Like education itself, the history of education is in a bad way today, having been left far too long in the hands of professional educators. Too many educational historians write either stupefyingly boring books about educational theory, or else pious hagiographies of individual schools or universities, without reference to the larger society or even the educational system of which they are a part, and with a careful glossing over of discreditable events and persons. There is therefore every reason to welcome a book by a professional historian of established reputation, which deals with the relationship of universities to society in the English-speaking world over 200 years from 1500 to 1700, with a postscript on the nineteenth century.
Professor Kearney examines the social and political role of the universities, the intellectual content of the curriculum, and the relationship of the one to the other. He ties up all the social and intellectual threads, and provides an explanation of how the university fitted into contemporary society and contemporary culture and how it acted and reacted upon them. This is therefore an important book which is likely to be widely read and to serve as a model for fresh work in the rapidly expanding field of educational history. Apart from Professor Bernard Bailyn’s brilliant essay on American education,1 it is the only work I know which tries so comprehensively to link what went on in the university to the society in which it was embedded. It is essential, therefore, to find out what the book says, and whether or not its premises, methods, and conclusions provide a sound basis upon which to build in the future.
What was the purpose of the English university in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? Its medieval function had been to serve as a professional training school. Its alumni moved on to the civil and common law, and into the higher ranks of the clergy, for which a degree in canon law was becoming increasingly desirable for those aspiring for promotion. Of those who left the university without a degree, many became parish priests. Since the curriculum was exclusively scholastic and legal, the upper-class elite tended to steer clear of the universities, which had little or nothing to offer them unless they were seeking a career in the Church. The students therefore came from fairly humble homes. Some of them were cooped up in colleges for secular or monastic clergy, but the majority lived free and unregulated lives as members of loose-knit communities known as Halls.
During the Reformation this medieval university disappeared with startling suddenness. The monastic colleges were suppressed when the monasteries were dissolved, and the Halls also mostly disappeared. A considerable number of new colleges were founded, of which the two novel features were that the students now included a large number of gentry pursuing a secular career and that a strict discipline was imposed upon them, enforced by high walls, a hierarchical constitution, and severe penalties for disobedience, even including—mirabile dictu—corporal punishment. The old freewheeling life of the medieval student came to an end.
The last stage of this institutional tightening up was to come in the 1570s at Cambridge and the 1630s at Oxford, when new university statutes radically changed the distribution of political power: the final voice in decision-making was removed from the old participatory democracy of the junior faculty and given to a narrow oligarchy of heads of colleges. The growth of order and hierarchy in Tudor society and politics generally was thus closely paralleled by the growth of order and hierarchy in the universities.
As the Reformation crisis deepened, the state decided that what went on in the universities was too important to be left to the academics, and it began to interfere directly and vigorously. Since the stock-in-trade of intellectuals is ideas, they inevitably find themselves subjected to severe pressure from all sides at times of political and religious crisis, whereas in quieter times, when economic interests tend to dominate, they are left more or less in peace. The faculty of a university is always largely composed of conservative and unimaginative men, only too anxious to steer their course according to the established rules, but it usually also contains a sprinkling of people whose product is intellectual innovation. At times like the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries such men are closely watched to make sure that the ideas they produce are congenial to the authority of the day.
Furthermore, faculty members were important in another way, since they had charge both of the future opinion-makers and propagandists—the clergy—and also of the secular power elite in what is supposed to be their most impressionable years. And so the dons of the sixteenth century were subjected to considerable pressure from the state to ensure their religious and political conformity. Through the powerful influence of the chancellor of the university, who was always a leading political figure, and through the expanding patronage system of the Court, the English government increasingly interfered in the election of Headships of Houses, Fellowships, and Scholarships by letters of recommendation, lobbying, and even threats.
Two huge and wealthy royal establishments, Trinity at Cambridge and Christ Church at Oxford, gave the Crown a powerful patronage lever within the universities, which was further aided by the creation of Regius Professorships in subjects which the Crown was anxious to foster. This multiple invasion of the university by the state during the late sixteenth century was even more far-reaching in its consequences than the second invasion, in order to promote science and scientists, in the late twentieth century.
Into this new institutional structure there poured a rising flood of students drawn from two social groups. The first was a lower-middle-class element, sons of traders, shopkeepers, yeomen, husbandmen, and superior artisans, who were often financed by scholarships or by menial service around the college. We assume—though it has yet to be proved—that many, if not most, of these men were aiming at a degree and a career as a clergyman in the new Anglican Church. Now that the laity were making wholly unprecedented demands for an educated and responsible clergy, a university degree was becoming more and more desirable, even for a parish priest. Another occupation open to a low-born graduate was as schoolmaster to teach literacy and Latin grammar to the growing number of children whose parents were willing to pay for such things.
The second major and rapidly increasing element in the student body was the sons of the lay elite from nobles to gentry, who now for the first time in history sent their sons to the university for two or three years, although mostly with no intention of taking a degree. What these men hoped to get out of their stay at the university is not entirely clear, but it certainly included a sound grounding in rhetoric, the Latin classics, and the Bible. From the university they would move on to the Inns of Court to pick up some common law, and perhaps later still to the Grand Tour in order to acquire social polish, languages, and an experience of the world.
As a result of this huge influx of gentry, the universities found themselves playing a dual role: training about half the student body toward an examination and a degree with a view to a professional career, and giving to the other half what they thought they needed before assuming their hereditary places among the ruling elite. This dual function should be familiar enough to us today since it has been normal for Oxbridge and the Ivy League between the middle of the nineteenth century and the middle of the twentieth.
These organizational and social changes in the university are adumbrated by Professor Kearney, but not worked out with any great clarity or detail. What interests him most is the hitherto unsolved problem of what it was the students studied. The education of the clergy remained a prime function of the university, but just what they and the newly arrived gentry were to be taught was a matter upon which the dons received a good deal of contradictory advice: from the secular Humanists to teach the classics, especially Cicero; from the Christian Humanists to combine the classics with biblical studies and ethics; from the Puritans to teach the Bible and Calvinist biblical commentaries; from the academic conservatives to stick to scholasticism and Aristotle; from the scientific innovators to teach Baconian pragmatism; and from the social reformers to give the upper classes a “useful” education in modern European languages, literature, politics, and history.
The most important change that can be clearly documented was that the teaching of canon law was positively forbidden by the state soon after the Reformation, thus abolishing at a stroke one of the main functions of the universities in the Middle Ages, the training of canon lawyers. The accidental result was to give the Inns of Court in London a clear monopoly of all legal education in the country. To find out what actually happened apart from this, we have to seek such enlightenment as we can get from the few surviving guides to students and the many student notebooks which Professor Kearney is the first scholar to have unearthed.
According to him, the mid-sixteenth century sees a clash of two Humanisms. The first, which he labels “Court Humanism,” demanded a close study of the classics in order to strengthen the gentry’s loyalty to the state and to the established doctrines. This flourished in the 1530s to the 1550s, to be replaced by “Country Humanism,” which stressed godliness and virtue over learning and which laid greater stress on biblical studies and history. The Elizabethan period saw the introduction into Cambridge, although hardly at all into Oxford, of Ramism, a sort of plain man’s logic with which to assail both the linguistic and grammatical obsessions of the Humanists and the slavish pedantry of the Aristotelians.
Ramism stressed content rather than form, but it became associated with religious radicalism—quite how is not clear—and was therefore effectively suppressed, both in England and in Scotland, around the turn of the century. In the 1590s there developed a strong reaction back to medieval scholasticism, which Professor Kearney sees as part of a general conservative trend in the early seventeenth century.
Professor Kearney admits that in the revolutionary decades of the 1640s and 1650s Baconianism had a brief vogue among a minority of dons, but he argues that in educational practice nothing much changed at the universities. Even the scientific leaders themselves believed that science had no place in an undergraduate curriculum. Seth Ward, the future historian of the Royal Society, asked bluntly, “Which of the Nobility and Gentry desire when they send their sons hither that they should be set to Chymistry or Agriculture or Mechanicks?”
Which indeed! In any case, the ruling class was hastily falling back by then on traditional scholasticism as a bulwark against the socially subversive ideas of the extremist sectaries. On both sides of the Atlantic universities were coming under attack from the sects, which denounced the “Ninnyversity” as the spawning ground of a tight professional class of ministers, lawyers, and doctors who were incapable of speaking plainly and clearly to the people, and who used their learning to protect and further their own selfish interests. But the dons and the members of the professions fought off this assault with the aid of the lay power—John Winthrop in Massachusetts and Oliver Cromwell in England—and the old curriculum survived virtually intact.
The post-Restoration dons and students therefore inherited a curriculum made up of scholasticism and the classics, “the Ancients,” which they vigorously defended against the assaults of the “Moderns,” such as languages, history, and the classics in translation. In a frenzy of reactionary zeal, Oxford University in 1683 forbade students to read, and ordered to be publicly burned, the works of such diverse enemies of safe thinking as the Independent Milton, the Presbyterian Baxter, the Catholic Cardinal Bellarmine, and the skeptic Hobbes. The reason for this all-embracing conservatism in the universities in the late seventeenth century, according to Professor Kearney, is that they were composed of two declining social groups, the gentry and the clergy, who were now being outnumbered and overtaken by the monied and commercial classes and the dissenters.
Under the stress of this social threat, the dons and the students retreated into reactive conservatism, as a lastditch defense against the wave of the future. By fleeing to scholasticism and the classics, they hoped to preserve the old clerical/gentlemanly values in an alien capitalist world whose intellectual mouthpieces were Descartes and Locke. In the battle of the Ancients and Moderns, the supremacy of the former within the universities and of the latter without is therefore of profound social significance, and should not merely be regarded as an epiphenomenon of the history of ideas.
In Professor Kearney’s view, the effect of the universities over this 200-year period was to strengthen the forces of social and intellectual conservatism. They were the principal instrument which polarized society into two distinct status groups and subcultures, the gentlemanly members of “polite society” and the rest of the population, separated by a gulf defined by a leisured style of life whose most visible characteristic was a running acquaintance with Latin.
Plebeians could acquire gentle status by a university education and a career in the Church, an institution now controlled by the lay elite, and in which advancement depended on the favor of gentry patrons. Their stay at the university gave the gentry a common educational experience and served to create a national elite which was both unified in outlook and culture and clearly distinguished from the rest of the nation. Moreover, the curricular trend back to scholasticism which set in at the end of the sixteenth century created the intellectual background for the authoritarian regime of Charles I and Archbishop Laud in the 1630s. This trend also explains why the revolutionary leaders of the 1640s were angry old men, nearly ten years senior to the Royalist supporters. According to Professor Kearney, the former had been bred at the universities on the Elizabethan biblical curriculum, the latter on scholastic theology and the Fathers, the former being interpreted as an incentive to radicalism, the latter to conservatism.
Professor Kearney has propounded a thesis of great boldness and originality, which offers a key to unlock the door to many mysteries about English social and intellectual history over a critical 200-year period. This is in many ways an original and exciting book which will provide themes for discussion and investigation for many years to come. It is enlivened with sudden flashes of insight and provocative assertions.
What is surprising is that the universities survived at all at Oxford and Cambridge when the obvious place for higher education was London near “the third university,” the Inns of Court. [p. 21] The obsession with natural law, which we see in the neo-scholastics, may be explained as a method of supplying a god-given world of rational truth in which property, government, and learning have a right to exist independent of Biblical warrant. [p. 81]
We may see much of the Tudor preoccupation with learning and the learned clergy, and hence with the universities, as part of a general social unease. Take but degrees away, and hark what discord follows! [p. 36]
University education, like the law of property, a learned clergy, and a restrictive franchise, was seen to be one of the pillars upon which the “Gentry Society” rested. [p. 140]
These quotations give the reader some impression of the flavor and direction of Professor Kearney’s thinking. But impressive as is the intellectual tour de force which has produced so attractive a synthesis, there is unfortunately reason to think that the methodology is unsound and that many of the conclusions are unproven or untrue.
There are four methodological flaws in Professor Kearney’s book, any one of which would alone be sufficient to detract seriously from its value. First, it is based on a fixed presupposition, namely that the university is an institution which not only was intended to operate, but which in fact did operate, as a social and intellectual control system to strengthen the monopoly of the existing elite over high status positions, to formalize and reinforce class distinctions, and to propagate conservative ideology. The university is assumed to have been, both in intent and in practice, one of the most important elements of the system of repression which maintained the social status quo.
That governments and ruling elites have in the past tried to use the educational system for such purposes is a matter of historical record, and is a proposition which I myself advanced some years ago. It is only in the twentieth century that liberals have tried to use the system to create a society based on equal opportunity and high social mobility. But the extent to which the universities did in fact operate in this way and the degree to which there were internal resistances and slippages are quite other matters.
In practice, universities have nearly always performed two directly contradictory functions. On the one hand, they have served to channel the children of the elite into elite positions, and thus to harden the social structure; and they have also transmitted the inherited traditional culture of the past to each new generation. On the other hand, they have provided avenues, broad or narrow, by which talented children of relatively humble origins (but usually not from the manual laboring class) may enter the ranks of the elite; and they also have provided relatively safe havens of intellectual freedom in a heavily censored universe, from which can emerge new ideas and new facts which challenge both the existing social system and the existing set of values.
Without recognition of the essentially ambivalent role of the universities—socially a block and a sieve, intellectually a buttress and a land-mine—it is impossible to understand the role the universities have played in Western society in the last 300 years. Exclusive stress on the second, innovatory and socially mobile role, leads to the exaggerated claims of twentieth-century liberals for the university as a force for social and intellectual change. Exclusive stress on the reactionary and socially stabilizing role confirms the Marxist denigration of the importance of freedom of thought and expression in the university, since it is regarded as no more than an epiphenomenon of bourgeois culture. “To state that the school is above life, above politics, is a lie and a hypocrisy,” wrote Lenin, who therefore proceeded to crush freedom of thought in Russian universities. This doctrine has now been taken up again by the more radical students of Europe and America, who also regard the university itself, and freedom of opinion within it, as mere façades and supports for the existing military-industrial complex.
The historical mistakes that arise from the adoption of this assumption are well illustrated in Professor Kearney’s work. He continually stresses that “universities are the intellectual organs of the ruling elite.” But he fails to notice that despite the efforts of the government to suppress dissent, the universities played an absolutely vital role in the dissemination of Puritanism throughout both lay and clerical societies. Puritan intellectuals filled college fellowships, and from there they indoctrinated generation after generation of gentry and parish clergy with their subversive ideas.
Similarly, the attack of the free-will theorists on the accepted Calvinist ideas about predestination was also launched within the universities, despite the fact that Calvinism was part of the official Anglican doctrine. And when Arminianism finally became official in the 1620s, opposition to it continued from inside the universities, even at the height of the Laudian tyranny. The universities only became fully conformist in the late seventeenth century, and then they overdid their enthusiasm for the status quo to such a degree that they had the greatest difficulty adapting to the revolution of 1688, and thereafter tended to lapse into centers of High Tory disaffection.
As for the role of the universities as agents of social mobility, the very large number of men of humble origins whom they enrolled sufficiently speaks for itself. Whatever else they were at this period, the colleges were not exclusive havens for the social elite.
The second flaw in Professor Kearney’s book is his organization of intellectual history around a Hegelian dialectic of conservative and radical opposites. In the first place his categories are all wrong. It is false to identify classical studies with conservatism in the seventeenth century, however much this may be true today. Indeed Hobbes argued the opposite, that the English Revolution was caused in considerable measure by too much reading of such subversive republicans as Cicero, Tacitus, and Seneca.
It is unreasonable to call Eliot a “Court Humanist” and Lawrence Humphrey a “Country Humanist,” since they merely represent different stages in the acclimatization of an Italian prototype rather than distinctive intellectual positions. Humphrey was merely adapting a Renaissance model to a Reformation society, and, as the protégé of the Earls of Leicester and Warwick, he cannot be described as any less a “Court figure” than Eliot. As for scholastic theology, it is true that the Early Fathers are less dangerous literary fare than the New Testament. But slavish reliance on the Bible as the source of all authority is hardly more liberating a doctrine than one of slavish reliance on Aristotle. Dr. Kearney’s opposites are by no means as contrary as he claims, nor are the consequences of adopting them as obvious.
Moreover, he mysteriously ignores theology altogether and consequently fails even to notice the main intellectual quarrel which was tearing Oxford and Cambridge apart between 1590 and 1640, namely the battle between predestinarian Calvinists and free-will Arminians over the Doctrine of Grace. This was one of the most hotly debated issues of the period, and one which was to have the most serious political consequences once Charles I swung the whole weight of Court influence behind Arminians.
Nor is it good enough to treat Ramism, Baconianism, Cartesianism, and the Moderns as interchangeable parts of an intellectually progressive machine. Ramism cannot easily be fitted into a left-right spectrum, except in so far as at Cambridge it was clearly associated with the Puritanism of Cartwright and his followers. The Baconians and the Cartesians were opposites in their approach to the scientific method, and many Moderns rejected science as unsuitable for the education of a gentleman. In order to make his conservative/progressive dichotomy stick, Professor Kearney is forced in places to indulge in anachronistic thinking. For example, he regards a belief in astrology, in the effect of the heavenly bodies upon the character and fortunes of the individual, as evidence of conservative thinking. But this was a standard assumption of the seventeenth century, common both to many of the new scientists and to the Aristotelians, and nothing whatever can be deduced from it.
In any case, even if Professor Kearney’s categories were correct, which they are not, his system of polarities is false, since it is not how ideas work. New ideas permeate old ones, run underground and pop up in unexpected places, mingle surreptitiously, or even coexist side by side without either conflict or conflation. One system of beliefs or values rarely challenges another directly and finally overthrows it in a single cataclysmic struggle. It is more a matter of guerrilla warfare, secret infiltration, and eventual mutual accommodation.
The third error is the crude way in which Professor Kearney relates ideas or sets of ideas directly and functionally to the alleged interests of certain classes. This bull-in-a-china-shop approach to intellectual history is no way to advance our understanding of the sociology of knowledge. Under this reductionist treatment the intellectual disappears as an individual with a personal and unique contribution to make, and becomes merely the symbol of a class or interest.
Thus Professor Kearney not only associates the classics, Aristotelian scholasticism, and the Early Fathers with conservatism; he also associates conservatism with the gentry. Everything else—biblical study, Ramism, Cartesianism, Baconianism, the Moderns—is regarded not only as potentially subversive, but also as associated with the merchants. This attachment of specific curricular programs to specific social groups like gentry and merchants is pure poppycock unsupported by any shred of evidence. For example, how is it possible to argue that the strength of Locke’s position “depended essentially upon the appeal which he made to new social groups…the monied interest” (p. 159)? In his treatise on education, Locke is specifically and exclusively concerned with the bringing up of a young landed gentleman, and his undoubted links with the Whig Party leaders hardly turn him into an educational reformer in the mercantile interest.
The social bases of the model are not any better founded than the intellectual ones. The shrinking enrollment of upper-class students after 1670 cannot be explained by any hypothetical decline of the gentry in the face of merchant competition. If the lesser gentry were indeed in financial difficulty at this time, the greater gentry and nobility were in a flourishing condition, and yet the latter were fleeing the universities as fast as the former. What we see in the late seventeenth century is a wholesale rejection of the value of a university education as a preparation for life as a member of the elite. Attendance of gentry at the university declined not because they represented a declining social class but because they no longer chose to send their sons there.
As for the second allegedly declining class, the clergy, their numbers were stationary, and their status was rising, while their finances were certainly not getting worse and were soon to improve with the aid of Queen Anne’s Bounty. They were rapidly becoming the social associates of the gentry, the solid backbone of the Tory Party, and were beginning to infiltrate the Bench of Justices. What sense does it make to describe the post-1689 period as “The Age of Dissent” (p. 158), when in fact it saw the solidification of squire and parson as the dominant elite of the countryside?
The fourth flaw in Professor Kearney’s book is the assumption that there is a one-to-one correlation between what goes on in the university and the needs of outside society. This is to take the misguided functionalist notions of modern sociologists far too seriously. As every historian knows, all the institutions of society are partly functional and partly antiquated, vestigial, or even frankly “dysfunctional.” This is because they all have a history and a life of their own, and their response to outside pressure is consequently imperfect, stumbling, tardy, and even reactive.
Professor Kearney assumes that the things that are taught in a university are directly and functionally related to the needs of society, but the history of higher education in the West over the past four centuries does not support this assumption. The three great and unquestioned contributions of the university to society have been the preservation of the cultural heritage of civilization; the advancement of learning, meaning the increase in factual information and the formulation of new ideas about both nature and society; and the technical preparation of graduate students for the professions—until quite recently for the church, law, and medicine, and now for a whole range of new occupations from engineering to the professional study of history. These are three services without which no advanced society can function, and which have usually been supplied in the West by the universities.
It must be admitted that the cultural heritage in art and music and creative literature has hitherto always been transmitted outside the university through an informal apprenticeship system. It must also be admitted that some of the most innovative thinkers of modern times—Marx and Darwin and Freud, for example—have lived and worked quite outside the academic profession, and that at one period, the eighteenth century, the advancement of learning took place almost entirely elsewhere. But over the last century, the university has been acquiring a more and more exclusive monopoly over all three functions, evidence of which are the creative arts and creative literature programs, the research-oriented faculties in the major institutions, the rise of professional schools in law and medicine and business, and the growth of the graduate programs, which effectively control admission to the various academic disciplines. (As a result, I am myself already a hopeless anachronism in the late twentieth century, made possible only by the cultural lag of the English educational system—a professional historian without a Ph.D., and an art historian who has never attended a course in art history.)
The university also supplies a fourth service to society, the general education, until recently of a tiny social and intellectual elite, and now of a rapidly increasing proportion of the masses. In this case the specific curricular methods adopted are by no means so obviously related to social purpose as they are in the case of the other three. Indeed it is the lack of “relevance” of the undergraduate education which is one of the main burdens of student complaints. But this problem of relevance was far more glaring in the past than it is today. To give the most obvious example: what has been the functional purpose, in educational and intellectual terms, of giving the ruling classes of the nation-states of northern Europe and America a painfully narrow training in the dead language of a long-extinct Mediterranean empire? The classical authors certainly contained most of human wisdom as it was known in the early modern period, but as the contemporary critics kept pointing out, almost all of them were available in translation and the stress on the linguistic and grammatical forms tended to obscure their factual and philosophical content.
A remarkable volume of fresh educational thought was generated during the Puritan Revolution, and is discussed in detail in Professor Greaves’s useful, if somewhat uninspired, book. Most of the reformers were hostile to the current classical curriculum, some from a utilitarian wish to make education more relevant, others from a desire to break down existing social distinctions. As they pointed out at the time, and as has been pointed out many times since, the value of learning Latin in creating and preserving class distinctions is clear enough, but to label such a grind a “liberal education” is merely a hilarious early example of double-think. Indeed in my gloomier moments I tend to suspect that a good deal of what has been taught to undergraduates at the university throughout most of history—including the present—has been about as useful to the society and as beneficial to the individual as the practice of female circumcision. No such doubts seem to have occurred to Professor Kearney.
In any case, it is an open question to what extent the things students learn in the university classroom influence their subsequent political and religious beliefs. Is it possible to deduce the future political positions of an Elizabethan gentleman from whether he was fed at the university on a diet of Scheibler, Burgersdicius, and Zabarella, or one of Scribonius, Freigius, and Beurhusius? Maybe it is, but the connection has yet to be made.
Changes in the content of the sermons in the college chapels probably had a greater influence on attitude formation than changes in the content of reading lists in the classrooms. Similarly today, the fact that most academics at the better universities are liberals in their political and moral attitudes is more important in shaping the values of undergraduates than the subject matter of the textbooks they prescribe. (Even so, these attitudes have been prevalent for forty years, without doing anything very obvious to alter the Republican and conservative views of the alumni.)
Some academics consequently give up altogether. In the late seventeenth century John Aubrey decided that it was a waste of time to try to teach adolescents anything at all, since at that age their minds are so obsessed with images and fantasies of sex that they are incapable of paying attention to any other subject. There is reason to think that he was exaggerating, but even so, the impact of changes in the curriculum on student values is a subject about which virtually nothing is known. All academics assume that they have profound effects, but none of us can prove it, and Sir Osbert Sitwell’s description of his education as taking place “in the holidays from Eton” is perhaps not all that unusual. What goes on outside the classroom, in private reading, conversations with fellow students, informal discussions with the faculty, and extracurricular activity, may be more important than what goes on inside it.
Finally, Professor Kearney’s use of the student notebooks he has discovered is not convincing. It is by no means certain that the intellectual development of an individual at the university can be reconstructed from the perusal of one or two of many books of notes on lectures attended and books read for class (I am certain mine could not). Even if we assume that it can be, Professor Kearney fails to distinguish the notebooks of students proceeding to a degree and a donnish or clerical career, from notebooks of young gentlemen in temporary residence to pick up a liberal education.
Thirdly, he tends to use the argument ex silentio, making deductions from what is not in them, when we clearly can never be sure that the same student did not own other notebooks on the same or other subjects which are now lost. This is particularly important since the “Guides to Students” suggest that the curriculum was very mixed, so that one notebook might easily contain Aristotle and Galen and another Harvey, Galileo, and Gassendi. Where the evidence is reasonably abundant, we find different reading lists being given to different students by different tutors in the same college (p. 83). This is what we might expect, but it casts doubts upon Professor Kearney’s stage model.
Moreover, it must regretfully be said that there is evidence to suggest that Professor Kearney’s use of the new materials he has discovered is often cavalier, if not occasionally downright slipshod. He never gives his readers a full and careful description of the contents of the notebooks and guides, and in the few cases in which it has been possible to check with the original manuscripts his presentation of their contents is either imperfect or positively misleading.
For example, the late-seventeenth-century guides to students at Oxford include, along with the traditional authorities, works on Cartesian logic, neo-Platonist ethics, the Lockean assault on metaphysics, and a large range of modern scientific writers. There is therefore some reason to think that the universities may not have been quite so reactionary after all in the late seventeenth century, except for the bad period of the mid-1680s, which was one of acute political crisis. If this is so, one of the main props of the model falls to the ground.
If parts of Professor Kearney’s model are unsound, what is there to put in its place? The answer is, not much, except what remains of his own structure plus some suggestions from elsewhere. We now know that in most parts of Europe between the middle of the sixteenth and the middle of the seventeenth century—the exact dates vary from country to country—men were flooding into the universities in numbers which, taken as a proportion of the male age group, were not matched until the 1930s or afterward. This is certainly true of England, Germany, Spain, and Massachusetts and is probably true of France and Italy. The vast majority of this mob of students became dropouts, either because of poverty or because they were not seeking a degree in any case. Why they came, how they supported themselves, what they did afterward are questions which are still obscure. It is tempting to see in this movement a fashion or a fad, first propagated by the Humanists, and later encouraged for quite different reasons by the Puritans, the Jesuits, and the secular state, but a fad which eventually got out of hand.
The social consequences of the influx were ambiguous. Professor Kearney is right in arguing that knowledge of Latin became a passport to gentility, and that classical studies therefore helped to polarize society. But the enormous extension of opportunities for the relatively humble to acquire a classical education at grammar school, private school, and college was a factor making for greater social mobility rather than less. The intellectual significance of curricular changes is even more ambiguous. The Latin classics can and could be regarded as leading to either conservatism or subversion, according to taste; Ramism’s association with Puritanism at Cambridge may be fortuitous, and it certainly was not a radical force in, say, eighteenth-century Yale; reliance on the Bible is perhaps even less liberating intellectually than reliance on Aristotle; and the relationship of the new science to political and religious opinions is at best unproven and at worst nonexistent.
What is beyond dispute is that over the greater part of Europe (except for the Calvinist areas) the higher education bubble burst in the middle years of the seventeenth century. One reason was that far too many men were being educated to far too high a level and in far too nonvocational subjects such as the classics for these underdeveloped societies to find them satisfactory employment afterward. The state began to worry about the threat to social stability of a class of alienated intellectuals—curates, lecturers, schoolmasters, drifters—while the Jesuits and the Dissenters set up their own rival establishments to the universities. The poor no longer saw higher education as an open avenue to social advancement, and the number of entrants fell to match the limited openings in the Church and the declining opportunities in schoolmastering.
There was a downward spiral of university education and job opportunities for the educated. This is because, like all educational booms, that of the sixteenth century was partly feeding on itself, in the sense that many graduates entered the expanding teaching professions. But disillusionment with higher education also spread to the grammar schools, large numbers of which abandoned the teaching of the classics in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As a result, the proportion of the male population which was acquainted with Latin in 1750 or 1800 must have been very significantly less than it had been in 1650.
Moreover, the rich, who had never looked to higher education for vocational training, were now cured of that respect for classical learning as such which had been propagated with such zest by the Humanists. They were now demanding no more than an all-round training in the liberal arts, the shallower and broader education of the quintessentially amateur virtuoso, which was something that the universities were ill-equipped to offer. Locke urged parents to keep their children at home with a private tutor, others recommended one of the academies abroad. Furthermore, the second quality that universities could claim to foster, namely piety through biblical and exegetical study, was no longer so highly prized by the secular elite as once it had been. The age of religious indifference had set in by the late seventeenth century.
By the eighteenth century the universities were therefore back to where they began in the Middle Ages, as fairly small training schools for the professions, mainly the Church. Since the gentry were also deserting the Inns of Court, one of the social consequences must have been a growing isolation of the professional classes, clergy, lawyers, and doctors, from the landed elite they serviced. They may have come from much the same social class, but they no longer went to college together. It may well also be that the higher ranks of the squirarchy and the nobility, who continued to get an education at home with a tutor, at an academy abroad, and on the Grand Tour, became more and more culturally distinct from the lesser parish gentry, who now terminated their education at school level, before settling down in the countryside to the pleasures of the chase and the bottle.
As a result of this flight from the universities of the social elite, less than half of the men who achieved sufficient eminence in the eighteenth century to win an entry in the Dictionary of National Biography had attended Oxford or Cambridge while less than three quarters had attended any university at all (the additional university men being drawn from the Scottish and Irish universities).
The intellectual consequences were hardly less serious than the social. With the end of ideology, the state again lost interest in the dons, who were no longer useful in its propaganda wars, and the flood of polemical literature produced by the latter subsided. From being the intellectual powerhouses of Europe, universities sank back to obscure backwaters, hardly stirred by the great movement of the Enlightenment, which came out of circles in the capital cities and on the margins of the haut monde. It was not until the age of Napoleon that the universities began to revive again, intellectually, socially, and numerically.
In their valuable earlier work (Les Héritiers: Les étudiants et la culture, Editions de Minuit, Paris, 1964), Professors Bourdieu and Passeron produced a great deal of empirical evidence to suggest that, at any rate in France, education reinforces class distinctions rather than breaks them down. Their second volume, which has just appeared, is predominantly theoretical and sets out to prove that education is no more nor less than the employment of “symbolic violence” to support the interests and inculcate the values considered desirable by the dominant class. This simplistic proposition, which is that adopted by Professor Kearney, is set out in language whose turgid opacity matches, if it does not exceed, the worst products of American sociologists. Listen to this:
Dans une formation sociale déterminée, le système des actions pédagogiques en tant qu’il est soumis à l’effet de domination de l’action pédagogique dominante tend à réproduire, dans les classes dominantes comme dans les classes dominées, la méconnaissance de la vérité objective de la culture légitime comme arbitraire culturel dominant dont la reproduction contribue à la reproduction des rapports de force. [p. 46]
Would that C. Wright Mills were still alive to lay into this pretentious verbosity!
If one can hack one’s way through the dense stylistic jungle, Professors Bourdieu and Passeron have some extremely interesting ideas and findings to report. They hypothesize that the lower one descends in the social scale, the poorer are the cultural capital and attitudes in the home, and consequently the less well an average student will perform in class. They also hypothesize that access to higher education is wide open for children of the upper and middle classes, but restricted for those of the laboring class.
One would deduce that the unselected upper-class and the highly selected lower-class students would tend to perform academically above the average, while the unselected lower-middle-class students would tend to perform below the average. And this is precisely what happens, from which one can draw the conclusion that it is in the primary and secondary schools that the real breakthrough must be made in the equalization of opportunity. The most depressing finding of all is that between 1961 and 1965, when French higher education was undergoing an enormous expansion, the very unequal social distribution of the student body remained virtually unchanged, as did the very unequal distribution between high and low prestige schools and departments.
Professors Bourdieu and Passeron rightly conclude that the only sure method of studying the sociology of education is to analyze the needs of the teaching profession as a specialized interest group, to relate the educational system to the class structure, and to run quantitative statistical tests to establish and measure that relationship. One weakness, however, is their reluctance to build into their model a place for the quasi-independence of the educational system, which is one of the most obstinately resistant to change of all the institutions of society. Even more damaging—for here and there they admit the semi-independence of this variable—is their refusal to take intellectual policy and activity seriously in any other way than as an instrument for the maintenance in power of the ruling class.
This not-so-subtle denigration of high culture—for all high culture is by necessity the culture of the ruling class—and the parallel denigration of the professors who are the guardians of that culture have led some critics to charge Professors Bourdieu and Passeron with undermining respect for civilization itself and of encouraging the contempt for academic freedom, the overt anti-intellectualism, and the wilder political excesses of the French movement for student power. If only the two authors were more readable, there would undoubtedly be much truth to these charges, but they attack the Mandarins using the arcane language and the logic of the Mandarins, and their influence is therefore presumably very limited.
The books of Professors Bourdieu and Passeron are symptoms of the current crisis and disillusionment in higher education, which replaces the euphoria of two decades of rapid and confident expansion. For such a time, the story of the rise and fall of higher education in the seventeenth century can offer some illuminating historical insights. The late seventeenth century, for example, saw the last effective protest against the onward march of the Certification Society, the ultimate and most irrational manifestation of which we are witnessing today. The most valuable piece of property a parent can hand down to his children at present is access to education leading to the acquisition of a certificate or degree, the higher the better.
Professors Bourdieu and Passeron dissect the way a cruel and relentless examination system has imposed itself upon all aspects of French education, and now determines the chances in life of all French children. But, as Professor Berg has demonstrated in a brief, lucid, and devastating book which deserves to be widely read, it is simply not true that the training leading to a certificate makes one better qualified for the performance of the job, access to which is dependent upon that certificate.
In occupations in which recruitment is still open to certificate-holders and those without them (the number of jobs where this is true diminishes daily), Professor Berg has shown beyond all possibility of doubt that there is in most cases an inverse correlation between educational achievement and subsequent proficiency. The only clear positive correlation seems to be with job dissatisfaction. There is certainly a correlation between income expectations and levels of certification (in America a college graduate at twenty-five can expect an income 50 percent larger than that of a high-school graduate of the same age), but this is because employers keep demanding ever higher standards of certification as a screen for access to higher paid jobs, without stopping to find out whether there is any economic rationale to their recruitment policies. The main result is to guarantee ever increasing numbers of often unwilling clients to fill the educational institutions which provide the necessary certificates. The colleges and universities therefore expand, at the public expense, and employers raise the qualifications one notch further in self-defense, in order to choke off the flood of certified applicants.
The ultimate absurdity of the current situation occurs in the school-teaching profession, in which a certificate obtained decades earlier will guarantee a higher salary for life, regardless of proven efficiency, or lack of it. One striking example of the irrelevant nature of the prerequisite training can be seen in the medical profession, where prospective doctors, who will spend their lives in clinical practice, are obliged to devote long years to acquiring an M.D. geared largely to training for medical research. Another is seen in the training of college teachers, who are obliged to spend two to four years preparing for and then executing a piece of research, when 90 percent will never publish a line beyond the dissertation, and will be solely concerned with teaching, a subject in which they obtain no training whatsoever.
Like Mandarin China, the twentieth-century West is in a strait-jacket of a system of degrees and certificates the rational purpose of which has long since been lost to view. The current solution of the radicals, and of many liberals, is to demand open enrollment in the university for all, so that everyone can obtain a certificate. As an emergency measure of humanitarian relief to save a generation facing personal disaster as a result of the disintegration and soullessness of the average inner-city urban high school, there is much to be said for such a move. To students denied a decent primary and secondary education, open admission represents a last chance to achieve a middle-class background and career.
But the university is not designed for this task. If the trend to open admissions continues, and becomes permanent, it will certainly make the certificates distributed at graduation even more meaningless than they are already; it will probably destroy the intellectual standards of the universities; and it may well accelerate their transformation from quiet places of scholarly learning and inquiry and voluntary submission to agreed standards of behavior into open prisons in which hordes of indifferent or hostile students pass a few years while waiting for their certificates, and are barely restrained from open violence by threats of tear gas, clubs, and guns.
The financial cost of education to the society is creeping up close to that of military defense, but the one seems to be exacerbating rather than curing social evils at home, while the other is manifestly failing to provide either security or freedom for anyone, at home or abroad. Moreover, despite the rising expenditure upon it, American higher education is already faltering in the task of the advancement of learning. In the 1950s and 1960s, America took over the intellectual leadership of the world, and its major institutions became some of the most dynamic centers of scientific and cultural advance the world has ever seen. Society paid for all this by accident rather than by deliberate intent, since it was a byproduct of the cold war. Thus the Department of Defense, AEC, and NASA funded most of the basic scientific research, and NDEA—itself a reaction to the Russian Sputnik—funded the training of graduate students in all areas.
But already the downturn is apparent. To give but one example among many, radio astronomy will clearly be one of the most exciting areas of scientific advance of the Seventies, since it will explain many of the mysteries of the origins and development of the universe. But America is already falling out of the race, because of failure to build the expensive radio telescope essential for the new advances. NDEA fellowships for graduate students are coming to an end, and Fulbright fellowships for faculty have almost dried up as a means of supporting sabbatical leaves and travel for research. This might be acceptable if the quality of teaching were improving as a result, but it is not. The financial squeeze on all universities works to reduce the ratio of faculty to students, so that personal contact will necessarily decline, thus aggravating the sense of alienation and frustration of the students.
As Professor Berg points out, all this is bitter medicine for liberal academics to swallow. All our lives we have struggled for an expansion of the higher educational system, in the belief that “formal education has been the equilibrating mechanism in a progressing industrial democracy which has been relatively free of class conflict.” We have believed that exposure of more and more adolescents of both sexes to Plato and Shakespeare and Jefferson and Keynes might somehow improve the quality of the society, raise the standards of good citizenship, and thus create a more rational and humane political and social system. But after all these efforts, neither society nor politics seems very much more rational or cultured or humane than they were a generation ago, and to the extent that they are, it is hard to evaluate the influence of the universities as opposed to that of the school and television.
Secondly, we liberals have believed that it is possible for excellence in teaching and scholarship to be maintained and supported along with mass higher education, and that the two are complementary rather than antagonistic. But the educational crisis of the mass universities, exposed to attack from the know-nothing radical right and the nihilist radical left, threatens to drag the centers of excellence down with them. These elite campuses have been among the major sites of disturbance, but this is partly because of the peculiar sensitivity of their students to the evils of war, poverty, and racism, partly because some of them have been expanded for teaching purposes into huge impersonal multiversities, and partly because others, while restricting size, have sacrificed teaching for research.
Thirdly, we liberals have believed that mass education is the only way to achieve a just society based on equality and opportunity for all, regardless of class, wealth, race, or sex. But recent research casts grave doubts on the efficacy of the means adopted for this end. Professors Bourdieu and Passeron, as well as Professor Berg, have produced evidence to show that in large measure the educational system functions more to maintain the existing structure of opportunity than to shake it up. The education offered in ghetto schools is so bad that the poor rarely have a chance, while the education offered at many of the degree-mills is little better. At all levels, the system seems to favor the children of the rich and the established, much as the old restrictive elitist system used to do.
These sociologists have not proved—at any rate to my satisfaction—that the lack of opportunity is as great as it used to be, but their research certainly makes it worth inquiring whether greater improvement in equality of opportunity could not be achieved at less economic, social, intellectual, and human costs than by herding masses of reluctant students through a college education.
This criticism of the trend toward mass higher education should not be confused with the vulgar anti-intellectualism currently being whipped up for political purposes. Wallacism and Agnewism, like McCarthyism before them, are specially directed against elite educational institutions and the intellectual elite of the nation—“pointy-headed intellectuals” and “nattering nabobs of negativism.”
Nor should this criticism be confused with the snobbish nostalgia for a gentlemanly past still to be found here and there in elite institutions in America and England. It is not snobbish to stress the critical importance to society of turning out a highly skilled, talented, and humane managerial, intellectual, and cultural elite to fill positions of power and influence. Regardless of whether it is organized on democratic socialist, communist, or capitalist lines, any complex advanced society is going to need such skilled and highly trained elites for its efficient functioning. Indeed, social justice is only possible through a combination of moral concern with technical efficiency.
Nor is it snobbish to place great importance on the creation of conditions and facilities for pushing forward the frontiers of knowledge, and of providing bases for the formulation of thoughtful and well-informed social criticism. It is mere common sense to argue that these latter two functions, and to some extent the former, can most effectively be carried out by a minority of individuals interacting together in small-scale, expensive institutions with the highest intellectual standards and a very low faculty-student ratio. There is a world of difference between defending this position and defending the Oxbridge and Ivy League of the past, crammed as they were with well-born, lazy, and often rather stupid “gentleman Cs,” passing comfortably through on their way to inheriting elite positions in the outside world.
It is essential that the dreams of the liberals for a more egalitarian, more free, and more culturally sophisticated society should not be abandoned in a wave of despair. What we need is a new educational strategy for their implementation. Professor Berg suggests that a better way to achieve the ends we have in mind would be to concentrate resources upon improving the primary and secondary sectors of education, rather than upon continuing the indefinite expansion of the higher sector. This would solve the present problem of too much education for many children of the middle classes, who are consequently discontented, and too little for many children of the poor, who are also consequently discontented.
One hundred years ago President McCosh of Princeton complained about the “vast amount of talent lost to the country in bright boys…being obliged to devote their lives to manual occupations. I hold that the secondary school is the main means of calling forth talent in every country.” The plans for publicly financed high schools ultimately triumphed, and so transformed American society, despite the horrified opposition of the laissez-faire liberal President Eliot of Harvard. We now all know that McCosh was right, that the bottleneck in upward social mobility occurs very early in life, and yet at present the emphasis is being placed much later, on the open university.
Secondly, Professor Berg proposes a head-on attack on the purposeless certification mania which now threatens to deflect the universities from their true tasks of personal liberation by exposure to the free market of ideas, the preservation of the higher culture, the production of new social criticism, and the advancement of learning. He would like to see employers lower the educational barriers they are currently building ever higher, since his evidence shows that they bear no relationship to subsequent job performance.
Thirdly, Professor Berg proposes that society adopt as a first priority the creation of a condition of full or near-full employment. This is absolutely essential, since at the moment the colleges are acting as concealed unemployment relief agencies, keeping millions of youngsters off the streets for between two and four years. If these adolescents were freed from the social and financial obligation to go to college, and could follow their inclinations to seek meaningful work and to establish a family, they could not find employment as things stand now, since the jobs do not exist. If for accounting purposes some of these millions of unwilling students were added to the ranks of the unemployed, as in a sense they should be, and if part of the cost of higher education was added to the cost of relief, America would be shown to be content with an unemployment rate very much higher than that of any other fully industrialized society in the world.
Lastly, Professor Berg proposes the creation of a diversity of paths into the upper reaches of the job market, instead of giving the monopoly to a largely irrelevant education in college. There is now good reason to believe that only a minority finds satisfaction in a bookish education prolonged through adolescence, and that this is particularly true of the liberal arts and social sciences. Departments such as the professional schools of law, business, and medicine, and until very recently in engineering and the natural sciences, where the learning is directly related to expertise for a future job, clearly provide an education in which most students find satisfaction. The same cannot be said of the humanities. What is needed is the provision of far greater opportunities for specialized training in a variety of trades and occupations, from plumber to journalist, from computer programmer to electrician.
Such training can take place in technical schools and community colleges, the enormous expansion of which in the last few years is one of the most hopeful signs of change. Enrollment in the latter has risen from half a million to two million in the last decade, and is expected to continue to rise at a tremendous pace. These colleges offer vocational training preparatory to employment, and also general education for those who hope later to transfer to a four-year college. They are very cheap and they are centrally located near major centers of population. They appear to be a much more practical solution to the problem of creating an open and upwardly mobile society than the cramming of increasing numbers of bored students into four-year colleges and universities.
But many who are fully competent to teach vocational skills are to be found elsewhere than in schools and colleges. New ways must be found to give both the young and the old access to those who can provide the instruction they want—through subsidized apprenticeships, industrial training programs, and the creation of independent specialized centers for learning, in all of which the emphasis must be on relevant competence, not on certificates. At the same time, the employers themselves must be willing to set up on-the-job training programs of their own, and to accept applicants on the basis of ability and aptitude, not on that of the diplomas they carry with them.
Another proposal, not made by Professor Berg, but put forward among the very similar set of recommendations recently published by the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, is to open the universities and colleges on a vastly larger scale than has hitherto been envisioned to fully adult students returning to seek cultural enrichment or technical instruction. It may well be that the humanities, such as philosophy, literature, and history, could more profitably be taught to experienced adults rather than to adolescents. Perhaps we should not be so eager to pump an understanding of Hegel or Cervantes or the French Revolution into the reluctant minds of young people too immature in their emotional development and too ignorant of the world to understand the problems of community and power and passion and sex with which these subjects face them.
But if adults are to be released from work during the daytime for periods of study, there will need to be a major rethinking of policy concerning job security and leaves of absence in all the factories and offices in the country. This will not be easy to accomplish, unless the much heralded effects of automation substantially reduce the demand for labor.
The problem that faces us today is how to preserve high culture from dilution and eventual decay in the crisis of mass higher education, and at the same time how to keep American society open for upward mobility from below. This latter objective is urgently necessary at a time when the last major underprivileged group is trying to force its way upward into the middle-class mainstream against the unique disadvantage of racial prejudice.
To achieve both goals we need a radically new strategy for higher education, to pare away much of the useless fat accumulated over the past decades, and to devise much more varied, flexible, and specialized responses to the needs of widely different segments of the population. The multiversity, the gigantic impersonal all-purpose educational factory assembly-line, is clearly unworkable, both in theory and in practice.
The creation of a much more varied range of institutions of higher education, the shift of many students out of the universities altogether and into systems of apprenticeship, the postponement of education for some far into adult life, and the abandonment of the certificate as a requirement for entry into most jobs will all require a dramatic reversal of the trends of the past twenty-five years. It will involve major rethinking and readjustment, not merely by the academic profession, whose jobs are dependent on the maintenance in involuntary servitude of their swollen audience of students, but also by employers and businessmen.
To implement the necessary changes will require a greater shift of psychological attitudes, an equally sustained attack on powerful and well-entrenched vested interests, and a more complicated reallocation of priorities than those now currently in progress to reduce the size of the military-industrial complex. It is going to be far easier to reassess defense priorities than it will be to reorder those of education, but much of the money saved on the one is likely to be wasted on the other, unless this reordering is undertaken.
Today is not the first time that high culture has been thought to be in danger in America. In 1809 the Reverend Joseph Stevens Buckminster delivered the Phi Beta Kappa address at Harvard which has about it the ring of contemporary prophecy. Looking back over the years since the Revolution, Buckminster concluded:
Our forms of education were becoming more popular and superficial; the knowledge of antiquity began to be despised; and the hard labor of learning to be dispensed with. Soon the ancient strictness of discipline disappeared; the curriculum of studies were shortened in favor of impatience or the necessities of candidates for literary honors; the pains of application were derided, and a pernicious notion of equality was introduced which has not only tainted our sentiments, but impaired our vigor and crippled our literary eminence.2
Although the preparation of freshmen entering college is today clearly still improving (except in places of open enrollment), whereas in 1809 it was clearly deteriorating, there are signs that the developments described by Buckminster are again beginning to affect undergraduate and even graduate education. Although no serious damage can yet be detected, there is already apparent a growing reluctance among students to permit discrimination between sheep and goats, to reward excellence and punish sloth or stupidity; a widespread contempt for any form of learning which does not have the crudest kind of relevance to the contemporary scene; a decline of respect for that infinite capacity for taking pains which is so essential for success in any form of intellectual endeavor; and worst of all, the rise of the cult of unreason, emotion, and free self-expression, regarded as somehow superior to logic, clear thinking, and self-discipline.
At its best and most healthy this takes the form of Norman O. Brown and Herbert Marcuse’s pleas for the recognition of sexuality and sensuality as an essential means of perception, complementary to that of the mind. But it turns into something wholly destructive when it becomes a call to substitute emotive feeling for rational thought, and intuition for fact. Its most extreme manifestations are the growing popularity of astrology, Tarot cards, and Zen mysticism, and the growing temptation to escape into the gaudy world of drugs. Some of the young are clearly seeking a kind of religion, but in the search they are rejecting one thousand years of civilization. As has been well said, they are the Holy Barbarians of our time. Their mentors, who are leading the young down these dead-end paths, are guilty of the ultimate trahison des clercs, the conscious denigration of the life of the mind. Once that is no longer respected, the university has lost the justification for its existence. There is no need to give up on reason, just because apparently “rational” men like Herman Kahn, W. W. Rostow, and Robert McNamara have led us into the present mess.
In the light of the gloomy potentialities lurking in the current situation, the story of the rise and fall of higher education in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries carries a warning, or a prophecy, for the present. On one occasion in modern European history, enthusiasm for higher education on the part of the state, the parents, the children, and the academics reached extraordinary heights and then collapsed. Educational overproduction was judged dangerous by the authorities, since it created a public nuisance, namely a body of alienated intellectuals; it was recognized as self-defeating by the parents, whose overeducated children could not find suitable employment.
The curriculum was condemned as boring and irrelevant by the students, and scholarship itself was condemned by influential groups of religious enthusiasts as an obstacle to emotional perception of the Divine will, while the secular elite no longer thought it worth the trouble. Student numbers fell drastically, the flow of funds from outside dried up, and the universities ceased to be the centers of intellectual innovation, since the ebbing of the tide of bored and frustrated students carried away with it the cultural dynamism of the universities. Western civilization admittedly survived, but the eighteenth century was intellectually impoverished because of it. This is what happened three hundred years ago all over Europe; there is some reason to suspect that, if a major reassessment of the essential role of the universities is not carried out, it may perhaps be about to happen again on both sides of the Atlantic.
January 28, 1971