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Liberal education has been under siege in recent years. Far-right ideologues in journalism and government have pressed for a uniform curriculum that focuses on the achievements of Western culture. Partisans of the academic left, who hold our culture responsible for the evils of society, have attempted to redress imbalances by fostering multiculturalism in education. In thi Liberal education has been under siege in recent years. Far-right ideologues in journalism and government have pressed for a uniform curriculum that focuses on the achievements of Western culture. Partisans of the academic left, who hold our culture responsible for the evils of society, have attempted to redress imbalances by fostering multiculturalism in education. In this eloquent and passionate book a distinguished scholar criticizes these positions and calls for a return to the tradition of independent thinking that he contends has been betrayed by both right and left. Under the guise of educational reform, says David Bromwich, these groups are in fact engaging in politics by other means. Bromwich argues that rivals in the debate over education have one thing in common: they believe in the all-importance of culture. Each assumes that culture confers identity, decides the terms of every moral choice, and gives a meaning to life. Both sides therefore see education as a means to indoctrinate students in specific cultural and political dogmas. By contrast, Bromwich contends that genuine education is concerned less with culture than with critical thinking and independence of mind. This view of education is not a middle way among the political demands of the moment, says Bromwich. Its earlier advocates include Mill and Wollstonecraft, and its roots can be traced to such secular moralists as Burke and Hume. Bromwich attacks the anti-democratic and intolerant premises of both right and left—premises that often appear in the conservative guise of "preserving the tradition" on the one hand, or the radical guise of "opening up the tradition" on the other. He discusses the new academic "fundamentalists" and the politically correct speech codes they have devised to enforce a doctrine of intellectual conformity; educational policy as articulated by conservative apologists George Will and William Bennett; the narrow logic of institutional radicalism; the association between personal reflection and social morality; and the discipline of literary study, where the symptoms of cultural conflict have appeared most visibly. Written with the wisdom and conviction of a dedicated teacher, this book is a persuasive plea to recover a true liberal tradition in academia and government—through independent thinking, self-knowledge, and tolerance of other points of view.


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Liberal education has been under siege in recent years. Far-right ideologues in journalism and government have pressed for a uniform curriculum that focuses on the achievements of Western culture. Partisans of the academic left, who hold our culture responsible for the evils of society, have attempted to redress imbalances by fostering multiculturalism in education. In thi Liberal education has been under siege in recent years. Far-right ideologues in journalism and government have pressed for a uniform curriculum that focuses on the achievements of Western culture. Partisans of the academic left, who hold our culture responsible for the evils of society, have attempted to redress imbalances by fostering multiculturalism in education. In this eloquent and passionate book a distinguished scholar criticizes these positions and calls for a return to the tradition of independent thinking that he contends has been betrayed by both right and left. Under the guise of educational reform, says David Bromwich, these groups are in fact engaging in politics by other means. Bromwich argues that rivals in the debate over education have one thing in common: they believe in the all-importance of culture. Each assumes that culture confers identity, decides the terms of every moral choice, and gives a meaning to life. Both sides therefore see education as a means to indoctrinate students in specific cultural and political dogmas. By contrast, Bromwich contends that genuine education is concerned less with culture than with critical thinking and independence of mind. This view of education is not a middle way among the political demands of the moment, says Bromwich. Its earlier advocates include Mill and Wollstonecraft, and its roots can be traced to such secular moralists as Burke and Hume. Bromwich attacks the anti-democratic and intolerant premises of both right and left—premises that often appear in the conservative guise of "preserving the tradition" on the one hand, or the radical guise of "opening up the tradition" on the other. He discusses the new academic "fundamentalists" and the politically correct speech codes they have devised to enforce a doctrine of intellectual conformity; educational policy as articulated by conservative apologists George Will and William Bennett; the narrow logic of institutional radicalism; the association between personal reflection and social morality; and the discipline of literary study, where the symptoms of cultural conflict have appeared most visibly. Written with the wisdom and conviction of a dedicated teacher, this book is a persuasive plea to recover a true liberal tradition in academia and government—through independent thinking, self-knowledge, and tolerance of other points of view.

36 review for Politics by Other Means: Higher Education and Group Thinking

  1. 4 out of 5

    Diana

    Every once in a while I read a book that both meets and lifts my intellectual yearning. David Bromwich's Politics by Other Means: Higher Education and Group Thinking is such a book. Bromwich shows how both the static right of American politics and the self-contained left of American higher education, both the "culture of assent" and the "culture of suspicion," reinforce group thinking and impede thoughtful intellectual discourse. First published twenty years ago, the book gives more insight into Every once in a while I read a book that both meets and lifts my intellectual yearning. David Bromwich's Politics by Other Means: Higher Education and Group Thinking is such a book. Bromwich shows how both the static right of American politics and the self-contained left of American higher education, both the "culture of assent" and the "culture of suspicion," reinforce group thinking and impede thoughtful intellectual discourse. First published twenty years ago, the book gives more insight into the problems of education today than many a recent work I have read. It is Bromwich's careful and discerning argument that distinguishes this book from most. He makes illuminating distinctions between seemingly similar assertions. He disassembles and examines many oft-bandied catch phrases and terms (such as "values" and "mass culture"). It is easy enough to say that the right and left are insular and misguided; it’s another matter to explain how. Bromwich’s explanation unsettled me in the best of ways, as it made me reconsider some of my own assumptions. He distinguishes between (a) studying tradition in order to adopt a set of pre-established views and (b) studying tradition in order to think about it independently and take part in conversation about it. He shows how George F. Will and other self-proclaimed conservatives not only differ fundamentally from Edmund Burke, whom they regard as a predecessor, but do not merit the claimed inheritance. He shows the deep problems (not just the immediately obvious ones) with the trend toward teaching mass culture in literature departments--which occurs in a larger context of "professionalization." The one who "specializes" in mass culture has the triple advantage of supposedly relating to the people, being unassailable by colleagues, and having a claim to a "marginal" field. I was fascinated by his commentary on Burke and Mill (and Hume and Butler) and by his analyses of literary study and the change it has undergone. I bring these up in the same sentence because some of the dangers of which Burke and Mill warned became the reality of the literary academy. As it replaced the study of literature with the study of theory, the literary academy lost both its "historical imagination" and the experience needed for attentive reading. One of Bromwich’s most intriguing observations occurs on p. 130, when he writes, "Dependence and group-narcissism are the paralysis of genuine scholarship; but scholars, like citizens, to whom that seems a healthy state of things will always invoke the argument of growing solitude." (He then quotes Nietzsche to provide the source and original context of the phrase "growing solitude"). Indeed, those who welcome group thinking tend to be the very ones who suggest that there's too much solitude. Solitude, Bromwich suggests, is in part a discipline of the mind: the ability to work without regard for popularity or immediate approval. Occasionally I find myself disagreeing with Bromwich or disputing his reasoning--but that's a sign of a book that has me thinking along with it, replying to it, questioning it. Something would be wrong--and counter to the book's spirit--if I accepted everything in it without question. For instance, Bromwich objects to the conformism inherent in the phrase "we need," but I see room for this phrase, provided one uses it judiciously. Bromwich is right, but I'd qualify his point. One of my favorite passages is in the third chapter, where Bromwich states that “conversation offers a place for coming to know something quite different from what one had known before.” Reading the book was a conversation of this kind, a conversation I have longed for. I had just been remarking how rare the art of conversation has become--how frequently and unabashedly people interrupt each other, switch topics, or reduce an exchange of ideas to "whatever." Politics by Other Means invites the reader to the best kind of conversation, the kind that transforms at least one of the participants. I hope to continue this conversation by reading the book again.

  2. 5 out of 5

    m

    Interesting, taxing book. The subjects he investigates in this book reminded me of views he espoused in his recent thought-provoking essay on free speech, available here: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n18/david-b... Here's Alan Ryan's review of Politics by Other Means: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1993/... March 3, 2019 October 20, 2018 Interesting, taxing book. The subjects he investigates in this book reminded me of views he espoused in his recent thought-provoking essay on free speech, available here: https://www.lrb.co.uk/v38/n18/david-b... Here's Alan Ryan's review of Politics by Other Means: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1993/... March 3, 2019 October 20, 2018

  3. 5 out of 5

    eduardie

    The best part was the eloquent argument for maintaining standards for substantial humanities scholarship. Worst parts: - imaginary arguments with often straw-man caricatures or punching-bag examples of the opposing view - showing seemingly zero sympathy for the idea that various oppressive forces might have had a hand in shaping the canon, and that this might require some compensation. - tangents about Burke and other political philosophers lasted far too long.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Adelaide Blair

    Dense, but important.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Gabriella

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jane

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

  8. 4 out of 5

    wow books

  9. 4 out of 5

    Hubert

  10. 4 out of 5

    SB

  11. 5 out of 5

    Garrettburt

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jasmin Kocaer

  13. 4 out of 5

    Bott

  14. 4 out of 5

    BookDB

  15. 5 out of 5

    Juan

  16. 5 out of 5

    Outis

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jason

  18. 5 out of 5

    Philomath

  19. 5 out of 5

    Andd

  20. 4 out of 5

    David Rankin

  21. 5 out of 5

    Will Stotts-Jr

  22. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Gold

  23. 5 out of 5

    Edward Smith

  24. 4 out of 5

    ebabehh

  25. 5 out of 5

    Eric Bergman

  26. 5 out of 5

    Will

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lucas Cherkewski

  28. 5 out of 5

    Aja (Annabella) Marie

  29. 5 out of 5

    Claryn

  30. 5 out of 5

    Frank Spencer

  31. 4 out of 5

    Amar Baines

  32. 4 out of 5

    Hany

  33. 4 out of 5

    Raed

  34. 5 out of 5

    Ron

  35. 5 out of 5

    Fivewincs

  36. 5 out of 5

    Rob Hunter

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