sententiarum collectio

Category: Learning (Page 1 of 2)

When the Culture War Comes for the Kids

“n politics, identity is an appeal to authority—the moral authority of the oppressed: I am what I am, which explains my view and makes it the truth. The politics of identity starts out with the universal principles of equality, dignity, and freedom, but in practice it becomes an end in itself—often a dead end, a trap from which there’s no easy escape and maybe no desire for escape. Instead of equality, it sets up a new hierarchy that inverts the old, discredited one—a new moral caste system that ranks people by the oppression of their group identity. It makes race, which is a dubious and sinister social construct, an essence that defines individuals regardless of agency or circumstance”

“At times the new progressivism, for all its up-to-the-minuteness, carries a whiff of the 17th century, with heresy hunts and denunciations of sin and displays of self-mortification. The atmosphere of mental constriction in progressive milieus, the self-censorship and fear of public shaming, the intolerance of dissent—these are qualities of an illiberal politics.”

Science Is Not a Teacher of Morals

“Science is a magnificent force, but it is not a teacher of morals. It can perfect machinery, but it adds no moral restraints to protect society from the misuse of the machine. It can also build gigantic intellectual ships, but it constructs no moral rudders for the control of storm-tossed human vessel. It not only fails to supply the spiritual element needed but some of its unproven hypotheses rob the ship of its compass and thus endanger its cargo.”

William Jennings Bryan’s summation of the Scopes trial (distributed to reporters but not read in court)

Education & Alienation

As the grandson of Iowa farmers, as a man with specialized academic degrees, as someone working to revive education, this article is relevant to my core.

“Does a liberal education so broaden the minds of its pupils that it turns them into learned cosmopolitans who cannot go home anymore? In other words, how can students go back to the farm after having read Homer, Dante, and Shakespeare?”

“The humanistic education I received over the course of too many degrees enabled me to escape my past, at least partly.”

 “By so broadening the mind, does it narrow the person? By liberating the educated person to see things whole, does it shackle that person to a blindness than cannot recognize the full scope of our humanity?”

“I am haunted by the potential narrowness of a liberal education, since it tempts us to look at students and ourselves as merely minds without bodies, that is, without reference to the families and communities in which we learned to talk, treat others politely, endure eccentric neighbors, root for football teams, and fall in love.”

“For without the real generation of children who learn about the West and its virtues from parents, neighbors, teachers and pastors, a liberal education may become little more than a game for cosseted academics, or a disembodied five-foot shelf of decorative books, cut off from real people whose lives and communities embody and situate the true, the good, and the beautiful.”

Experts Are Servants

“Experts need to remember, always, that they are the servants of a democratic society and a republican government. Their citizen masters, however, must equip themselves not just with education but also with the kind of civic virtue that keeps them involved in the running of their own country. Laypeople cannot do without experts, and they must accept this reality without rancor. Experts, likewise, must accept that they get a hearing, not a veto, and that their advice will not always be taken. At this point, the bonds tying the system together are dangerously frayed. Unless some sort of trust and mutual respect can be restored, public discourse will be polluted by unearned respect for unfounded opinions. And in such an environment, anything and everything becomes possible, including the end of democracy and republican government itself.”

How America Lost Faith in Expertise


We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.

C.S. Lewis

The Security of a Degree

“A degree can pretend to give security for nothing but the science of the graduate; and even at that it can give but a very slender security. For his good sense and discretion, qualities not discoverable by an academical examination, it can give no security at all.”

Adam Smith, letter to Dr. William Cullen, September 20th, 1774 (see Correspondence of Adam Smith; Liberty Fund, pp. 176-177 (1987)).

Notes from the Legal Clinic

On the brighter side of law school sits the legal clinic, a working law firm where students take on live cases with living, breathing clients. Gone are the musty stacks and the confident black letters of the law, and in their places are the gray questions and the squishy conflicts of real relationships and broken rights.

One client is a family seeking legal responsibility to care for their patriarch, who isn’t able to see that he needs their care. As a people, we have placed safeguards for this patriarch, and other vulnerable people, to prevent the caretakers from taking advantage. I am fortunate that my clients are, I believe I can prove, well fit and well motivated to care for a ward that needs them.

Another client is also a family, seeking to care for the home and personal effects that their patriarch left behind upon his death. As a people we created a process to transfer rights from a deceased person – unable to transfer rights himself – to other living persons, because the rights of property outlast the life of a human. The grief has now passed, and the belongings are few; yet without the family’s patriarch as leader, the family is spending its remaining strength on a fight over the few physical scraps he left behind.

These two families are very different. The ways they honor their respective patriarchs are vastly different, as are the values the patriarchs instilled in their families. There are important stories and lessons to be gained from each, but this is not the time nor place for those.

Ironically, I am exchanging my own time and money for the opportunity to learn by helping these clients. The clients bring nothing to this exchange except their problems, plus the little extra patience needed to deal with a law student rather than a lawyer.

Today I can wonder aloud: Where would my clients go, what they would do, to resolve their legal issues without this free legal service? What is the cost of justice? Is the value of the justice produced by our legal system commensurate to its price tag?

In one case, the State’s coffers are used to enable a man to fight what’s in his best interest. I can justify this to an extent, and I don’t begrudge the man in the least; if the State can remove a man’s right to self-governance, it should bear the cost of doing so. But would the family be able to bear the cost – a fight to love – without access to this legal clinic? The market value of my time spent on the case is already in the thousands.

In the other case, the family doesn’t seem to realize the value of the scraps is – or could be – easily outweighed by family cohesiveness. The family members clearly don’t have the resources to engage attorneys, so they utilize free services and/or attempt to represent themselves in a system they don’t understand in order to control property rights that won’t bring them any value. What would their argument look like – how would it be settled – if our justice system weren’t here or if people like me weren’t available to crack it open for them? Would their conflict even exist if not for our system that tells them a conflict might exist?


Disaster is really the best thing to prove a man wrong; and that happens to be the one pressing and vital necessity for the sublime modern intellect. It has got to be proved wrong. For that purpose we want great disasters. And we seem to be getting what we want.

G.K. Chesterton

Time and Reality

Sooner or later Time brings the empty phrase and the false conclusion up against what is; the empty imaginary looks reality in the face and the truth at once conquers. In war a nation learns whether it is strong or no, and how it is strong and how weak; it learns it as well in defeat as in victory. In the long processes of human lives, in the succession of generations, the real necessities and nature of a human society destroy any false formula upon which it was attempted to conduct it. Time must always ultimately teach.

Hilaire Belloc, Reality

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