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Academic freedom has been a keystone of American higher education for over 100 years. It is the freedom of academics to instruct and research, free from interference by both their institutions, and the government. It is often defended on the grounds that it is crucial for maintaining our liberal society. But, what if liberal philosophy is flawed? In his 2017 work, Why Liberalism Failed, Patrick Deneen argues that it has. For Deneen, liberalism is inherently flawed. It ultimately fails, not due to any external issue, but as it becomes more itself. While purporting to increase individualism, it creates a strong statist government, and degrades the value of citizenship. It destroys local customs, and replaces them with a homogenous anticulture. It turns the government and the market into abstract and uncontrollable forces. And, it undermines the goals of the liberal arts. However, Citizens of liberal democracies are seemingly freer, and enjoy a higher standard of living, than citizens of non-liberal nations. Thus, we should not be too quick to abandon liberalism. In discussions defending both liberalism and academic freedom, one name is unavoidable: John Stuart Mill. The second book of On Liberty is often regarded to be one of the most powerful arguments for the necessity of academic freedom. In an effort to defend liberalism from Deneen’s critiques, this project examines works by John Stuart Mill. Ultimately I argue that, while liberalism’s flaws are considerable, this does not mean the loss of academic freedom.
Becker, Daniel, "Has Academic Freedom Failed? Can Liberalism Defend Academic Freedom?" (2018). Philosophy Summer Fellows. 11.