Going to College So That We May Learn to Live Well

The least important of all the the reasons for going to college and trying to get an education is that it will help one to earn a living. … There may be other reasons for going to college, but unless the chief reason is to learn what needs to be learned in order to live well, in order to lead a decent human lie, then one might have been better off, perhaps, not to have gone to college at all.

~Mortimer J. Adler, Education and the Pursuit of Happiness

Given what goes on at most colleges, Adler is right. Students often see college as a time of experimentation rather than formation, and the experimentation that goes on is destructive to the soul. Better not to go and save one’s soul.

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Be Wise as Pigs and Innocent as Horses

animal-farmIn his commission of the Disciples, Jesus tells them that they must “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16 ESV). Why the unity of both wisdom and character? Is not simply being a good person enough? In George Orwell’s Animal Farm we are presented with a perfect illustration of why moral virtues must be coupled with intellectual virtues. While Christ uses the metaphor of serpents and doves, Orwell utilizes horses and pigs. In examining Orwell’s characters we can see that both goodness without wisdom and wisdom without goodness are undesirable.

The horse, Boxer, has two defining characteristics. First, he is a morally innocent character. He is obedient, loyal, hard-working, and trusting through and through. One would be hard-pressed to find a more honorable character. Second, he is dim-witted. He is consistently portrayed as lacking any real mental ability. Boxer is introduced by Orwell in a way that unites these two marks of character: “A white stripe down his nose gave him a somewhat stupid appearance, and in fact he was not of first-rate intelligence, but he was universally respected for his steadiness of character and tremendous powers of work” (Orwell, Animal Farm, 4).

Boxer’s lack of intelligence is seen throughout the story. Following the animal rebellion, the pigs come to power and begin the instruction of the animals. “Their most faithful disciples were the two cart-horses, Boxer and Clover. These two had great difficulty in thinking anything out for themselves, but having once accepted the pigs as their teachers, they absorbed everything that they were told, and passed it on to the other animals” (12). The pigs try to teach Boxer to read, but he cannot learn letters passed D, or when he does, he forgets A B and C (21). When Napoleon is able to chase off Snowball, Boxer is deeply troubled, but unable to summon the mental powers to understand why Napoleon did this. After much mental struggling Boxer finally surrenders whatever mind he has left with the motto, “Napoleon is always right” (35). Even when Napoleon recasts Snowball as the villain of the Battle at Cowshed, Boxer knows this is not what happened, but is unable to contend with this falsehood. In spite of his moral unease at this lie, because he cannot think it out for himself, must fall back on “Napoleon is always right” and doubts his own memories (49). Boxer is aware of this defect of mental acuity, but puts off cultivating the mental virtues until retirement: “It would be the first time that he had had leisure to study and improve his mind. He intended, he said, to devote the rest of his life to learning the remaining twenty-two letters of the alphabet” (72). Of course, by then it will be too late for Boxer.

Despite this simple-mindedness of Boxer, he also has an admirable list of moral virtues. He is humble, docile, obedient, diligent, meek, and loyal. When he hears Snowball condemn Mollie’s ribbons, he immediately throws his own straw hat in the fire with all the other human artifacts (14). As Animal Farm is trying to get off the ground, Boxer gets up half an hour earlier than everyone else in order to work and adopts the motto, “I will work harder!” (19). After the first windmill is destroyed Boxer works at night in addition to his day labors (42). At the Battle at Cowshed, Boxer is overcome with guilt when he kills a boy: “‘I have no wish to take life, not even human life,’ repeated Boxer, and his eyes were full of tears (27). When Napoleon sends his dogs after certain other pigs and Boxer himself, Boxer kicks them away and presses one beneath his hoof. Yet even though it was Napoleon who had sent them after him, Boxer looks up to Napoleon to find out what he should do with this dog he has pinned (50). Even after this slaughter by Napoleon and the dogs, Boxer cannot bring himself to blame Napoleon, though he knows something isn’t right. Instead, he blames himself. “I do not understand it. I would not have believed that such things could happen on our farm. It must be due to some fault in ourselves” (52).

It is this combination of excellent moral virtue without corresponding intellectual virtue that ultimately ruins Boxer. After the Battle of the Windmill, Boxer is injured with a split hoof and pellets in his leg, yet he “refused to take even a day off work, and made it a point of honour not to let it be seen that the was in pain” (66). Finally, he works himself to exhaustion pulling stones for the windmill (71). In his blind trust of Napoleon, Boxer allows himself to be led off to what he thinks is a hospital. In what is the most tragic of all the events within Animal Farm, Boxer is makes one last effort to save himself:

All the animals took up the cry of ‘Get out, Boxer, get out!’ But the van was already gathering speed and drawing away from them. It was uncertain whether Boxer had understood what Clover had said. But a moment later his face disappeared from the window and there was the sound of a tremendous drumming of hoofs inside the van. He was trying to kick his way out. The time had been when a few kicks from Boxer’s hoofs would have smashed the van to matchwood. But alas! his strength had left him; and in a few moments the sound of drumming hoofs grew fainter and died away…Boxer was never seen again. (73-74)

In stark contrast to Boxer, is the pig Napoleon. Boxer and Napoleon stand as direct opposite of character and intellect. Where Boxer is simple and weak-minded, Napoleon is shrewd and wise. Where Boxer is moral and innocent, Napoleon is corrupt and wicked.

Napoleon’s brilliant mind as a thinker and a politician is quite evident throughout Animal Farm. Napoleon and the other pigs teach themselves to read and write, no simple task (15). Napoleon himself develops the new philosophy of Animalism and establishes the Seven Commandments (16). He becomes the primary teacher to all the other animals (20-21), and all the animals come to acknowledge Napoleon and other pigs’ superior intelligence: “It had come to be accepted that the pigs, who were manifestly cleverer than the other animals, should decide all questions of farm policy, though their decisions had to be ratified by a majority vote” (29). This is primarily because “the pigs were so clever that they could think of a way round every difficulty” (17). Napoleon’s intellectual ability is matched by his political cunning. He is able to out-maneuver Snowball, chase him off, and convince the rest of the farm that Snowball was really their enemy. He does this by convince the animals that their memories of the Battle at Cowshed was wrong, that Snowball had led the charge against them, not defended them (49). Napoleon is also a shrewd negotiator as he is able to play Frederick off of Pilkington in order to sell off the wood at a high price, even though he is cheated by it and the farm suffers an attack (60-63).

Furthermore, Napoleon is as wicked as he is smart, and his wickedness is manifest in his hypocrisy. He takes the cow’s milk for his own consumption (17). He takes away the pups from their mother, one of the very criticisms he had made of Farmer Jones (22). He moves the pigs into the house, again which was forbade to the other animals because the house is a symbol of decadence and evil (41-42). He starves out the Hens to get them to produce more eggs which will be sold off to humans (46). In a vicious demonstration of power, he has numerous animals slaughtered in public (50-51). After the Battle of the Windmill the pigs get drunk, and like most people suffering the effects of a hangover, Napoleon forbids anyone from consuming alcohol with punishment as death. Of course, once the hangover wears off, Nap sets off a special part of the farm just for growing barley. Only the pigs are allowed to consume it (65). Napoleon is also consumed with sex as he is apparently sleeping with all the sows, “producing thirty-one young pigs” (67). He begins wearing ribbons which they had forbade Mollie from wearing (67).

While the other animals are starving, Napoleon and the other pigs consume sugar and other fine goods. “The pigs seemed comfortable enough, and in fact were putting on weight if anything” (68). Of course, he his height of evil and hypocrisy is sending out Boxer to the knacker and using the proceeds of his death to buy whisky (73-75).

From these two examples we can see the importance and necessity of combining intellectual and moral virtues. Both of these are necessary for the fully developed person. Intelligence without morality leads to the great abuses of power that have occurred throughout history. Morality without intelligence leaves one open to the abuse. If you cannot think for yourself, you are at the mercy of those who can. It is in this light that Christ commands his disciples to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16 ESV). Paul also applies this same principle in his exhortation to the Ephesians:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Eph 4:11-14 ESV)

Orwell, in Animal Farm provides a fine example of the importance of uniting the intellectual and the moral virtues. For without both, we see the great catastrophe that can occur both within the individual and in society.

Works Cited:
Orwell, George. Animal Farm and 1984. Orlando: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003.

The American Founders and Education

E. Christian Kopff has an excellent piece on the influence of classical education on the American founders in The Imaginative Conservative.

For centuries Americans understood that their free and creative way of life was founded on virtue, instructed by a curriculum that balanced the study of language and mathematics and fostered by reading ancient authors like the Bible, Virgil and Cicero, Livy and Tacitus. The old classical curriculum by balancing education in language and mathematics avoided the alternating crises that are endemic in contemporary education. Students were thoroughly grounded in grammar before studying critical thinking (dialectic) and persuasive writing (rhetoric). Classical education balanced instruction in mathematics and language and made sure students had mastered basic subjects before proceeding to more challenging ones. It was not expensive, but it was demanding. But then so is freedom.

You can read the rest here.

I also highly recommend Kopff’s book, The Devil Knows Latin.