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I studied Dead White Males at University – you got a problem with that?

We have recently had a bit of a storm in a thimble about the subject of university degrees and how this apparently fuels the “Enemy Class/hegemony/Nanny State-which-must-be-smashed-by-something” sort of issue. The original subject was nannying government threats about issues concerning diet. Suddenly the issue came up of the sort of folk pushing for this: David Cameron with his Oxford University PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics). Regular commenter IanB then constructed what I regard as an unwarranted and extraordinarily broad-brush thesis. He caused so much offence to our editor, Perry de Havilland, that, entirely within Perry’s rights as owner of this turf, IanB’s subsequent remarks were deleted. Now he has responded, over at the Counting Cats blog. He’s clearly upset, or at least, does not, in my view, fully grasp the reasons for the annoyance his remark caused.

This is my take on the matter. There is certainly a “bubble”, or malinvestment issue, in higher education in much of the West. I also think that the school leaving age should be reduced. Heck, I also have argued that labour market rules should be eased to make it easier for firms to take on apprentices so that young people can do something productive and lucrative. A lot of graduates are likely to come out of universities feeling bitter and betrayed at having degrees that are of limited market use and yet are saddled with heavy debts. The whole model needs to be rethought, and radically. I have said so in the past and intend to repeat this point from time to time.

But to target liberal arts degrees such as the polymath forms of PPE, Greats, History, in the particular way that IanB does is truly mad.

Consider this paragraph from this comment thread: (February 20, 2011 05:35 PM)

“The PPE degree is entirely sinister. The university system, and the education system beneath it are primarily sinister. We live in a sinister political and social structure, designed by sinister people, for sinister ends. There is no shame in hating that which is evil. That some proportion of PPE graduates do not go on to participate directly in the evil of the State no more disproves the general observation than finding a few good eggs in your local Communist party would exhonerate Communism.”

(Emphasis mine)

Now that’s madness on a motorcycle. “Entirely sinister”. “Evil”. No ifs, buts, or maybes. No, if a 20-year-old goes to college to study bits of economics, philosophy, politics and maybe history, there is no redemption for them. While Mr “B” might concede that quite a few libertarians/classical liberals have done such degrees – I know around 10 who have – in general, it is “entirely sinister” and should, presumably, be suppressed. Yet I know of people who did this degree, or others like it (I read history), with no end-goal of working in government, or of propping up some “establishment”; in fact many seem to have worked in business or done things very different. The degree may have started out as an entrance exam for government, but that is by no means its only, or even dominant, use these days.

In any event, if we are worried about Big Government, nanny statism and the whole prevailing Precautionary Principle mindset – and we are – then it seems a bit arse-about-face to focus on the subjects that future politicians/civil servants choose to study, since how can we predict that learning a course A rather than B is going to turn out a certain mindset we approve or disapprove of? Sounds a bit like hubris to me. (Hubris, of course, is a word that comes from those poncey Greeks).

Rather, would it not make rather more sense to cut governments down to size and worry about what the Davids, Johns or Nigels will study later on, if at all? Who is to say that in a private education world, or homeschooling one, that there will not be quite a lot of demand for polymath arts-type exams, as well as others? Let a thousand flowers bloom how they may, I say.

A historical point: In the early 19th Century, many of the leading political figures of the day – Robert Peel (double-first at Oxford), W E Gladstone, etc, were classical liberals in their broad philosophy of government, and a grounding in the Classics, and understanding of the lessons of Ancient Rome and Greece, proved useful. Ditto the US Founding Fathers. They all did those dead languages about times long ago, no doubt to the bemusement of some. The writings and speeches of Cato and Cicero, or Seneca and Tacitus, were part of their mental DNA. Of course, some of this could have been self-taught, but without those fusty old universities, might not have been made nearly so widespread.

Anyway, I see that IanB has no desire to return to these comment threads, which is a pity, since he is more or less one of the good guys with whom I agree more often than not, especially on things such as the nanny state. But I feel that I need to state these points for the record lest he gets it into his head that he is some sort of wronged party here. Anyway, if he wants to chat to me about this over a beer or three, he’s got my email address.

Update: IanB has complained of my quoting him out of context, such as the paragraph containing all that use of the word “sinister”. Well, it was certainly eye-catching, and I was not going to reprint the whole thread.. I copied and pasted it because, as I replied to him in a private email, that was a paragraph that clearly summed up how he felt about these things. He’s a first-class writer; if you use words like “sinister”, or “evil”, to describe a fucking exam, then naturally, some folk are going to pick on it. We can do all we can with nuance and emphasis, but that paragraph was pretty plain in its meaning. Of course, we all write or say things we meant had come out a bit differently. I certainly have.

Another update: BTW, I have re-calculated in my head the number of people whom I would call classical liberals/non-idiotarian Tories/even a few more sensible lefties, who have done liberal arts degrees at the more swanky universities in the UK (I have not included all the various folk in the US, as this would be a very big number). I come up with about 100 people. (The figure includes recently graduated students, as well as one or two people who are sadly no longer with us, or getting on a bit, and who played big roles in the libertarian movement, such as Chris Tame, or in the more conventional conservative/liberal side further back, such as Anthony Flew, Roger Scruton, Michael Oakeshott, Isiah Berlin, Kenneth Minogue, Shirley Robin Letwin, etc).

Now, IanB might still claim that this is a tiny percentage, no significance, as is his wont. Then again, I would argue that this shows that the so-called “Enemy Class” is being quite effectively infiltrated by a fairly determined, if relatively small, number of folk on “our side”. I mean, take the think tanks: Adam Smith Institute, Institute of Economic Affairs, Taxpayers Alliance, Policy Exchange, Cobden Centre, Centre for Policy Studies…..Hardly a tiny, insignificant part of UK political/economic intellectual life. Many of them were founded, staffed and backed by people who did the sort of degrees that IanB largely writes off as “gatekeeper” exams. If they are “gatekeeper” exams, then it would appear that they are not quite performing as intended. In fact, the gate has a bloody great hole in it.

61 comments to I studied Dead White Males at University – you got a problem with that?

  • widmerpool

    Quite right. Everyone knows it’s engineers that are the problem.

  • Well done Johnathan, for separating this important and interesting issue from the earlier disagreement.

    Best regards

  • I do have a problem with that Jonathan.

    You wasted your time because without the study…

    I see dead people.

  • I have to say I agree – at least partly – with old Ian B. Degrees like PPE may not have started out as sinister stalking-horses to be used to fill the corridors of power with people dedicated to the destruction of liberal civilisation, but they have in the meantime been clever subverted while the backs of people like myself and Johnathan – and Ian B also – were turned.

    You only have to look at what’s being done as we speak, to GCSE and A-level sciences (yes, yes, do look at some of the papers on the AQA website for example) geography (long under siege and about to fall completely) and even maths, to see that we are right.

    Here’s some examples:-
    http://store.aqa.org.uk/qual/gcse/qp-ms/AQA-PHY1BP-W-QP-MAR10.PDF

    http://store.aqa.org.uk/qual/newgcse/pdf/AQA-44402-W-TN-JUN11.PDF

    http://store.aqa.org.uk/qual/newgcse/pdf/AQA-40302H-W-SQP.PDF

    What I think Ian was trying to say was that evil can creep in and corrupt good. We all know it can, and will do if it can. There is no reason not to hate what it’s done. But it can be fixed. Perhaps libertarians will ultimately fail, because we are unwilling to apply the purgatives?

  • It seems to me, an outsider in many ways at Samizdata, that IanB’s thinking isn’t so far away from the norm here. Last week, for example, I learned that decimilization was introduced not to make life easier for the man on the street, or for international trade, or whatever, but as part of a conspiracy to subjugate the masses with shiny things and misdirection. That may or may not be true, but it hardly sounds more unlikely than PPE being part of the same cabal.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    PaulH:

    The PPE has been around for decades, and gradually evolved into the sort of exam it is today, warts and all. Not quite like Sir Edward Heath’s imposition, without any public consultation, of a new currency system for an entire country in a space of about one year. The parallel really does not work.

  • mdc

    Since most PPE Prime Ministers seem to be of the establishment, ‘decline management’ variety, and to know damn all about philosophy or economics, there is a pretty good empirical basis.

    Moreover, the government and its agents should indeed be suppressed, hopefully back to their just station as private citizens under the same law as everyone else.

    Disappointing that comments were deleted.

  • Johnathan – I’m not trying to make the two events equivalent in any of their particulars. Nor am I taking a stance on whether either one is true. I’m just saying that they sound equally unlikely to me (broadly speaking); if a government could simplify a currency not to make it simpler, but to debase it in the run-up to taking even more control over it than they already had, then it seems to me that a collection of left wing academics could manipulate an arts-based course to significantly further a left wing agenda.

    Actually there is one other parallel. In both cases to say that the conspiracy goal was the only thing that came out of it is to take the argument too far. Of course PPE graduates aren’t all automatons intent on reinstating Marx (or whatever the conspiracy theory suggests), just as the decimal system may be many evil things, but it is also a simpler system.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    David Davis:

    “Degrees like PPE may not have started out as sinister stalking-horses to be used to fill the corridors of power with people dedicated to the destruction of liberal civilisation, but they have in the meantime been clever subverted while the backs of people like myself and Johnathan – and Ian B also – were turned.”

    That is fair enough, but not quite the point that IanB or indeed others were making in attacking PPEs. Indeed, I got the impression that IanB would have despised this exam even if it was rigorous rather than what it might be now. It was the fact that such exams existed at all that drew his ire.

    Of course, the abuse of certain subjects is another subject in itself which could fill oodles of bandwidth.

    mdc: I have heard PPE grads state that their teachers have barely mentioned alternatives to the dominant neo-classical school/Keynesian school of econ, certainly not, say, Austrian economics.

  • mdc

    “mdc: I have heard PPE grads state that their teachers have barely mentioned alternatives to the dominant neo-classical school/Keynesian school of econ, certainly not, say, Austrian economics. ”

    Yes, the PPE teaches, I imagine, almost exclusively the establishment view of things. This is rather the problem. I doubt anyone thinks that at their tutorials they are admitted into an open conspiracy against liberty, justice, fluffy kittens, &c. Rather they are simply trained to see the prejudices of the establishment as truth.

  • Here we find information running to 3+ webpages, including the syallabus, for the Oxford PPE undergraduate course. Also, some information on subsequent careers.

    Best regards

  • will

    so now the dust has settled and the discussion has moved on from people gallantly taking offence on behalf of their special friends it seems most commenters agree that an establishment institution purveys an establishment worldview and that this might not be a good thing. to have cabinet ministers for both dominant parties roll off this production line for the uk state does seem to put that production line in the Postrel’s category of enemies. i think the original point in that thread was that it is hardly surprising that the blue team seem to be a continuance of the red team on many issues not least the nanny state when they share the exact same background.

    as an anecdotal aside a friend of mine studied economics and so when i last saw him i asked if the course had ever touched on austrian economics. he replied that they had done a bit on the euro etc but nothing specifically on austria! i have put some books from writers of the Austrian School his way since.

  • Laird

    As a complete outsider, it seems to me that the basic content of a PPE curriculum (well, the “philosophy” and “economics” parts, anyway; I’m not so sure about the “politics”) should be an interesting course of study, even if it does not lead directly to a career*. I like to learn stuff just because it’s interesting, and I suspect I’m not alone in that. The problem here, as I see it, is that both sides have acted rather badly. Perry kicked it off with an unexpected attack on Paul Marks’ perfectly innocent remark about David Cameron being an “Oxford PPE type”. A gross generalization, to be sure, but is it not a fair one? Just because there are some (many?) contrary examples, isn’t is reasonable to point out that there is a classic PPE “type”, just as there is a greenist “type” or an Objectivist “type”? Indeed, wouldn’t the better reply have been along the lines of “my friend is the exception which proves the rule”?

    And then, of course, IanB leaped into the fray, fists and elbows flying as is his wont, and despite repeated requests refused to desist. He had made his point but just wouldn’t let it go, worrying at it like a terrier with a rat and digging himself in deeper (to mix my metaphors) with every post until the bouncer had to escort him off the premises. Unfortunate, yet wholly predictable. But the rudeness aside, buried somewhere in all that verbiage was a legitimate point.

    Now that you’ve all had a night to sleep it off, can’t you just kiss and make up?

    * One of my degrees is in music; now there’s a career path for you!

  • Paul Marks

    Paul Marks.

    B.A. Politics.

    M.A. Politics.

    D.Phil Political Philosophy – failed.

    Clearly I am the problem and must die.

    Actually people who have studied all sorts of subjects have all sorts of polticial opinions.

    Even the classic “Two Cultures” debate has an odd twist.

    It was the pro science writer (Snow) who was the Red.

    “But the social sciences and humanities should not be subsidized by the taxpayer”.

    Quite so – and neither should the physical sciences.

    About the only argument I can think of that helps the death to humanities side of the debate is as follows………

    The things that are taught in (say) mathematics or chemistry departments in universities are (as far as we can tell) true.

    Whereas a lot of what is taught in English (lots of Marxoid assumptions have gone into English Lit departments in recent decade), Politics and Economics departments is false.

    Of course even this distinction is not quite as sharp as a I used to think.

    For example, most people around here (I am too ignorant to have an opinion) believe that what is taught in university science departments about “man made climate change” is false.

    As false as what the economics departments at various universities teach.

    Of course the point of a university is supposed to be to teach “critical thinking” – how to think, how to seek out the truth for yourself.

    But most departments (in most subjects) in most universities, do not tend to be as strong on this as they should be.

    Although I do remember one person telling me that his sociology doctorate was passed by the sociologists at the LSE in spite of the fact that it was libertarian and they were all socialists.

    Indeed the academics supposedly liked something that challenged their basic assumptions.

    That would never happen in any politics or economics department I have any experience of.

    If you want a doctorate from them (that is not in line with their own basic beliefs) – you had better have something you can threaten or blackmail them with.

  • Rob

    Wasn’t the LSE founded by the Fabian Society?

    But then The Cobden Centre is involved in some of the programmes there so it can’t be all bad.

    There is little doubt that the leftist gramscians have succesfully taken control of formal Academic study and its institutions and processes like peer review.

    Just see “Post Normal Science” for their latest wheeze.

    However, there are good people working in the system to try to limit the damage done and to provide alternative to statism to future generations.

    It is silly to hate the institutions or the courses, or the people that take the courses. Better not to hate at all it is a destructive emotion that just harms you more as the object of your hate doesn’t even feel it.

    Acknowledge that the people who subverted it were evil or misguided and work to counter their efforts.

    Howeverm removing comments you don’t agree with is petty and counter productive as the comment thread demonstrates.

    The educational hegemony is breaking anyway. The homeschooling resources available on the internet is far better than most comp. classrooms allowing any parent working 2 or 3 to 1 to out perform proffesional teachers working 30+ to 1.

    Will homschooling really seem so weird to the generation that grew up learning how to play guitar from the best teachers money can buy for free on youtube?

    The way we learn is changing with the free market that the internet creates, people are finding ways to simplify language learning finding better ways to learn all the time. The school/university as a building is soon to be dead. Oportunity is everywhere and just as capitalism and new technology smashes previous business and political models, often those same models never see it coming until it is too late.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    PaulH:

    “if a government could simplify a currency not to make it simpler, but to debase it in the run-up to taking even more control over it than they already had, then it seems to me that a collection of left wing academics could manipulate an arts-based course to significantly further a left wing agenda”.

    Oh I am sure that is possible; I am also sure – and this is something we have written about before – that a lot of the stuff taught in Universities etc is mind-erasing rubbish. The solution, of course, is to take the tax funds away. Job done.

    Will writes:

    “to have cabinet ministers for both dominant parties roll off this production line for the uk state does seem to put that production line in the Postrel’s category of enemies. i think the original point in that thread was that it is hardly surprising that the blue team seem to be a continuance of the red team on many issues not least the nanny state when they share the exact same background.”

    it is far more than about choice of subject at university. It is about the nature of political parties, about the increasing growth of the state and the idea that politics is a “career”; by professionalising politics, we create a demand for ways to test the entrants in some way. That is the nub of the problem.

    Laird: well said.

  • Good post, although I think it a little foolish to reject out-of-hand the thesis that a) that state bureaucrats, directly and indirectly, influence what Universities teach and b) that what one learns at University affects the way in which one thinks about the world.

    That classical liberals of the 19th century were graduates of the classical education system does not — in and of itself — refute the thesis that “academia is a lefty factory”, because in the 19th century classical liberalism *was* regarded as a left-wing philosophy. That Gladstone is far far far to the right of Tony Blair does not change the fact that he was to the left of Lord Liverpool.

    Certainly one of the major justifications for the public funding of education in the 19th century was not to make it universally accessible, but because the poor were being educated “incorrectly”.

    With or without direct State oversight, the institutions of academia will always be left-leaning because leftism is a fundementally intellectual ideology; whether it’s Ricardo debunking tariffs, Fisher proposing eugenics, Keynes proposing monetary manipulation, or Mann proposing CAGW.

    I agree with your disagreement with IanB’s use of the term “sinister,” as he seems to imply it’s a kind of conscious conspiracy. It’s not. It’s merely a natural consequence of the fact that

  • Whoops. Hand slipped on the “Post” button.

    That was supposed to read “… that politicans and academics both are generally well meaning individuals that nevertheless pursue their rational self interest. The way our democracy is structured, that results in an ever-more-incestuous union between the mainstream media, the mainstream of academia, and the actual State.

    I don’t think I’m alone when I posit that this is not healthy for the State, or for academia, or for the media.”

  • Bod

    I think the point is (that I made elsewhere) that the PPE looks awfully like is a ‘gateway’ into the government machine (and maybe that’s sufficient to be ‘sinister’ from some people’s viewpoint).

    I studied Geology as an undergrad and my subsequent education was broadly economic geology related. If you want to work in the research group at deBeers, that’s a highly preferred ‘gateway’, of course – so, geology grads often become geologists. (I didn’t)

    A society without people who studied Classics (as it was called in my time) would be a poorer place for all that, but if it becomes a primary or even pre-eminent qualification for ‘high office’ in the UK, I don’t care if only a small fraction of PPE graduates actually make it to high office. If every man jack of them holds one, it looks awfully clubby – especially if they’re all from one university. It’s inevitably going to draw scrutiny, and even some criticism, in some cases from people with sharp elbows.

  • llamas

    I think IanB had a legitimate point, even if it was perhaps poorly expressed. If my thought counts for a hill of beans, I’d like to petition that he be un-banned.

    PPE may be a marker for aspiration to high political office but it is not a guarantee and as noted, many people take PPE and go do something completely different, just as many people take other sorts of degrees and end up doing something completely different. It’s not nearly as rigid as something like the French ENA, which is actually a school for politicians whose graduates are specifically planning a career in government.

    A lot of IanB’s tirades about the GOB club of Classics andf/or PPE graduiates are aimed at a stereotype which is by-no-means set in bronze. Sure, there were plenty of Sir Humphrey-type mandarins in the Civil Service, but it should be remembered that that’s the Civil Service – not the legislature – and in any event, even the upper levels of the Civil Service are so large that there would never be enough Oxford PPE graduates to fully staff it, nor anything like it. The lower House has long been populated by people from a very wide range of backgrounds.

    We shuld be much more concerned about the surfeit of lawyers in the legislature that we should about a small excess of a particular type of graduate in the executive. Lawyers see all problems as being soluble by the application of laws, and as a species are iniomicabel to the idea that less law is better than more. Ask me how I know this . . .

    Un-ban him, I say. If vigourously disagreeing is now a banning offence, then what hope is there for me?

    llater,

    llamas

  • Laird

    “iniomicabel”, llamas? Please help!

  • Beg to differ, Llamas. Ian had no legitimate point, as Perry’s comment was a calm and casual one, to a friend, about a friend. It was Ian who used it to raise one of his pet non-issues, this time of “what the Enemy Class read at Uni” (I tend to agree with JP’s take on it: let the market sort it out), as he always does on virtually any thread on which he manages to appear. But if making OT comments was the only problem, it wouldn’t be a big one. The major problem with Ian is that he tends to hijack every single thread, while always shutting down any rational discussion, by never addressing any counterarguments of his opponents, constantly using circular arguments of his own, employing straw-men tactics, as well as the rest of the standard contents of the troll toolbox, including being perpetually misunderstood and misinterpreted. If you happen to one of Ian’s Threads here on SI (which these days are becoming harder and harder to avoid), you better agree with Ian, or go back to whatever it was you were doing before you got there.

    Now, I have no idea if this is the real reason why he was banned, but being a rude and obstinate guest is reason good enough. In any case, it would be at least interesting to see what SI might look when someone other than one person sets the order of the day – if even for a short while.

    BTW, in the past, like many here, I enjoyed many of Ian’s comments, but lately I have increasingly come to realize that many of his assertions simply cannot be taken seriously, because he quite often makes them on issues he knows nothing about.

  • Smited. Sing it, Llamas?

  • llamas

    Me used to type reel good wunce.

    But about 3 years ago, I had an accident that means I lost a lot of feeling in my right hand. I’m fine on mechanical keyboards with plenty of tactile feedback. But this POS laptop with its flat-top Chiclet keys and no feedback whatever – what you see is what you get.

    “iniomicabel” = inimicable.

    llamas don’t sing. llamas hum.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Laird

    OK, llamas, if I squint real hard I can sort of see it.

    But to your point: “Lawyers . . . as a species are iniomicabel [sic] to the idea that less law is better than more.” That’s a gross generalization, and completely unfair to the two or three good lawyers out there. I have it on good authority that a few people with legal degrees hang around this blog, and I am certain that they are both grossly offended by your remark!

  • dfwmtx

    Brian: Brothers, brothers, we must struggle together.

    PFJ member: We are!

    Brian: No, no, against a common enemy!

    Everyone else: THE JUDEAN PEOPLE’S FRONT!?!?!

    Brian: No, no, the ROMANS!

    Silly internal dispute is silly.

  • This is the most interesting thread I have read here for a long time.

    I presume Ian B’s not banned permanently? If he perhaps got a bit over-shirty regarding the depths of wickedness to which our enemies can sometimes stoop, I’m sure it was meant in the nicest way.

    The data on the Oxford site about the degree itself was highly illuminating (here it is again):-

    http://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/undergraduate_courses/courses/philosophy_politics_and_economics/philosophy_politic_4.html

  • Alasdair

    I sit surprised at the lack of a Classical Education response to (and defence of) IanB’s paragraph …

    (First, however, I suspect that “iniomicabel”, rather than being meant to be “inimicable”, was probbly meant to be “inimical” – but I may be misunderestimating llamas’ seizure of the English language)

    With that said, perhaps our poor innocent IanB was merely expressing his experiences with the afore-mentioned Classical Education …

    If I may translate …

    “”The PPE degree is entirely sinisterleftist. The university system, and the education system beneath it are primarily sinisterleftist. We live in a sinisterleftist political and social structure, designed by sinisterleftist people, for sinisterleftist ends. There is no shame in hating that which is evil. That some proportion of PPE graduates do not go on to participate directly in the evil of the State no more disproves the general observation than finding a few good eggs in your local Communist party would exhonerate Communism.””

    As someone who is ambisinistrous (equally clumsy with either hand), sinister has never been automatically equivalent with evil in my mind …

    I will also add my voice to those seeking the un-banning of IanB (based upon the sparse evidence available to me at this time) … I enjoy Samizdata largely *because* of its diversity of opinion and expression, for all that I agree with some and disagree with others …

    Philosophically, I look upon such things as an expression of

    “Into every Life, a little IanB must fall”

    and it would be a source of sorrow if a little IanB (which, admittedly, can go a long way) was no longer fertilising our lives …

  • RAB

    Nah, I’m not offended. You have to really try very hard to offend me, but it must be said, there are a whole lot of Lawyers in Governments the world over, arn’t there? They seem to think Legislation is the answer to everything, forgetting all about the implimentation and unintended consequences.

    As an incredibly naive and idealistic 18 year old Law student, I actually wanted to cut down the Laws, not grow more of them. HaHaHa! Dumb kids eh?

    I thought I was going to be Perry Mason, setting my clients free from the tyranny of the Law. Cue more merriment and chucklesome mirth.

    I finally twigged that lawyers don’t make the Law, just interpret it. So if I wanted to change the Law, or reduce it, I should become a Politician. So what I should have been studying for was a…..

    No, I won’t go there. That’s what got us in this storm in a Thimble in the first place (good phrase JP).

    Go on Perry, let Ian back in. We’ve all calmed down now surely?

  • Stephen Willmer

    Fighting talk, llamas.

    Me and the other lads from the Bar’ll be round soon to beat that offensive and hurtful caricature out of that jurisogynistic head of yours.

    That’s once we’ve finished our cheese and claret, of course. And chomped on a good fat stogey. And assuming our valets can find our dualling irons at this time of night.

  • the last toryboy

    PPE was set up specifically to groom people for the imperial Civil Service in the 1920s.

    “Indeed, PPE’s introduction in the 1920 – initially under the title “modern greats” – was designed to offer an alternative to classics for scholars hoping to enter the civil service. ” says the Beeb and Wikipedia.

    And look at the example career on the Oxford Uni website, the one they hold up as an example of what sort of rosy life awaits armed with a PPE degree…

    “Studying PPE fuelled my interest in governance, sociology, and equality of opportunity, and helped me develop skills in critical thinking and clear analysis which have been crucial in these roles.’”

    The intent of this degree seems pretty clear to me. Of course not everybody who passes it is going to be a clone. However, the intent still seems to be a matter of fact to me.

  • drunkenson

    jurisogynistic some kind of girlie lawyer?

    misojurist perhaps?

    More classical educations needed methinks.

  • CaptDMO

    The university system, and the education system beneath it are primarily sinister. We live in a sinister political and social structure, designed by sinister people, for sinister ends.

    Right.
    “Size doesn’t matter”
    “Those grapes were sour anyway!”
    “IQ tests are biased against regular folks”

  • Sunfish

    I must be lost: I saw PPE and thought of Personal Protection Equipment. Besides, I thought every university education needed at least a little. Although when I took Western Civ, Marx was the only economist mentioned and neither logic nor ethics were required classes for anybody other than philosophy majors.

    (And at my school, logic was wasted on the would-be philosophers and was better-taught in “Statistics for the Sciences” than in any class with “logic” in the title.)

    As for Ian…part of me thinks he should be un-banned, but then I’m also curious about what a few weeks without “The puritans are poisoning the wells and a Christian killed my puppy” would be like. He’s a bit shrill, but I don’t think he’s a bad guy.

  • I’d let it lie there, you’ve banned him. He’s responded at Cats, you’ve started this post here…
    don’t do any more, eh. You’ll just put people off like the whole Old Holborn/ Boatang & Demetriou/ Anna raccoon thing.
    You guys have the right to throw anyone out of your party you want, but that won’t make it feel any better if nobody turns up in the first place.

  • I touched on this issue on my blog Ironies Too, this morning(Link)

  • Stephen willmer

    More classical education? Bugger that for a game of toy soldiers, I’m pedathropic. And anyway, did you see my spelling of duelling rods?!!

    With an educayshun like that I couldn’t run a whelk stall, much less an empire. Hey, sign me up for the political elite!

  • My pearls of wisdom have now been released from the smite dungeon, for all to relish. Cue in even more merriment, as it were…

    but that won’t make it feel any better if nobody turns up in the first place.

    I wouldn’t worry about that, wh00ps.

  • llamas

    Alasdair wrote:

    ‘(First, however, I suspect that “iniomicabel”, rather than being meant to be “inimicable”, was probbly meant to be “inimical” – but I may be misunderestimating llamas’ seizure of the English language)’

    No, I stand by ‘inimicable’. Look it up. It’s not a seizure – perhaps more of a rictus.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Nobody responded to my joke :-(

  • Paul Marks

    What joke Nick?

    I see also see dead people – does not everyone?

    On the LSE – yes its founders were mostly Fabian types.

    However, a group of fairly free market economists taught there in the interwar period (not just Hayek – there were others). And M.J. Oakeshott taught there from the early 1950’s

    Oakeshott actually took Harold Laski’s position (after the death of the old Stalin fan), the left went nuts about that.

    I doubt that someone like Oakeshott would get a job at any modern British university (well apart from cleaning the toilets or whatever) – with the possible exception of the University of Buckingham.

    Not just a political thing – modern British universites are really degree factories, whereas Oakeshott was a think-widely-and-follow-your-thoughts person.

    Culturally he just would not fit in.

  • Sunfish: think again. That said, personally and on my own blog (if still maintained one), I would never ban anyone for their actual political/philosophical/moral views. I think that bad guys should indeed be welcome to voice their bad opinions, as long as they do so in a civilized manner (sunshine being the best disinfectant and all that). I’d like to think that Ian was not banned for his views, but for being uncivilized.

  • My reply to Sunfish is smited.

  • mdc

    I’m quite baffled that he is still banned, after the initial bout of rage passed, for apparently making a (fairly minorly) “offensive” post on a libertarian blog. You’d expect it of the left, but here is seems absurdly hypocritical.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    I hope IanB is allowed back into the building, but he may not want to do so. Anyway, no one died. I would happily re-admit Ian as he is a good fellow from what I can tell. These things happen.

    One other random thought: a lot of libertarians, like David Davis over at the LA blog, put the idea that many of our institutions, such as universities, have been subverted, Gramsci-style, by the left. And so the argument is made, in similar vein by Ian, that what is needed is to defund, and also perhaps close down, said institutions that he thinks are breeding grounds for people/ideas he despises. I have already said I agree about the tax funding part (tax is theft, after all!), but I am not so sure that if the funding is removed from the taxpayer, that there will not still be significant institutions left, including the fusty ones that the “libertarian Leninists” dislike so much.

    These “Leninist Libertarians” are, to some degree, driven by desperation, understandably, perhaps, given how the world is going. The thinking goes that trying to persuade the public does not work or is incredibly long-term; the ruling “elites” control many of the means of idea/culture transmission, so we need somehow to smash it, build an alternative power base, etc. This is an enduring debate between libertarians, between the “smash it up” types and the incrementalists (I tend towards the latter side).

    But if the left can “infiltrate”, then why cannot “we”? As I said in the update to my main posting, a lot of libertarians/conservatives have these liberal arts degrees; some now teach in universities and colleges in the UK and abroad, run think tanks, work in the media/finance world (as I do) etc. And Perry’s friend who did the PPE is a highly effective businessperson and networker for key ideas, etc. It seems to me that we should start playing the leftist at their own game, only smarter. I want to see more libertarians in our universities, news organisations, etc. If we take the purely defeatist, Eyeorish approach, then naturally the kind of venting that IanB engages in will be the dominant tone of voice that comes out from “our side”. I think we can do a bit better than that without selling our souls along the way. (Maybe Ian is worried that even good guys are being “turned” by their desire to go to posh universities, for example).

    And although IanB is adamant that it is not inverted snobbery that drove part of his his first comments – and I will accept that – that is certainly the impression that comes across. Now, of course, there is, within the libertarian tradition, particularly in history, a strong, “bottom-up” approach, that despises elites, values self-help, stresses class issues, etc. The trouble, however, is that once a “them” and “us” approach infects all discourse, it can start to get out of hand in ways that are very unlibertarian. There is collateral damage (such as sneering at PPEs can upset libetarians who did the degree and have no intention of being civil servants but just wanted to get a recognised examination).

  • Paul,
    The Bruce Willis Movie – “Sixth Sense”. In ref to the title of JP’s post.

    This is happening to me all the time.

  • Alisa- perhaps less of a danger on blogs with lots of writers like this one, but you must have seen how quickly little spats like this can get ugly, and how unpleasant (and boring!) it can be for the other readers/commenters.

    Onto the universities. perhaps we have a little failure of language here. ‘Defund’ (and are we not in favour of that in many contexts anyway?) and ‘abolish’ don’t necessarily mean the same thing as ‘destroy’ or ‘close down.’
    I may say, for example, that I want to see the Nhs ‘closed down’ but I don’t mean that I wish to see all the hospitals burned to the ground and the surgeons put to the sword. I expect that in the event of my being declared Caesar tomorrow and the nhs being abolished the hospitals would continue to run, simply switching to a paid model. the same for the universities.
    If there is a market for PPE courses then of course universities would continue to run as before, despite the state having nothing to do with funding or regulating or anything else-ing them.

  • Kim du Toit

    No comment on the IanB thing. Samizadata’s house, samizdata’s rules — it’s the essence of private property rights.

    As for the PPE thing: as one who is (rather belatedly) studying for a similar degree — albeit more literary than policio-economo-philosophical — I feel that I have to rise in defence thereof.

    There are two points to be made, here.

    The first is that if one is going to pursue a career in public service, then politics, philosophy and economics are probably quite decent foundations. Frankly, I’d rather be bossed around by people of that ilk than by engineers, scientists, financiers and God forbid, lawyers (the last of which are the predominant political pedigree Over Here). Most people tend towards being control freaks, given sufficient power, and I’d rather be bossed around by people who’ve had to study rhetoric and philosophy than by people whose training was in physics, the law or — ugh — computer systems.

    The second is that it’s all very well to carp about university courses being used by political dogmatists to further their own agenda. Surely they do, and always have. It seems, however, that putting their students into the role of hapless pawns does the students an enormous injustice — as though exposure to a dogma leads inevitably to their thorough inculcation thereof. That may be the goal of said dogmatists, but it’s not always the outcome. Just because people are taught the loony dicta of, oh, John Maynard Keynes, does not mean that Keynesian economics will become the sine qua non of all political thought in the future (even though it sometimes seems that way).

    There is a corollary to all this — that far too many people are studying for university degrees than are able for the task, and for a market which can’t absorb as many as are graduating — but that’s a topic for another time.

  • Fred Z

    I have read all the back and forth here and on Zanzibar and I have reached the conclusion that I don’t care, except on one minor point – the banning. Legal, but wrong, like farting in a elevator, or better yet, failing to hold a door open for an offensive and obnoxious feminist.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Fred Z, bullying rudeness is wrong, as is trying to hijack comments by constantly raising one or two topics, such as class, all the time. Sooner or later, if you behave like that on what is a privately owned forum, the owner will show a person the door after a warning.

    More positively, if IanB wants to bring up these topics time and again, then he should start his own blog. Samizdata is not a public utility.

  • bloke in spain

    Sorry I don’t do elegant debate but surely on the PPE thing the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
    That particular educational model produces the sort of politician/bureaucrat/media commentator we have today.

    Award points out of 10 for success?

  • Sorry I don’t do elegant debate but surely on the PPE thing the proof of the pudding is in the eating.

    At the risk of stating the obvious, correlation does not equal causation. A great many libertarians and classical liberals also have ‘classical’ educations.

  • Paul Marks

    Yes Perry, although (when I used to go into university libraries) I was shocked to find how many of the modern writers on Greek and (especially) Roman civilization were Marxists.

    Of course it messed up their scholarship – for example none of them could accept the difference between an aristocracy and oligarchy (basic to Aristotle’s thought) because a class “always rules in its own interests at the expense of others” and any contrary view was “ideology”.

    And, of course, they could not get their heads round the idea of either “monarchy” or “tyranny” at all.

    Because all rule must (at bottom) be about benefiting an economic class (defined in relation to the means of production) the idea of an independent ruler (either ruling in accordance with the principles of the rule of law or for his own benefit) just did not fit into their mental scheme of things.

    Of course neither did such concepts as “the rule of law” – which they could only understand (like Hobbesian legal positivists) as the rule of laws – with “laws” being commands, and the commands benefiting a certain class….

    And on and on.

    Nick.

    I liked the Sixth Sense film – OUCH that will be used as evidence of how intellectually shallow I am.

  • Fred Z

    Surely samizdata is not a public utility but it purports to solicit free thinking and sometimes that means very,very free thinking. I don’t see the comments here being over crowded. I see thin skin.

    I prefer the approach of the anti-planner blog, who has two incredibly insane and offensive commenters, ‘DS’ and ‘The Highwayman’. The anti-planner treats both with exquisite politeness. He, and I, value off the beaten path opinions as possibly creative, and the opinions of the opposition as often revealing.

    I did enjoy PDH’s note that “I kicked him for being a pompous ass making rude generalisation[sic] worthy of some government planning committee, not for any other reason.” Who knew how important rude generalisations were? I’m sure PDH has never indulged in them, at all, never, never.

    That was of course a rude generalisation and I look forward to being ‘kicked’.

  • Who knew how important rude generalisations were?

    Not you, obviously. Now you do. No need to thank me. When people are told they are wearing out their welcome and yet keep repeating the same (ludicrous) point again and again, I kick them. Churchill’s definition of a fanatic comes to mind.

  • Now, I have no idea if this is the real reason why he was banned, but being a rude and obstinate guest is reason good enough.

    Rude and obstinate pretty much nails it. I banned him for the same reason I habitually ban “race realists”: not for expressing ludicrous views so much as expressing them over and over again in a way that makes it clear they are not actually reading any replies to what they said.

    Paul made a sweeping generalisation about folks with PPE degrees, which Ian B echoed and I pointed out many pukka libertarian types had PPE degrees, including some who contribute to Samizdata. At this point a sensible soul would either state they were of course not making a universal statement or failing that, just change the subject… which is not what happened. Instead we were treated to a series of non sequiturs about state funded education and all manner of other things to show the intrinsic evil of PPE… hence the imperial order of the boot followed as a consequence.

    That is really all there was to it.

  • Gordon Walker

    “Studying PPE fuelled my interest in governance, sociology, and equality of opportunity, and helped me develop skills in critical thinking and clear analysis which have been crucial in these roles.’”
    Critical thinking etc are the very last qualities needed for those three subjects. “Whatever the Church believes I believe” is far more apposite.

  • bloke in spain

    As I said, I don’t do elegant debate but I don’t remember asserting that a PPE would inevitably lead to a poor outcome. In fact I made no judgement of its recipients at all. There does appear to be a clear causality though, or at least those in the political sphere seem to think there is because acquiring the skill set it teaches is believed by them to further their ambitions.
    There’s an analogy in the gun control debate. Acquisition of a firearm does not imply that the possessor intends to shoot anyone. However an individual desiring to kill may well seek to acquire a firearm.

  • …not for expressing ludicrous views so much as expressing them over and over again in a way that makes it clear they are not actually reading any replies to what they said.

    That was the exact point I was trying to make in my comment to Sunfish. Couldn’t agree more.

  • There’s an analogy in the gun control debate. Acquisition of a firearm does not imply that the possessor intends to shoot anyone. However an individual desiring to kill may well seek to acquire a firearm.

    Yes, it is indeed a very good analogy.

    Some people who murder want guns, therefore guns are intrinsically bad. Some people who go into government get PPE degrees therefore PPE degrees are evil.

    I assume you now see why I found the remarks about people with PPE degrees so ridiculous?