Education & Culture

The fourth pillar, education and culture, is built upon the recognition of two essential realities. First, the Western intellectual tradition requires a dedication to and desire for truth. Second, education takes place not only within colleges and universities but within our broader culture, whose institutions and practices form us as whole persons.

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In an egalitarian age, the British monarchy not only persists but flourishes because of three related and often overlooked factors: British people don’t really know the monarch, so they construct one in their preferred image, and this results in a sense of ownership that provides an unexpected democratic dimension, while also offering the possibility of reform and renewal.
Harvard is not as perfect as its admirers claim, with intellectual curiosity and political diversity too often in short supply. But neither is it the lost cause its critics suggest, if only because its size and inherent elitism place limits on its progressive inclinations. Like most things, Harvard is what one makes of it—and this can include experiences rooted in faith and friendship.
For all their convenience, e-books just can’t do for us what physical books do. Something about the physical act of reading a book—the intertwined visual and tactile experience—stamps these things on our memory. An ebook is just too ephemeral—too disembodied, literally.
After reading Terry Eagleton’s new book, Critical Revolutionaries, the message is quite clear for those who love literature: avoid graduate school, find others who share your passion, and recover a proud tradition now lost to ideology and politics.
Being perplexed means allowing other people and ideas to change or move you at times. Perplexity doesn’t seek cheap or easy answers to serious questions. And it isn’t satisfied with momentary highs from oversimplified and triumphant assertions, but prefers the rewards of prolonged contemplation. Perplexity also turns its sights from the grotesque, and doesn’t abuse its objects for the sake of stimulation or entertainment.
We Princeton students should recognize that each of us has a critical role to play in making sure our common good—the truth-seeking ideal—is cherished and protected by our shared culture. No matter how impressively our institution formally stands behind free speech, and no matter how spot-on our president is in his defense of it, the truth-seeking endeavor will be decimated if Princeton’s students—you and I—fail to foster an atmosphere in which the vigorous exchange of ideas is considered sacred.
For the rationalist or fundamentalist character, hope cannot but seem inadequate, even corny. Such a character has a rage for order and cannot but suffer an anxious repulsion for disorder. Hope, on the other hand, is not blind, or merely optimistic, nor is hope something we churn up in ourselves as a kind of subjective attitude. Hope, rather, is a virtue. It is a state that perfects us, makes us well, capable of thinking, living, and acting in the freedom of excellence.
Someone who is subjected to racist treatment is negatively impacted. That child of God is treated as less than who he or she is. Those engaging in racist behavior are negatively impacted too. Why? Because they are behaving beneath the dignity of who they are. Too often people look at racism as a one-way thing when it’s an all-the-way-round thing because it’s a human family issue. Racism is a rebellion against God’s plan for the human family and for human flourishing.
As young people prepare for college and early adulthood, they should reject conventional narratives that celebrate self-fulfillment and careerism. Instead, they should foster commitment to people, places, and ideas, and prepare for hardship and sacrifice. These countercultural habits and practices are difficult to establish, but they will serve one well in all stages of life.
During your time in college and for the rest of your life, you will encounter many people who have been wounded by lies and sin and are desperate for the truth, even if they don’t know it. Study well so that you can tend to them like the Good Samaritan did to the man by the side of the road.
University education is only indirectly related to the moral life. We should seek moral formation, but if we expect universities to form our character directly, we will be disappointed. We will also undermine the university’s ability to fulfill its proper mission: to form the intellect and, as John Henry Newman envisioned, to prepare students for the world.
“We shall not cease from exploration,” wrote T. S. Eliot in “Little Gidding,” “And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.” Such is the task of a liberal education, rightly understood. It is a liberating exploration that results not in being permanently uprooted and alienated but in being more fully at home in the world that we already inhabit—and more fully able to enhance it, beautify it, ennoble it, and sustain it.
Charles De Koninck is known for participating in an acrimonious debate about the character of the common good and Catholic personalism in the mid-1940s. This is unfortunate because that debate clarified little, and it distracted attention from De Koninck’s important perspective on modernity. We need De Koninck’s philosophy of nature because it can aid us in understanding the achievements of modern science while serving as a bulwark against reductionism.
We mere mortals may have more in common with history’s unknown shoemakers and privates. But to understand our history, it is more often necessary to look up to the heights occupied by the most visible human beings—those whose thoughts, words, and actions have had the most far-reaching effects.
In her new book, Ilana M. Horwitz shows how public schools are both more formative and more limited than is often assumed. While they serve an important role in the academic and social formation of students, schools stand as just one institution among many in contributing to student outcomes. As we emerge from the significant educational disruptions occasioned by the COVID pandemic, Horwitz’s research suggests that we must work toward rebuilding schools and other institutions alike.
From the whimsical to the obscure to the most dry-as-dust earnestness, reference books represent our impulse—perhaps our need—to organize the world around us, and even the worlds inside our heads, into some form of order and sharper understanding.
Perhaps maturity requires moderating our admiration for the intellectuals, the clerks, and the clever types. Surely a person of good judgment, stolid character, and immoveable rectitude is every bit as praiseworthy as the inventive and the quick—and in political and social life far more important.
The prevailing zeitgeist of American medical education is an almost complete and unthinking acceptance of a “woke” mentality. The demonstrations at academic medical centers and medical schools throughout the United States following George Floyd’s killing led to widespread declarations of the need to purge “systemic racism” from American medicine and to adopt “antiracism” as a dominant aspect of the medical ethos.
Joseph Raz, the master of analytic philosophy of law who died in London last month, argued that law and policy should reflect a vision of the human good, with the good of personal autonomy—enabling people to be “authors of their own lives”—at its heart. He was a true philosopher, a truth-seeker: he had convictions, but he never sought to immunize them against criticism, nor did he allow himself to fall so deeply in love with his opinions that he valued them above truth itself.
For P. D. James, we are drawn to detective fiction because it shows that even when social evils such as war, terrorism, and pandemic cannot be conquered, individual crimes can be solved by rational means—thus confirming our hope that peace and order can be restored from disruption and chaos.
Peter Lawler was a great lover of pop culture because, though often inelegant, it reflects the democratic spirit of America and the complexity of human affairs. His engagement with pop culture, which was an important part of his public activity, expressed his belief in America’s restlessness, dynamism, and optimism.
Finding time to read is always challenging, particularly within the context of being a new parent. Instead of conventional, and often ineffectual, time management strategies, we might consider some alternative principles to help incorporate reading into our busy lives: ritualistic reading, whimsical reading, and even acknowledging the value of not reading.
It is strange to reflect that someone who died in 1937 at the age of forty-six with no obvious legacy has exerted more cultural influence than most of his successors, but Antonio Gramsci’s “long struggle” of the intellectuals continues to shape our political, educational, and artistic landscape in regrettable ways.
Federal student lending creates two crises in higher education: a current crisis of affordability for students, and a looming crisis of increasing federal interference in the internal affairs of colleges and universities. Great Books colleges that opt out of federal funding offer a promising solution to both.

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