Sunday, June 28, 2015

More Sunday reading: "What role will the arts and humanities play in this brave new world?"

Accompany with black coffee.

Matt Burriesci: The Arts and Humanities Aren’t Worth a Dime, by Matt Burriesci (Guernica)

“The object of the education system, taken as whole, is not to produce hands for industry or to teach the young how to make a living. It is to produce responsible citizens.”
-Robert Maynard Hutchins, The University of Utopia

As one of the editors of the Great Books of the Western World, Robert Maynard Hutchins believed that Westerners were all participants in a Great Conversation that began in antiquity. Over the course of several thousand years of that conversation, Western civilization experimented with many different modes of political and economic organization. We have been a polis and we have been an empire; we have lived in feudal monarchies and free republics; we have been capitalist, mercantile, and socialist; we have been democratic and tyrannical. None of these systems has been permanent. Each model has given way to a new one.

The Western World once believed, as Aristotle did, that the political unit preceded the economic one. We changed our minds in the 17th century. John Locke argued that in order to have a government at all, one first had to embrace the concept of private property, and so political freedoms were dependent upon economic liberty. Governments existed for limited purposes, with the consent of the governed, and primarily to defend the property of free citizens. This economic freedom is also what Adam Smith meant when he wrote of the “Invisible Hand.” Smith argued that if individuals were free to choose their own labor, they would choose the most profitable labor possible. By doing so, each individual, guided by a force he or she did not understand (“an Invisible Hand”) would maximize the wealth of the nation.

Today we have come to understand economic metrics as the only units of measurement. We talk about “the marketplace of ideas,” as we “vote with our dollars.”

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