A Critical Opportunity for Educators
Democratic capitalism can be the engine that drives the world to peace and plenty but it needs the universities to research supportive public policy, to train leaders, and educate citizen. A new generation will learn that broad distribution of wealth from ownership participation can eliminate the impediment of concentrated wealth; that violence can be displaced by economic common purpose; and that all wars are obscene aberrations caused by a few arrogant and ignorant men. The vision of the Founders to substitute the “will and wisdom” of educated citizens filtered by an “aristocracy of talent and virtue” for the mistakes of the few will become reality. Aided by modern communication, young people in all other cultures, including Muslim, will choose freedom and comfort as the alternative to tyranny. While democratic capitalism needs support from the university, the university needs democratic capitalism to fill its moral vacuum and to position it to unite and elevate.
Universities left their moral certainty from religious associations after the Civil War and have yet to find a secular alternative. Since the 1960s, political correctness, relativism, and abandonment of idealism have provoked many books by professors, presidents and deans. This fundamental confusion of purpose in academia is illustrated by the following:
Derek Bok, the president of Harvard University, lamented that in twenty years of faculty meetings he never heard any discussion of how to educate students to become better citizens, concluding that “the results of that neglect are all too visible.” Stanley Fish, former Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Chicago, disagreed stating that “The task of educating students to be better citizens would replace the true task of academic work: the search for truth.”
Harvard professor John Rawls wrote widely read books on “liberalism” until he declared defeat and walked off the field: “Whether there is or ever was such an Enlightenment project (finding a philosophical secular doctrine, one founded on reason and yet comprehensive) we need not consider it, for in any case political liberalism, as I think or it, has no such ambitions.” Another Harvard professor, Edward Wilson, disagreed: “I believe that the Enlightenment thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries got it mostly right the first time. The assumption they made of a lawful material world, the intrinsic unity of knowledge, and the potential of indefinite human progress are the ones we still take most readily to our hearts.”
Rawls was a philosopher looking for political solutions; Wilson, a scientist like the 18th century thinkers, who transfer the truth seeking protocols of science to the study of human progress. Wilson suggested that the culture war in academia would end if each regarded the differences not as a boundary but as unexplored terrain needing cooperative entry from both directions.
Out Founders emphasized universal education as prerequisite to the success of their democratic experiment. Universities, however, did not now give students the academic freedom to examine the alternative of democratic capitalism, nor did they respond to the challenge from John Locke: “God who hath given the world to humans in common, hath also given them reason to make the best use of it for life and convenience.” The Enlightenment studied Lord Bacon’s process to avoid four potential errors in truth seeking. While universities claim to teach students how to think few students have the opportunity to examine what these errors are and how the Enlightenment neutralized them.
Enlightenment II should address these impediments:
- Reaffirm idealism and build common purpose. The barbaric events of the 20th century were caused by a few arrogant and ignorant men and could have been avoided if the priority of nations was economic cooperation not violence.
- Most professors, from the time of Plato, have held commerce in contempt; capitalism is a dirty word; democratic capitalism is derided as an oxymoron. Teachers cannot teach what they have not learned consequently, an epiphany is needed to open minds.
- Democratic capitalism needs multi-disciplinary examination. Liberal Arts assumes the intellectual high ground but from this position must examine the economic system that claims to elevate people in a moral environment.
- Knowledge, now fragmented and specialized, must be integrated in order for students to understand the contributions of Smith, Marx, and Mill. Lack of understanding of Smith’s few conditions, for example, allows finance capitalism to dominate and wreck the economy.
After professors discover democratic capitalism they will become excited by its capacity to break the political grid lock; to end the culture war; and to present a secular morality consistent with religion and humanism. Once unleashed by the educators this powerful force can improve all lives and displace violence with economic common purpose.