Good For All of Us

jmcoetzeeHave you read the foreword, by novelist J. M. Coetzee, to John Higgins’s Academic Freedom in a Democratic South Africa?

Coetzee concludes:

I could not be more strongly on your side in your defence of the humanities and of the university as the home of free enquiry. I respect your basic approach, which, as I see it, is to mount a strategic defence of academic freedom, the kind of defence that stands a chance of swaying the relevant decision-makers, as opposed to a quixotic defence that can be easily brushed aside.

But in the end, I believe, you will have to make a stand. You will have to say: we need free enquiry because freedom of thought is good in itself. We need institutions where teachers and students can pursue unconstrained the life of the mind because such institutions are, in ways that are difficult to pin down, good for all of us: good for the individual and good for society.

In institutions of higher learning in Poland, in the bad old days, if on ideological grounds you were not permitted to teach real philosophy, you let it be known that you would be running a philosophy seminar in your living room, outside office hours, outside the institution. In that way the study of philosophy was kept alive. It may be something along the same lines will be needed to keep humanistic studies alive in a world in which universities have redefined themselves out of existence.

Read an edited version of the foreword here.

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