In the Winter 2014 Academic Questions (vol. 27, no. 4), Patrick J. Deneen, the David A. Potenziani Memorial Associate Professor of Constitutional Studies at the University of Notre Dame, made a provocative argument in “After the Interregnum,” his contribution to the issue’s special section, “God and Guns.” Deneen claimed that the opposition that arose in the 1980s to the politicization of the academy and the corruption of the liberal arts did not point to an abiding alternative to the countercultural assault on higher education. Deneen argued that the era of the ascendancy of liberal arts core curricula, to which the opposition hoped to return, had only been an “interregnum” between two approaches to higher education based on competing ideas of liberty.
“In this essay, I advance two connected arguments,” Deneen wrote:
(1) the conservative aims of the “first” culture wars [of the 1980s]—particularly the restoration of the “great books” of the Western canon—does not represent a wished-for alternative, but the dying gasp and brief interregnum following the demise of colleges and universities as religious institutions; and (2) that moment was short-lived because it represented a transition between two competing ideals of liberty—one informed by classical and particularly Christian inheritance, the other by modern philosophic trends that favor applied science and technology—and, despite its apparent devotion to the classics, was itself deeply shaped by the latter conception of liberty that ushered in its own demise.
We believe that Deneen’s assessment of the situation in the university today and his characterization of the battle in which National Association of Scholars and other organizations are still very much engaged demand some response, and we herewith present four.