All posts by C. Bradley Thompson

C. Bradley Thompson is a professor of political science at Clemson University, executive director of the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism, and author of John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty and Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea. His book in progress is America’s Revolutionary Mind: Understanding the Declaration of Independence.

The Age of Liberal Education Is Ending

America’s universities are collapsing into a miasma of postmodernism and multiculturalism. They have been approaching peak radicalization for several decades now, but in recent years the cultural left has pushed toward a complete takeover of our campuses. A hyper “political correctness”—with trigger warnings, safe spaces, micro-aggressions, censorship, and sometimes even physical violence—has enveloped our universities.

Leftist professors, administrators, and students have created a stifling, anti-intellectual monoculture, and they are now attempting to remove the last pillars of the traditional university: free thought and free speech. Once those are gone, America’s universities will have become little more than seminaries of intolerance and indoctrination.

Related: The Normalization of Bad Ideas

I came to intellectual maturity during the first wave of the academic culture wars of the 1980s. As a graduate student at Brown University, one of America’s most “politically correct” universities, I saw up close the hypocrisy, dishonesty, intimidation, and violence used by the campus left to impose its psychological and moral hegemony on students, faculty, and administrators.

In 1987, during my second year at Brown, a group of student radicals broke into one of the grand old buildings on campus and defaced ten historical portraits of distinguished Brown personages from centuries past. These “social justice warriors” spray-painted one large white letter onto each portrait, visually adding up to the words “ELITE? WHO US.” Pathetically, as is typically the case with leftist vandalism on campus, the Brown administration did nothing to identify, much less arrest, expel, or prosecute the criminals.

The leftist assault on higher education has become much worse over the past thirty-five years. Most universities today, particularly in the humanities and social sciences, are thoroughly politicized. Administrators and faculty have corrupted, gutted, and repackaged the idea of a liberal education to serve the ideological interests of the postmodernist and multiculturalist agendas.

To the extent that the history and culture of the West are still even subjects of serious study in today’s humanities departments, they are there only to be “deconstructed” and condemned. A helpful illustration of this situation can be seen in the field of literature. It is increasingly rare today for literature majors to graduate having read the great novelists, poets, and playwrights of Western literature, such as Shakespeare, Austen, Dickens, Hawthorne, Twain, Hugo, Flaubert, Dostoyevsky, and Tolstoy. Instead, they are now required to read third-rate literature published in the past twenty-five years that serves the race-class-gender-sexuality aspirations of their professors’ anti-West “oppression studies” agenda.

They are also required to take courses that explicitly push postmodernism and multiculturalism. To receive a bachelor’s degree in English literature from UCLA, for instance, students no longer are required to take a course in Shakespeare, but they are required to take three courses in gender, race, ethnicity, disability, sexuality, or postcolonial studies. At Yale, a group of students and faculty recently demanded that the English department “decolonize” the major by abolishing its required “Major English Poets”9 course (a course that covers Chaucer, Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Pope, Wordsworth, Eliot, et al.) and replace it with a course concerned with race, class, gender, and sexual identity. According to one Yale student, reading “canonical” dead white males marginalizes and oppresses “non-white, non-male, trans and queer people.”

Related: Times Says Conservatives Unwelcome in Academia

That view, it is worth noting, was not shared by the radical African American writer, W. E. B. Du Bois, who declared in his 1903 book “Souls of Black Folk” his affinity with the Eurocentric intellectual traditions of Western civilization, precisely so that he could temporarily escape the racism of postbellum America: “I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not. Across the color line I move arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas…. I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will, and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension.” Today’s universities would be virtually unrecognizable to men such as Du Bois and those who guarded the ivory towers of academia for 2,500 years.

From Plato’s Academy in 4th-century BC Athens to the Ivy League in the first half of the 20th century, the core of Western learning was found in the humanities and liberal arts. Broadly speaking, the purpose of what we call a liberal education was to expose students to a select body of accumulated knowledge and wisdom about the world in which we live. It was a journey of discovery in pursuit of the truth about the human condition, and it was an education in what we might call high culture. To paraphrase Matthew Arnold’s famous definition, it was an immersion in the best that has been thought, said, and done in order to elevate our lives above the ordinary, the vulgar, and the savage.

Such an education would enrich the lives of young people as individuals while also preserving the achievements of the past and endowing to the future the wisdom of the past. Tragically, with the exception of a few Great Books colleges and the Lyceum Scholars Program at Clemson University, the vision of higher education that once sustained the West for centuries now seems all but dead. The old-fashioned idea that the central purpose of a university is to lead the search for truth and to preserve and perpetuate all that is great in our civilization is now openly attacked, mocked, or simply eliminated.

In recent years, Yale and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have turned down gifts of twenty- and ten-million dollars respectively to teach courses on Western civilization. At Stanford, students recently voted by a 6:1 margin to ban the teaching of Western civilization from the university curriculum. As one student put it, such a course means “upholding white supremacy, capitalism and colonialism, and all other oppressive systems that flow from Western civilizations.”

Related:  How a Generation Lost Its Common Culture

Serious scholars—those who are the intellectual curators of Western civilization’s repositories of knowledge and high culture—are now marginalized on our campuses. The sad reality is that very few people left in American higher education have the interest and courage to defend and perpetuate the humanities. In fact, we are fast approaching a period in which people qualified to teach traditional humanities courses will be virtually extinct. The few who still take the life of the mind seriously and spend their days reading old books with young people and discussing with them the ideas that have shaped Western culture for millennia— they will be strangers in a strange land.

What we are witnessing today on our campuses is akin to the Afghani Taliban bombing out of existence two giant Buddhas carved into a cliff in the Bamiyan Valley nearly two thousand years ago—or ISIS fighters leveling Nimrud, a three thousand-year-old Assyrian city; and ransacking museums in Iraq and Syria, destroying their antiquities with sledgehammers. The efforts of leftist administrators, faculty, and students to remove Western civilization’s great works of literature and philosophy from curricula, to rename or tear down important historical buildings, to censor or ban certain ideas from college campuses, have the same effect.

The Essence and Foundation of Liberal Education

A proper liberal education involves essentially three things: first, a quest to understand important truths about nature, human nature, and the necessary conditions and means for people to live and flourish; second, substantial knowledge of great works of philosophy, religion, literature, history, science, and the arts produced through 2,500 years of Western civilization; and, third, substantial knowledge of great deeds and projects men and women have undertaken in order to expand the boundaries of human freedom and flourishing. This is the kind of education that the great universities of the West originally sought to provide, and it is summed up by the Harvard and Yale mottos, “Veritas” and “Lux et Veritas” respectively.


Higher learning was once just that: an ascent to truth, a quest for wisdom, an attempt to expand one’s knowledge of the past for the purpose of applying it in the present and shaping the future. A liberal education rests on the assumption that the human mind is capable of grasping reality; of understanding the world and man’s relationship to it; of distinguishing between true and false, good and bad, just and unjust, honorable and dishonorable, beautiful and ugly; and of discerning differences of degree where such differences exist. Such an education introduces students to the importance of such matters and inspires them to think in such terms as a matter of course in life.

Related: ‘Most People Are Horrified by What’s Going on in the Universities’

Of course, all such thinking and all such judgments presuppose knowledge of—or at least the pursuit of—objective standards of truth and goodness. This, too, has roots in the ideas and thinkers examined in a liberal education. Take the Roman philosopher Epictetus, who wrote the following in his Discourses: “The fact that someone holds this or that opinion will not suffice to make it true, any more than we are inclined to trust a person’s word in dealing with weights and measures.”

In either case, whether discussing people’s views about truth and value, or claims about weights and measures, Epictetus implores his students to search for and develop what he called an “objective standard,” an absolute, certain, and permanent standard of true and false, good and bad, right and wrong. Once “we’ve found it,” he continues, “let’s commit to never making a single move without reference to it.” When I read such passages with my students, they’re challenged to transcend the moral relativism dominant in today’s culture and to join Epictetus in what he called his “hunt” for objective truth.

In his essay on “The Shortness of Life,” the Roman philosopher Seneca suggests that one should become “intimate friends” with the “high-priests of good learning” (he names Zeno, Pythagoras, Democritus, Aristotle, and Theophrastus). Such friends, he notes, never disappoint; they’re never “too busy,” day or night, to talk about the most important questions; they never send you away “empty-handed.” Indeed, they bring nothing but “happiness” and “an attractive old age.” With friends such as these, you can “discuss matters great and small” and “hear the truth without insult and praise without flattery.” They provide models of goodness, excellence, and nobility worthy of emulation. On a personal level, the great books aspect of a liberal education is a journey both outward and inward. The outward journey enters a world created by the mind of another.

To read ancient philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and Seneca, or to read modern playwrights or novelists such as Shakespeare, Austen, Hugo, and Dostoyevsky is to drop through a rabbit hole and to reemerge in a foreign place, an alternative universe that we visit for a short time but from which we gather knowledge for life. We confront Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Austen’s Elizabeth Bennett, Hugo’s Jean Valjean, Dostoyevsky’s Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov, and we judge their actions as good or bad, just or unjust, noble or ignoble.

Related: Diversity Anger at UCLA

The inward journey then follows a path to the interior of one’s soul. The purpose of this introspective journey is to ponder, evaluate, and avow or disavow the ideas discovered in the external journey. We think about what we can learn from these characters and how they can be models or anti-models for our lives. Such introspection expands the boundaries of our inner world. Thinkers for more than two millennia have understood the value of such journeys and conversations. With the rediscovery of ancient Greek and Roman texts during the Renaissance, modern thinkers began a sustained and sophisticated dialogue with ancient authors that became a defining feature of Western culture.

This was particularly true of the modern founders of the humanities, men such as the 14th-century Florentine poet Francesco Petrarch and the 16th-century Florentine historian and political philosopher Niccolò Machiavelli. They taught that past civilizations, particularly the lost worlds of Athens and Rome, were exotic places to which one could travel, through books, for enlightenment, solace, friendship, pleasure, and improvement. At a distance of some fourteen hundred years, Petrarch wrote beautiful letters addressed to his old friends, Cicero and Livy. In 1345, Petrarch wrote to Cicero lamenting that his dear friend would “weep bitter tears” should he “learn of the fallen state of our country.” Five years later, he thanked Livy for having transported him back to a better time, where he could live and converse with the great heroes of the Roman republic. “It is with these men,” he confided, “that I live in such times and not with the thievish company of today among whom I was born under an evil star.”

Machiavelli’s well-known 1513 letter to Francesco Vittori is a beautifully evocative description of how one 16th-century Florentine escaped the burdens of daily life by retiring every night to converse with his old friends: When evening has come, I return to my house and go into my study. At the door I take off my clothes of the day, covered with mud and mire, and put on my regal and courtly garments; and decently re-clothed, I enter the ancient courts of ancient men, where, received by them lovingly, I feed on the food that alone is mine and that I was born for. There I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the reason for their actions; and they in their humanity reply to me. And for the space of four hours I feel no boredom, I forget every pain, I do not fear poverty, death does not frighten me. I deliver myself entirely to them.

This great Renaissance tradition continued through the Enlightenment and beyond. Two hundred and fifty years after Machiavelli’s nightly visits with his Roman friends, a twenty-one-year-old John Adams used and applied Xenophon’s discussion of “The Choice of Hercules” from the Memorabilia (beautifully captured in Annibale Carracci’s 1596 painting and in Handel’s 1750 oratorio) to his own life. In order to bolster and inflame his flagging spirit after an extended period of lethargy and weakness, Adams sketched a fable of Hercules, adapting the story to his own situation. “The other night the choice of Hercules came into my mind,” Adams wrote in his diary, “and left impressions there which I hope will never be effaced, nor long unheeded.”

The young man then sat down and wrote himself an inspirational “fable on the same plan, but accommodated, by omitting some circumstances and inserting others, to my own case.” In all earnestness, he began, “Let Virtue address me:” Which, dear youth, will you prefer, a life of effeminacy, indolence and obscurity, or a life of industry, temperance and honor? Take my advice; rise and mount your horse by the morning’s dawn, and shake away, amidst the great and beautiful scenes of nature that appear at that time of the day, all the crudities that are left in your stomach, and all the obstructions that are left in your brains.

Then return to your studies, and bend your whole soul to the institutes of the law and the reports of cases that have been adjudged by the rules in the institutes; let no trifling diversion, or amusement, or company, decoy you from your book; that is, let no girl, no gun, no cards, no flutes, no violins, no dress, no tobacco, no laziness, decoy you from your books. But keep your law book or some point of law in your mind, at least, six hours in a day. Labor to get distinct ideas of law, right, wrong, justice, equity; search for them in your own mind, in Roman, Grecian, French, English treatises of natural, civil, common, statute law; aim at an exact knowledge of the nature, end, and means of government; compare the different forms of it with each other, and each of them with their effects on public and private happiness.

Related: How Diversity Came to Mean Downgrade the West

Study Seneca, Cicero, and all other good moral writers; study Montesquieu, Bolingbroke, Vinnius, &c., and all other good civil writers. Petrarch, Machiavelli, Adams, Du Bois, and many others were enticed by the philosophic and artistic genius of the great ancient (and modern) writers to enter lost worlds radically different from their own. There they found companionship in solitude; consolation in affliction; respite from the mediocrity, vulgarity, and discord of the world around them. They also found inspiration to achieve great tasks. In quiet repose with their books, they were able to see, ponder, and experience things to which they would otherwise never have had access. These great books dramatically expanded their inner lives and fueled their souls for endeavors in the outer world. The same can be true for students today. If given the chance, great books can expand the inner worlds and elevate the lives of 21st-century American teenagers.

Consider, for instance, Cicero’s discussion of Marcus Atilius Regulus in De Officiis [On Obligations], which I teach to freshmen every year. Regulus, Cicero tells us, was a Roman consul and general, captured by the Carthaginians in 255 BC during the First Punic War. Regulus’s captors released him back to Rome on the condition that he negotiate the release of Carthaginian prisoners. Should he succeed, Regulus would be free to stay in Rome. Should he fail, however, he pledged to his captors that he would return to Carthage. Upon his return home, Regulus went directly to the Senate, where he successfully argued against the release and return of the Carthaginians. And then, in the face of immense pressure from family and friends to break his oath and stay in Rome, Regulus voluntarily returned to Carthage, where he was imprisoned and tortured to death.

Cicero recounts Regulus’s story in order to have his readers consider the relationship between the honorable and the useful. Cicero recognizes that for most people the “useful” or self-interested course of action would have been for Regulus to renege on his oath and to live out his retirement peacefully with family and friends in Rome. Not so for Regulus— or Cicero. For Cicero’s great-souled man, there can be no dichotomy between the honorable and the useful, which means that Regulus’s decision to return to Carthage represents the embodiment of the useful. But how can this be so? It is counterintuitive to how most people think. For Cicero, the man of high moral character could not break an oath without damaging his honor. In returning to Carthage, Regulus was protecting the integrity and beauty of his most selfishly prized possession: his honor. According to Cicero, “If there is something repulsive about physical disfigurement, how monstrous must the deformity and foulness of a soul steeped in dishonor appear!”

Writing only two centuries later, Cicero says of Regulus that his actions are “remarkable,” even to the honor-obsessed people of Cicero’s time. But Cicero’s account of Regulus raises issues that transcend time and place. My students are utterly captivated by Cicero’s account of Regulus. Imagine how strange and shocking Regulus’s actions must seem to a generation of college students raised on safe spaces and trigger warnings. Such actions are incomprehensible to them; they’ve never heard or seen someone act on principle in the way that Regulus did.

A liberal education fosters what Alfred North Whitehead called “the habitual vision of greatness.” This vision originated with the ancient Greeks and Romans, was adopted in part by Christians, and was likewise embraced by Enlightenment thinkers. In Philippians 4:8, for instance, we are presented with a view of education that runs parallel to the Greco-Roman tradition: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Modern thinkers such as Montaigne, Bacon, Chesterfield, Pope, Hume, and Nietzsche held views of human greatness that are worth studying as well. As the 18th-century Scottish educator George Trumbull said of liberal education, it is concerned with everything that is “good or great in human life.” So it is. For millennia, there was never much doubt in the West about whether greatness existed. Men might have quibbled over which civilization or country was greater— ancient Greece or ancient Rome, England or France, America or Russia.

And they might have debated the relative greatness of Plato versus Aristotle, Michelangelo versus Da Vinci, Jefferson versus Adams, Dostoyevsky versus Tolstoy, Newton versus Einstein, or Carnegie versus Rockefeller. Only recently have Westerners doubted that greatness exists and that their lives are improved by studying the cultures and men who embody it. In this sense, the goal of a liberal education is to identify and inform the student of important ideas, people, cultures, creations, and events of the past that have advanced human life, and to inspire him to pursue his own view of greatness in life.

The goal is not to tell him what to think but to provide him with knowledge that enables him to think more deeply and clearly. A liberal education enables students to perceive the breadth and depth of human accomplishments and to aspire to a life beyond the banal and vulgar pathways that dominate contemporary life.

This essay from the Fall 2016 issue of The Objective Standard is published here in an abridged version with permission.

Do Corporate Donors Threaten Academic Freedom?

Inside Higher Ed has published another article, “Banking on the Curriculum,” denouncing the influence of corporate money in academia. The article raises the specter that America’s universities are accepting corporate gifts with ideological strings attached, thereby corrupting their intellectual integrity and selling the soul of academic freedom.

The article examines the recent gifts of BB&T (a financial services company) and Koch Industries. Over the course of the last decade or so, BB&T’s charitable foundation has funded 63 university and college programs that examine the moral foundations of capitalism and the Charles M. Koch Foundation has funded scores of academic programs that conduct research analyzing the relationship between free societies and human flourishing.

Big Donors on the Left

This recurrent focus on corporate, libertarian and conservative donations to universities is a bit ironic. After all, consider the dominance of the left over the campuses and the enormous amount of money poured into academic coffers by the ideological left without attracting the sort of protests provoked by donations from the corporate world and the right.

Remember the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies at the University of Washington? That highly ideological effort was funded by labor unions and donors of the left. And how about the millions of dollars donated to universities by the Ford Foundation “diversity” programs, Joan Kroc’s gift of $200 million to fund “peace” and “social justice” programs at two universities and Jane Fonda’s $12.5 million to found a Harvard center on gender education, the purpose of which was to train (politically indoctrinate) future teachers on issues of “gender, race and class.”

Expanding the Marketplace of Ideas

It is no secret that the modern American college has great trouble allowing conservative and libertarian voices to be heard on campus. Objections to programs on the moral foundations of free enterprise and capitalism are efforts to marginalize programs and faculty who want to expand the marketplace of ideas on America’s college campuses.

Those opposing these programs hope to cow administrators from accepting similar donations in the future; to rally liberal faculty to actively oppose these programs; and most of all, to perpetuate the ideological monopoly currently held by the Left on America’s college campuses. In other words, it’s all about power and ideology.

According to the critics of this kind of funding, the great sin of BB&T and the Koch Foundation is to have “bought” their way into a small minority of American universities and to have violated academic freedom and faculty governance. These charges are entirely specious, and those who make them do not understand what academic freedom is. This story is about academic freedom but not in the way that it’s being presented.

The standard dictionary definition of academic freedom is the “freedom to teach or learn without interference.”The principle applies to individual faculty members and their right to teach ideas that might be unpopular. The BB&T and Koch academic programs have done nothing to interfere with the freedom of anyone to teach or learn what they want. At every university that has accepted BB&T or Koch money, not a single faculty member’s academic freedom has been denied or compromised in any way. I publicly challenge the critics of these donations to name one faculty member anywhere in America whose academic freedom has been threatened by these grants.

The Anti-Capitalist Bias on Campus

The truth is that the various BB&T- or Koch-funded university programs have actually increased rather than diminished the sphere of academic freedom. Their explicit goal is to expand the marketplace of ideas on college campuses so that students can be exposed to a broader range of ideas. Anyone who has ever attended an American university knows there is a rabid anti-capitalist bias on our campuses. Until recently, students were rarely exposed to the ideas of the great philosophic proponents of capitalism, including Adam Smith, Frédéric Bastiat, Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Ayn Rand. Thanks to the BB&T and Koch programs, all that has changed.

Ask any student if they think a greater diversity of ideas on campus is a good thing or not. The question answers itself. Truth be told, there is much greater intellectual diversity in these programs than in most university courses. It’s clear from student feedback that young people appreciate the exposure to ideas that they wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to study. Students are the clear winners: they now have more courses and a wider range of perspectives from which to choose.

Why the Fuss?

As a bonus, the BB&T and Koch grants have also encouraged faculty to generate new and exciting research that is expanding the boundaries of knowledge. And there’s more: in every instance, BB&T and Koch have insisted that the academic programs they fund meet the highest academic standards, that they promote a diversity of viewpoints, and that students make their own informed judgments. The BB&T- and Koch-sponsored programs have added real academic value to American higher education, and they should be multiplied, expanded, and applauded rather than condemned.

Why, then, all the fuss over the BB&T and Koch grants?

There is an important story here, but it’s not the one presented by Inside Higher Ed and the mainstream media. The real untold story is that some college professors want to limit intellectual diversity, deny competition in the realm of ideas, and prohibit students from learning certain ideas. They do this through the bogus claim of their alleged right to “faculty governance” over academic standards. But faculty governance does not and should not mean the right of campus Thought Police to determine what is or is not taught in someone else’s class. Faculty governance is used as a cover to reinforce a monolithic and homogenous ideology on our college campuses.

The only true victims of this academic witch-hunt are those institutions and associated faculty that have accepted BB&T and Koch funding. Will new professors hired with a Koch grant now feel at full liberty to express their views in faculty meetings now that they have been “outed” as the recipient of “tainted” funding? Will they not sit in fear for the next five years worried that their tenure application will be denied because of the ideological bias that has been unleashed against the Koch Foundation and those it supports? Will those academic units that have received BB&T funding come under irregular scrutiny and unequal treatment as they seek to raise funds to increase educational opportunities for their students?

‘Outside’ Money Isn’t New

The simple truth is this: America’s universities have always accepted “outside” money, both private and public. Without it, our universities would die of intellectual starvation. “Outside” money—including corporate funding—keeps America’s campuses alive with fresh, new ideas.In my experience, students crave more than the one-sided perspective they receive in many of their college courses. We should all be thankful to BB&T and the Koch Foundation for helping America’s colleges expand their curricula, for encouraging intellectual diversity, and for promoting a marketplace of ideas.

We at the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism are proud of our association with BB&T and the Koch Foundation, and, more importantly, we will not be intimidated or silenced.

At Clemson, a New Plan for Higher Education

America’s universities are collapsing into a miasma of nihilism, postmodernism, political correctness, multiculturalism, affirmative action, bureaucratization, and skyrocketing costs—and no one seems able to do anything about it.  With the exception of a few “Great Books” colleges, the overarching vision of higher education that once sustained the West for centuries seems all but dead.

American higher education is now defined by an aimless mish-mash of courses on trivial topics that present no clear view of what a human being must know in order to be considered liberally educated. The result: the liberal arts have been gutted and repackaged to serve various ideological and political interests.

This situation is why the Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism (CISC) has created the Lyceum Scholars Program, which is America’s first (and only) academic program dedicated to studying the moral, political, and economic foundations of a free society. Drawing inspiration from the Lyceum school founded by Aristotle, the Lyceum Scholars Program takes a Great Books approach to studying liberty, the American Founding, capitalism, and moral character.

The Lyceum Scholars Program begins with 10-15 incoming freshman, each of whom will receive a $10,000 scholarship over their four years to attend Clemson University. In exchange for their scholarship, Lyceum Scholars are required to take an integrated and hierarchically structured curriculum that includes the following eight courses:

Freshman Year

  • Introduction to Political Theory
  • Wisdom of the Ancients

Sophomore Year

  • Political Thought of the American Founding
  • American Political Thought

Junior Year

  • Constitutional Law: Rights and Liberties
  • Constitutional Law: Powers and Structures

Senior Year

  • Political Theory of Capitalism
  • Wisdom of the Moderns

Lyceum Scholars will not only read classic texts in political thought from Plato, Aristotle and Thucydides to Locke, Montesquieu, Burke, Adams, Madison and Tocqueville, but they will also be exposed to the classics in the history of economic thought, including Adam Smith, Frédéric Bastiat, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and Milton Friedman.

Once the program is up and running by the fourth year, we expect to have 40-60 Lyceum Scholars on campus at any given time, all of whom have been or will be taking the same classes and reading the same books. Our goal is to create a new kind of intellectual community where students will motivate one another to explore the history of freedom and the ideas and institutions that made Western civilization so irreplaceably unique. We hope they will push each other to engage in high-level conversations and debates and to build life-long intellectual friendships.

Emphasis on Moral Character

What makes the Lyceum Scholars Program unique is its focus on building moral character. In response to the nihilism and moral relativism that permeates modern American culture, our goal is to recapture the long-lost tradition in American higher education that once took the idea of moral character seriously. Prior to the Civil War, for instance, every Ivy League college president taught what we today call a senior capstone course on moral theory and practice in order to educate young men for living in a free and virtuous society. Given the culture in which we live, our hope is to challenge our young men and women to take the development of their own moral character as seriously as they do their physical health.

The Lyceum Scholars Program plans to combat this trend towards moral apathy in two ways: through classroom instruction and one-on-one mentorship. First, the Lyceum curriculum includes two courses dedicated solely to moral thought and practice—one on ancient Greek and Roman moral thought, where they will read Sophocles, Xenophon, Aristotle, Cicero, Plutarch and Tacitus; and one on modern moral thought, where they will read Shakespeare, Montaigne, Franklin, Smith, Austen, Dostoyevsky, and Rand. Second, and most interestingly, each Scholar will be assigned what we call a Socratic Tutor, i.e., a faculty member who will closely monitor and guide their intellectual and moral development during their undergraduate career.

The primary role of the Socratic Tutor is to help our students translate moral theory into practice. It’s not good enough to read, for instance, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics or Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments without thinking about how to apply their moral principles to day-to-day life. We believe that a free society can only be sustained if its citizenry understand and act upon certain moral virtues.

When we first conceived of and then launched our first-ever marketing campaign for the Lyceum Scholars Program last August, we had a small budget and a small staff. We expected 30-50 applications the first year, but received almost 200 applications from students representing 22 states across the country. Almost 70 of the applicants had SAT scores between 1400 and 1550.

The incoming class of Lyceum Scholars has an average SAT of 1440—compared to the Clemson University average of 1290. In fact, student (and parent) demand to participate in the program was so great that we created a second, non-scholarship track called the Lyceum Fellows Program. We expect to have 30-40 students entering our first class this August as Lyceum Scholars and Fellows.

The response shows that young people want to think seriously and deeply about fundamental, timeless, and life-changing questions, such as: How shall I live my life? What is justice? What is freedom? What is friendship? What is the best form of government? Secondly, the response to the program shows that students are specifically interested in studying the ideas and institutions that make human flourishing and prosperity possible.

Acting on Principle

This effort is independently financed. Neither Clemson University nor the American taxpayer supports the Clemson Institute or the Lyceum Scholars Program financially. We have scholarship funding for the next four years, and hope to raise enough money to continue this program for decades beyond that.

We aim to reinvigorate American higher education with a model that is both needed and that can be replicated at other universities and colleges. We hope to generate study and ideas that will be part of a new birth of freedom in America.

Some Clemson Faculty Call for Censorship

In a recent edition of The Tiger, Clemson University’s official student newspaper, 110 faculty and staff members published a petition endorsing seven “demands” of the “Coalition of Concerned Students.” Demands 2-7 call for Clemson officials to construct a multicultural center, provide more funding for “under-represented student groups,” increase affirmative action hiring, rename “offensively named buildings,” and increase diversity training for administrators, faculty, and students.

What shocked the Clemson community was the professors’ support of the students’ first demand, which called on the university “to prosecute criminally predatory behaviors and defamatory speech committed by members of the Clemson University community (including, but not limited to, those facilitated by usage of social media).”

There has been some recent public confusion and debate over the exact meaning of this intellectually incoherent statement. Did its authors and supporting faculty intend to use the word “criminally” as an adverb to modify “prosecute” or as an adjective to modify “predatory behaviors and defamatory speech”? If the former, their intent is said to be malignant; if the latter, their intent is said to be benign. In the end, this is a distinction without a difference.

Targeting ‘Hate Speech’

In a recent attempt to clarify their troubling statement, our “Concerned Students” have unwittingly admitted that their ultimate goal is to criminalize certain kinds of speech: “We want the university to hold people accountable for threats and harassment. That’s all. Criminal, as in hate speech or threats of violence, cyber bullying, stalking, etc.” Since “hate speech” is not a crime, it now seems clear that they are in fact demanding the criminal prosecution of defamatory and other kinds of speech.

In a recent letter-to-the editor  published in The Tiger, a supporter of the coalition unmasks their real intentions: “Maybe it is time” he writes, “to criminalize hate speech because of its damaging effects to the lives of people who have to suffer it: racial minorities, the LGBT community, women, and religious minorities.”

That a minority faction of faculty and low-level administrators would support junior-varsity censorship (e.g., speech codes and free-speech zones) is not surprising in this day and age. Demands for ideological cleansing are common on today’s college campuses. What is shocking, however, is the prospect of faculty members calling for the criminal prosecution of speech, which means that students could be arrested and imprisoned if convicted of speech crimes.

How are we to understand this unprecedented faculty demand for censorship and the criminal prosecution of speech?

Ignorance of the Law

The most charitable interpretation assumes that the petitioning faculty is simply ignorant of the law and what it means to “prosecute criminally” defamatory or any other kind of speech in the United States, never mind at a public university. The fact is that Clemson University has no authority or jurisdiction to prosecute anything criminally. This is the job of law enforcement authorities, including the police and the courts. More importantly, defamatory speech is not prosecuted as a crime in American courts. Defamatory speech is tried in our state and federal courts as a civil action (i.e., resulting only in monetary damages).

Surely our privileged professoriate knows this. Surely they understand the difference between American defamation law and that of Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iran, or ISIL, where defamatory speech can result in jail time or worse?

It is inconceivable to me that so many Ph.D.’s could be guilty of such a basic intellectual error, which raises a more ominous question: What if they actually support the criminal prosecution of constitutionally protected speech as a positive good? If this is the case, then the petitioning faculty would be subject to the same kind of moral judgment that decent people have always reserved for censors, thought police, and book burners.

The perverse irony of college professors demanding the criminal prosecution of student speech is mind-boggling. How strange for professors in the department of Communication Studies to censor speech, which means to censor the free communication of ideas—for professors in the department of Philosophy to censor speech, which means to censor thought and inquiry—for professors in the department of English Literature to censor speech, which means to potentially censor the books students read—for professors in the department of History to censor speech, which means to whitewash the past—for professors in the department Education to censor speech, which means to censor the ability to think and learn?

The attempt to intimidate young people with the coercive force of the State is anathema to the noble ideals of higher education. Those who censor almost always do so because they fear their ideas cannot withstand scrutiny in the marketplace of ideas. This is why they also insist upon forced indoctrination (e.g., mandatory diversity training) rather than persuasion and a free exchange of ideas.

This unfortunate turn of events has a silver lining, though. The more important Clemson story concerns a rapidly growing free speech movement. In the same issue of the student newspaper in which the petitioning faculty demanded the prosecution of student speech, I published a competing full-page ad (co-signed by two colleagues) entitled “An Open Letter to Clemson Students.” Our letter pledged to all Clemson students that we will “oppose all attempts by Clemson faculty and administrators to silence, suppress, or ‘prosecute criminally’ thought and speech deemed vulgar, controversial, unpopular, insensitive, offensive, inappropriate, subversive, or blasphemous.” And we mean it!

It is my view that university professors have a moral responsibility to defend their students from those who would censor them. Since the publication of our “Open Letter,” there has been a groundswell of support for free speech.  I have received a number of letters from students who have told me how much it means to them that some of their professors actually support free speech and are willing to defend the integrity of the human mind to think and speak without coercion.

Consider the significance of two particularly powerful letters I received:

Given the current climate at Clemson University, I appreciate your dedication to fight for the rights for students to speak and think free of any interference from outside forces. I personally am scared, as a student at Clemson, for what my future as a student holds for me. Those who should foster and encourage the concept of freedom of speech and thought no longer stand to protect us, but would publicly shame those who are willing to express opinions that contradict their own.

And another student, whose family emigrated from the former Soviet Union, wrote:

I was shocked to see how many professors signed in favor of the Coalition for Concerned Students’ demands, as I had previously assumed that freedom of expression and free speech are considered unconditional rights by the majority of Americans. . . . I am not well-learned in political sciences as most of my knowledge about the dangers of censorship comes from stories my parents and grandparents told me about living in the USSR.

Our students have a profound intellectual and moral need to see their teachers stand on principle for the most fundamental right: the freedom to think and speak. Young men and women do not respect cowardice and compromise. Let us therefore reclaim our universities from the nattering nabobs of mediocrity, who fear and loathe independent thought and the spirit of open-minded inquiry. If we can’t defend our students from intimidation, censorship, and indoctrination, then we should all find new careers.