ANTHONY T. KRONMAN: The Humanities In The Age of Disenchantment, December 2, 2011, 7:30PM, Seifert Theater, Salisbury School, Salisbury, CT


Anthony T. Kronman, J.D., Ph.D., Author, Sterling Professor of Law (Yale Law School) Visiting Global Professor (NYU) Teacher in the Directed Studies Program (Yale).

Why are we here? Anthony Kronman says our colleges and universities are ignoring life’s biggest questions and we all pay the price. Students today find an academic environment richer than any have known before. They will find courses devoted to every question under the sun. But the questions that are missing deal with the meaning of life, what one should care about and why and what living is for.

Dr. Kronman says that in a shift of historic importance. America’s colleges and universities have largely abandoned the idea that life’s most important question is an appropriate subject for the classroom. In doing so, he says, “They have betrayed their students by depriving them of the chance to explore it in an organized way before they are caught up in their careers and preoccupied with the urgent business of living itself.”

Our top universities have embraced a research driven ideal, he says. In the process they have badly weakened the humanities, the disciplines with the oldest and deepest connections to this question, leaving them directionless and vulnerable to being hijacked for political ends. “In the sciences the adoption of the research ideal has produced astounding results” he says. “Our knowledge of the natural and social worlds, and ability to control them, is a direct result of the modern system of academic research.” He describes political correctness as a stifling culture of moral and political uniformity based on progressive ideals. But he says, “Political correctness is only a symptom, a discouraging response to a larger sense of directionlessness in the humanities.”

“America’s entire leadership class now goes to college. Infusing higher education with a new and vibrant humanism will produce benefits not only for the future leaders of business and government but for society at large,” he says. It will give us, he says, “A richer and more open debate about ultimate values; an electorate less likely to be cowed into thinking that only the faithful have the right to invoke them; a humbler regard for the mystery of life in a world increasingly dominated by technocratic reason.”