Why the West is No Longer Educated

With its precision and focus on the true, the beautiful and the good, the classical culture of reasoning is at the core of our tradition and—as Tocqueville notes—a “useful” corrective to democracy’s tendency for haste and superficiality. That is something worth restoring

Education seems universally—and almost self-evidently—supported as a Good Thing. Few would argue that a liberal democracy could do without literate citizens. Fewer still that a modern economy could do without a skilled workforce. Accordingly, spending on education is higher than ever. But what does it mean to be educated?

At present, education seems understood primarily as coursework in vocational topics, and “useful” natural and social sciences. There is a lot to be said for such education, as individuals need to be prepared to make a living. But there is also reason for concern. It is not obvious how well the “useful” courses prepare students for the world of work. Moreover, knowledge of the foundations of our culture, prerequisites of liberal democracy and fundamental assumptions in science is transmitted haphazardly or not at all. Individuals are hence increasingly clueless about our civilisation and their responsibilities. It is also unlikely for university graduates to have even basic familiarity with the history and philosophy of their disciplines, leaving many without critical distance from the fashionable views of the day. This sits ill with democratic citizenship, innovation and a dynamic, entrepreneurial economy.