Kronman on Diversity and the Humanities

Spotted in the most recent of the Yale Alumni Magazine, an excerpt from a forthcoming book by former Yale Law Dean Anthony Kronman.  A sample:

Even a half-century ago, the question of life’s meaning had a more central and respected place in higher education than it does today. Institutions of higher learning felt they had the right and duty to address, in an explicit and disciplined way, the question of how to spend one’s life, of what to care about and why, of which relations, projects, and pleasures are capable of giving life purpose and value. The responsibility for doing this fell in particular to the humanities.

Since the 1960s, the humanities have largely abandoned this responsibility, under pressure from the modern research ideal. The result has been a deepening anxiety within these disciplines about the nature and value of their contribution to higher education. The culture of political correctness that has dominated the humanities for the past 40 years has sought to allay this anxiety by offering teachers of the humanities a new role as the champions of racial justice and other liberal values. These values are fundamental and worthy of support. But by converting them from political to pedagogical values, the humanities have not strengthened their authority but compromised it instead. The concept of diversity is a case in point. . . .

Today’s idea of diversity is so limited that one might with justification call it a sham diversity, whose real goal is the promotion of a moral and spiritual uniformity instead. It has no room for the soldier who values honor above equality, the poet who believes that beauty is more important than justice, or the thinker who regards with disinterest or contempt the concerns of political life. The identification of diversity with race and gender has thus brought us back full circle to the moral uniformity with which American higher education began, nearly four centuries ago.

Provocative.

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One thought on “Kronman on Diversity and the Humanities

  1. Kronman urges us to broaden our horizons, to make room in the educational process for considering the “soldier who values honor above equality, the poet who believes that beauty is more important than justice, or the thinker who regards with disinterest or contempt the concerns of political life.”

    But at least when it comes to “beauty over justice,” I think our society provides ample illustration of that value. The new celebristocracy provides ready-made models of that good life sung by 21st century troubadours. National honor appears to be doing pretty well, too. And it seems like the “thinker[s] who regard[] with disinterest or contempt the concerns of political life” are exactly the people he’s ostensibly criticizing. . . .those who ignore the lessons of, say, a Nussbaum on the importance of classical humanistic learning to citizenship.

    In any event, I think Kronman is a deeply wise man whose book The Lost Lawyer is a classic work of jurisprudence. I just wish this first excerpt weren’t grounded in the “culture wars” . . . the problem’s a lot bigger than that, as Bill Readings has noted. The bottom-line imperative is probably a much bigger threat to humanities than an underpaid adjunct who’d rather have her students read Junot Diaz than Faulkner.

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