The University and Society
Our thanks to Father Brendan Purcell of Dublin, who has made available to us this Eric Voegelin lecture which was originally recorded on tape and later preserved on compact disk. It’s full title is “The University and the Order of Society” and is a recording of a lecture probably given in the Summer of 1970 at Stanford University during its summer session. This lecture never found its way into The Collected Works.
This lecture runs for about 40 minutes. We have divided the lecture into four segments and will offer them every few days. There is some loss of sound quality because of transfer from large .wav files to compact mp3 files.
Introduction and Part 1
Voegelin begins by considering Robert Nisbit’s analysis of the breakdown in discipline at the university level following the student unrest from 1968 forward. He begins with Plato’s “every society is man written large” and Plato’s description of the purpose of education which still applies today: a therapeutic function to help young people resist spiritual and intellectual disorder.
The purpose of education is to turn the young toward the truth. Everything that is wrong should be taught in the university, but as a type of wrong, not as a competing opinion. .Anyone teaching in a university who propagates an opinion without criteria for truth is an intellectual crook or mountebank.
One example of what is important and should be taught in the university: if you read book 2 of Plato’s Republic, you will see why societies cannot be based on contractual consent. The university should try to counterbalance a society’s tendency toward disorder, but instead, the university is merely an information purveyor. The teacher must content himself by helping students, some of whom may one day affect society for the better.
In this final part it seems obvious that Voegelin is not yet finished with his argument when the recording ends. Some of his observations: If a university were merely a microcosm of society it would be as rotten as the society in which it existed. One underlying problem is that high school students are not properly prepared. The teacher association is politically corrupt and questions about it are taboo because too many politicians depend on it.