Liberal Education

My subject is liberal education, and today more than ever the term requires definition, especially as to the questions: What is a liberal education and what it is for? From Cicero’s artes liberales, to the attempts at common curricula in more recent times, to the chaotic cafeteria that passes for a curriculum in most American universities today, the concept has suffered from vagueness, confusion, and contradiction. From the beginning, the champions of a liberal education have thought of it as seeking at least four kinds of goals. One was as an end in itself, or at least as a way of achieving that contemplative life that Aristotle thought was the greatest happiness. Knowledge and the acts of acquiring and considering it were the ends of this education and good in themselves. A second was as a means of shaping the character, the style, the taste of a person—to make him good and better able to fit in well with and take his place in the society of others like him. A third was to prepare him for a useful career in the world, one appropriate to his status as a free man. For Cicero and Quintilian, this meant a career as an orator that would allow a man to protect the private interests of himself and his friends in the law courts and to advance the public interest in the assemblies, senate, and magistracies. The fourth was to contribute to the individual citizen’s freedom in ancient society. Servants were ignorant and parochial, so free men must be learned and cosmopolitan; servants were ruled by others, so free men must take part in their own government; servants specialized to become competent at some specific and limited task, so free men must know something of everything and understand general principles without yielding to the narrowness of expertise. The Romans’ recommended course of study was literature, history, philosophy, and rhetoric.

Donald Kagan

Just Saying

Chapter 21: Of Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience

1._____ The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel, consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, the rigour and curse of the law, and in their being delivered from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin, from the evil of afflictions, the fear and sting of death, the victory of the grave, and ever- lasting damnation: as also in their free access to God, and their yielding obedience unto Him, not out of slavish fear, but a child-like love and willing mind.

All which were common also to believers under the law for the substance of them; but under the New Testament the liberty of Christians is further enlarged, in their freedom from the yoke of a ceremonial law, to which the Jewish church was subjected, and in greater boldness of access to the throne of grace, and in fuller communications of the free Spirit of God, than believers under the law did ordinarily partake of.

( Galatians 3:13; Galatians 1:4; Acts 26:18; Romans 8:3; Romans 8:28; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57; 2 Thessalonians 1:10; Romans 8:15; Luke 1:73-75; 1 John 4:18; Galatians 3:9, 14; John 7:38, 39; Hebrews 10:19-21 )

2._____ God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in any thing contrary to his word, or not contained in it. So that to believe such doctrines, or obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience; and the requiring of an implicit faith, an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience and reason also.

( James 4:12; Romans 14:4; Acts 4:19, 29; 1 Corinthians 7:23; Matthew 15:9; Colossians 2:20, 22, 23; 1 Corinthians 3:5; 2 Corinthians 1:24 )

3._____ They who upon pretence of Christian liberty do practice any sin, or cherish any sinful lust, as they do thereby pervert the main design of the grace of the gospel to their own destruction, so they wholly destroy the end of Christian liberty, which is, that being delivered out of the hands of all our enemies, we might serve the Lord without fear, in holiness and righeousness before Him, all the days of our lives.

( Romans 6:1, 2; Galatians 5:13; 2 Peter 2:18, 21 )

It’s been upon my mind recently, apropos of* various things.

*Is that correct? I believe it is the first time I’ve used the term “apropos” in writing. Can it be “apropos of”?


Poetry, at all times, is not merely descriptive and imitative in the Aristotelian sense. It is always also creative; creative indeed in the sense of making thing that were not there before—and the derivation of the word ‘poetry’ point to just this kind of ‘making’. But it is creative also in a profounder and more elusive sense. Poetry heightens and cultivates the creative element that is experience itself. For experience is not in the impressions we receive; it is in making sense. And poetry is the foremost sense-maker of experience. It renders actual ever new sectors of the apparently inexhaustible field of potential experience.

-Erich Heller


A lot of leveling has been going on among us lately, but, as Dr. Samuel Johnson noted in his day, the levelers always want to level down to themselves, never up. And since most of our self-anointed levelers begin pretty well down to scale, the total effect on society has not been to elevate, but to degrade.

Everyone acquainted with the English language knows that the word common may also mean vulgar and often does. The vulgar person is one of low tastes who is not only coarse and boorish but enjoys being so, and because his kind is often in the majority he is also said to be common. And it is this common fellow who has, unfortunately, become the model for the masses in human society.

The present clamor after a college education by such large numbers of our young people suggests that perhaps people are getting tired of being common and aspire to loftier and nobler lives. But this is an illusion. Whatever advanced education may do for us theoretically, it is a fact that the stream of college graduates being poured each year into the social current is not having the slightest ennobling effect upon society. It is rather the other way around; society quickly brings the graduate around to its way of thinking and living.

Vulgarity is a disease of the human spirit and is not cured by education, or travel, or familiarity with grand opera or works of art. Vulgarity may speak good English and live in a split-level house, but it is known for what it is by its attitudes, its morals, and its aspirations, or lack of them.

—A. W. Tozer

Tozer Again

While no instructed Christian would claim for any hymn the same degree of inspiration that belongs to the Psalms, the worshiping singing soul is easily persuaded that many hymns possess an inward radiance that is a little more than human. If not inspired in the full and final sense, they are yet warm with the breath of the Spirit and sweet with the fragrance of myrrh and aloes and cassia out of the ivory palaces.

—A.W. Tozer

Ideology and Faith

An ideology in the modern sense of the word is very different from a faith, although it is intended to fulfil the same sociological functions. It is the work of man, an instrument by which the conscious political will attempts to mould the social tradition to its purpose. But faith looks beyond the world of man and his works; it introduces man to a higher and more universal range of reality than the finite and temporal world to which the state and economic order belong. And thereby it introduces into human life an element of spiritual freedom which may have a creative and transforming influence on man’s social culture and historical destiny as well as on his inner personal experience. If therefore we study a culture as a whole, we shall find there is an intimate relation between its religious faith and its social achievement.

—Mr. Christopher Dawson

The Coming of the Masses

José Ortega y Gasset:

The mass is all that which sets no value on itself—good or ill—based on specific grounds, but which feels itself “just like everybody,” and nevertheless is not concerned about it; is, in fact, quite happy to feel itself as one with everybody else. Imagine a humble-minded man who, having tried to estimate his worth on specific grounds—asking himself if he has any talent for this or that, if he excels in any direction—realizes that he possesses no quality of excellence. Such a man will feel that he is mediocre and commonplace, ill-gifted, but will not feel himself “mass.”

In other words, the mass is nothing other than the unexamined life, the death of criticism, the disappearance of culture. Culture, as Kirk paraphrased Eliot, is that which makes life worth living.

The humble-minded man still lives the examined life. He is still willing to judge himself and recognize mediocrity, which the mass does not. In this consisted the superiority of Socrates: he knew his ignorance, and this made him wiser than any of his contemporaries. Once he realized his own ignorance he also realized the ignorance of his compeers. They noticed his notice and were not fond of the implied criticism any more than men are now, or ever have been since Cain. Now we have come from the simple judgment of the humble-minded man to the criticism of Socrates. Without such criticism, which base men have been resisting since they put Socrates to death and doomed their way of life out of existence, you will lose that which makes life worth living, for you will live the unexamined life; and hence, the disappearance of culture.

The mass has anti-culture. This is what mass culture is, what popular culture does.

Some Notions

I have compiled a few Popular Notions, along with a bibliography.

One of the remarks on the first draft of my thesis was that I really ought to have something about the definition of culture and popular culture. I like to remember my original proposal, in such moments, when I suggested I research the literature on the definition of culture, elaborate on what culture is and the distinctions within it, show the what popular culture is and its connection with religion, and deal with a specific case, such as Moody.

What I have compiled is nothing near that. It is a way of showing my hand about who is doing the thinking for me and where I am getting the ideas, just to show I am not being altogether eccentric. You have seen this before in bits. If somebody would be so kind as to check it for coherency and suggest if it needs anything, I would be much obliged.

Breaking it down for yawl

So eventually Macdonald gets down to the question of how we go forward. He calls TS Eliot’s idea that class lines have to be preserved the conservative view and thinks it is doomed. How realistic is it, in an age of machinery and democracy, to speak of encouraging class distinctions? (71) The whole idea is repugnant to most in our day.

You read Austen or Trollope and you see how fine it could be. You read Wodehouse and glimpse the last of the highly stratified British class-system in all of its wobbly peril. You read Waugh and watch the whole thing smashed by WWII. After that you only get vestiges and holdovers, the last elegances of the 50’s and 60’s. Then the decade of nightmares (old Neuhaus in FT keeps talking about that book and I’m really eager to read The Decade of Nightmares).

Macdonald makes some interesting observations about high culture in the twentieth century. He talks of the academists who tried to manufacture high culture, a sublimated popular culture, early in the twentieth century: Elgar, Maugham and a bunch of names I do not recognize, which proves Macdonald’s point. As a reaction to that you have the Avantgarde, which is modern art: Picasso, Stravinsky, Joyce. The avantgarde could not last, Macdonald says in 1953. It tried to carve out space but it was–and here I suppose–disconnected from the nourishment of a folk culture. We know it deteriorated into insanity; what followed was increasingly tainted with popular culture; the avantgarde was a studied ignoring of popular culture, but could not be maintained and was mixed, contaminated, watered down into bland middlebrow in Macdonald’s day and is now all blown away in egalitarian mists and vapors (63).

You still have sound-effects groups like Kronos Quartet, houses of optical tricks like the Walker in MN or the Wexner in OH, and all the ugly buildings. But these things have lost their hold; they are curiosities even to the people who attend them. They are holding onto the avantgarde idea, it seems to me, because we still have not found alternatives, their gods are the modernists. The exception are rejectors of the modern such as the Inklings or now the holy minimalists, perhaps. Here is where I think Barzun’s Dawn to Decadence would be really helpful. I know Classic, Romantic, Modern was really helpful in explaining the connections in the deterioration of art, explaining why they did what they did in each subsequent era, why they wanted what they wanted and how modern art came about.

Then Macdonald considers the possibility of redeeming, as it were, popular culture, but not very long. To consider its possibilities is to consider its decline into something even worse. How can something that “voids both the deep realities and the simple pleasures” be used in the aid of restoring deep realities and legitimate simple pleasures? Mass culture, popular culture, is not an art, it is a commodity and “tends downward, toward cheapness” (72). The only time, he says, popular culture was good was at the beginning; that was 200 years ago. O Tempora! O Mores!

Has he neglected a category? What about folk culture?

You have to remember that folk culture is what popular culture overcomes first for popular culture exploits the taste folk culture satisfies, so it lurks in those haunts naturally. “Whatever virtues the Folk artist has, and they are many, staying power is not one of them. And staying power is the essential virtue of one who would hold his own against the spreading ooze of Mass Culture” (73).

Macdonald calls the outlook dark. I tend to think it looks pretty hosed.

Dwight Macdonald & the Farm

Part of the way Macdonald distinguishes folk culture and popular culture is by saying that folk culture satisfies a taste that popular culture exploits. This is an amazing insight, if he is right, because it suggests that a very close relationship exists between folk and popular culture (very useful for my thesis). This would make popular culture a corruption, not of culture in general, but of folk culture in particular. Macdonald elaborates on this and says popular culture is folk culture broken out of the constraints of folk culture and aspiring to high culture by means of counterfeit. He says it results in a kind of debased high culture, high culture gone to seed; it is folk culture citified. One might say, if I understand Macdonald correctly, that popular culture is the elitism of the people and the populism of the elite.

Were I to continue exploring Macdonald’s idea, endeavoring to define better the taste folk culture satisfies and popular culture exploits, I think I would go in the direction of Weaver’s observation about the classes which prefer tragedy over comedy and the converse. I believe he remarks that an aristocracy (the elites who cultivate high in their centers) prefers tragedy while the lower orders (the milling throngs of happy farmers) would more desire the comedy. I would continue in the way of Lynch who explains tragedy and comedy in terms of the space the character occupies. Tragedy shows us our smallness in the face of infinity; comedy shows us finiteness breaking down all our grandness. If I understand Lynch correctly, tragedy takes a wider scope and looks upon more things, taking a grand view and showing us the great things we love about man with that backdrop; but comedy views the small object closely and shows the clumsiness, ridiculousness, and all the small things we love about man, in a close setting, as it were. If you can guess where I’m going, you can see the corruption of exploiting the folk taste for fondness with sentimentality and the familiar with stereotype. . . . perhaps.

It would take some work, but it is an interesting avenue of thought to pursue. Ah, it does make me think I ought to read the great Richard Weaver again.

Toward a Definition of Popular Culture

I do not think Bernard Rosenberg is wrong when he suggests that mass culture (which I take to be popular culture) is organized distraction. When he goes on to suggest that it is organized to exploit a fundamental need I wonder. He explains how modern man is alienated from meaning, work, community and even himself: his life has been trivialized and at the same time he has been handed a great deal of free time. If you think about it, that last makes sense. Who is it does not watch TV or movies nowadays? Those who say they do not have time.

He suggests, after rejecting three other contenders for the honor of being responsible for mass culture, that modern technology is its only necessary condition.

Worship is Spiritual

In the Bible, God takes the matter of worship out of the hands of men and puts it in the hands of the Holy Spirit. It is impossible to worship God without the impartation of the Holy Spirit!


So. Is not worship a) feeling in the heart, b) expressed in an appropriate manner c) a truth we all hold in common, what we all cherish as always true?