It seems that George Will is concerned about the “social justice warriors”, too, if his latest Washington Post column is any gauge:
An admirable intelligentsia, inoculated by education against fashions and fads, would make thoughtful distinctions arising from historically informed empathy. It would be society’s ballast against mob mentalities. Instead, much of America’s intelligentsia has become a mob.
Seeking to impose on others the conformity it enforces in its ranks, articulate only in a boilerplate of ritualized cant, today’s lumpen intelligentsia consists of persons for whom a little learning is delightful. They consider themselves educated because they are credentialed, stamped with the approval of institutions of higher education that gave them three things: a smattering of historical information just sufficient to make the past seem depraved; a vocabulary of indignation about the failure of all previous historic actors, from Washington to Lincoln to Churchill, to match the virtues of the lumpen intelligentsia; and the belief that America’s grossest injustice is the insufficient obeisance accorded to this intelligentsia.
Its expansion tracks the expansion of colleges and universities — most have, effectively, open admissions — that have become intellectually monochrome purveyors of groupthink. Faculty are outnumbered by administrators, many of whom exist to administer uniformity concerning “sustainability,” “diversity,” “toxic masculinity” and the threat free speech poses to favored groups’ entitlements to serenity.
Today’s cancel culture — erasing history, ending careers — is inflicted by people experiencing an orgy of positive feelings about themselves as they negate others. This culture is a steamy sauna of self-congratulation: “I, an adjunct professor of gender studies, am superior to U.S. Grant, so there.” Grant promptly freed the slave he received from his father-in-law, and went on to pulverize the slavocracy. Nevertheless . . .
The cancelers need just enough learning to know, vaguely, that there was a Lincoln who lived when Americans, sunk in primitivism, thought they were confronted with vexing constitutional constraints and moral ambiguities. The cancel culture depends on not having so much learning that it spoils the statue-toppling fun: Too much learning might immobilize the topplers with doubts about how they would have behaved in the contexts in which the statues’ subjects lived.
The cancelers are reverse Rumpelstiltskins, spinning problems that merit the gold of complex ideas and nuanced judgments into the straw of slogans.
Aristotle taught that the purpose of education was to cultivate the capacity for rational thinking, form an ethical character, and provide a base of skill and knowledge sufficient to make good decisions. Augustine said Credo ut intelligam (“I believe in order to understand”). Aquinas taught that logic and the methods of the natural sciences, mathematics, and moral philosophy were the foundations of understanding. And John Adams wrote “I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain”.
Unfortunately, that sort of education, which held pride of place in the Wests for a millennium and produced the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and liberal democratic government, has been abandoned in favor of mere training, job preparation. The demands for “relevance” of 50 years ago were a rejection of that sort of education. Educated people are rare now. What has been produced instead are “expensively schooled versions of…the ‘mass man'”.