Families that Discuss together, stay together

Families that Discuss together, stay together
Families that Discuss together, stay together

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Importance of a Liberal Arts Education

A response to Hayek's, The Road to Serfdom:

The pilgrims, wishing to worship how they pleased, commenced the beginning of a free society in the newly discovered North America. Over the span of almost two centuries a very large body of people came to believe in a set of principles for politics, economics and education. A corpus of fundamental principles was written in an unprecedented constitution. Over the decades since the founding, our nation became the world’s power center in science, medicine and technology; it lead in politics and education; the free market produced advances in trade and industry. Why was America such a great success? Among many things, the people believed in a certain order of values that guided them in their families and communities, in their vocation, and in their politics. They were educated in the liberal arts that gave them a broad base of knowledge in human nature, politics and literature. F. A. Hayek explains in his book, The Road to Serfdom, how a great nation could unknowingly make choices that would lead them in the opposite direction of the liberty and great bounty we have enjoyed.

Socialism comes in many forms, he writes, but the end is always the same: totalitarianism. Good people lead and thinking that they are doing good things, they plan for ways to help the poor and the suffering by providing programs. What are the outcomes? Never what was expected, in fact, the good leaders would be opposed if they knew the end product beforehand. Virtues lost in a socialist environment include independence, self-reliance, initiative, and responsibility. Fascism, and Communism become the ultimate ends of any socialist state. I wish to influence the reader in understanding that it has been a lack of education that has prompted us down the road to socialism.

The more education received and the more intelligent the individual, the more varied are his interests. He will be less likely to follow the crowd or to agree on a single order of uniform values dictated by a government. If we want to find “a high degree of uniformity and similarity of outlook, we have to descend to the regions of lower moral and intellectual standards where the more primitive and ‘common’ instincts and tastes prevail.” This set of values, the lower and baser, is what will lead a nation. Hayek doesn’t mean “that the majority of people have low moral standards; [he] merely means that the largest group of people whose values are very similar are the people with low standards. It is, as it were,” he concludes, “the lowest common denominator, which unites the largest number of people.”

In the above situation, who leads? It is the potential dictator who can project these low moral standards and recruit more of the masses to support them. Hayek suggests that “it will be those who form the ‘mass’ in the derogatory sense of the term, the least original and independent, who will be able to put the weight of their numbers behind [the dictator’s] particular ideals.” Hayek describes how this dictator will surround himself with people and groups of people who can devise propaganda and programs to push their value system. The followers in this situation are “the docile and gullible,” writes Hayek, “who have no strong convictions of their own but are prepared to accept a ready-made system of values if it is only drummed into their ears sufficiently loudly and frequently. It will be those whose vague and imperfectly formed ideas are easily swayed and whose passions and emotions are readily aroused who will thus swell the ranks of the totalitarian party.”

How can you, dear reader, and I help to combat the low, base, primitive ideals that would eventually destroy freedom? It will have to begin with our own education. There will be others who will be frontrunners in reforming education to include broad liberal arts in addition to social education. What is the difference between the two, you ask? An education in the liberal arts is expanding breadth and depth of general knowledge as a foundation to build upon. It includes reading, writing, discussing and debating the Great Conversation as is found in the classics, ancient and modern. A social education is a technical or professional training for a preferred vocation. Both are necessary, but only one can maintain freedom—an education in the liberal arts. When I say liberal I do not mean the modern sense of liberal as in the progressive movement, but in the root meaning of the word liber, which means, “free.”

Many scholars including Hayek advocate a broad education as essential for resisting propaganda and remaining free. “Even the most intelligent and independent people,” says Hayek, “cannot entirely escape that influence [of political propaganda] if they are long isolated from all other sources of information.” The choice to change our educational system from one of liberal arts to a social education and training has been one of those choices that has isolated us from the liberating principles of freedom and may surely lead us down the road to serfdom. There is still time and there are still classics sitting on the shelves of our libraries waiting for us to pick up and read, allowing us to join the Great Conversation. It is a choice that will lead us to freedom one individual at a time.
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