The Importance of the Liberal Arts

Why study the liberal arts?

Why study the liberal arts?

"Paradigm" is one of our contemporary, and overused, buzzwords, but it is the appropriate word to use in connection with the importance of the liberal arts, because the liberal arts give us the paradigm we need if we are to function in an era of rapid change.

We inhabit a world that is increasingly global and–despised as the term has come to be–multicultural. Only a familiarity with our human history, philosophy, literature, sociology and anthropology prepares us to encounter, appreciate and survive in that world.

The liberal arts teach us to be rational and analytic in an increasingly irrational and "touchy-feely" age. They teach us to be respectful not just of results but of process–to understand that "how" and "why" are as important as "what."

Most important, from my perspective as a civil libertarian, the study of the liberal arts is based upon a profound respect for the importance of human liberty. The life of the mind depends upon freedom to consider any and all ideas, information, points of view. It cannot flower in a totalitarian environment. Technocrats can live with Big Brother, but poets and philosophers cannot.

It may be trite, but it is nevertheless true that learning how to communicate and learning how to learn are the essential survival skills. If all one learns is a trade–no matter how highly compensated the particular trade might be–he or she is lost when that trade is no longer in demand. But even if that never happens, lack of familiarity with the liberal arts makes it less likely that ones nonwork life will be full and rich.

There is a difference between "trade school" and the process of acquiring an education. That difference is the liberal arts.