“I want to call it a cry of the heart, but it’s more like a cry of the brain, a calm and erudite one.” —Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal
The former dean of Yale Law School argues that the feverish egalitarianism gripping college campuses today is a threat to our democracy.
College education is under attack from all sides these days. Most of the handwringing—over free speech, safe zones, trigger warnings, and the babying of students—has focused on the excesses of political correctness. That may be true, but as Anthony Kronman shows, it’s not the real problem.
“Necessary, humane, and brave” (Bret Stephens, The New York Times), The Assault on American Excellence makes the case that the boundless impulse for democratic equality gripping college campuses today is a threat to institutions whose job is to prepare citizens to live in a vibrant democracy. Three centuries ago, the founders of our nation saw that for this country to have a robust government, it must have citizens trained to have tough skins, to make up their own minds, and to win arguments not on the basis of emotion but because their side is closer to the truth. Without that, Americans would risk electing demagogues.
Kronman is the first to tie today’s campus clashes to the history of American values, drawing on luminaries like Alexis de Tocqueville and John Adams to argue that our modern controversies threaten the best of our intellectual traditions. His tone is warm and wise, that of an educator who has devoted his life to helping students be capable of living up to the demands of a free society—and to do so, they must first be tested in a system that isn’t focused on sympathy at the expense of rigor and that values excellence above all.
Anthony T. Kronman is Sterling Professor of Law at Yale Law School. He served as the dean of Yale Law School from 1994–2004, and has taught at the university for forty years. He is the author or coauthor of five books, including The Assault on American Excellence, Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life, and Confessions of a Born-Again Pagan.