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The Crisis of the Liberal Arts and Why They Must Be Restored

Wednesday September 2009


Patrick Deneen Tsakopoulos-Kounalakis Associate Professor of Government, Founding Director, Tocqueville Forum on the Roots of American Democracy, Georgetown University

Many critics of higher education attribute the decline and irrelevancy of the liberal arts to radical developments in the humanities, including multiculturalism, postmodernism and Marxism. What is often ignored are deeper structural changes that have increasingly driven the liberal arts toward irrelevancy, particularly the growing dominance of the natural and social sciences.

The dominance of the natural sciences has resulted in many of the contemporary pathologies of the university, including the prevalence of specialized (and incomprehensible) research, the narrowing of faculty focus, the neglect of undergraduate education in favor of graduate training, and the abandonment of general education requirements that are guided by a vision of what constitutes the well-educated human being. The prospects for American constitutional government lie in recovering the true end of the university—an education in self-government, and hence, an education in what it is to be free.