Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Academic Fantasy

Every now and then students, especially college students, complain that their education and the academic environment isn’t anything like the “real world” it’s presumably training them to enter.  That’s true.  In one sense, academia isn’t supposed to be a reflection of the real world, but of real life, a place in which one prepares to assume the great task of becoming more fully human.

The problem is that, by and large, academia has failed in that great task, as well as fallen far short of preparing students for the “real world” by training them for jobs that don’t exist, and inculcating ideas that have little or no basis in reality.

This is because, by and large, modern academia has oriented itself to conform to a fantasy.  By abandoning the absolutes of the natural moral law, especially justice, in a fruitless quest for a material perfection or utopia that can never be attained in this life, a university education these days is, at best, a ticket to jobs that are disappearing at an accelerating rate.

At worst, college undermines human nature and the quest for virtue, which (properly understood), is the meaning and purpose of human life — to which must be added that which western civilization seems to have dedicated itself to eliminating entirely: our end as special creations of God, i.e., fulfilling ourselves as adopted children of God, whatever one’s particular faith.

Ultimately, of course, how can anyone understand evil and vice when they deny good and virtue?  Instead of virtue, we have, by and large, traded our human birthright for the pottage of material wellbeing, as exemplified by what the solidarist economist Franz H. Mueller called the “meliorism” of Msgr. John A. Ryan, a.k.a., “Monsignor New Deal” and “the Right Reverend New Dealer.”

This will never change until and unless people regain power over their own lives, and they will never regain that power to acquire and develop virtue without widespread capital ownership; “Power,” as Daniel Webster reminded us, “naturally and necessarily follows property.”  As long as individuals and families remain dependent on private employers or the State for an adequate and secure income, they will remain moral infants, seeking only self-gratification and fulfillment of increasingly unsatisfactory material pacifiers.  As Pope Leo XIII pointed out, in a passage that the bishops who met on the family should have kept in mind if they expect the State to make up for flaws in the structuring of the social order,

“That right to property, therefore, which has been proved to belong naturally to individual persons, must in like wise belong to a man in his capacity of head of a family; nay, that right is all the stronger in proportion as the human person receives a wider extension in the family group. It is a most sacred law of nature that a father should provide food and all necessaries for those whom he has begotten; and, similarly, it is natural that he should wish that his children, who carry on, so to speak, and continue his personality, should be by him provided with all that is needful to enable them to keep themselves decently from want and misery amid the uncertainties of this mortal life. Now, in no other way can a father effect this except by the ownership of productive property, which he can transmit to his children by inheritance. A family, no less than a State, is, as We have said, a true society, governed by an authority peculiar to itself, that is to say, by the authority of the father. Provided, therefore, the limits which are prescribed by the very purposes for which it exists be not transgressed, the family has at least equal rights with the State in the choice and pursuit of the things needful to its preservation and its just liberty. We say, ‘at least equal rights’; for, inasmuch as the domestic household is antecedent, as well in idea as in fact, to the gathering of men into a community, the family must necessarily have rights and duties which are prior to those of the community, and founded more immediately in nature. If the citizens, if the families on entering into association and fellowship, were to experience hindrance in a commonwealth instead of help, and were to find their rights attacked instead of being upheld, society would rightly be an object of detestation rather than of desire.

“The contention, then, that the civil government should at its option intrude into and exercise intimate control over the family and the household is a great and pernicious error. True, if a family finds itself in exceeding distress, utterly deprived of the counsel of friends, and without any prospect of extricating itself, it is right that extreme necessity be met by public aid, since each family is a part of the commonwealth. In like manner, if within the precincts of the household there occur grave disturbance of mutual rights, public authority should intervene to force each party to yield to the other its proper due; for this is not to deprive citizens of their rights, but justly and properly to safeguard and strengthen them. But the rulers of the commonwealth must go no further; here, nature bids them stop. Paternal authority can be neither abolished nor absorbed by the State; for it has the same source as human life itself. ‘The child belongs to the father,’ and is, as it were, the continuation of the father’s personality; and speaking strictly, the child takes its place in civil society, not of its own right, but in its quality as member of the family in which it is born. And for the very reason that “the child belongs to the father” it is, as St. Thomas Aquinas says, ‘before it attains the use of free will, under the power and the charge of its parents.’ The socialists, therefore, in setting aside the parent and setting up a State supervision, act against natural justice, and destroy the structure of the home.” (Rerum Novarum, §§ 13-14.)

The State must, therefore, except in extreme cases, confine itself to removing barriers to full participation in the common good by families, so that they can gain an adequate and secure income through their own efforts, not by depending on the expedient generosity of politicians, or the coerced pseudo charity imposed on private employers.

Academia, however, is not teaching this, but that everything comes from outside the human person, and all are helpless unless God or the State steps in and makes things all better.  Since the God of the major religions doesn’t work that way, by default the State is going to move in, assuming the role of what Thomas Hobbes called “a Mortall God.”