Monday, March 5, 2012

James Q. Wilson on liberal education

James Q. Wilson, whose existence I just learned about upon the event of his death, authored a thought-provoking essay about liberalism and liberal education. He writes:

A liberal education is at its best when it strikes this balance: when it makes one aware that principles must ultimately be justified by something more than mere utility, that liberty is as worth preserving when it is attacked by a group one admires as it is when assaulted by a group one detests, and that the bonds of civility upon which the maintenance of society depends are more fragile than we often admit.

This reminded me of the unsightly celebrations in the US a few years ago, when Saddam Hussein was executed. Sure, many people are against the death penalty... except for loathsome criminals like Saddam Hussein!

Currently, it brings to mind the preparation of the presidential campaign in France, where putative candidates must obtain the "signature" of 500 mayors before they can officially pose their candidacy (there are about 35000 mayors in the country and each mayor can give their signature to exactly one candidate.) One current question is whether the candidate for the extreme right party (the party of all prejudices) will get 500 signatures. There may be some lobbying to pressure mayors not to give her their signature, even though, in the upcoming election, it appears that she would get the votes of roughly 20 percent of the population. What is more important: to preserve the liberty of presenting candidates for all significant political parties, or to prevent the development of ideas that one detests? That is close to the dilemma presented by Wilson.


  1. Reminds me of this address given by Leo Strauss:

  2. It reminds me the sentence:
    I hate your ideas but I would die for you being able to express them.
    Who had written this, I don't remember.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.