Kirk’s ACADEMIC FREEDOM: A Study Guide


I had the chance to praise Russell Kirk’s grand book, ACADEMIC FREEDOM (1955), on Tom Woods’s show last week.  With apologies, I do not own the copyright to the book, and, therefore, I cannot share it.

Here, however, is a study guide and outline for those who have access to the book.

You should be able to find copies for sale online–at marketplace, abebooks, and ebay, I presume.



“I believe that academic freedom, an idea, has reality; and, like other ideas, its reality is more important than the ephemeral reality of particular person and circumstances.  I believe that academic freedom is a peculiar kind of freedom, and peculiarly valuable.  I believe that academic freedom is not a hoax, but an inheritance from the wisdom and the courage of our ancestors.  I believe that academic freedom is gravely threatened in our time.  I believe that the causes of this peril to academic freedom are imperfectly apprehended by most (1) scholars and teachers and journalists and politicians.” (2)

Nisbet letter to Kirk: academic freedom is medieval and aristocratic (2)

Leadership for academic freedom must come from the universities and colleges, it will move down from there (3)

Academic freedom is a natural right, based on Strauss’s thought (4-5)

Plato’s Academy—the first, but it followed the pursuit of Truth, not the happiness of any particular community (11ff)

“The Schoolmen, like the philosophers of the Academy, were dedicated men—dedicated to the service of Truth.” (13)

“And the academy, or the university, was a place consecrated to the apprehension of an order more than human, and a duty more than mundane” (14)

Universities in the middle ages served like R.C. orders—under the big tent, but fairly free and independent (16)

Nationalism has decreased true academic freedom (17)

“This unity and this spirited defiance of the vulgar came, in considerable part, from the Schoolmen’s convictions that they were Guardians of the Word, fulfilling a sacred function, and so secure in the right” (18)

“the principle support to academic freedom, in the classical world, the medieval world, and the American educational tradition, has been the conviction, among scholars and teachers, that they are Bearers of the Word—dedicated men, whose first obligation is to Truth, and that a Truth derived from apprehension of an order more than natural or material” (29).

Whether they recognize it or not, academics benefit from religious understanding of freedom )(30)

“So far as I stand for any system of doctrines, I am an archaic Puritan, which is much the same thing as a Gothic Jew” (30)

criticism of pragmatism (34)

new educational theorists worship Demos rather than God (34)

even Thomas Jefferson wanted ONLY republic theory taught at UVA (38)

“It is no paradox, then, that educational institutions influenced strongly by religious dogmas often are most friendly to originality of thought and most mindful of the dignity of the scholar” (41)

liberalism so against absolutes, that it will eventually disavow itself! (43)

Dewey wants to substitute imagination with “education for democracy” (44)

Dewey has captured vital terms such as “humanism” (45)

“Demos is his God” (49)

the Democrats even use a religious process for the masses to understand an love democracy (51)

Radical democracy will not end in equality, but in every person owning every other person (52)

The progressives made Democracy a god, because they lacked (and, by human nature, needed) their own; democracy has become a graven image (53)

The substitution of religion with the false religion of democracy is perilous (54)

“for the professor is respected, and respects himself, because he is master of a high discipline and the teacher of a traditional and valuable body of knowledge; he is keeper of a people’s wisdom; he is the servant of the Truth, and of the Truth only.  If he lowers his standards of learning, or is forced to lower them; if he becomes an indoctrinator, rather than a professor of arts or (57) sciences, or is compelled to indoctrinate his students.” (58)

“it is not necessarily true that Truth will always prevail in a ‘free market of ideas’; if, indolently, we permit the enemies of Truth to secure the gates and the stalls of that market-place, they may drive us out of it altogether, as they did in Germany for a time and as they have done in Russia.” (115)

“I think that legislative bodies have a right to try to prevent members of the community of scholars who abuse their privileges from corrupting the whole body of scholars and the nation at large” (117)

can’t be an individualist and a Christian (121)

“I have no relish for Justice Holmes’ phrase “free trade in ideas’ to describe the high dignity of independent thought which ought to prevail in the Academy.  Scholars and teachers are not traffickers in a market, but members of the clerisy.” (122)

“Individualism, the ideology called individualism, ‘was born in hell; and to look at it, for some of you shall be the father.’  It is a denial that life has any meaning except gratification of the ego; in politics, it must end in anarchy; its philosophers are Godwin, Hodgskin, and Spencer.  It is not possible for one man to be both Christian and Individualist.” (123)

“conservatism is the negation of ideology” (124)

“There is no path to Utopia; there is no Utopia, here below.  This is the Gnostic delusion.  One of the principle functions of the Academy, where society is concerned, is to save a people from Utopian fancies.  If ever we arrived in Utopia, we should detest the place, such is the nature of human yearning.” (190)

“To what truths, then, ought the Academy to be dedicated?  To the proposition that the end of education is the elevation (190) of reason of the human person, for the human person’s own sake.  To the proposition that the higher imagination is better than the sensate triumph.  To the proposition that the fear of God, and not the mastery over man and nature, is the object of learning.  To the proposition that equality is worth more than quantity.  To the proposition that justice takes precedence over power.  To the proposition that order is more lovable than egoism.  To the proposition that to believe all things, if the choice must be made, is nobler than to doubt all things.  To the proposition that honor outweighs success.  To the proposition that tolerance is wiser than ideology.  To the proposition, Socratic and Christian, that the unexamined life is not worth living.  If the Academy holds by these propositions, not all the force of Caesar can break down its walls; but if the Academy is bent upon sneering at everything in heaven and earth, or upon reforming itself after the model of the market-place, not all the eloquence of the prophets can save it.” (191)

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