Forgetting wisdom

More on wisdom and liberal education. We move from Seneca to Robert Hutchins. I recently came across these remarks in The University of Utopia. The book contains the Walgreen lectures that Hutchins delivered in 1953. Speaking about the first half of the twentieth century, Hutchins tells us that…

liberal education was associated in the public mind with a pre-industrial, pre-scientific, pre-democratic era. It was an anachronism, and an aristocratic anachronism at that. It was possible to attack it as frivolous, irrelevant, and decorative. It was like a medieval ruin occupying valuable space in a busy marketplace. Besides, it did not seem to pay.

What, in Hutchins’s estimation, were the ruling values of the day?

We are now familiar with the notion that the real strength of a nation lies in its industrial power. The German and Japanese adventures were built on this
premise. Although the failure of these experiments is not conclusive evidence of the falsity of the premise, for perhaps Germany and Japan simply misjudged their power, their failure may suggest to us, as indeed all history suggests, that something more than power is needed if a nation is to become and continue to be successful in any meaning of the word. The indispensable ingredient is wisdom.

Not much has changed in the age of STEM except that perhaps we don’t have the taste for military conquest we once did. And perhaps today we would talk more about technological power than industrial power.