Ben Weingarten: As a classicist, you’ve lamented both the corruption of the academy within your own discipline and on the modern campus more broadly — in particular on its repudiation of the Western canon, its lack of adherence to principles of free inquiry and the overall triumph of progressivism. Is there any way to take back this institution, in the sense of restoring classical liberal arts education and the conditions it needs to flourish?
Victor Davis Hanson: Well, my criticism in the last 30 years of the institution, obviously a lot of us who voiced those concerns, it fell on deaf ears. So progressive thinkers and institutional administrators within the university got their way. And now we’re sort of at the end of that experiment, and the question we have to ask is what did they give us? Well, they gave us $1 trillion in student debt. They created a very bizarre system in which the federal government — subsidized through student loans, constantly increasing tuition beyond the rate of inflation — the result of which is that we’ve had about a 200 percent growth in administrative costs, and administrators and non-teaching staff within the university. We’ve politicized the education.
So when I started there were … I think I looked in the catalog in 1984. There were things, maybe like the Recreation Department’s “Leisure Studies” course. Maybe one environmental class, “Environmental Studies.” But you take the word “studies” with a hyphen, and now that can represent about 25 percent of the curriculum. And that’s usually a rough, not always a reliable guide, to show that that class is not — it’s not disinterested. Its aim is to be deductive. We start with this premise that men are sexist, or capitalism destroys the environment, or America’s racist. Then you find the examples to fit that preconceived idea.
And the result of it is that we’ve turned out students that are highly partisan and highly mobilized, and even sort of arrogant, but they’re also ignorant … that came at a cost. They did not learn to write well. If you ask them who’s General Sherman, or what’s a Corinthian column, or who was Dante, all of the building blocks that they could refer to later in life to enrich their experience, they have no reference. And then they don’t know how to think inductively. So if you point out the contradictions in free speech the way they shout down some speakers and not others, or the way that they hate capitalism, but they love Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook, they’re not able … they haven’t been trained philosophically to account for that, because they’re indoctrinated. And it’s quite sad to see the combination of ignorance and arrogance in young people, but that’s what we’ve turned out. A lot of people who are indebted and they’re arrogant, and they’re ignorant and they’re not up to the task of moving the United States forward as a leading country in the world.
And you can see the reaction to it. We have tech schools now that grow up around these campuses, where they just say to people, “If they’re gonna cut out Western civ and they’re gonna cut out the core and politicize it, then let’s be honest. Just pay us a cheaper tuition and we’ll train you to be a nurse, or we’ll train you to be a computer encoder,” or whatever. And so, we have alternates, for-profit online alternatives, podcasts.
And so, the university failed in its mission. And it will be replaced by open free society. People are trying to find alternatives to it. And they kind of committed suicide. And they’re in decline. And the alumni … the final shoe to fall is whether the alumni of these prestigious universities will still engage in unrestricted gifting. “I want my name on this particular department or this particular plaza, here’s $10 million, I trust you to further my shared view,” and they don’t do it. And so then they read in the paper that a professor said Barbara Bush should die, or was glad that she’s dead, or another professor said Trump should be hanged. Or another professor jumped out and hit a reporter. And they think, what is all this about? It’s not liberal. It’s not tolerant. And so, I think there’s a reckoning going on as we speak.