A Humble Beginning: A Noble Return

If we are to be honest about the experiment of refounding higher education, we must first understand the nature of the problem. In short, the priests of higher education–filled with hubris–have abandoned Nature in exchange for Utopian speculations. Their endeavors are now a curse on students and society. Most institutions of higher education are now temples to false gods, dedicated to the morality of an imagined cosmopolis that does not exist, nor can exist, in reality.

The solution to the problem of higher education, therefore, lies in a revival of an effectual truth in regard to values. The liberal arts and the study of the classics have always been useless in an economic sense. Their value, though, is evident in the flourishing of those who embraced them and who were in turn changed by them in a way that raised them up by giving them something higher to look upon and to be drawn toward. The result was civilization, societal flourishing that was evident to any honest person.

A degree in grievance studies and the whole diversity Weltanschauung–all in service to a cult of multiculturalism–does not lift one’s gaze to something higher; it beckons one to look inward, and the only way to look inward is to lower one’s gaze, to confuse thoughts with feelings, and to become a closed-circuit, incapable of action, and pitiful to behold.

We must re-found higher education, and that will be a long, difficult struggle. Phocaean and Cerberus have begun a conversation, so let us reason together.

Lest we, too, fall into hubris, we must be satisfied with a humble beginning, but do not despise the day of small things. The first step won’t be on an institutional level but on the level of friendship and the old model of a teacher and his disciples. From there, we can begin the long march through the institutions.

My small contribution to understanding the nature of the problem, for now, is just this: our universities and colleges are full of students who do not really want an education; they do not want to be formed according to something noble. What they want is twofold: first, they want access into the class of people who are college “educated” so that they can call themselves–whatever they end up doing for a career–“professionals.” Second, they want (and they think it their right to have) the “college experience,” which is basically camp for twenty year-olds, but with booze and sex.

This part of the problem suggests certain things about the solution. First, it suggests that we should drastically lower our expectation for the number of people who can be educated, for real education is only possible among those who truly desire it, and they will always be a small fraction of society. Second, it suggests that students need to learn in an environment that emphasizes the curricula more than prurient parties, but let us not forget that healthy, nurturing friendship is a vital part of education, both as a means and an end.

My proposal for a humble, yet noble, beginning takes as a model the spirit of Benjamin Franklin’s “Leather Apron” club, also known simply as the “Junto.” Franklin gathered eleven friends together weekly to discuss questions of “Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy.” I hold up the ethos, not necessarily the exact content of these groups as an example for us to follow. Franklin used his Junto to build bonds of friendship between individuals he believed would have an effect on public opinion, and eventually half of the members formed their own groups–each by its own name and with its own personality–and they would report back to the main group the progress each sub-group was making. This was a model for exponential growth among men interested in “mutual improvement.”

I imagine readers of this blog and others–inspired by BAP’s independent spirit–drawing strength from these anonymous, online friendships and starting their own Juntos. These initial groups should be composed of like-minded, or potentially like-minded, men, ideally those in places of influence and who are faculty in colleges and universities who need merely a taste of this kind of friendship and ethos to be inspired. Then, each member could seek to form his own group, composed of various students he finds who desire a real education, the kind that Cerberus describes in his post “The Bronze Age University: New Possibilities in a Time of Trouble.”

The first step, though, is to find friends and improve ourselves, setting the foundation from which to build higher. If we are unable to do even that, we should just give up now the aspiration to re-found higher education. We must become the models that the students we want look to with admiration. It begins, before anything else, with finding and building friendships.

This is a very practical step. It involves action, not contemplation. Read how Franklin himself describes his Junto in his autobiography as a means for transforming Philadelphia.

I should have mentioned before that, in the autumn of the preceding year, I had form’d most of my ingenious acquaintance into a club of mutual improvement, which we called the Junto; we met on Friday evenings. The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss’d by the company; and once in three months produce and read an essay of his own writing, on any subject he pleased. Our debates were to be under the direction of a president, and to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute, or desire of victory; and, to prevent warmth, all expressions of positiveness in opinions, or direct contradiction, were after some time made contraband, and prohibited under small pecuniary penalties…

Our club, the Junto, was found so useful, and afforded such satisfaction to the members, that several were desirous of introducing their friends, which could not well be done without exceeding what we had settled as a convenient number, viz., twelve. We had from the beginning made it a rule to keep our institution a secret, which was pretty well observ’d; the intention was to avoid applications of improper persons for admittance, some of whom, perhaps, we might find it difficult to refuse. I was one of those who were against any addition to our number, but, instead of it, made in writing a proposal, that every member separately should endeavor to form a subordinate club, with the same rules respecting queries, etc., and without informing them of the connection with the Junto. The advantages proposed were, the improvement of so many more young citizens by the use of our institutions; our better acquaintance with the general sentiments of the inhabitants on any occasion, as the Junto member might propose what queries we should desire, and was to report to the Junto what pass’d in his separate club; the promotion of our particular interests in business by more extensive recommendation, and the increase of our influence in public affairs, and our power of doing good by spreading thro’ the several clubs the sentiments of the Junto.

The project was approv’d, and every member undertook to form his club, but they did not all succeed. Five or six only were compleated, which were called by different names, as the Vine, the Union, the Band, etc. They were useful to themselves, and afforded us a good deal of amusement, information, and instruction, besides answering, in some considerable degree, our views of influencing the public opinion on particular occasions, of which I shall give some instances in course of time as they happened.

This is my proposal for a beginning. It is humble, but it is noble. This is a beginning that fits–as Cerberus noted–Nietzsche’s prescription for an environment conducive to producing men who are fighters against their time, educated against all the modern fashions, who yearn to be made ripe for the heroic occasion, ready to begin the hard work necessary to re-found the noble city of higher education on the fertile plains upon which Western civilization once flourished. It begins–as one hopes it will also end–in friendship.

— Pelopidas (@Pelopid48189093)

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