There is much justifiable concern over where universities are headed today. But as one writer argues, there should be just as much concern paid to where they came from—specifically, the Catholic Church of the Medieval era.
At The Catholic Herald, C.C. Pecknold writes on the recent remarks of English philosopher Roger Scruton, who at a conference this week proposed the idea of “get[ting] rid of universities altogether.” Scruton was responding to a question from an audience member about the socio-political and intellectual decline of modern universities; the philosopher floated the possibility of “ring fenc[ing] the humanities” and giving support instead to the scientific endeavors that continue to benefit society.
“The fact that a serious philosopher and public intellectual would propose such a thing, and would be applauded for it, should make the top brass of every major university stop and think,” Pecknold writes, claiming that Scruton’s response “signals powerful pent-up emotions against the university as a civilizational institution which has lost its way.”
“But I also dissent from his view that the sciences are somehow immune from all of this, or that starving universities of government funding will achieve the desired result of restoring balance to the force,” Pecknold says:
Universities are an invention of Catholic Christianity, and their religious origin cannot be denied. This genealogy will either be honored, or it will be subverted and replaced by another religious vision for the university. “Scientism”, or “atheistic humanism,” or some version of “wokeness” stand as incredibly weak replacements for the Church. As we now see, detaching universities from the Church doesn’t make them free. It only generates a new dogmatism that binds thought, uses coercive force rather than reason to achieve agreement, and ties the mission of the university to bad political religion instead of the truly transcendent purpose that gave rise to them in the first place.
Universities will only find the “true principle of their unity” if they remember “the Church which gave birth to them,” Pecknold writes.