The Attack on the Liberal Arts

So the liberal arts are under attack from people who think the sole purpose of higher education is vocational training and from fascists. I’d like to talk about the second group because they’re more sinister, but also because if you’re a person of good will in the first group, you should be really clear on who you’re in bed with.

Fascists, and American Christofascists in particular, hate the liberal arts not because they’re not practical or because of tenure or antisemitism or even left-wing indoctrination. They hate the liberal arts because they don’t want people to think for themselves; they want them to do what they’re told.

This makes sense if your worldview is based on a particular interpretation of a particular book. If people start reading and interpreting that book on their own, they might draw some different conclusions than you have! (Like, for example, that Jesus was far more concerned about how you treat people with less money than you than with who you choose to love.)

But even those fascists who don’t hide their desire for domination under religion hate the liberal arts because a liberal arts education trains you to see patterns, to make connections, and to ask questions. And all of these things are very dangerous to the powers that be. (This is also why they demonize trans and gender nonconforming people: if you can question gender which was considered very much a fixed binary when I was growing up, then what other assumptions might you start questioning?)

Here’s an example: I was hanging with my mom yesterday, and she loves TV news. So she’s watching CNN and they’re talking about the attack on a US military base in Jordan. The panelists are from the center right and the far right. So no one even raised the question of why we have a base in Jordan, or what, other than some “freedom” bullshit, those Americans died for. Study the liberal arts and you might learn about unreliable narrators and to look at what’s not being said as much as what is. But then you might question the entire project of American empire!

The center-right and far-right panelists were arguing about how the US should retaliate. Again, the question of whether the US should retaliate was off the table. It was just understood that everyone agreed about this.

I’m very very far from the first person to notice all of this. Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent came out in 1988. But I think it’s very relevant to why the liberal arts are under attack. Fascists feel like too many people are asking too many inconvenient questions. (It’s now rather mainstream to question the merits of our economic system, something that was a VERY fringe activity when Chomsky’s book came out.) So stop teaching them subjects that encourage them to ask questions! Stop teaching them to analyze things! Just train them for middle management jobs so they’ll do the layoffs to enrich the CEO without making trouble!

Now obviously you don’t need a liberal arts education to be the kind of person who questions assumptions. You actually don’t need a degree at all! So please: question assumptions. Look for patterns. Find connections. Fascists hate it.