Renewing the West by Renewing Common Sense
This weekend, I participated in a conference with the above name, sponsored by, among others, the Adler-Aquinas Institute. It was an interesting conference; I heard a lot of thought-provoking perspectives and met a lot of nice people. Considering that the core of the conference was Thomistic philosophy, I, of course, had to deliver a paper on the contemporary crisis of gender identity in the west. It’s never dull being a specialist in unusual things.
One of the prominent themes of the conference was the relationship between ethics and character and what might be broadly called leadership or management. In addition to the philosophers (and a tiny handful of theologians), there were scholars from the fields of law, business, and politics there as well. Because of this, we were able to discuss a more thorough definition of “leadership.”
Leadership not only referred to its practical application in the professional world, but also to the more fundamental idea of leadership and management in one’s own life: does one use prudential judgment to live by the definition of “common sense” as Thomas defined it? Or does one merely react to the life that is thrown at them?
This question also has serious ramifications for liberal education. What are we doing by driving our students through “professional preparation”? Why do people think that vocational training is worth $50,000 a year for four years in order to get a job that starts at maybe $60,000 a year? Oftentimes, the job in question isn’t even one the person is especially excited to do – hardly a matter of “vocation.”
Liberal education has become so much about the collection of data, vaguely aimed in the direction of a set of job-applicable skills. This is most unfortunate. Liberal education should invite and challenge the student in such a way as to make them better persons: more free, and thus better able to engage their own world. They should be well-suited to any profession simply because they are excellent human beings.
I doubt any of this is news to anyone who has thought seriously about the meaning of higher education and its present sorry state in the West. This conference gave us the opportunity to imagine a renewed West, a way forward…by taking seriously what we’ve left behind.