The United States began as an errand into the wilderness and for many generations had a longing for dispersal, for living beyond the sound of a neighbor’s ax. James Fenimore Cooper in the forest, Henry Thoreau by the pond, Herman Melville at sea, Mark Twain on the river, Teddy Roosevelt experiencing the “iron desolation” of the high plains, and Willa Cather experiencing “that vast silence” of Nebraska’s plains, all enriched the American experience. Now, however, attention must be paid to demonstrating the continuing pertinence of the Founders’ premises to places with the crackling energy of booming Arizona.
Some academics who relish progressivism’s hegemony on campuses, and who equate critical thinking with disparagement, will regret and resist things like ASU’s new school. Hence it was appropriate that the political philosopher Harvey Mansfield, a.k.a. Harvard University’s conservative, participated in the school’s launch. He argues that one of higher education’s highest purposes is to counter democracy’s leveling ethos by teaching the young how to praise — how to recognize and honor hierarchies of character and achievement.
Here and around the country this purpose is being advanced by entities such as ASU’s new school, teaching the history of ideas and statesmanship. This growing archipelago of excellence will leaven academia with the diversity that matters most.