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Thin Crust

From Whole Man to Global Man Is a Stretch

by Herb London

When I entered Columbia College in 1956, I was told unequivocally that the purpose of a university education was to produce “the whole man.” Presumably this meant that a graduate was to be a versatile, virtuous person ready to play a role in the American society. Over time “the whole man” evanesced or was transmogrified into “the diversity man,” someone who could relate to all races and ethnicities. So committed were universities to this concept that the hiring of faculty members and admission of students were forced through the lens of affirmative action, the instrument for diversity.

Now, however, a new concept is emerging that could be described as the “global man” (or woman, of course). Universities have accepted the proposition that they must go beyond diversity to equip their students with an understanding of international issues—a virtual bonding of nations.

While anyone will reflexively contend that we live in an interdependent world that requires an understanding of other people (a cliché that reeks of condescension), the “global man” concept has drawbacks that few now recognize, but that are becoming increasingly evident.

For example, most universities teach anthropology, a discipline that takes cultural relativism as a given. After all, cultures are different, so how can you say some are better than others? But very few universities require American history, and if they do, the history that is taught emphasizes warts and blemishes rather than achievements.

It is instructive that, in a book about the Danish cartoons that elicited a worldwide violent response, Yale University Press refused to republish the cartoons that were the subject of the book. This form of “preemptive capitulation,” to use Roger Kimball’s apt description, emerges from “global man” and his unwillingness to challenge Islam. Not only is this due to fear of reprisals; it is also consistent with the emergent global man’s goal of tolerance for all people, which is ensconced in the contemporary curriculum.

Global man supposes that not only are all people created equal, as the Declaration of Independence declares, but that all nations and cultures are equal. The one thing that should not, perhaps cannot, be said is that some cultures are superior to others.

Yet this violates what any international traveler can see and experience for himself. For example, it is clear that the practice of female genital mutilation is wrong. It is a crime against humanity that no amount of relativistic epistemology can justify. But since the Weltanschauung of the new globalists entails an unwillingness to pass judgment on other societies, there is a reluctance to accept universal standards.

Clearly university life has evolved and is evolving. Some of the changes are due to scientific and technical breakthroughs. But some are due to a political agenda. Surely there is virtue is studying foreign languages and the history of other nations. In fact, American history in a very real sense is linked to the history of other states. In the process of studying these things, however, I think it is inappropriate to overlook the need to transmit from one generation to the next the best that our culture has produced.

Similarly, “global man” should not be set adrift without a moral anchor. He should be taught to distinguish between those states that foster liberty and those that impose terror and control on their people; and on that basis, he should make judgments about various nations and the behavior of their people and especially their leaders.

The “whole man” concept was often vague—what else could it be?—but virtue was a concept that insinuated itself into every conversation about curriculum design. As I see it, that isn’t an inappropriate stance for the present curriculum designers. Let our students study the world, but don’t let them lose sight of the standards on which world affairs should rest. 

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