I mentioned yesterday how Curtiss’s post provoked my thinking on class and the “liberal education,” but I didn’t manage to articulate everything that I found engaging. Hence this follow-up.
Curtiss quotes a long passage from Leo Strauss’s Liberalism Ancient and Modern, with which I’m not familiar, so I’m relying on the account Curtiss gives. I should point out, though, that the term “liberalism” indicates to me that we’re in problematic territory even before we start, since the term — like “class” — is a moving target, and I suspect there might be a bit of play in Strauss’ use of the term to refer either to those in Roman times who were not fettered by slaves’ chains, the ideal cultural values ascribed to such people (and this is the sense from which we get the term “liberal education”), the generosity with money (or pure overindulgence, as in Trimalchio’s case) ascribed to such people, or in contemporary culture, the degree of freedom of the market, or — in perhaps its most common use — political opposition to the right wing.
Anyway — now that I’ve spewed my Recommended Daily Allowance of pedantry — maybe I can actually get to what Curtiss was talking about. He quotes Leo Strauss at length: “The education of the potential gentlemen is the playful anticipation of the life of gentlemen. It consists above all in the formation of character and taste. . . [the gentleman] must possess the skill of administering well and nobly the affairs of his household and the affairs of his city by deed and by speech. He acquires that skill by his familiar intercourse with older or more experienced gentlemen, perferably with elder statesmen, by receiving instruction from paid teachers in the art of speaking, by reading histories and books of travel, by meditating on the works of the poets, and, of course, by taking part in political life. All this requires leisure on the part of the youths as well as on the part of their elders; it is the preserve of a certain kind of wealthy people.” While the suggestion that the patriarch should run the polis like he runs his household could be charitably characterized as feudal, the rest of the stuff on education is practically straight Cicero, right out of De Oratore. In terms of class, there are a few things worth observing.