THE CLIMATE OF OPINION AND THE UNIVERSITIES


[Although "climates of opinion" last longer than anyone but their libidinous profiteers would care, they do not last forever.] The phrase was coined by Joseph Glanvill (1636-1680); it has received new currency when Alfred North Whitehead resumed it in his Science and the Modern World (1925); and following the initiative of Whitehead, the changes of this modern climate ever since the seventeenth century have become the subject of Basil Willey's perceptive and extensive Background studies, beginning in 1934.

Through Whitehead's, as well as through other initiatives, we know by now what the problem is; Whitehead has stated it flatly: "Modern philosophy has been ruined." More explicitly I would say: The life of reason, the ineluctable condition of personal and social order, has been destroyed. However, though these statements are true, one must distinguish between the climate of opinion and the nature of man. The climate of our universities certainly is hostile to the life of reason, but not every man is agreeable to having his nature deformed by the "climate" or, as it is sometimes called, the "age."

There are always young men with enough spiritual instinct to resist the efforts of "educators" who pressure for "adjustment." Hence, the climate is not static; through the emotionally determined constellation of opinions of the moment there is always at work the resistance of man's nature to the climate. The insight into this dynamics underlies the studies of Willey.

As a matter of fact, neither the changes in the climate from indifference to hostility, nor the concomitant waning of institutional support for the life of reason, nor the fanatically accelerated destruction of the universities since the Second World War, could prevent the problem of the climate from being recognized, articulated, and explored in the light of our consciousness of human nature. The reflections in which we are engaged here and now are as much a fact in the contemporary situation as the notorious "climate." The freedom of thought is coming to life again, when the "climate of opinion" is no longer a massive social reality imposing participation in its partisan struggles, but is forced into the position of a pathological deformation of existence, to be explored by the criteria of reason.

CW VOL 12
On Classical Studies, p257.




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