The contemporary university is a tangled and troubled mess. In The Skies of Babylon, Barry Bercier attempts to help us see through and beyond the ideological fog that envelops academia by beginning with a simple thesis: the university should exist in service to the desire to teach. Bercier sees in that desire something very close to the desire for life itself, since through teaching one passes on to others the way of life one has received.
When measured against that desire, today’s colleges and universities are abysmal failures, argues Bercier. The contemporary university is at war with its past and in angry denial of its origins. It is about the business of cultural parricide—and seeks precisely to induct young people into its work. Under the rubric of "diversity," it searches for anything other than its own identity. Academic games, careerism, the elaboration of a cynical and sterile politics, the production of systems of social-scientific control for the management of a befuddled and impotent populace—these things have replaced teaching and the work of education.
In The Closing of the American Mind, Allan Bloom made Athens his starting point. Bercier, by contrast, grounds his reflection in Jerusalem, in the idea of the West as having its deepest foundation in the biblical narration of the story of man. He suggests that returning to that story can shed light on the nihilistic anger at work on today’s campus, and so defend against our academics’ parricidal intentions. Bercier ends by encouraging a renewed respect for reason, a renewed ordering of the arts and sciences, and a renewed appreciation for our Western identity, now gravely important in light of the threat posed by our own homegrown nihilism and its Islamist doppelganger abroad.
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"This wise and beautiful book takes in a vast amount of territory, but it does so with an astonishingly epigrammatic precision. It seeks to remind us of what the university is meant to be, and what it must become: a place dedicated to the task of learning to live rightly and well, where anger and narcissism are rejected as sources of moral knowledge, and where instead we acquire the arts of self-giving and self-governing, which are not only the building blocks of marriage, family, friendship, and citizenship, but lie at the roots of Western identity and the core of the American experiment. At a time when the West is in danger of forgetting itself entirely, Bercier argues that the university must shake off its foolishness and remember its proper work: the great civilizational task of remembering who we are and whence we came."
"At first sight, it is difficult to see how an institution like a university in a free land can, in fact, lose its purpose and become, in effect, allied with forces that would undermine and destroy the very premises that gave it birth. Fr. Bercier has here examined the institutions and programs that universities have put into effect. He shows how the very notions of ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘diversity’ are contradictory and pretend to a vision they cannot sustain, one that in fact should not be sustained. But this book is aware that from now on the opponents of the university are the opponents of the very Western culture—its logos—in which it was conceived. The lost soul of the West reflects the lost soul of the university. Bercier’s work provides a depth of understanding which our universities are often set up not to understand or to want to understand."
"[Bercier] firmly grounds the foundation of the Western institution of the university in the Judeo-Christian Biblical worldview. He observes that secular institutions of higher education in this country have forsaken this foundation and instead attempt to ground the institution of the university in a worldview based in nihilism. The result, the author argues, is that secular universities have become essentially self-destructive. This book is highly recommended for every Catholic academic library."
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