What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

I did enjoy and indeed finish it.  The book defends the liberal nature of the university but more importantly it has an excellent discussion of "the postmodern novel" (the author’s field, apparently), including a brilliant take on William Dean Howells and a good discussion of The Great Gatsby.  Its portrait of the American university, however flawed, is closer to the truth than what one finds in the right-wing scaremongers.

But reading this book shows me — contrary to the author’s intentions — why so many college students have turned to the so-called "Right."  Michael Bérubé, the author:

1. Believes that David Horowitz is a very powerful man.

2. Claims that libertarians are simply ignorant of poverty and therefore wrong.  At least libertarians are "quite smart now and then" and yes that is a quotation.

3. Repeatedly rejects political views by citing the (supposed) moral failings of their undergraduate proponents.

4. Claims conservatives hate social security "because it works."  By the way, that is also why conservatives hate universities.

5. Argues that "the real scandal of public universities is that they have become increasingly beholden to right-wing demogoguery…"

6. Believes that he is holding genuine dialogue with alternative political views.

If we bundle this all up and put it against the "…the world is a fragile place and liberty is dear.  Let us start with an ethic of individual responsibility, family values, strong national defense, low taxes, and a deep belief in the sacred nature of mankind, and no we cannot elevate every injustice," I know which vision the American people — including their undergraduates — will choose.  (For new MR readers, I should note that those are not exactly my views, it is just one shorthand description of parts of the American right.)

Bérubé, by the way, has a brilliant performance art-worthy fantasy segment on why 50 percent tax rates would not (should not?) deter anyone from working or producing.  Excerpt:  "I find it hard to imagine a Clever Entrepreneur who thinks, "Well, I’ve made ten million this year, but if I make another two million I only get to keep one million of it, so I’m going to stop developing and promoting my product right now."" (p.286).  Ah, if only all taxes fell on pure profit.  It is even sadder to learn that many wealthy people are "hoarding it [their money]," rather than creating jobs with it.

I consider American universities to be a marvel of the modern world.  And yes diversity does mean that not every outcome can be controlled.  I remain grateful for this freedom, while admitting its external costs.

One of my favorite professors edited a book called The Essential Stalin, and yes he was sad he had to cut some pieces from the selection.  He was the guy who introduced me to Melville and Hammett and Lem and Stapledon.  I’ll never forget the last day of class when one mousey, dewey-eyed girl in the back of the room finally raised her hand and said in a mix of shock and exasperation: "But Dr. Franklin, those are all the Communist countries!"

The Cuban guy in the room did not approve, but that’s part of education too.  My rather excellent paper on the labor theory of value received only a B, due to its conceptual errors in characterizing the transformation problem (and not because this was a freshman class in English literature).  But at least with that professor one knew where one stood.

Comments

One of my favorite professors edited a book called The Essential Stalin, and yes he was sad he had to cut some pieces from the selection. He was the guy who introduced me to Melville and Hammett and Lem and Stapledon. I'll never forget the last day of class when one mousey, dewey-eyed girl in the back of the room finally raised her hand and said in a mix of shock and exasperation: "But Dr. Franklin, those are all the Communist countries!"

The Cuban guy in the room did not approve, but that's part of education too.

That's cuz he probably lived it. With regard to Communist countries, the West should be shamed forever for its cowardly refusal to condemn Communism (The Gipper notwithstanding), like it (rightly) does Fascism (both the Italian and German variants).

The irony is that Fascism and Communism are one and the same, economically, politically and morally.

Read a definition of Fascism

1. A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.

Essentially no different than Communism.

Varangy,

Oh, I probably shouldn't bother with this
on this list, but what the heck.

Your comparison is largely apt, and in
practice the command socialist countries
ruled by Communist parties adhered pretty
closely to the definition of fascism as
stated. There is a bit of difference,
however, the matter of racism. In practice
some of these countries engaged in racist
policies, as do many countries, but it
was never ideologically supported, and
generally was not as virulent as in the
fascist countries. In principles, also
nationalism was supposed to be subordinated
to the internationalism of the proletariat,
but this one tended to be violated more
consistently and vigorously than the
rule against racism.

In this context, I would point out that
for all its faults, notably kowtowing to
the USSR, the CPUSA was one of the first
groups in the US to vigorously support
equal rights for African-Americans. J.
Edgar Hoovers's charge that some of Martin
Luther King, Jr.'s aides were Communists
was in fact correct, if ultimately pointless.

Another point. The ideal of communism was
"from each according to his ability, to
each according to his need," in a society
where the state would "wither away." I
will give just the slightest smidgen of
credit that none of the leaders of any of
the "Communist" countries ever claimed to
have achieved communism. Their official
positions (and that of the handful of them
still left) was that they were "socialist"
states "in transition to communism."

m vassar,

Taxing consumption would be fairly different from taxing "pure profit" unless you excluded things like buying food/medicine from what you considered consumption. Then again.. we'd have to fight over what food/medicine is properly excludable. "The poor must buy healthy food! No TV dinners! Tax TV dinners!!"

I might like to see a situation where one taxed "pure profit" and individuals were allowed to factor in debt payment and the like to their yearly costs. That would be an interesting scenario.

We could fight about how much debt payment an individual should be able to claim... could wealthy people loan eachother money and write off the debt payments instead of paying taxes? Oh well, this stuff is too complicated for me..

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