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The Decline of the Liberal Arts as a Connection to the "Worker Mentality"

I remember reading an article in the NY Times about the state of universities in the US.  The article found that Liberal Arts schools were struggling to maintain a healthy number of students.  Universities are beginning to face questions about retaining liberal arts schools.  This current problem seem to fulfill Pieper’s prophetic words.  Universities are not producing educated men and women but rather specialized functionaries.  “An educated man is a man with a point of view from which he takes in the whole world.”  The average college graduate is semi-prepared for a specialized job, with focused requirements.  Parents and grandparents wonder about their children, ‘how do they not understand?’  They have not been educated.

I find this doubly interesting with regard to base education, the primordial education one receives from his parents, way before university education.  The call of parents is to educate their children no just, or rather primarily, in a functionary manner.  Rather, they are to form the child to begin to take in the whole world. 

Liberal arts are meant to form the whole man.  I think Patrick Deneen says it well:

The “older science” recognized that a unique feature of man was his capacity for liberty: not driven by mere instinct, man was singular among the creatures for his ability to choose, to consciously direct and order his life. This liberty, as understood by the ancients and Biblical religions, was subject to misuse and excess: some of the oldest stories in our tradition, including the story of the fall from Eden, told of the human propensity to use freedom badly. To understand ourselves was to understand how to use our liberty well, especially how to govern appetites that seemed insatiable. The liberal arts recognized that submission to these limitless appetites would result in the loss of our liberty and reflect our enslavement to desire. They sought to encourage that hard task of negotiating what was permitted and what was forbidden, what constituted the highest and best use of our freedom and what actions were hubristic, immoral, wrong. To be free — liberal — was itself an art, something that was learned not by nature or instinct, but by refinement and education. At the center of the liberal arts were the humanities, the education of how to be a human being. Each new generation was encouraged to consult the great works of our tradition, the vast epics, the classic tragedies and comedies, the reflections of philosophers and theologians, the revealed Word of God, those countless books that sought to teach us what it was to be human — above all, how to use our liberty well.

Now men are formed for function, for work.  Leisure, becoming fully human, these are unspoken and unfulfilled desires that leave man empty.  He is so trained in the “act of aggression” that is observation (which Deneen in his article said even drifted to the liberal arts) that he cannot receive.  Giftedness is replaced by what Deneen called “Promethean forms of individual or generational self-aggrandizement” and “the raw assertion of power over any restraints or limits that would otherwise define him.”  Man loses himself not in something greater, like divinity, but he rather loses himself in himself being stuck in a endless circle of unfulfilled dreams or insatiable appetites.  He takes in himself.  He is a man of learning with no education.

A reflection on Chapter II of Leisure: the Basis of Culture

About Fr. Kyle

I am a priest of the Archdiocese of New Orleans. I was born and raised right outside New Orleans. I attended Catholic school my entire educational career. By the time I graduated high school, I had two paths to choose: rockstar or priesthood. I pursued both for awhile but eventually came to the understanding God's will was priesthood and my will was rockstardom. After making that decision, to allow God's will to be mine, I needed a new way to channel my creativity. I began writing as I finished up my formation for priesthood. I still play music, but priestly ministry comes first. My bride: St. Rita of Cascia Parish in Harahan, LA.

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