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  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 21, No. 3, 2022
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Robert J. Lewis
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Nick Catalano
Chris Barry
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Daniel Charchuk
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Charles Lewis
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Alex Waterhouse-Hayward




Nick Catalano is a TV writer/producer and Professor of Literature and Music at Pace University. He reviews books and music for several journals and is the author of Clifford Brown: The Life and Art of the Legendary Jazz Trumpeter, New York Nights: Performing, Producing and Writing in Gotham , A New Yorker at Sea,, Tales of a Hamptons Sailor and his most recent book, Scribble from the Apple. For Nick's reviews, visit his website:


If you have lived long enough, you might be surprised and disturbed by the frequent talk among journalists, media commentators and recognizable elected officials, of the many threats to democracy. Much of the talk is alarm over the right wing policies of autocrats and oligarchs (Brazil, Hungary, Venezuela) but comments such as the one from an Idaho official querying when he would be able to use his gun to kill liberals are real headshakers. In addition, there are legislators, judges and execs everywhere dissing democracy and doing everything they can to promote autocratic agendas.

At a time when irrationality in issues is thriving i.e.Covid vaccines are a threat to personal freedom; elections are being rigged; anyone can buy assault weapons; unjust gerrymanderings are OK, few fingers have been pointed at higher education where iconic discipline studies (philosophy, logic, mathematics, aesthetics, history) are disappearing, and the tried and tested liberal arts and humanities curricula are evaporating. In short, the age of old unquestioned purposes of higher education to promote thinking and reason, to develop civilized sophisticated behaviour, and to advance intellectual evolution has been largely abandoned by scores of middling colleges and universities.

There are many factors involved in this dilution: The overemphasis on skills and training rather than upon intellectual curiosity and cultural exposure; students, especially at the less selective universities, selecting ‘fun ‘ majors in film, media studies, business, health -- with a very small proportion in the humanities and social sciences (in the Pennsylvania State system only 4% chose the latter); the rapid growth of fully online schools characterized by a narrow job-aligned curriculum where raw administrators replace seasoned professors; the virtual abandonment of granting tenure and promotions to qualified faculty and the proliferation of inexperienced part-time instructors who often have to work at several institutions in order to make ends meet.

Perhaps the most insidious development is the mass hiring of non-academic administrators to service various kinds of programming that have nothing to do with education. Often someone will be hired to administer ‘movie night’ and before long he or she campaigns for an assistant and soon neither one is ever at their desk but replaced by phone excuses and vague directions.

In many situations, again in pedestrian schools, the race for student enrollment focuses on attractive dorms, exotic meal plans, expensive athletic facilities, celebrity entertainment and nearby availability of bars. Often the parents of prospective students are key enablers in the movement away from learning. I have seen scores of visiting parents who join in with their kids in making sure their roommates are acceptable, the food is exotic, and the room location is scenic without once ever discussing academics and course offerings. They’re willing to spend 70 grand a year on their kids as long as they enjoy their time at one of these ‘party schools.’

Many times in the past, the effort to maintain and promote democracy has focused on education. As far back as the golden age of Greece there were many struggles to have voters act rationally and vote with vision. Throughout the 5th century classical period lobbyists, oligarchs and rhetoricians steadily challenged the nascent democratic structure by appealing to voter prejudices, emotions and self-absorption. Several times, during this halcyon era of pure democracy, self-serving politicians succeeded in suspending the democratic process and replacing it with crude oligarchic power and tyrannical rule. In the 2500 years since the Greek golden age, efforts to maintain successful democracies are uphill struggles. Present day democracies reflect the same struggle. Film writer Aaron Sorkin writes, “America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad.” But as we have seen in recent , too many Americans adhere to irrational, self- serving behaviour and couldn’t care less about ideal democratic preservation.

This autocratic movement away from reason and thoughtful processing because of weakness in higher education has history. Walter LippmannIn 1922, Walter Lippmann wrote, “It is no longer possible to believe in the original dogma of democracy: that the knowledge needed for the management of human affairs comes up spontaneously from the human heart.” People will vote on the basis of anything that grabs their attention in a passing moment, filtered by whatever deep prejudices they harbour beneath the surface. Evidence means little to the average voter; reasoned argument means even less. Lippmann concluded that democracy could only be rescued by establishing a cadre of specially trained experts à la Plato’s philosopher kings, whose job was to steer politicians away from the dubious instincts of the people and back towards what the evidence required. Otherwise, the manipulation of public opinion would become the be all and end all of democracy, which is all the encouragement demagogues like Donald Trump want.

This roller coaster ride in higher education from ‘renaissance’ curricula to jejune vocational courses has happened before. The advent of the industrial revolution produced rubber-stamped classroom activity even among better schools that had little to do with intellectual and aesthetic development. In the19th century, even in England -- home to the world’s most prestigious universities -- the standards plummeted. So much so that John Henry Newman, a seminal intellectual figure, thought it necessary to remind everyone from Oxford dons to ill-equipped parliamentarians what lofty qualities higher education needed to maintain if England was to continue its tradition of statesmanship.

Newman’s legendary tract “The Idea of a University,” written in 1852, shook up a world hypnotized by the materialism, selfishness and power grabs of industrial oligarchs. It was to a population in an atmosphere of autonomy, economic exclusivity and thoughtless political shallowness much like the one we are presently experiencing, that he directed his words. A section of his writing is worth reproducing:

I have confined myself to saying that the training of the intellect, which is best for the individual himself, best enables him to discharge his duties to society. The Philosopher, indeed, and the man of the world differ in their very notion, but the methods, by which they are respectively formed, are pretty much the same. The Philosopher has the same command of matters of thought, which the true citizen and gentleman has of matters of business and conduct. If then a practical end must be assigned to a University course, I say it is that of training good members of society. Its art is the art of social life, and its end is fitness for the world. It neither confines its views to particular professions on the one hand, nor creates heroes or inspires genius on the other. Works indeed of genius fall under no art; heroic minds come under no rule; a University is not a birthplace of poets or immortal authors, of founders of schools, leaders of colonies, or conquerors of nations. It does not promise a generation of Aristotles or Newtons, of Napoleons or Washington, of Raphaels or Shakespeares, though such miracles of nature it has before now contained within its precincts. Nor is it content on the other hand with forming the critic or the experimentalist, the economist or the engineer, though such too it includes within its scope. But 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.

It is the education which gives a man a clear conscious view of his own opinions and judgments, a truth in developing them, an eloquence in expressing them, and a force in urging them. It teachers teaches him to see things as they are, to go right to the point, to disentangle a skein of thought, to detect what is sophistical, and to discard what is irrelevant. It prepares him to fill any post with credit, and to master any subject with facility. It shows him how to accommodate himself to others, how to throw himself into their state of mind, how to bring before them his own, how to influence them, how to come to an understanding with them, how to bear with them. He is at home in any society, he has common ground with any class; he knows when to speak and when to be silent; he is able to converse, he is able to listen; he can ask a question pertinently, and gain a lesson seasonably, when he has nothing to impart himself; he is ever ready yet never in the way; he is a pleasant companion, and a comrade you can depend upon; he knows when to be serious and when to trifle, and he has a sure tact which enables him to trifle with gracefulness and to be serious with effect. He has the repose of a mind which lives in itself, while it lives in the world, and which has resources for its happiness at home when it cannot go abroad. He has a gift which serves him in public, and supports him in retirement, without which good fortune is but vulgar, and with which failure and disappointment have a charm. The art which tends to make a man all this, is in the object which it pursues as useful as the art of wealth, or the art of health, though it is less susceptible of method, and less tangible, less certain, less complete in its result . . . “

Newman might be forgiven for the sexist narrowness of his ideal persona but that doesn’t change the huge import of his educational template. Yet there are scores of University Administrators across our hemisphere who would be laughing after reading Newman’s thoughts; many parents who invest in higher ed for their children would incredulously shake their heads; successful students everywhere opt out of such challenges. As a result, political offices go to the dogs and democratic governments teeter. The democratic activity of the ‘Arab Spring’ has all but disappeared as Tunisia, the best hope of the movement, has reverted to oligarchy and autocracy.



I heard my father in your comments

Will have to read multiple times as it is very complicated.


By Nick Catalano:
Faith, Emotion and Superstition versus Reason, Logic and Science
Thinking: A Lost Art
Alternative Approaches to Learning
Aesthetic History and Chronicled Fact
Terror in China: Cultural Erasure and Computer Genocide
The Roller Coaster of Democracy
And Justice for All
Costly Failures in American Higher Education
Trump and the Dumbing Down of the American Presidency
Language as the Enemy of Truth
Opportunity in Quarantine
French Music: Impressionism & Beyond
D-Day at Normandy: A Recollection Pt. II
D-Day at Normandy: A Recollection Pt. I
Kenneth Branagh & Shakespeare
Remembering Maynard Ferguson
Reviewers & Reviewing
The Vagaries of Democracy
Racism Debunked
The Truth Writer
#Me Too Cognizance in Ancient Greece
Above the Drowning Sea
A New York Singing Salon
Rockers Retreading
Polish Jewry-Importance of Historical Museums
Sexual Relativity and Gender Revolution
Inquiry into Constitutional Originalism
Aristotle: Film Critic
The Maw of Deregulated Capitalism
Demagogues: The Rhetoric of Barbarism
The Guns of August
Miles Ahead and Born to Be Blue
Manon Lescaut @The Met
An American in Paris
What We Don't Know about Eastern Culture
Black Earth (book review)
Cuban Jazz
HD Opera - Game Changer
Film Treatment of Stolen Art
Stains and Blemishes in Democracy
Intersteller (film review)
Shakespeare, Shelley & Woody Allen
Mystery and Human Sacrifice at the Parthenon
Carol Fredette (Jazz)
Amsterdam (book review)
Vermeer Nation
The Case for Da Vinci's Demons


Comedy Podcast with Jess Salomon and Eman El-Husseini
Bahamas Relief Fund
Film Ratings at Arts & Opinion - Montreal
fashion,brenda by Liz Hodson
Festival Nouveau Cinema de Montreal(514) 844-2172
Montreal Guitar Show July 2-4th (Sylvain Luc etc.). border=
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