Defense of the Liberal Arts
Goes to College: Political Theory for the Liberal Arts
State University of New York Press, 2002 246 pages $65.50,
John Seerys book America Goes to College: Political
Theory for the Liberal Arts is a very important book. The book itself,
and especially the final essay called America Goes to College,
is a powerful defense of the liberal arts college, especially the classrooms
within, as places still open for serious discourse, ideally discourse
that addresses the most vital issues of the human condition.
In effect, the classrooms of liberal arts colleges, where learning comes
from discussion much more than from the top down dissemination of information
by lectures, serve as public space or democratic town hall meetings where
young men and women discuss the good life and its most pressing problems.
This is also a model essay for Professor Seery who writes so clearly,
in a time when obscurity and jargon often count for profundity.
One of Professor Seerys most important points is that a professor
at a liberal arts college cannot be only a specialist. Moreover, the political
theorist, perhaps more than any other professor at a small college, finds
himself or herself teaching Homer and Virgil and Michelangelo and Galileo
and Balzac and Flaubert and maybe even The Bhagavad Gita as well
as the Analects of Confucius. This is, of course, one reason that
teaching political theory is such an enjoyable job. If our students have
the challenge and satisfaction of broad learning, then shouldnt
professors as well?
One challenge for a professor at a liberal arts college has to do with
overcoming a certain prejudice from outsiders. Many university scholars,
Professor Seery notes, look down on their college counterparts. While
college professors are rightly expected to be excellent teachers, we are
also asked to publish books with the best presses and articles in the
best journals. And yet all too often anonymous reviewers sneer at books
and articles submitted by mere college professors. This is a sad but accurate
commentary on the elitism of many at research universities.
Seery also correctly observes that a certain class snobbishness of the
East Coast makes West Coast liberal arts colleges special places, genuine
treasures. At Pomona, he has found one of the best.
Roger Boesche is Professor of Politics and The Arthur G. Coons Professor
of the History of Ideas at Occidental College. He also teaches political