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The HOYA (1967 or 68]  

Obsolete Academic Disciplines  

by Carroll Quigley, Ph.D.  Professor of History


   No education is worth much which does not help those who receive it to understand the world in which they live and to feel more at home and more confident in the world. For many years, the experience of Americans in their academic institutions has not been helping, but rather has hindered, that process. That experience has tended to be a kind of brainwashing, seeking, in most cases, to establish a bourgeois or (in recent years) a petty bourgeois outlook. On the higher levels of the system, this has been supplemented by a steadily narrowing of training for a place in the bureaucratic structures which now dominate American life, in business, in government, in education itself, in religion, the law, medicine, and the defense forces. This is reflected in earlier, and in more and more narrow, specialization and in the increasing pedantic nature of so much of the work done in all fields.


   On one side, this leaves so-called educated people incapable of understanding the rapidly changing society in which we live and, as the opposite side of the same situation, leaves us facing gigantic problems to whose understanding and solution the existing educational structure has little to contribute (that is why they became gigantic). This can be seen most clearly by asking ourselves the simple question: "In which of our academic disciplines do these problems fall?" Or more concretely, "From which of the existing academic disciplines would we recruit someone to enlighten us on each of these problems?" However we word these questions, there is no answer, for the simple reason that the great problems of our day do not fall into any one academic discipline, and, indeed, cannot be dealt with by committees made up of persons from different academic specialties.


Today's Problems

   The problems are obvious: (1) war and peace; (2) urban problems; (3) environmental pollution and destruction of our natural basis for living; (4) the rising tide of mental ill-health, emotional instability, and personality disorders; (5) racial problems; (16) growing social disintegration and violence; and (7) the problems of under-developed countries. Not one of these falls into one of the academic departments into which our educational establishment is divided. These disciplines were separated toward the end or the Nineteenth Century, when it was possible to believe that politics was separated from economics, and that neither of these was closely related to psychology, literature, history, technology, mathematics, or the natural sciences. But today anyone who does not recognize that all of these are closely inter-related and that all of them are intermingled in all the major problems facing us is disqualified, by that belief, from having any authority in any of them. None of these problems which we must solve if we are not to perish falls cleanly, or even mainly, into any existing academic discipline. That is precisely why we are so helpless in dealing with them.


On the Borders

   Take the last of the problems listed above, that of the underdeveloped areas. On this we have spent untold billions of dollars in the last 20 years, with almost no constructive results. We were told it was an economic problem, capable of solution with technical training and inflows of capital. We poured money into backward countries, corrupting them, and  making millions of native peoples discontented, only to discover that the real obstacles were in the minds of those peoples, in the way they looked at human experience, and in their value systems, which were largely incomprehensible to us. The only real help we got from the academic community, and that chiefly as an explanation of why we were failing, came from anthropology, which did have a glimmering of the truth because it was almost the only academic field which tried to study societies different from ourselves as functioning wholes.


   Today, even in the natural sciences, the only real advances are being made, not within subjects, but on the borders of the older academic fields where subjects are mixed (as in space). The only great scientific discovery since the war, molecular biology, is of this type.


   Today no great advances can be made, nor can the problems facing us be understood, by anyone who stays within the borders of one of the present academic disciplines. In each, the workers are smothered in overspecialization and pedantry. Yet in each the majority of members are very busy congratulating each other on the wonderful work they are all doing. That is self-deception, for the regular academic disciplines are now bankrupt, incapable of providing their explanations or solutions to problems.


   The chief group of discontented are, of course, the students, who grow increasingly restless, discontented, and alienated because of their recognition of the large-scale irrelevance of so much of what they have to learn. Within these fields, some teachers realize, more or less unconsciously, that much is wrong. Yet they feel that they must go on, and do so, rationalizing that they have to make a living somehow, and this is the only way they are equipped to earn what is needed, and, secondly they assure themselves and their students that the latter must have a college education. This latter belief is correct only if the student is determined to make his living by finding a place in the great and ever-growing bureaucracies which envelop our world and now overshadow it. But all of these bureaucracies do their work inefficiently and badly. They look good only if we accept their own fraudulent bookkeeping. If a student wants to spend his life encapsulated in the interstices of one of these monstrous structures, I suppose he does need a college education, not because college prepares him to do their work but simply because these structures increasingly demand a college degree as a ticket of admission to their employ. They demand that only because it indicates that the, holder of that ticket has submitted to years of brainwashing in irrelevancies and will put up with the myths of the bureaucracy he joins.



If a young man today simply wants to make a very good living associated with freedom and variety, he can do it much better without a college education. Of course he must be educated, but real education today can he obtained much m ore easily (although it is never easy) in constant attendance at a good public library than at the so-called "best" universities (which are frequently the worst ones). Today, as almost never before, the way lies open to any enterprising young man to find something to do which is now being done badly or not done at all by our bureaucratized society. To do this the first task of the young man must be to dismiss as the myth it is what passes for truth in existing universities. There is a truth and it can be found; it has been found, to some degree, by men in the past, and by men in other societies. The task of finding it is lifelong, and probably continues after bodily death, and the greatest joy of living is the search for it. That is why we are here, but to find it in the accepted wisdom of the existing academic structure is to put oneself in an intellectual prison, which does not help.


   Of course, if someone can go to college and not become a prisoner of its myths and can continue free from the bureaucratic structure toward which the average college seeks to direct students, he can also live a good life and, like a non-college man, get rewards greater, even in material things, than the average college-bureaucracy-tied person. And in addition, like Ralph Nader, he will be able to keep his freedom and self-respect, which is worth something.


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