The Use Of Uselessness

Victor Davis Hanson is defending liberal learning in its classic sense:

...the therapeutic academic Left proved incapable of defending the traditional liberal arts.With three decades of defining the study of literature and history as a melodrama of race, class, and gender oppression, it managed to turn off college students and the general reading public. And, cheek by jowl, the utilitarian Right succeeded in reclassifying business and finance not just as undergraduate majors, but also as core elements in general-education requirements.

In such a climate, it is unsurprising that once again we hear talk of cutting the “non-essentials” in our colleges, such as Latin, Renaissance history, Shakespeare, Plato, Rembrandt, and Chopin. Why do we cling to the arts and humanities in a high-tech world in which we have instant recall at our fingertips through a Google search and such studies do not guarantee sure 21st-century careers? But the liberal arts train students to write, think, and argue inductively, while drawing upon evidence from a shared body of knowledge. Without that foundation, it is harder to make or demand from others logical, informed decisions about managing our supercharged society as it speeds on by.

Amen, and academia has certainly had its indefensible ticks and excesses, but the cause VDH is arguing for is harmed, not helped, by buying into the lazy stereotype that the whole academic left makes all history and literature into identity politics.

The utilitarians aren't the only right-leaning commentators that require pushback. Later in the essay, a more specific critique is made:

During the 1960s and 1970s, committed liberals thought we could short-circuit the process of liberal education by creating advocacy courses with the word “studies” in their names. Black studies, Chicano studies, community studies, environmental studies, leisure studies, peace studies, women’s studies, and hundreds more were designed to turn out more socially responsible young people. Instead, universities have too often graduated zealous advocates who lacked the broad education necessary to achieve their predetermined politicized ends.

There is truth there too, though various studies programs weren't merely aiming to create socially responsible graduates – they also sought to direct attention in the curriculum to subject matter that had long been illegitimately ignored. Nonetheless, it's great to see a defense of liberal learning - and its timeless relevance to ... living and thinking well.