Harvard’s Harvey Mansfield, writing elegantly in The Claremont Review of Books, recommends perusal of a particular study undertaken at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. Undertaken, he hastens to add, without cooperation from the college. Nevertheless, “Peter Wood and Michael Toscano . . . in a comprehensive new study, ‘What Does Bowdoin Teach?’ the first of its kind and probably destined to be the best, [show] in the practices and principles of one college what political correctness in our time has done to higher education in our country.”
Mansfield is a writer of notable subtlety; unpacking his seriatim steps of analogy and logic requires care and concentration. It’s well worth doing so. He occupies a unique position in our age: Harvard University’s most prestigious conservative. He also occupies a particular range of grandeur in the Straussian academic constellation. This constellation (a formidable net of nebula and globular clusters) is not known for the clarity of its features, but rather than intricacy of their structure.
In his more topical writings, however, Mansfield favors a concision that culminates in some superb epigrams:
“Today’s liberals do not use liberalism to achieve excellence, but abandon excellence to achieve liberalism.”
“A liberal arts education, the study says, has become an education in liberating oneself from the liberal arts.”
“The report sums up the Bowdoin curriculum of equal courses as having a certain ‘flatness’ and tending toward ‘entropy,’ where faculty and students share the undemanding practice of self-expression, and the uninterest in teaching of the former joins with the uninterest in learning of the latter.”
Read the whole thing.
(Some more discursive reflections are below the fold.)
One almost feels that this brilliant polemical essay by Mansfield is what Chesterton’s writing might have been, had the great man disciplined his own fancies just a bit.
Far be it from me to begrudge GKC his unforgettable fancies; better a thousand more columns of torturous tangles, peculiar referents and oddball comparisons, than one less story from The Club of Queer Trades or some measure less slashing hilarity of astonished debate induced by Adam Wayne in The Napoleon of Notting Hill. I’ll take Chesterton’s chaffier stuff any day, in return for the golden grain of his masterstrokes, like Lepanto or the anti-eugenic broadsides.
His refined work evidenced a mastery of the epigram: “Civilized man does not eat cannibals, bite sharks, or sting wasps.” “That which is large enough for the rich to covet is large enough for the poor to defend.” Many, many more examples could be added.
Professor Mansfield has composed some beauties worthy of Chesterton. American higher education could benefit by an irruption of Adam Wayne-like adventurers in its midst. Mansfield is doing his part to cultivate them.