Philosophy professors used to mystify us when they said, “Don’t let college interfere with your education.” For this writer, that was 30 years ago when, if the Great Books weren’t taught, at least good ones were being published.
A visit to a TEA party event will give you an indication that the problem lies not with the consumer. At these events, people from all walks of life devour literature on the Constitution about the way that Michael Moore would make short work of an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Rather, publishers are giving people, not what they crave, but what the elites want to give them. Correspondingly, so-called higher order thinking has been presented in an increasingly opaque manner.
Indeed, the authors who are read most widely are those who are no longer around. Former Accuracy in Academia executive director Dan Flynn pays homage to a quartet of them in his latest book, Blue Collar Intellectuals.
America may never again see the likes of Will and Ariel Durant, Mortimer Adler, Milton Friedman and Eric Hoffer. For one thing, all ascended to intellectual heights from modest means, if not actual penury.
Moreover, although their political viewpoints spanned the ideological spectrum, all shared a love of country, namely the one in which they lived and worked. For example, Will and Ariel Durant, authors of The Story of Civilization, came away from their first European jaunt something less than enamored.
“Seeing the basket-case states of postwar Europe made Durant pine for home rather than rail against it,” Flynn writes. “We had compared our country not with other nations of this earth but with some perfect state which we had pictured in our dreams,” Will Durant admitted.
What really set him apart from the intelligentsia, though, was his disparagement of the Soviet Union. They never quite forgave him for that even though he spent most of his nine decades on the planet as a fairly liberal Democrat.
Encyclopædia Britannica co-founder Mortimer Adler suffered a similar fate for his efforts to achieve wide circulation for the Great Books of Western Civilization. “From establishing world government to saving the ozone layer to compulsory service to the state, Mortimer Adler endorsed many political fads during his ninety-eight years,” Flynn writes. “But the cause of his century couldn’t be more grating to the faddish cognoscenti.”
“No number of obligations to the gods of fashion could undo that cardinal sin.” Flynn’s next two subjects—free market economist Milton Friedman and “longshoreman philosopher” Eric Hoffer—never felt obliged to fashionable gods.
“The only relevant test of the validity of a hypothesis is comparison of its predictions with experience,” Friedman averred. That view of academic research alone would put him at odds with most of what passes for scholarship in academia today.
Eric Hoffer, although he refused to be pigeonholed politically, also resisted the group think of elites. “My knowledge of the intellectual is not based on first-hand experience,” Hoffer stated. “I’ve probably met half a dozen intellectuals in my life.”
“But I always say to myself, ‘If Marx, who never knew anything about the workingman, who [had] never done a day’s work in his life, could write about workingmen, then why the heck shouldn’t I be able to write about intellectuals?’”
Malcolm A. Kline is the Executive Director of Accuracy in Academia.
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