Wisdom is Paramount
Russell Kirk on Higher Education
This essay presents the overarching themes that emerge from Russell Kirk’s writings about higher education. Universities, in Kirk’s view, are to cultivate wisdom and virtue, a task made difficult by ideology, which does not admit competing or alternative views. Ideology leads to fanaticism, extremism, and zealotry, which are not conditions for improving the mind or human order. Influenced by Irving Babbitt, Kirk celebrated small, private, traditional liberal arts colleges for their commitment to learning rather than athletics, entertainment, or jobs training. Kirk advocated the study of history and literature and demonstrated a knack for education policy, decrying federal involvement in university affairs. Kirk reminds us that there is more to life and learning than paper-pushing administration, high enrollment numbers, marketing, business, and the constant chasing of tuition revenue. The university should refine the individual intellect by pursuing wisdom and virtue which improve the lives and institutions of the greater society.