The WWII soldier who died fighting for the "precious ideals" of liberal arts education

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When I went to college, in the 70s, this was considered the ideal. I went to Columbia College, which incorporated the Great Books program in its Core Curriculum, a set of required reading for all students. It is an offshoot of the Trivium and Quadrivium of Classical education, but was formalized in its modern pattern during WWI in order to give young men high-flown ideals to fight for in the Great War.

And of course, in the last couple of decades, much of it has been criticized as male-centric and Europe-centric. This has (I am told) been remedied to some extent, and that is a Good Thing.


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Not like I’ve (and others) been saying this for years or anything… Sadly, we seem hellbent on getting rid of liberal arts education for all but the most elite among us. Making the public colleges and unis just straight job training, and gut the things that make education more than just that…

thing is, I don’t think most people are saying “replace” the old classics, so much as add other perspectives, too. It is very much a good thing, but it helps to explain the very strong attacks by the right (and to a lesser extent, centrists) in our society.


I majored in engineering at Texas A&M in the late 80s, early 90s, and even there, in that major, we had some decent liberal arts/humanities credits we had to get to graduate. Most of my classmates complained about it. I did not. I actually took more credits in those areas than were required, and I am better for it.


I honestly wish I could have taken MORE credits outside of my major, but time and course work only allowed for so much.


I was 3 credits short of having enough credits to get a minor in German…had I been allowed to have a minor. But I wasn’t. Engineering majors weren’t allowed to have minors. You could do a double major, but you couldn’t have a minor. I will never understand why.


I had enough credits to Major in Painting or Graphic Design, but they didn’t let me double major in two BFA fields, so I had to pick which one I wanted on the diploma.


This was a big thing during the war. Western cultural values were seen as a strength. Take a look at the propaganda movie “49th Parallel” to get a sense of how this worked. After the defeat of the fascists, there was a feeling that science had taught us that all men are equal but the fight was also for freedom and it was through the arts that those freedoms are revealed. Take it as you will, but it was a much better philosophy than a lot of its competitors.


In WWII, the Allies fought literally to preserve arts.


Except, of course, both fascism and communism (and other various left wing ideas) were also part of “western cultural values”… So was imperialism. So was the concept of race and a very specific kind of misogyny/patriarchy. That’s the problem with “western values” - it encompasses a very wide spectrum of thought, some of which are in deep contradiction with one another. We’ve had to square race- based enslavement with “all men are created equal” for example…

But I’m not sure anyone has said that all of “western” values are or were totally devoid of value, though. It was relatively clear to me that most of the combatants during the war and then into the Cold War saw themselves competing for the dominant form of “western” values that should be exported to the rest of humanity - often against their will. But there is also a strain of thought from Europe that can very much be used to bring disparate peoples together and look at the best of any culture for solutions to shared problems. We can choose if we embrace a worldview that only honors some traditions (and of course that doesn’t even mean ALL European cultures, just SOME european cultures, and certainly not much from the rest of the world, except as a nice consumable), or we can embrace what was best of the enlightenment era (by looking at it truthfully, good and bad) and build a world that is truly inclusive and democratic.


I’ve learned to take what I can get. That doesn’t stop me from trying for more, but it makes me appreciate that the good fight is won a battle at a time. If the Allies had lost World War II, we’d be living in a much worse world than we live in now. We still have a long way to go, but there isn’t going to be one last great boss fight.

Sure… I was not arguing for the allies to have lost, merely pointing out that the nazis were also pulling on a tradition of western culture/history. To say that the guys we find more admirable are the only ones derived from “western” tradition is most certainly whitewashing what we mean by “western tradition”. It’s a constantly moving target. My point is that there is plenty good stuff there that we don’t need to abandon to move forward in building a better world.


I don’t think the Nazi lack of care for human life would be considered western at all. “Save one life, save the world” is not just a Jewish saying but a Christian and a western one. They placed the fatherland above individual life and liberty, also not western, not really.

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There was a distinct lack of care for non-European human life. Plenty of people have argued in recent years that fascism was simply colonialism turned back on Europe. Given how violent and brutal European colonialism was in the 19th and early 20th century, I’m inclined to agree with that assessment.

But yes, it’s a point of debate among scholars who study Europe. I disagree with the ones who don’t believe there’s a connection there. I’m not sure how you get much more European than Germany, given how much of the enlightenment was shaped by German philosophy.

That assumes that nationalism wasn’t also part of western political beliefs. Of course it was.


Making the public colleges and unis just straight job training,

It’s one thing to defend the liberal arts, but one thing that it is really annoying is the tendency for liberal arts devotees to dismiss all non-liberal arts stuff as “job training”. While yes, I know there are majors like accounting or marketing which can be categorized as mere “job training”, but other fields such as the sciences are every bit (if not more) about getting an education that lets you understand how the world works as the liberal arts does.


Yeah, but it’s not like there aren’t also the same kind of attacks on sciences except the ones immediately useful to industry. The push for universities to be job training is real and hurts them in addition to liberal arts.


Do terms like colonialism and eugenics ring a bell?


Since when is science not part of a liberal arts education?
As someone with a bachelor in arts in neuroscience from a college of “Arts and Sciences”, it seems you’re creating an odd false dichotomy for no apparent reason


Both Athens and Sparta are part of the “Western tradition.” Both city-states had economies that were slave based. Indeed most of the slaves in Sparta were indeed Greek Helots. So when people are talking about personal freedom as cultural norm, they’re talking about a much more recent trend. More “Enlightenment” than merely “Western.”


The fact that some universities decide to arbitrarily put sciences and liberal arts together in a college doesn’t mean that they are not different things. I did my undergraduate studies in bacteriology and biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin where those departments are in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (also an arbitrary grouping but one that dates back to the 19th century when even the department of biochemistry was the “Department of Agricultural Chemistry” as the letters carved in stone on the building still read today).