At a place like Hillsdale, there is a wealth of things to be learned.
This prosperity, however, lends itself to the objectification of knowledge, which results in two dangers: an exclusionary possession of the knowledge that one has acquired and, in turn, an intellectual envy that leads to despair concerning that which one does not know.
For all its emphasis on eternal truths, Hillsdale is not immune to fads.
“A fad,” defined by G. K. Chesterton, “is something which, even if true, is secondary or temporary in its nature against those which are essential or eternal, those things which always prove themselves true in the long run.”
Hillsdale students form trends around books, authors, and professors.
Consider campus enthusiasm for “Infinite Jest,” Wendell Berry, or Alasdair MacIntyre.
Undoubtedly, students disagree about the significance of these academic trends, but the social pressure to read, write about, and take classes with these “modern greats” remains.
Senior Joanna Kroeker describes one such instance of “intellectual FOMO.”
“I felt this experience acutely when more than half my house was in Dr. Lehman’s Plato class. All around me, people were having these conversations that I wanted to be part of, partly out of a desire to learn the material, but partly because I felt like I couldn’t participate in these amazing connections happening around me. The Plato class wasn’t even something I was interested in taking before I saw so many people getting something out of it.”
When we allow the light of essential truths to be obscured by the brilliance of subsidiary or temporary truths, blindness to the coherence of the whole results.
I do not mean to criticize the tendency to popularize or pursue an intellectual trend.
It is human nature to desire something solely because we see another ardently pursuing it — even loving it.
And further, the pursuit of and devotion to truth seems compatible with, even necessary for, true study.
As Sertillanges notes in The Intellectual Life, “The life of study is austere and imposes grave obligations…We must give ourselves from the heart, if truth is to give itself to us. Truth serves only its slaves.”
However, this ardent pursuit carries with it a number of dangers that prove an impediment to true philosophy.
When we do not order our loves of truth, allowing a love of trends — temporary, yet true things — to surpass our love of that which is fundamental and eternal, we risk intellectual hegemony.
That is, creating a culture where those who haven’t kept up with the trends feel as though they are unable to participate in the college’s communal intellectual life.
This intellectual hegemony, in turn, results in the objectification of knowledge, the loss of common language, and a lack of openness to new ways of knowledge.
As result of a disordered hierarchy, trends — a sort of specialization — get in the way of high and holistic knowledge.
Kroeker discovered two ways that she could respond to this situation:
“I had to realize that the only way to overcome academic jealousy was to focus on intellectual humility. First, I had to let my friends teach me what they were learning. Second, I had to learn that I would find more fulfillment pursuing things that naturally interested me as far as I could take them. It could stop being a game of catch-up to who was doing something popular.”
If we approach authors and ideas with humility, we protect our peers from alienation.
There is no danger in focusing on a fundamental subject, author, or idea, so long as we do not lose sight of the whole.
So I say that: be humble, learn from those around you, and do not let the fundamental subjects get lost in a wash of modern fads.
Morgan Brownfield is a senior studying politics