Appeared in Spring 1992, Vol. XVIII, No. 1 Download PDF here

Deconstruction of every kind is one of the obsessions of our contemporary age. A fascinating twist is offered here by Professor Olsen who presents some profound thoughts in this area which are not usually proposed by liberals who seek to destroy the western patrimony. This was originally presented as a talk at the 52nd Annual Frederick William Reynolds Lecture delivered at the University of Utah on April 24, 1991.

In what is perhaps the most important and profound treatment of the history of Western education written in the twentieth century, written thirty years ago, Christopher Dawson argued that at the heart of education in the West always has lain a deep tension between two goals, enculturation and the quest for truth or wisdom, what the Greeks meant by “philosophy.” Dawson, who had considerable sociological as well as historical training and had studied and written about many non-Western cultures, knew that in one sense education in its root meaning, as a way of forming particularly the young, virtually was enculturation. For him, for instance, China was “an exceptionally clear example of the way in which the survival of a civilization is dependent on the continuity of its educational tradition.”1By such observation Dawson meant not just that in China, as anywhere, part of being brought up was learning the values and world view of one’s parents and neighbors, but that in what he called the advanced cultures specific institutions developed for creating and passing on “a common world of thought with common moral and intellectual values and a common inheritance of knowledge.”2Perhaps any attempt at forming others implies some degree of self-consciousness, but Dawson’s claim was that the development of educational institutions expressed self-consciousness about the identity of one’s culture, its common memory and past. The Chinese, as the Byzantines much later, had been but particularly aware that continuity of culture depended on continuity of education, that any break in the latter implied change in the former. Today we would probably make Dawson’s point that educational institutions create as well as pass on culture more strongly, for we have a heightened sense that education is, among other things, an instrument of power and thus it does not merely passively transmit a received past but selects between alternative pasts and claims in order often to create a more common culture than previously had existed, or at least a different one.

The Greeks of especially fifth century Athens continued to understand education as enculturation, but now to the specific goal of training men to be citizens of the polis. They, especially Herodotus, had seen and studied, if not always well understood, the countries around them and were determined to avoid what they took to be political passivity in cultures like that of Persia; which seemed to many Greeks ordered around a demeaning politics in which the mass of men were subjects, but not citizens – mere bodies to be placed in service of the absolute and arbitrary commands of a ruler. Here, although Herodotus did praise democracy and many Athenians saw nothing more at issue than the relative merits of democratic and nondemocratic forms of government, Herodotus himself, in his stirring portrayal of the courage of the aristocratic Spartans at Thermopylae, thought that the question, before being about the relative merits of the various possible forms of government, was first about the formation of self-possessed and self-directed men. This is what lay at the heart of the idea of citizenship, and Greeks from systems as different as those of Sparta and Athens thought they recognized in each other certain human qualities that were at least less commonly found outside Greece. These they wanted to form and pass on through the education of their men. I mean “men” here, for women were excluded from citizenship, and already in nuce was present the notion of “liberal education” as the education a free man needed, especially in the public or “liberal arts” of speech and persuasion, to fulfill his obligations as a participatory citizen in the life of the polis. Such education was essentially utilitarian, in that it helped prepare one for life in society.3

Very different was a tradition that had been developing much earlier, if by fits and starts, which we call pre-Socratic philosophy. Here the question had not been to discover some program of study, some sophistry, which could bring one success in public life, but to inquire into the nature of things, simply to the end of gaining knowledge, useful or not. Such inquiry was foundational in the sense that it raised ultimate philosophical issues, whether these were convenient to the community or not. Socrates as Plato describes him marks the point at which these two traditions, the philosophical and the enculturating, came together in a poignant tension which has characterized Western thought and education ever since, likely making it the most self-consciously critical of all the world’s great traditions of learning.4Because the goal of the present essay is to probe below the rhetoric of the contemporary university and the society in which it is located, to take a look at the construction of the most contemporary forms of the never-ending struggle of the claims of citizenship and philosophy against one another, we may begin no place better than with Plato’s classic exposition, via the figure of Socrates, of what is at stake.

Socrates believed passionately in something very particular, Athens and her laws, and something universal, that finally humans are obligated to find and live by the truth, however inconvenient or in conflict with a given society’s ideas. At the beginning of the Apology (17b), he describes himself as “one who speaks the truth.”5Publicly his whole life long he had benefited from Athenian citizenship and thus had fallen into Athens’ debt. As Marx has it, he could not free his consciousness from the city.6Yet finally Athens itself was to be judged, hopefully refounded, by what knowledge of excellence and goodness humans are capable. To this end, the daemon had given him a mission to be agadfly, to show by how much the traditional views found in the city fell short of the examined life, but in this he felt obligated to live by the laws which, although short of perfection, had been the source of so many benefits.

That he was ultimately obedient to something as particular as the law of one city could not be apparent until this obedience had been revealed by his death. During his life many had seen him otherwise, as, to use the phrases of his accusers in the trial that ended his life, the investigator of “things under the earth and the heavenly things,” that is of what we might call nonutilitarian knowledge; as one who “made the weaker speech the stronger,” that is, one who showed that traditional opinions often could not survive serious analysis; and as one who taught others the same (Apology 19a; cf. 18b, 19b). He tells us that these accusations were understood to signify disbelief in gods (18c) but almost immediately implicitly denies this by saying he must “proceed in whatever way is dear to the god (19a; cf. 21e, 23ab).” We know from what is said in his name elsewhere that, while his criticism had led to his denial of traditional religion, he placed great trust in his god. He also tells us that the accusations against him were understood to include corruption of the youth (23d), that is the undermining of traditional beliefs about all manner of things by rational criticism. Only by his death could Socrates’ critics know that he was not disloyal, but by his life he had shown that not even the authority of Athens was to be deferred to in questions of truth. Here the only authority was a reasoned account. If examination showed that “the stronger speech” (that is, the conventional way of looking at some subject) could not maintain itself against criticism (that is, that “the weaker speech” was in fact stronger) one could, with Strepsiades in Aristophanes’ Clouds, rail against Socrates’ “thinkery” in which what had seemed true was turned upside down and the question of truth rendered problematic. That did not alter the fact that Socrates had mortally damaged the old ways of looking at things. In the words of an American student,

“Before I came to college I was shoveling manure on the farm and happy; now I have read Kierkegaard and am unhappy, but I know I can’t return to the farm to shovel manure and be happy. Thanks a lot.”

To his own satisfaction Socrates had shown that Greek religion could not compel the assent of a thinking person and that what was called the corruption of his students, that is their discovery of how indefensible were their elders’ ideas, did not at all mean that he accepted no god or truth. His very idea of wisdom, that is of knowing one’s limits, carried with it a truth claim, but one clearly more modest than before the examined life had begun. This, perhaps, was what was so irritating about the man: first he corrupted the youth, that is, made them come to doubt that their parents could give a reasoned defense of their most deeply held views, and then he proposed alternative ways of looking at the world. Even if one knew the Old Oligarch and Thucydides made roughly the same point, how irritating to live in an Athens committed to democracy and to hear from this gadfly (or perhaps the hair is Plato’s and only the voice Socrates’) that democracy was the worst rather than the best form of government, built on such obviously untrue assertions, going against all experience, as that people are by nature equal. Worse still to hear him mount the counter argument that monarchy is the best form of government and that justice involves treating unequals unequally. One can hear still echoing in the charge of corrupting the youth the perception of what Socrates repeatedly and scornfully refers to as “the many” (Apology 19d), that somehow he was “un-Athenian,” that is, uncommitted to patriotic enculturation.

Athens’ condemnation of Socrates, appropriately by a vote close enough to leave culture critics to the present wondering whether another time the truth might win out, thus becomes emblematic for Western civilization of the opposed missions of enculturation and the quest for truth. Yet in some ways Socrates had had it easy. His century had begun in an aristocratic and small-town atmosphere in which, as late as Pericles’ Funeral Oration, one could assume that there were unwritten laws, that is, that there was an understood code to which all could be held. Antigone could represent loyalty to such a code in the face of public authority. Even though the plays of Euripides and Aristophanes are witness to the fact that the free circulation of ideas praised by Pericles, as well as the development of democratic attitudes themselves, had as one effect undermined societal consensus so that Athenians were less and less sure of what exactly those inviolable unwritten laws might be, Socrates’ culture, by comparison with our own, if far from monistic, was also not yet pluralistic in assuming that there should be no public orthodoxy. I take it that one of the intentions of Plato’s personifying the Laws of Athens and imagining them to come on stage in the Crito to defend themselves with far from convincing arguments is to show that Athens had a distinctive enough and satisfying enough form of shared life to obtain the obedience even of a man who could see that the arguments made in Athens’ behalf were not wholly compelling. Socrates in Athens knew a level of shared existence quite different from the pluralism of contemporary America, and his situation was still simple in the sense that, for instance in politics, many still believed that the end of Athens was to make good people, lovers of the truth and of noble action. That is, the primary goal of the state could still be seen as educational, as the formation of its citizenry according to specific notions of the good. We are still far from the despair over public truth which is the logical term of pluralism, a despair which, because agreement on the good has disintegrated, leads to redefining the goal of government in favor of freedom, especially the freedom of the individual, more than in terms of virtue or the public good.

Undoubtedly Euripides’ mad female characters witness to a certain decentering of the world, and subsequent Hellenistic culture is full of attempts to “reconnect” things; the individual to society, for instance, or to some divinity. The sensitive could see that the Hellenistic monarchies had displaced the polis as a stage for a life of effective political action yet wondered if man could not rise from being “politan” to being “cosmopolitan,” a citizen of the world. If some philosophers saw that to be a citizen of the world was at once to be everywhere and nowhere a citizen, to be always a stranger in a strange land, most people still took some things for granted: above all the eternal cosmos itself, a kind of sacral womb in which one lived; religion, which Socratic criticism might purify, but which in any case lived on in myriad forms to give meaning to life; and the family, which, even in a nuclear form, explained one’s place in the generations, one’s link to past and future.’ In Hellenistic civilization and the Roman Empire, life may in some ways have been reduced to a kind of public “lowest common denominator,” thus anticipating our experience of pluralism and of “all coherence gone,” but pluralism in the sense of the conscious disestablishment of public truth lay far in the future. If for many there was a hollow center to the civilization, into which Christianity would enter, no one, not even that great Roman critic of received ways, Lucretius, thought the quest for truth should be abandoned, nor truth disestablished.

Again, the crazy quilt of cultures that was the early middle ages hardly sought an intentional pluralism: indeed, one goal of education, now in the hands of ecclesiastical institutions like the monastery, was to rise above cultural differences to form some shared experience, a Christendom. Precisely because the idea of Christendom expressed a shared religion rather than a shared political experience, education, especially in the universities of the high middle ages, was never in the service of a given political entity in the way it had been in Socrates’ Athens. Or, rather, we might say that the Church had become the primary agent ofenculturation, for as the greatest sponsor of educational institutions, it understood these to be in service first of all to its own goals. Fifth century Athens had hardly institutionalized education in the sense of giving education a curriculum or buildings: as Thucydides said, Athens, that is to live in Athens, was the primary educational experience. Such general enculturation, found in every society, remained in the middle ages, whether in the hands of the master teaching his apprentice, the knight his squire, or the peasant mother her children. But such out-of-school education was much more varied than what one received on the Athenian street. Where we find relative uniformity in the service of culture-wide ideals is in the cathedral school and the university, the latter the first large-scale educational institution in the West. What was absolutely central here was that, fatefully and from the first, the medieval university tried to combine both the enculturating and the philosophical goals of education. Whereas in Plato’s Athens, so to speak, the city had primarily been the enculturating institution and the Academy the institution of cultural criticism, now the two were tied together, and, as it turns out, this was to remain to the present.

We must distinguish in order to understand. The medieval university, especially in its most honored discipline of theology, was an institution not so much for passing on some particular shared political experience as for passing on the transnational Christian or European heritage. We may call this its enculturating role. One unfamiliar with the life of the medieval university and approaching it with modern prejudices might suspect that the philosophic or critical enterprise hardly survived under ecclesiastical sponsorship – that there was nothing more than education to a particular view of the world -but this was far from the case. The medieval idea of authority was a complicated thing. In an obvious sense it was enculturating, for here was a clear instance of the fact that he who pays the bills sets the agenda. Ultimately, the universities served to study, pass on, and defend the Christian religion. Just as there had been a bottom line in Athens, the formation of good citizens, there was a bottom line at Paris, not actually so much the formation of good Christians as of knowledgeable Christians.8For good or ill, the bishops and papacy became a kind of court of last resort, occasionally intervening in the life of the universities in the defense of matters of faith. We might say that what was absolutely free here was the right of the institution,The Church, to live by its own lights; what was relatively free, that is subject to ecclesiastical scrutiny, was the right of the individual to affirm the truth as he saw it.9 This meant, through the ultimate instrument of the condemnation of heresy, that a learned dialogue more sustained and focused than anything found elsewhere in the world’s history was possible, for on issues important or divisive enough one could know the limits of acceptable opinion. The obverse of this was that opinions judged clearly erroneous could not safely be pursued.

If one examines how this worked, and all I need summon is a visual image of any page of Thomas Aquinas’ writings, respect for authority in the ordinary course of things meant not that ultimate willingness to subject one’s views to the scrutiny of the Church but the willingness to master one’s subject, that is to know the authorities. The precondition for all writing and teaching was that one knew all that had been written in one’s area of study. One was not, unless the authorities were Scriptural or magisterial, at all bound to accept any given authority, but one must know what had been written. Even the briefest acquaintance with any of the scholastic writers reveals that they were forever arguing with the authorities and each other, and, in the case of Aquinas, never accepted argument from authority in a philosophical matter, that is in any matter outside Christian revelation. Thus the life of criticism by no means died: indeed from time to time the Church was convinced by this extended discussion that inherited, widely accepted expositions even within the area of revealed theology in fact were wrong, or needed serious modification. When we study the medieval schools of thought, we find about as many differences as between the ancient schools: outside the common intent to be faithful to Christianity itself, a Bonaventurian had as much in common with a Thomist as Plato had had with Aristotle.

I would go further and argue that in many ways the medieval university, as the Spanish university of the sixteenth century, was more aware of and honest about its commitments and tensions than is the twentieth century university. In the concepts of heresy and excommunication it could locate precisely the point of intersection between its enculturating and its philosophical missions. That is, it was clearer than we are about what these two missions are, and of the battlefield on which the educational enterprise took place. I will argue below that the idea that the modern university is somehow ideologically neutral, a level playing field on which all can compete equally, is one of those acts of self-deception a pluralistic society generates to be at peace with itself. It has been seen through by a variety of people from feminists to fundamentalists, but I dare say contains a level of unconsciousness about one’s own premises rarely encountered in medieval university circles.

The great dispute between Philip the Fair and Boniface VIII at the beginning of the fourteenth century led to the gradual process, still going on, by which the church lost or forfeited control of many of its educational institutions to the national monarchies and various forms of secular rule. But this long evolution, still working itself out in countries like France, Italy, and Spain, was by no means uniform. As one of Dawson’s most original chapters showed, due to the work of the humanists on both sides of the religious divide, the Jesuit colleges of the Counter-Reformation and the Protestant academies of the Reformation continued across confessional lines a surprisingly uniform combination of classical and Christian studies.10 Indeed to these schools, as to the Renaissance universities, we should attribute the origins of what has come to be called the canon, that is a relatively uniform list of readings every educated person should know. It is sometimes thought that education in the middle ages had been uniform, but the medieval idea of a trivium completed by a quadrivium was only an idea, never a curriculum. The middle ages jumped on things as they discovered them, for instance allowing Aristotle virtually to drive all literary and liberal education out of the thirteenth century universities in favor of what can only be described as highly specialized study of a few authors and disciplines. But in response to the cross-confessional attempts of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which in art history we call Baroque, to unite medieval religion or at least Christianity with Renaissance classicism, finally in the Jesuit or the Oxford university curriculum we find a list of approved authors which only slowly evolved until our own century.

It is of great importance to see the place of the so-called canon in the university ever since. It clearly has been the means both of enculturation and of the pursuit of the truth. The reason that today there is a battle for control over its content – a somewhat unreal battle in the sense that a supposedly uniform canon corresponds to what is actually taught in our own day about as much as the quadrivium did to the medieval curriculum – is not that suddenly the university has become politicized, but that more people and views of the world now at least aspire to have some say in the definition of this so-called canon. The definition of some program of common study has always been an exercise in power, an attempt to have one’s own views determine the future, so it could not be that suddenly the university has in this sense become politicized. Where the difference lies between us and more placid times, in the latter of which it could be assumed that what a well educated person should know could easily be stated, is that a large component of the placidity of placid times was a dominant culture in which many were content, and those who were not were relatively powerless. Here even members of minorities often aspired to succeed within the larger culture. Have-nots who would not play the game either were marginalized or developed alternative institutions. That is, what seems to the older among us a change in tone in university life in the relatively recent past only marks a new stage in the logic of pluralism.

In the United States the notion of a canon was probably expressed most comprehensively earlier in this century in the notion of a great books program.11The greatness of the books to be defined as great commonly was seen to lie either in the fact that they had had a great historical influence or that they contained important or true ideas. Granted relatively common cultural assumptions formed by a dominant secularized form of Protestantism or Puritanism, which has been called the American civil religion, this made perfectly good sense.12The criterion of “historical influence” was just another way of designating enculturation, for by reading the great books one entered into the culture the books came from and formed self-understanding. Likely one desired this experience, that is approved of association with and emplacement within this larger thing, commonly called Western Civilization, which as a course of study had itself been an invention of the World War Iera, designed by an alliance of liberal Protestants and post-Protestants in the face of the decline of traditional Protestantism to find in the idea of a shared humane tradition a replacement for a more religiously centered curriculum.13At least for a long time in America, many wished to be enculturated via such Western Civilization and Great Books courses. This was a kind of educational parallel to the quick abandonment, varying according to location and ethnic group, by so many immigrants of the language of their ancestors in order to embrace English and, with it, a whole program of enculturation.Only retained were those forms of cultural diversity inoffensive to the larger culture, espresso, perhaps, or – for despite growing resistance, the story goes on – pinatas.

The degree of submission to the dominant culture of course differed significantly from group to group, and there sometimes, especially in recent years, has been resistance to the loss of tradition, but there has been a pronounced tendency in many groups to think of oneself first as American and only secondarily as defined by religion or ethnic group. The diversity left, at least for the older immigrant groups, was commonly what we might call a diversity of mores, involving undoubtedly important things, but not the kind of diversity I wish to designate under the heading of “pluralism.” I would like to restrict this term to designate a clash of world views which at the logical or philosophical level involves incompatibility. One can often be enriched by a diversity of mores, of for instance different ways of perceiving time, but a true diversity of world views, in which, say, on a question like abortion, irreconcilable views of what is right are involved, tends to place a society at war with itself.

By contrast, the great books criterion of “important or true” was another way of speaking of the philosophical goal of education, for virtually no one thought the past was to be retained unchanged: one was creatively to dialogue with the best it had been able to discover, and the great books were to be a vehicle for the criticism of the culture that had produced them. In a sense, the great books continued the medieval understanding of authority as something of which one should be informed but which one did not have to accept unless established by good argument. Such a notion, whether of a specific list of great books or more generally of certain courses or kinds of knowledge any educated person should possess, is as viable as the culture which produces . it is uniform and has criteria for establishing truth. When there was a de facto Protestant cultural hegemony, and people thought they could tell the difference between truth and error, it was a principal means for giving the citizenry a common stock of texts for their shared public life, to which they could refer beyond whatever specialty or vocation they had chosen for their private lives. If some people, like Catholics, were the Other and did not like what was taught in the so-called public schools, which of course were an instrument of enculturation with a specific political agenda, they could build and go to their own schools. For the majority, uncritical of this arrangement, education for citizenship meant study of the shared history and ideals of the culture.,

Such a cultural hegemony is in an advanced stage of decay. Although Protestantism still influences the culture at every step, it has lost almost all its symbols of occupying the center, and no one thing has replaced it, although in the university one form of liberalism has come closest. This liberalism is not, say, the kind of philosophic naturalism one might associate with Sidney Hook, but that common form of liberalism which expresses the denial of absolutes, particularly in ethics, and resists the notion of universal truth grounded in nature. It expresses an attitude more than some fixed content and thus changes with the times, or accepts historical change rather than nature as the point of beginning for what is still called philosophy but no longer is a quest for truth. George Parkin Grant describes this liberalism as an historically accumulated grab-bag of ideas like “person,” inherited from revealed theology, and “rights,” inherited from the collapse of the natural law tradition, and notes that because here the good no longer may be defined in the Aristotelian manner of drawing deductions from an examination of nature, history, that is one’s historical situation or predicament, replaces nature as the given that is to be argued from or rationalized.14That is, liberalism, as an increasingly dominant way of dealing with the disestablishment of fixed authority ever since the Wars of Religion showed Europe could no longer be held together by some single official view of reality, is a procedure of rationalizing historical change, of making whatever history has dealt one livable. This common form of liberalism, to repeat, is not a philosophy at all, in the Greek sense of that word with which we began, but a pragmatic mode of obtaining certain residual virtues inherited from more certain times, decency, just procedure, and the like. Although it is not commonly put this way, this form of liberalism represents the death of philosophy understood as a quest for the truth about humans and human society. When we find it, we may suspect the presence of an exercise in power seeking to enculturate others, to become the basis for enculturation, to declare itself the playing field on which any reasonable and decent human being would want to play.

The sixties were a decade in which psychological and cultural alternatives multiplied, and segments of society hardly aware of themselves, or earlier rather consistently dispossessedby the main-line culture, obtained a voice. In important ways, some of these segments did not identify with what had passed as “Western civilization.” Growing pluralism increased doubt about the category of “truth.” It is easy to believe some thing is true if most people believe the same. When, rather, one sees oneself as only the member of a “tribe,” that is of some sub-culture competing with other tribes, each of which sees things differently, it is easy to conclude that truth is no more than something relative to culture.15Montaigne gave first voice to this insight already in the sixteenth century when he asserted “it seems we have no other test of truth and reason than the example and pattern of the opinions and customs of the country we live in,” thus announcing that program of the reduction of philosophy to enculturation that has persisted ever since.16   

Such a process now has been going on for a long time. We think of its origins especially in regard to the impact that discovery of other parts of the world, and other parts of the universe, made on Europeans such as Montaigne in the ages of discovery and early modern science. My argument is that, because in the degree pluralism understood as a variety of incompatible world views multiplies in a society it renders the continued existence of that society problematic, always ways have been found since the sixteenth, century for reassertingcommonality, among which not the least is liberalism itself. From the death of the very concept of truth itself, new truth claims arise. Liberalism, especially in the university, in one aspect is but a particularly effective means of, on the one hand, seeming to adjust to pluralism, while on the other hand insisting that the university or society play by one’s own rules. Such a view of life is schizophrenic, but a form of schizophrenia hard to self-diagnose. If one were aware of one’s premises, of the way one was using the defense of pluralism to retain cultural hegemony, or at least gain greater power within a culture, the question of honesty might arise. But awareness of premises has never been one of liberalism’s strong suits.

My larger argument is that the American university merely has replicated the tensions and incoherencies of the larger society. Let us see how this has come to be. As Jeffrey Stout has shown, the Wars of Religion were central to subsequent European intellectual development.17 They made visible the impossibility of returning Europe to some single form of Christianity and thus showed that long-growing fissures in Christendom would likely deepen and widen. The Treaty of Westphalia made clear that the future lay not with Christendom but with the nation state. The latter would now dictate the agenda of enculturation, as well as, more often than not, in some measure control the formal institutions of education. Logically or not, the implication commonly drawn was that the traditional authorities, ecclesiastically and intellectually speaking, had been undermined. Descartes, who died two years after the Treaty was signed, saw this in his earliest writings and spent his life looking in himself for some alternative source of authority. He stands at the head of a tradition more precocious than liberalism, which by the time of Kant was able to see that, if nature was undermined, to fall back on history as a new point of departure for thought could at best be only a temporary redoubt: what was really needed was the abandonment of both nature and history in favor of pure reason. The Hegels and Marxes here would be slow learners, for, against the forming liberal tradition, not only had Kant seen that if nature was abandoned there was no good reason to retain history; the failure of his own impossible project of abstracting reason from nature and history suggested what seems the most promising philosophical agenda today, the reintegration of analysis of the categories of thought with an historically formed nature.

But to stay with the story of the undermining of the old authorities and with the tradition of greater influence in America, already in the seventeenth century, on the edge of European events, in England, Hobbes had begun that great casting about for alternative authorities which was to dominate seventeenth and eighteenth century thought, above all to result in the idea that it was a humanly constructed social contract, rather than authorization by God or nature, that founded human government. This was both a turning on traditional ideas of authority, and, especially with Locke, the development of a tradition of thought about politics less rooted in nature, that is, in asking what form of government is most suited to human nature, than had been ancient or medieval theory. The concern was to make the present livable, that is to use political thought as a problem-solving tool to adjust to whatever lot history has dealt.18Already the questions of truth and goodness were being displaced with what would become that very English question of “getting along,” but both in its origins and to the present, the liberal tradition would want things both ways. Locke, for instance, would retain an attenuated form of the old natural law idea that the good is fixed in his idea of natural rights, and by the eighteenth century the French could speak of universal human rights, and the Americans, in an almost complete inversion of what Aristotle had meant by self-evidency, of truths regardinghuman rights which are self-evident. Thus the logically incompatible affirmations of, on the one hand, the social contract, which holds that the institutions of government are rooted in convention rather than nature, and of, on the other, the natural rights tradition, which holds that the rights of man are rooted in human nature. Until the present, say in the thought of John Rawls, this branch of the liberal tradition will be unable clearly to decide whether what it offers is merely a game theory for getting along with no claim to truth, or a form of human society to which all should aspire. Rawls’ own intellectual journey, like so many in the twentieth century, will begin with the confidence that he is talking about some best form of justice and politics and will retreat to the notion that, although liberal democracy may not be best for all, if one wants it one will have to accept something like Rawls’ new form of the social contract.19

In the later seventeenth century, because religion was still at the center of life and for most people a part of the definition of one’s self, and in many ways culture remained embodied religion, few wanted religion separated from public life. Across Europe, the retreat made after the Wars of Religion was not immediately to private religion or the separation of Church and state, but to national religion. If the one true form of Christianity could not be established across Europe, at least in Spain or England it could. Provisions could be made for dissenters, for those disadvantaged by established religion, but, in spite of the implication of Protestant theology that humans are properly religious only by grace, rather than nature, in fact the old pagan and then Catholic insight that humans are by nature religious animals, and thus express their religion in their public life, was continued across Europe in all the countries.

All this influenced America from the beginning. Hardly anyone in the early years dreamt of separation of Church and state. Some, dissenters in Europe and unable there to control the public forms of life, had come to America in effect to take charge, to change the fortune of what had been dissent into establishment in a way not possible in the old country. Others brought various forms of religion which had been established in Europe with the assumption that they could be established in America too. But in America, once again, the level of public expectation had to be adjusted downwards. Here one could speak of an established religion not on the level of Christendom or of a nation, but in one colony, a Massachusetts for instance.

When finally it was decided that union was wanted above all else, the logic of disestablishment of religion at the federal level, expressed in the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights, was soon to follow. It had become clear that, because the individual colonies did not share a common form of Christianity among them, it would not be possible to establish for the United States a common religion. Although there was resistance to abandoning all privileging of one or another religion at the state level, over time religion was more and more conceived to be a voluntary and social matter, one in which government should not favor any of the parties.20This was not an absolutely necessary logic of the situation, for elsewhere, because more of the old notion that humans are by nature religious was retained, governments tried actively to promote the religious life of more than one religion. It was understood that government has obligations to foster religion, just as it has obligations for education or defense. In Germany, divided between two competing forms of Christianity, even under the present Bonn Constitution, for instance, religious instruction is ordinarily required (Article 7), and in addition, in an extract retained from the Weimar Constitution, articles 136-39 and 141, religion is fostered in one way or another.21 Such policy has impacted other areas of life, and thus the universities and faculties are given allotments and support by a formula replicating the religious divisions of the country. In Canada, in a more complex religious situation in which, in addition to the Catholicism inherited from the French and the inherited state Church of the mother country there were other forms of Protestantism to be taken into account, again even to the present the public University of Toronto is composed of religiously affiliated colleges.

Undoubtedly, even in its early years, America had a more complex religious situation to deal with, and one can sympathize with those who saw no alternative to disestablishment, if there was to be a United States at all. I have already suggested that in fact there can be no such thing as religious neutrality, that in one way or another always one side or another is favored. Here, for instance, what was really done was to say that henceforth the desire of states like Massachusetts to have what seemed to them the one true religion established, so that this religion could fill all aspects of life, was not to be extended to the federal level and ultimately was to be revoked at the state level also. In America the religious life was to be attenuated, for all who thought of it in terms of truth and public expression, as about something more than “God and the soul” but also as about more than voluntarism, a pattern of life in which one can argue, missionize, and propagandize but not ultimately ask government to create a climate of opinion favorable to one religion.

Luther, by his attack on Christendom and encouragement of submission to princely authority, had already prepared a psychological adjustment for his followers to some degree of privatization of religion, but still in the late eighteenth century, much of Protestantism though religion was about much more than God and the soul. If what the First Amendment was ultimately to mean was that the explicitly universal forms of Christianity like Roman Catholicism could only have an attenuated life in America, so also any form of Protestantism which saw itself as a “shining city set on the hill” was going increasingly to have to give up the idea that Christianity could be a “city” in the sense of being part of the constitutional arrangements.22Although we must treat the logic of the American predicament sympathetically, we must also stress, against the claims of some, that the disestablishment of religion did not form a government neutral in religious matters but a system which allowed only an attenuated practice of the more public forms of religion. If I were to put the matter sharply, I would be tempted to say that the first amendment meant that only a Protestant notion of voluntary religion may be practiced in the United States, that, ecclesiologically speaking, the other religions, Catholicism, Judaism, etc., must adjust themselves to being, ecclesiologically, Protestant. But to put the matter this way would not be fair to Puritanism and other forms of eighteenth and nineteenth century Protestantism, which wanted a public life for Christianity. Perhaps the point should be reversed. Rather than licensing only “Protestant” forms of religion, the first amendment is a motor which has historically been used to advance the privatization of religion and thus has redefined a good part of Protestantism itself, while ruling traditional forms of Judaism and Catholicism tout court out of order. Thus Will Herberg’s point that both Judaism and Christianity have lost their prophetic impact in America, where “historical logic” has pushed them from defense of their own “un-American”-looking traditions to support of the civil religion of American patriotism and the American way of life.23It is a commonplace that in America even religious people usually see themselves as first American and only then members of a given religion.

It is also a commonplace that in late eighteenth century America, variegated both in religion and in degrees of attachment to religion, while the fires of the First Great Awakening burned on or of the Second Great Awakening were being lit, those with more advanced opinions had already practiced a kind of disestablishment on God himself, disconnecting Him from the world and reducing theology to that lowest common denominator we call Deism, a harbinger of civil religion. Yet it seems fairly clear that, even for most of these of advanced opinion,disestablishment was notoriginally understood to mean that religion should be removed from its visibility in public life, only that the federal government should not legislate regarding any establishment of religion, that is, should not return to the condition of a state religion as this had been experienced in England.

In any case, formal education was almost entirely in the hands of the churches and was heavily an enculturating process.24Schools on all sides were seen as ways of passing on one’s religion and world view to one’s children. With the founding of the public schools this continued, as witness nineteenth-century Catholic complaint about the use of the King James Bible in the public schools, a complaint based on the realization that the public schools were committed to a form of Protestant enculturation and that, if one wanted to pass on one’s own view of life in some expansive way, one would have to build one’s own school system.

Being disadvantaged by the public school system was much more than a problem for some religions: discrimination,especially racial or sexual, could be practiced on other grounds. If Gordon Wood has shown how liberaldemocratic historiography was able to compose an academic history in which the Puritans had hardly any place, and Paul Vitz has shown how in our day religion has been almost written out of the public school textbooks, how much more distressing has been the situation of groups like Blacks or Native Americans, again either omitted from the curriculumor presented in a most unsympathetic light.25The so-called Storm Over the University today, although at one level a battle-royal between irreconcilable world views, has resulted also in an obvious sense from those who were thus marginalized finding a voice.26  

Where then are we now? I take it as a given that Dawson’s traditional two goals of education must always be pursued. Let us turn first to enculturation. No society can preserve itself without passing on to its young a sense of the society’s own history, literature, religion, scientific and philosophic discoveries, etc. To say that Western civilization or the liberal arts should no longer be taught, or should have even less a presence in the curriculum than they generally already have, is just another way of saying that our society does not deserve to survive, and one is prescribing the recipe for its self-destruction. Although I am among that minority who think that the American experiment within Western civilization was deeply flawed from the beginning and is a working out of the logic of pluralism in a way that tends to reduce life to incoherence, there are grace reasons, even for one like myself, for not wanting to destroy the culture by dismantling the Western and liberal orientation of one or another form of the traditional curriculum. Chiefly, I see no reason to believe that dismantling enculturation in our own Western culture as a first goal of education will give us something that better responds to our predicament. Rather, we will be even less prepared to see how we got ourselves into this predicament, people with the historical insight of the characters in Steve Martin’s L. A. Story.

Pluralism is a fact of life that is not going to disappear. Because in an unmitigated form it must spell disaster for any society, our problem is to continue to teach about how we got where we are while explicitly discussing the first principles of our common experience in the way I have been pursuing in the present essay, consciously engaging the claimsof the disadvantaged against themajoritarian tradition. How this tradition has been taught must be changed so that it is not simply presented from the viewpoint of the majority but with due attention to significant minorities. This is not just a way of shutting these minorities up but of learning from them: I take it that it is clear that my own view is that in the case of American history it is only by study of the minorities that one will grasp what the presuppositions of the experience of the majority are. One may thereby gain some sense of the way in which pluralistic societies are at once composed of groups with irreconcilable notions of reality yet tend to some lowest common level of homogeneity to which it is thought any reasonable person will agree. In earlier times, that is, as recently as a generation ago, writers like John Courtney Murray could seek in the natural law tradition this lowest common denominator and hope that, in spite of the diversity of American backgrounds, there were certain natural questions concerning the good on which people of good will could agree. The past generation has dissolved this consensus, if ever it existed, and now Americans are deeply divided over the most elementary moral questions.27Thus, in our historical moment, especially within the universities, this lowest common denominator has lowered once again to center on such questions as individual rights and just procedure. We have become so sensitive to defending our own and others’ rights and to the possibility that someone will use the curriculum to her or his advantage that we can hardly communicate a notion of a shared tradition through it. As I have been arguing, this effectively slants the playing-field against those who, for instance, think that even in a public university some substantial idea of the religious traditions of the world should be communicated with intelligence and without scorn and in favor of the minimalism of those who have given up on the notion of truth and have no training themselves in, for instance, what a natural law approach to arbitrating the differences between traditions would look like.

We must, to continue, examine the very notion of a shared tradition. There has been a persistent desire to mitigate pluralism precisely by stressing the links and commonality found within some enduring tradition. Within limits, this need not be objected to, indeed is the understood restraint or limit placed on pluralism which makes it tolerable for its own practitioners. A long line of thinkers from Augustine to Solzhenitsyn have argued that almost any form of government is permissible when nobility, fairness, and honesty are present but unbearable if these are absent.28Whatever the logic of pluralism, these qualities will always be sought, and they can not be sustained without a tradition. But it would be useful to examine how traditions are forged, how, for instance, in a Christian dominated civilization like that of the United States the more operative expression in phrases like “the Judaeo-Christian experience” is the word “Christian,” which coopts Judaism and stresses the links more than the differences between two rather different historical experiences, because here in America we want Jews and Christians to live in peace. If we want to claim that there are real continuities linking a huge chain of human history running from the Tigris-Euphrates valley to America, we should be more honest about how the links of this chain have been forged, about how much coopting has taken place, and we should abandon the silly perspectives of the textbooks, with their stress on co-opting everyone as somehow an early form of ourselves, Athenian democracy as a model for our polity, or the Renaissance and Reformation as advancing stages of human liberty rather than a dog-fight between irreconcilable views of the world.

The image of a tradition might be a river into which ever more tributaries flow, and if we keep this image in mind we might be willing to say that, now that the Protestant Ascendancy is over and new voices want a place in the tradition, the canon must be examined with this in view. This canon as we have received it was largely transmitted by Protestants in the North of Europe and shows this at every step. In the case of the ancient world, where the past was safely dead and not very much was at stake, it could contain those olive-oil covered South-European Greeks, Plato and Aristotle. As it got closer to the present, it could acknowledge the greatness of the Italian Renaissance by the inclusion of Machiavelli, or of Spanish letters in the sixteenth century by the inclusion of Cervantes. But the closer we get to the present, the more this canon, naturally enough when we remember who composed it, narrowed on the North and Northwest of Europe and then on America. Not even to mention the half of the race known as women, this canon has traditionally contained little of modern Latino or Black letters for instance, so that these groups which, even if a part of the larger culture for centuries or millennia, have been marginalized in this particular branch of it. In an obvious sense, Native American culture was once not a part of the tradition of the West at all but in America has been forcibly joined to the West. It seems only natural that such groups should both want to know about their distinctive traditions and, if they want to prosper in the larger culture, also find out about it. Room will have to be made and, although I can not go into this here, with the decline of Protestant hegemony clear candidates for elimination appear: I would sacrifice J. S. Mill on almost anyone’s altar. Again, all of this must be done by making good arguments. It is easy to say that none of it should be done reluctantly, for one is only providing a modified curriculum to continue enculturation in a new moment of an ever-changing culture, but that is probably easier for one to say who was never a part of the Ascendancy than one who sees one’s former position in the culture diminished. Enculturation is, after all, but one of the issues, and most people are going to see not only their nowdiminished role as not simply a sign of loss of power but in some sense as the victory of untruth. To illuminate what is at issue here, we must turn to the place in the present moment of the final goal of education, the quest for truth.

Is there a place for the quest for truth in the contemporaryuniversity, especially outside the natural sciences, or is this itself an outmoded idea? First, some distinctions are in order. In a culture with a high degree of consensus or shared world view, it was possible to see enculturation fairly straight-forwardly as a substantial goal of education. As we move to deep pluralism, that is, a growing lack of consensus about the true, good, and beautiful, the question of whose culture is being enculturated becomes agonizing. As societal consensus disintegrates, the question of who determines the canon, if I can put it that way, becomes increasingly a question of who can seize power. It is all very well to see the public schools, and also the public universities, as having as one goal the formation of good citizens, but what can this mean if we can no longer agree on the good or on what is desirable in society? Why, for instance, should we privilege liberal and democratic ideas within the university? Probably a majority of faculty hold such ideas, witness to the success of liberalism in controlling the academic agenda, but where does such an academic majority get its commission to teach its set of values, in many ways narrower than those of the larger society – especially if many faculty deny any notion of absolute truth or goodness? I doubt that it is honest to say that particular views of the world are not being taught but that only materials are being presented for students to clarify their own values. If we look at such schemas of clarification, say those of Lawrence Kohlberg, they are rigged from the beginning by a liberal definition of the ethically mature person: typically, authoritarian personalities are ranked as immature, rather than realistic, for instance.

Every society replicates itself in its educational institutions, and therefore in an obvious sense there is no solution to these problems, only a kind of therapy in which we may become more honest in dealing with them. Either there is truth to be found, defended, and passed on, for instance, or there is not. I can not see that it is even intelligible to defend the proposition that there is no truth, for the proposition itself is a truth claim. But if faculty wish to hold such intellectually slothful positions, they should at least have the honesty – I must use conventional words, although of course no word can be used meaningfully if there is no truth, and the category of honesty also disappears – never to be morally indignant if things they want are rejected. That is, they must also give up speaking of rights, justice, and such things. Life choices become no more significant than preferences for vanilla or chocolate, and words like racism or sexism become merely descriptive, not vehicles for engendering indignation. That is, the logic of the abandonment of truth is a reduction of all questions to that of power. In my experience, many academics want it both ways. On the one hand, they wish to deny, at least outside the so-called hard sciences and mathematics, which often remain privileged in these questions, that there are any permanent truths that one is under some obligation to teach. On the other hand they want to take ideas which in obvious senses are a priori rather than a posteriori, such as that all people are equal, and insist that these become a ground base from which all thought proceeds. This seems the most elementary form of either dishonesty, or, more likely, deep confusion. If there is no truth, there can be no such general propositions as that people are equal: one can only have personal preferences for or against and exercise power for or against. Argument, except as sophistry, is beside the point. In sum, the greatest question that faces us is whether the love of wisdom as Socrates understood it is dead.29If it is, we must say what was said in respect to the death of God: all is allowed. If philosophy as Socrates understood it is not dead, all our struggles about enculturation and modifying the curriculum must not lose sight of that greater issue of the struggle for wisdom by which any culture is to be judged. Without this, we will have returned civilization to that state in which it lay before the first gadfly.


1Christopher Dawson, The Crisis of Western Education, With Specific Programs for the Study of Christian Culture by John J. Mulloy (Garden City, New York, 1965), p. 9. Glenn W. Olsen, “The Maturity of Christian Culture: Some Reflections on the Views of Christopher Dawson,” in The Dynamic Character of Christian Culture: Essays on Dawsonian Themes, ed. Peter J. Cataldo (Lanham-New York-London, 1984), pp. 97-125, considers Dawson’s thought more generally.

2Dawson, Crisis, p. 9.

3For bibliography see Horst-Theodor Johann, ed., Erziehung und Bildung in der heidnischen und christlichen Antike (Darmstadt, 1976).

4Glenn W. Olsen, “The City in Christian Thought,” to appear in Thought, also treats the classical city.

5I have used the translation and useful introduction and commentary found in Plato and Aristophanes, Four Texts on Socrates, tr. with notes by Thomas G. West and Grace Starry West (Ithaca and London, 1984).

6Elliot Bartky kindly allowed me to read his “Marx on Self-Consciousness, the City, and the Gods,” to be published in Interpretation: A Journal of Political Philosophy. 

7I thank my colleagues, W. Lindsay Adams, for useful suggestions for my survey of the Hellenistic period; Richard Tompson, for a helpful reading of the entire manuscript; and my wife, Suzanne Olsen, for suggesting improvements throughout. Glenn W. Olsen, “Problems with the Contrast between Circular and Linear Views of Time in the Interpretation of Ancient and Early Medieval History,” in Concepts of Time in East and West, ed. Masaki Miyaki (Oxford, to be published), will consider the use of the categories of “time” and “history” in ancient history as means of finding one’s place in being. See, for a parallel attempt for the middle ages, Glenn W. Olsen, “Recovering the Homeland:Acts 4:32 and theEcclesia Primitiva in St. Bernard’s Sermons on the Song of Songs,” Word and Spirit: a monastic review 9 (1987): 129-56.  

8Beryl Smalley, The Study of the Bible in the Middle Ages, 3rd ed. (Notre Dame, Indiana, 1983), traces the process by which, the cathedral schools of the twelfth century having tried to unite piety and moral formation (enculturation) and critical study (philosophy), the universities of the thirteenth century came increasingly to concern themselves primarily with the latter.

9Following Richard Hofstadter, George M. Marsden, “The Soul of the American University,” First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life (January, 1991): 34-47, at 38, notes that before the present century, the idea of academic freedom (centered on individuals) hardly existed in America. As in the middle ages, it was institutions which had obligations to a stated mission. He writes: “Ironically, while twentieth-century universities have prided themselves on becoming free of outside religious control, they have often replaced it with outside financial control from business and government, which buy technical benefits from universities and hence shape their agendas.”

10Dawson, Crisis, pp. 31-37.See also Gunther Bohme, Bildungsgeschichte des europdischen Humanismus (Darmstadt, 1986).

11Such programs, often distinguished, are still with us, but typically, except in the cases of a few schools such as St. John’s, Annapolis, or Thomas Aquinas, Santa Paula, California, have to fight institutional pressures forcing them in the name of diversity or egalitarianism constantly to broaden the canon or modify it to the times. That is, as I will argue below, because most institutions tend instinctively somehow to replicate the social logic of the larger society, institutions which assume the logic of pluralism taken over from the larger society usually put great pressure on all humanistic disciplines to modify the “inherited truth” (philosophia perennis, truth grounded in nature, truth discovered in a potentially developmental way by the passage through history) and canons of the past in the direction of accommodation to felt social needs. although I will argue below in favor of some degree of accommodation, what commonly happens today inj this process is the abandonment of an idea of truth grounded in nature and thus fixed, although progressibely elucidated, in favor of a pragmatic goal of accommodating to history.

12I have discussed the logic of pluralism, secularilzation, and civil religion in “the Catholic moment?” Com- munio 15 (1988): 474-87, and “the meaning of Christian Culture: a historical View,” Catholicism and Secularization in America, ed. david L. schindler (Notre dame, Indiana, 1990), pp. 98-130.

13Marsden, “soul of the American university,” pp. 39-40, citing the Harvard Report of 1945, General education in a free society: “education in the great books can be looked at as a secular continuation of the spirit of protestantism.” Marsden makes telling remarks on the “whig-protestant ideal” of “education for democracy.”

14George Parkin Grant, English-Speaking Justice (Notre Dame, Indiana, 1985), imaginatively lays bare the relations between liberalism, Protestantism, and English-speaking philosophy.

15I have explored the question of legitimate and illegitimate forms of relativism in “Transcendental Truth and Cultural Relativism: An Historian’s View,” in Historicism and Faith, ed. Paul L. Williams (Scranton, 1980), pp. 49-61.

16Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Works of Montaigne, tr. Donald M. Frame (Stanford, 1957), I, 31, “Of Cannibals,” pp. 150-59, at 152. Montaigne, much admired today for his skepticism, in this essay indulges in a form of cultural primitivism, contrasting the purity of nature with the decadence of culture, that has plagued the culture from its beginning, and is repeated in only slightly altered forms in the idea of an original state of nature in seventeenth century political thought, the basis for the social contract, and in Rousseau’s treatment of the “noble savage” in the eighteenth century. Such “mythic” (rather than “critical”) thinking is studied in the articles referred to above, nn. 4, 7, and 12.

17Jeffrey Stout, The Flight from Authority: Religion, Morality, and the Quest forAutonomy (Notre Dame, Indiana, 1981).

18Against analyses such as that of J. G. A. Pocock, Thomas L. Pangle, The Spirit of Modem Republicanism: The Moral Vision of the American Founders and The Philosophy of Locke (Chicago, 1988), has given a very precise account of the stage in the evolution of republicanism represented by republican liberalism, with its emphasis on rights and liberties and decrease of the public sphere in favor of the private. See also Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr., Taming the Prince: The Ambivalence of Modern Executive Power (New York, 1989), for a brilliant analysis of the ambivalences of the liberal tradition and a proposal for overcoming these. Although there is much truth in the idea that Machiavelli marks the shift from political theory as thought about the “ought” to political science as thought about the “is” or power, of course both concerns always in some degree have been present.

19John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Mass., 1971), should be read in the light of such later articles as “Justice as Fairness: Political not Metaphysical,” Philosophy and Public Affairs 14 (1985): 223-51. Because Rawls from the first used the concept of the state of nature in a Kantian way, that is as not appealing to some actual historical condition, some have read him as from the first abandoning all traditional ideas of nature. This may have been his intention, but his book is full of discussions that intrude such ideas in one way or another.

20Iam necessarily adumbrating a complicated development: Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (New Haven and London, 1972), pp. 379-80. My colleague, Ray Gunn, who read this essay with a close eye, made very valuable suggestions for the improvement of my treatment of American history.

21Grundgesetz furdie Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Bonn, n.d.). One can, on a case by case basis, avoid religious instruction in the public schools, and one can avoid church tax by officially leaving one’s church. My colleague, Ronald Smelser, has given me guidance here.

22Deal W. Hudson, “Marion Montgomery’s Summa: A Journey through the American Mind,” Crisis 7, 5 (May, 1989): 38-43, at 41, notes that Winthrop’s original use of this phrase was to foster a “millennialist utilitarianism” which blurred Augustine’s distinction between the Two Cities.

23Will Herberg, Protestant-Catholic-Jew (Chicago, 1983).

24Marsden, “Soul of the American University,” has many interesting things to say about Protestantism and education in America. Marsden’s vague definition of liberalism, p. 38, as the “endorsement of the best in modern culture,” attempts to hold together under that term things I am attempting to distinguish. Marsden reminds us of the ways even many state universities had an explicit religious dimension into the twentieth century. See the fascinating account by Winton U. Solberg, “The Catholic Presence at the University of Illinois,” The Catholic Historical Review 76 (1990): 765-812.

25Gordon Wood, “Struggle Over the Puritans,” The New York Review of Books 36, 17 (November9, 1989): 26-34, at 26, and Paul Vitz, Equity in Values Education: Do the Values Education Aspects of Public School Curricula Deal Fairly with diverse Belief Systems? (Washington, D.C., 1985), and Religion and Traditional Values in Public School Textbooks: An Empirical Study (Washington, D.C., 1985). Garry Wills, Under God: Religion and American Politics (New York, 1990), with C. Vann Woodward, “In God We Trust,” The New York Review of Books 34, 4 (February 14, 1991): 11-13, at 11, gives further examples of “secularist”misrepresentation of the place of religion in American history by HenrySteele Commager and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. Woodward does not place Wills’ book with others that have been making similar arguments, and neither he nor Wills expresses reservations about such barometers of religiosity as the studies of George Gallup, Jr., Jim Castelli, and Andrew M. Greeley: see above nn. 12 and 15.

26John Searle, “The Struggle Over the University,” The New York Review of Books 37, 19 (December 6, 1990): 34-42. Among the many good things in this article, see especially Searle’s explanation, p. 40, of the difference between the fact that all humans are historically situated and therefore(epistemologically) perceive things relative to themselves, and the fact that what they perceive, the nature of water for instance, does not depend (ontologically) on its relation to the investigator. He concludes his defense of “realism” with the sentence, appropriated at the conclusion of the present essay, “To paraphrase Dostoevsky, without metaphysical realism, anything is permissible.”See also the exchange of letters in ibid. 38, 4 (February14, 1991): 48-50.  

27Marsden, “Soul of the American University,” p. 39, breaks the past century and a quarter within education down into: 1) a dominant traditionalist Protestantism, replaced in the universities between about 1870 and the 1960s by 2) a liberal Protestant dominance, and 3) “since the 1960s … a more aggressive pluralistic secularism which provides no check at all to the tendencies of the university to break into technical specialties.”

28David Remnick, “Native Son,” The New York Review of Books 38, 4 (February 14, 1991): 6-10, at 8, for Solzhenitsyn.

29I have used “deconstructing” in the title of this essay primarily to designate analysis, but this essay also may be seen as a response to the pretensions of deconstruction as a movement to annihilate and then replace the love of wisdom: David Lehman, Signs of the Times: Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man (New York, 1991).