University training

Newman’s high aspirations for the role of the university as regards what we now call culture are elaborated in the Idea, where he asserts that a university training,

‘is the great ordinary means to a great but ordinary end; it aims at raising the intellectual tone of society, at cultivating the public mind, at purifying the national taste, at supplying true principles to popular enthusiasm and fixed aims to popular aspiration, at giving enlargement and sobriety to the ideas of the age, at facilitating the exercise of political power, and refining the intercourse of private life.’ (Idea of a university)

This sort of service to society might seem improbable in a world where the university has been all but side-lined from the public conversation; but even if this function had not been superseded by the media, it is likely that the university would have merely contributed to the lack of unity in culture and paved the way for post-modernism owing to its own loss of direction. Instead, universities have new roles assigned to them: witness government obsession with the university as an agent of knowledge creation and, in the West, with social mobility. To the extent that the university neglects its role of nurturing well-formed and educated citizens, it will form adults incapable of participating in the institutions of social and political organisation: and that failure is tantamount to an invitation to government abuse, or, worse, tyranny.


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Some celebrated themes

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