The Liberal Arts, the Radical Enlightenment and the War Against Democracy

In Luciano Boschiero (ed.), On the Purpose of a University Education. North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing Ltd. pp. 67-102 (2012)
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Using Australia to illustrate the case, in this paper it is argued that the transformation of universities into businesses and the undermining of the liberal arts is motivated by either contempt for or outright hostility to democracy. This is associated with a global managerial revolution that is enslaving nations and people to the global market and the corporations that dominate it. The struggle within universities is the site of a struggle to reverse the gains of the Radical Enlightenment, the tradition of Enlightenment that, committed to upholding and developing the civic humanism of the Renaissance, strove for liberty, understood as democratic self-governance. The central place the liberal arts had in upholding this liberty is shown. Inspired by the Ancient Greek notion of paideia, the liberal arts, which originated in republican Rome, was the form of education required designed for free people, in opposition to the specialist education appropriate for slaves, to inspire them to maintain their liberty and enable them to govern themselves. While not always upholding this ideal, it is argued in this paper that the liberal arts always kept alive this quest for liberty, bequeathing this quest to the Renaissance philosophers and to the proponents of the Radical Enlightenment. With managerialism and the undermining of democracy, such education and the questioning, creative people it produced, are now seen as a threat to the new global corporatocracy who, to achieve cultural hegemony, have coƶpted university managers and academics to impose their agenda to cripple the liberal arts. Their goal, never fully articulated as such but successfully prosecuted, is a dumbed-down population.

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Arran Gare
Swinburne University of Technology


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