January 23, 2011

Leadership requires thinking about what is true...

Heather Wilson - Our superficial scholars:

...Unlike many graduate fellowships, the Rhodes seeks leaders who will "fight the world's fight." They must be more than mere bookworms. We are looking for students who wonder, students who are reading widely, students of passion who are driven to make a difference in the lives of those around them and in the broader world through enlightened and effective leadership. The undergraduate education they are receiving seems less and less suited to that purpose.

An outstanding biochemistry major wants to be a doctor and supports the president's health-care bill but doesn't really know why. A student who started a chapter of Global Zero at his university hasn't really thought about whether a world in which great powers have divested themselves of nuclear weapons would be more stable or less so, or whether nuclear deterrence can ever be moral. A young service academy cadet who is likely to be serving in a war zone within the year believes there are things worth dying for but doesn't seem to have thought much about what is worth killing for. A student who wants to study comparative government doesn't seem to know much about the important features and limitations of America's Constitution.

When asked what are the important things for a leader to be able to do, one young applicant described some techniques and personal characteristics to manage a group and get a job done. Nowhere in her answer did she give any hint of understanding that leaders decide what job should be done. Leaders set agendas. ...

If you read Random Jottings, none of this should be the least bit surprising. To set an agenda, you must decide what the goal is. And doing that is, at root, a philosophical question. You won't get far in, say, setting government policy, if you haven't thought through your philosophy of government. And to do that rightly, you must have a clear philosophy of everything! You must decide what is important, what is the good.

Foolish people imagine that the good is obvious. "Everybody knows what it is!" If you were born in, say, the year 1800, you might think chattel slavery was a great good, and a blessing for poor Africans who need organizing and bracing-up. A few years later you might think the opposite. And both times you might say that the good was obvious!

To get beyond such fatuity, students must be challenged to defend their ideas on deeper and deeper levels. "How do you know that? How do you justify that conclusion?" Universities should act like Socrates, probing and questioning. It doesn't happen anymore.

Our universities are ground-zero for the ever-increasing nihilism of our world. They don't dare teach the young to think or question, because those who comprise the university have no philosophical underpinnings they can trust. They believe in nothing, and are desperately trying to hide that fact from others and above all from themselves.

Posted by John Weidner at January 23, 2011 8:19 PM
Weblog by John Weidner