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August 29, 2002

Paul Johnson Redux

Friedrich --

Paul Johnson's discussion of the roles monasteries and monks played in the medieval world has got me thinking about our Lousy Ivy College.

One of the main functions of the monks and the monasteries was to transmit what was felt to be True Culture in a barbarian age -- faith, as well as the classical world's legacy, were felt to be imperilled things. So the monks lowered their heads and beavered away at copying, preserving, and then copying some more.

They felt they were laboring in the shadows of the greats -- the earlier Christian age of miracles as well as the Classical world. What could they possibly have to add? So, instead of creating, they copied, collected, and collated, doing their humble best to keep the light alive.

Friedrich and Michael circa 1974

Which makes me wonder: have we been wasting energy and bile being indignant at our Lousy Ivy College and our Lousy Ivy Professors? I think both of us are bitter that our education was of no help in getting us on our feet creatively. Maybe that's not what a Lousy Ivy Education is for. Maybe Lousy Ivy Colleges are the monasteries of today and the professors are the monks.

The vision is similar: Culture is imperilled, and we labor in the shadows of the Greats. We serve; we pass the faith along. And the view of commercial society (America generally) as value-free (ie., barbarian) seems analogous.

The goal of the process -- to get trainees to genuflect before the True Faith -- rings bells too. One of the main practical purposes of monasteries was to train a class of skillful and trustworthy administrators; one of the goals of a Lousy Ivy Education is to train a class of skillful and trustworthy managers.

I find the parallels striking, and I find myself thinking: Maybe it's as pointless to get mad at the Ivies for not promoting active creativity as it would have been to get mad at a monastery for not helping us learn a trade.

Which, alas, raises the question: what the hell were we doing there?

Your thoughts?


posted by Friedrich at August 29, 2002


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