “of course” was especially nice. A more charming example of disciplinary chauvinism would be hard to find. Except that it is more than disciplinary chauvinism. It is also the simple, pragmatic truth.
It is a truth whose practicality the industrialist and oil man Jean Paul Getty appreciated. Getty, widely reckoned to be the richest man in the world until his death in 1976, employed only classicists to run his worldwide business empire. He understood that mastery of (say) the passive periphrastic was a more important business qualification than an MBA. (Pecunia obtinenda est!) It wasn’t romance but competitiveness that underlay his decision. Asked why he insisted on employing classicists in key positions, he answered bluntly: “They sell more oil.”

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

AU in Germany Information Meetings

It is easy to spend part of your summer taking Core courses and experiencing modern Europe by participating in the AU in Germany program.  Learn how at meetings on November 11th and 12th.  Here are the details: