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26 February 2012

FollowUp 1: Fascism?

This YouTube clip, with Rick Santorum deriding higher education and particularly liberal professors, has been making the rounds this weekend.  He complains that students are being indoctrinated.

This is not new.  Mr. Santorum made the same complaint a month ago.

As I heard the repeat of this, I could not help but think of anti-intellectual movements.
Dictators, and their dictatorship supporters, use anti-intellectualism to gain popular support, by accusing intellectuals of being a socially detached, politically-dangerous class who question the extant social norms, who dissent from established opinion, and who reject nationalism, hence they are unpatriotic, and thus subversive of the nation. Violent anti-intellectualism is common to the rise and rule of authoritarian political movements, such as Italian Fascism, Stalinism in Russia, Nazism in Germany, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and Iranian theocracy.
In December, I wrote about Lawrence Britt's list of attributes of fascism.  The eleventh point seems germane:
11. Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts. Intellectuals and the inherent freedom of ideas and expression associated with them were anathema to these regimes. Intellectual and academic freedom were considered subversive to national security and the patriotic ideal. Universities were tightly controlled; politically unreliable faculty harassed or eliminated. Unorthodox ideas or expressions of dissent were strongly attacked, silenced, or crushed. To these regimes, art and literature should serve the national interest or they had no right to exist.
To be fair, Mr. Santorum is not calling for restrictions on academia.  Instead, he is calling for people to reject high education and institutions of higher learning.  Despite earning two degrees at such universities, he wants people to reject liberal education.

On this point, Mr. Santorum is playing a linguistics game that is quite ugly.  According to the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U):
AAC&U sees liberal education as a philosophy of education that empowers individuals with broad knowledge and transferable skills, and a strong sense of value, ethics, and civic engagement. Characterized by challenging encounters with important issues, and more a way of studying than a specific course or field of study, a liberal education can be achieved at all types of colleges and universities.
This is not about liberal versus conservative politics, but that is the insinuation that Mr. Santorum makes.  Some religious conservatives, like Mr. Santorum, dislike higher education because it includes "challenging encounters with important issues" where students are challenged to defend that which they believe.  When beliefs are based on faith without evidence, those beliefs sometimes are rejected by students in favor of that which can be proven.

This type of academic inquiry is not anti-religious, but is portrayed as such by people like Mr. Santorum.  The Jesuit priests where I went to school engaged in such challenges and I learned to have a greater appreciation for G. K. Chesteron and C. S. Lewis (hardly anti-religious "liberals").  Liberal education is not the same thing as liberal politics.

19 December 2011:  Original Pedantic Political Ponderings post.

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