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The Assault on American Excellence

Narrated by: Anthony Kronman
Length: 9 hrs
5 out of 5 stars (1 rating)

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Publisher's Summary

The former dean of Yale Law School argues that the feverish egalitarianism gripping college campuses today is out of place at institutions whose job is to prepare citizens to live in a vibrant democracy.

In his tenure at Yale, Anthony Kronman has watched students march across campus to protest the names of buildings and seen colleagues resign over emails about Halloween costumes. He is no stranger to recent confrontations at American universities. But where many see only the suppression of free speech, the babying of students, and the drive to bury the imperfect parts of our history, Kronman recognizes in these on-campus clashes a threat to our democracy.

As Kronman argues in The Assault on American Excellence, the founders of our nation learned over three centuries ago that in order for this country to have a robust democratic government, its citizens have to be trained to have tough skins, to make up their own minds, and to win arguments not on the basis of emotion but because their side is closer to the truth. In other words, to prepare people to choose good leaders, you need to turn them into smart fighters, people who can take hits and think clearly so they’re not manipulated by demagogues.

Kronman is the first to tie today’s campus debates back to the history of American values, drawing on luminaries like Alexis de Tocqueville and John Adams to show how these modern controversies threaten the best of our intellectual traditions. His tone is warm and optimistic, that of a humanist and a lover of the humanities who is passionate about educating students capable of living up to the demands of a thriving democracy.

Incisive and wise, The Assault on American Excellence makes the radical argument that to graduate as good citizens, college students have to be tested in a system that isn’t wholly focused on being good to them.

©2019 Anthony T. Kronman (P)2019 Simon & Schuster

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For Whom is He Writing?

This is a timely, cogent, and important book, warning us that the integrity and mission of our higher learning institutions are at risk of succumbing to the transitory ideologies of democratic mob-rule (sorry to the author if that explanation was inelegant). The Assault on American Excellence is a journey through the foundational underpinnings that fostered the mission(s) of our great American universities. I was deeply enthralled by the depth of research and breadth of the citations that carry Kronman's argument.

That said, I kept asking myself for whom is Kronman writing? This book is not for the timid, or the uninitiated. If I were one of the underclassmen about which he generalizes in this book, I might be hard-pressed to get through his work. It is not until the last two chapters that I felt really connected to his premise. That's because the language upon which Kronman makes his point is so loaded with elitist baggage (my bias here) that it is difficult to separate the message from the messenger. I wish he had not (but I understand why he did) describe to beneficiaries and participants in elite university learning as *aristocracy.* Sure, he explains the context for this descriptor, but in the current political climate the unenlightened may perceive this work as a treatise on anti-democratic consolidation of power amongst elites of wealth and privilege (speculation here). That's why I question for whom he wrote this book. Is it a finger in the eye of former colleagues at Yale? Or, is it a pat on the head for all the new young radicals on today's campuses to let them know that they are (after all) merely yet-to-be-enlightened children.

Please read this important work. It will send you back to your bookshelves to reread many of the great 18th Century philosophers upon which the foundations of our democracy are fabricated.