“Just think what critical race theory is. It’s a simple thing. They’re saying that accidental features of you … are defining of you. Now, no parent tells the child that. What you tell the child is you should become a good human being. And then you can do anything a human being can do.”
I sit down with Larry Arnn, president of Hillsdale College and a professor of history and politics. We discuss why critical race theory goes against basic humanity, what a good education really means, and why a nation cannot be governed by experts.
Recently, Hillsdale College launched a new Academy for Science and Freedom to pursue the free exchange of scientific ideas. Its fellows include Dr. Scott Atlas, Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, and Dr. Martin Kulldorff.
Jan Jekielek: Dr. Larry Arnn, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Larry Arnn, Ph.D.: My great pleasure, Jan. Very good to be with you.
Mr. Jekielek: As it would happen we’ve been planning to do this for a little while. The day before we get to sit down you launched this new initiative, the Academy for Science and Freedom. All of the members are also American Thought Leaders like you’ve become here. Speaking to the show of course. So what brought this about? Give me a sense of why this is important. What’s going on?
Mr. Arnn: Well I have a particular responsibility in my professional life. I’m supposed to operate a college. I’m supposed to make it great, but the first step is to have it operating. For the first time in our 177 years there were disruptions to that.
The pandemic hit in spring break, and most colleges announced there were no more classes. The Ivy League colleges announced no more classes until Christmas. If you understand about a college, that’s a huge cost because college happens for millennia.
College happens for people in late adolescence into early adulthood. There’s the way they are—their curiosity, their energy, their maturity but not quite complete—that is why it happens then. They’re made for it. There’s joy in it. And now they’re all staying home. That’s just a cost.
I thought, I should figure out if we can have college. The first step would be just because the government today recommends everything about every detail of life and their recommendations change all the time. These pandemic recommendations change by the day, literally.
You don’t have to be a brilliant person to say, “Yes. Well, is that reliable?” So I decided to figure out, is it safe for the students? I like to tell the kids, “If you get sick of this and die it’ll be very inconvenient to me.” I thought I don’t want to kill them; we will bear the cost of that along with their families. Will it? Another thing as we thought about this, we thought urgently about this—night and day during spring break is when it happened.
I thought, it’s an interesting thing. We can isolate anybody who wants to be isolated except the students. They live in dormitories together; they feel immortal. Mike Pence, when he was running all the task force said, “Can you keep them distance?” I said, “There’d only be one way. I’d have to persuade them it’s a duty because they’re not going to want to do it.” He said, “Could you persuade them that?” I said, “Yes. If I believed it, I could.” But I didn’t.
I found out from these three guys, and I discovered their writing and that they’re very serious academics. These guys, they’re like the best teacher you ever had. They’re also restrained. They’re very good at not saying more than they know.
They helped us on a weekly basis for months and wouldn’t let me pay them anything. We had college and we were threatened a fair amount by the government. But we have lawyers and we thought we could defend ourselves, and we had a case that they helped us assemble.
Because it’s whatever the law says, whatever the health department says, whatever anybody says—I’m responsible and that responsibility won’t go away. So to do the job you have to accept the responsibility. A peer of mine on a Zoom call said, “We just have to know what the government recommends, and we have to know what other colleges are doing.”
I said, “Yes. I don’t really need to know either of those things.” I said, “The government recommends all kinds of things. But you and I have something in common, this is our responsibility. And we’re not going to flaunt the law, but are these laws really the way they make them? And how do they change them and all that?”
Anyway, we managed to navigate through that and these guys were very helpful to me, and I developed a deep respect for them and friendship with them. You know them, right? You’re bound to like them. They called me three or four months ago and they have this idea. I said, “Okay. You want to start an institution?” They said, “Yes,” and I said, “Well, okay. I know how to do that.” I said, “So I’ll help you do it,” and they said, “We want to do it with you.” So they want me to do it.
These guys are all faculty members. They’re pretty shrewd. So yes, we’re going to do this thing. What it’s about, it’s a very precise thing. Science is a way of knowing. To know a thing proceeds at its own rate, takes time to find out. While, on the other hand, decisions—that’s an exercise of power and that has to be done all the time. It’s just foolish to say that scientists can rule.
Here, Winston Churchill, I study him a lot. He writes a letter to H.G. Wells in 1901. Churchill was 27 years old and he said, “I can’t agree.” H.G. Wells wrote novels about the future and Churchill loved those. He said, “I can’t agree that a future society can be governed by experts.” He said, “Because expert knowledge is necessarily limited knowledge.”
That means if it were true that Anthony Fauci knows everything in the world about infectious diseases—he does know a lot. Because of that he couldn’t know everything in the world about a host of subjects that are relevant to these lockdowns, you see. Because teen suicide, unemployment, bankruptcy, starvation, third world starvation—apparently there’s a huge amount of that because of this stuff, right? And he can’t possibly know everything about that.
Churchill says, “How do you make those decisions?” Well he just gives a description of Aristotle’s description of practical judgment. You consult the experts; you consult everything you know. You can consult the people from whom you get your authority, which in the case of a democratic country is the people. And you make the best practical judgment from day-to-day, because the facts are changing all the time.
So here’s another thing, Churchill sat in rooms with generals in the biggest wars in human history. And those generals, they’re all experts; they never entered the room in agreement. His job was to find an agreement with them, taking into account a bunch of things that are above their pay grade.
The model that the head of one center in the Centers for Disease Control should be the source of truth for something that shuts down large parts of the world economy, only the great wars have done that in the past. That a guy who knows about infection is competent to make a judgment like that. We even think today he’s the only one competent.
Oh, and another thing—because these experts while they’re researching, they always disagree. Right? So they have suppressed that. This Great Barrington Declaration, which our three friends claim is just a recitation of epidemic policies for a hundred years. It’s what has always been done. You can’t stop a highly contagious virus; it’s going to go everywhere. So focus on who’s going to be really hurt by it and protect them. That’s the playbook forever.
Now we’ve tried to protect everybody. They published this Great Barrington Declaration and 50,000 medical professionals signed it; 900,000 total people have signed it. They go on TV and say that there’s a consensus in favor of these lockdowns. Those people, the Great Barrington Declaration was taken off Facebook, right? And look, these guys are at Stanford and Harvard and Oxford. Those are pretty good places.
Mr. Jekielek: The Barrington authors, yes of course.
Mr. Arnn: Yes, those are experts. They’re also people of great common sense. I said earlier the very best scholars also know what they don’t know. And these guys have the humility to have that which goes along with their genius as top scientists.
Mr. Jekielek: So many things I want to jump off with what you just talked about, but let’s start with this. Something I wrote a little while ago became quite popular and it’s this idea that the governance by expert class is a kind of model that we’re experimenting with. And yet we’re seeing the spectacular failure of it in all sorts of realms almost daily.
Somehow, we’ve become conditioned. I think this is actually what you said, to think that this makes sense, that governance by expert class. But Churchill had a very different idea, I didn’t know this. It seems obvious when you say that. But how is it that we suddenly have accepted this idea of rule by experts?
Mr. Arnn: Yes, well, Churchill writes about that. He says that science has taken over the world. We’ve been conscripted into its ranks, put to work according to its principles, cared for in our age, educated by it. No generations of men have ever been handled like this before.
Well we just believe in the ability of science to arrange everything. But remember the word science comes from a Latin word—it means scientia, to know. That’s something different than to do. It’s very hard to know everything. The proper spirit of science is observant and receptive; whereas when we have to act, we have to assert. So we’ve delivered ourselves into the hands of people who have distorted their own art or discipline.
In the ancient world, the great question of “Plato’s Republic” is, how do you get the best rule? Tthe story of the “Republic” can be summarized. It’s of course a very beautiful book and hard to summarize, but the best regime would be the regime of the whys. They’re the ones who could do it.
But then it breaks down—well they don’t want to; they’ve got better things to think about. Oh, we could make them. How would we, who are not that wise, know who they are? So the whole scheme breaks down and then that gives rise to an ancient political philosophy which gets revived in the Federalist Papers especially—with the idea that you have to mix up the powers in a way that gives everybody a chance and provides stability.
So in these totalitarian regimes, the big one is China now, and they’re just like the ancient tyranny except they have the tools of science which are very powerful tools. That word “totalitarian,” that’s a 20th century word. It’s the 20th century word for the old thing, tyranny, which is the worst form of government of all. It’s devastating.
It’s in Book V of Aristotle’s “Politics.” He explains how they sustain themselves, these tyrants. No one is to have high thoughts; no one is to have privacy. People are not to have trust and friendship among one another. Nothing is to be thought of as higher than the rule and the ruler, right? But it’s hard to do that. You’d have to use spies all the time.
He says, “Spies are a big thing for these tyrants.” But now spying is automatic. You can watch everybody all the time. Just read “1984,” it’s all forecast in that, and that’s the thing. If you take a special class of people and invest them with the power to rule, then how do you know they’re people, right? How do you know they won’t do that in their own interest?
That’s why you have to spread the powers around. The reason I like these three scientists, the reason I like your newspaper for that matter is, you don’t think and they don’t think you get to tell everybody in the world what to do.
Mr. Jekielek: It seems so simple, doesn’t it?
Mr. Arnn: Yes, isn’t it? It is simple. In the education system today we’re not to read anything outside this time, and that means we hold in contempt. We wipe out human history. That was all slavery and oppression.
Well in Book I of Aristotle’s “Politics,” he condemns slavery. Isn’t that interesting? And nobody knows that today. He condemns it on just the ground that you condemn it, the same ground Abraham Lincoln condemned it. It’s taking from somebody something that is naturally theirs.
Lincoln’s argument is, “God made each of us with a head, a mouth, and hands. The implication being that the head should guide the hands in the feeding of the mouth.” That’s just simple.
Because Thomas Jefferson’s way of describing it was—and he was a great condemner of slavery—beautiful, eloquent condemner of slavery. He took huge steps against it in his lifetime. He’s the single most important reason there’s never been slavery in what’s the Old Northwest Territory where I happen to live—Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois.
What was his argument? “Some men are not born with saddles on their backs nor others booted and spurred to ride them.” Men are not horses, and they shouldn’t be governed the same way that horses are governed. This rooting in the nature of the case, that’s the thrust of ancient political thought. Modern political thought is, in its diseased and latest toxic versions, its idea is to remake humanity and its societies. If you doubt that, read Karl Marx and George Orwell.
At the end of “1984” toward the end, there’s a philosophic seminar set in the atmosphere that would be typical of totalitarian regimes. The interlocutors are O’Brien of the Inner Party and the protagonist Winston Smith named after Winston Churchill by George Orwell. Winston is undergoing torture while he engages in the seminar.
What he wants him to make him think is that two and two can make five and also four and also three. The answer to two and two is whatever the Party says. And see, that’s a repealing of the law of contradiction. All human reasoning is built on that law. That’s a cup and that means it’s not an elephant and it can’t be both. They’re different things.
If you repeal that, then reality is shattered. What was Winston Smith’s job in “1984?” His job was to rewrite every text all the time, every encyclopedia article, every news account, every book—to make it say what the Party says today. He’s changing history. And that’s just destruction of reality.
Aristotle writes in “Politics,” “This alone is denied even to God to make what has been not to have been.” This word for discovery, science—one of the most beautiful words—and remember I said it’s receptive; it’s a hearing. Aristotle says, “The virtuous soul can open itself to the things outside it.”
That means the virtuous soul is not a victim of its accidental features—its color, circumstances, whatever, right? “If the soul is able to do what it seems to be able to do,” this how Aristotle argues, “then it has to be only what it thinks.” That means that we have these bodies—they demand things of us. They get in our way; we have to control that. We can’t banish it. We have to build a good soul so that we are able to attend to the things around us.
That’s in the education business: it’s just crucial. You have to learn to listen and think, and that’s not the same thing as learning to do. It can inform doing and it will ultimately, but it’s not the same thing. Indeed, the ultimate aim of doing of all action in the classic authors is to protect the ability of the human being to think. That’s the claim in Book X of Aristotle’s “Ethics” and that’s the claim of the “Declaration of Independence.”
Mr. Jekielek: Now I keep thinking about science, the thing it never is is absolutist.
Mr. Arnn: Especially modern science which is—it’s a great discovery and that is a systematic process of trial and error that’s transparent so anybody can participate in it. But that’s the way to accumulate knowledge and that is very powerful. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s a new way of knowing and a great way of knowing.
The truth is, though, it never reaches an ultimate solution. So it’s just foolish to think that the process would come to a stop. But what does that mean? That means for action, for government and for force—that means it should protect that process, but it has to be independent of it.
That’s why Aristotle divides the soul into two main parts; the human being into two main parts—the body and the soul. The rational soul has two sub-parts and they’re distinguished by what you’re thinking about. If you’re thinking, “what is the nature of light?” You’re thinking about something that probably never changes. That means once you know it, you know it.
Whereas if you’re thinking what am I going to do today? Think of any hard choice—am I going to give up my vacation? Or am I going to do a service? There’s no abstract rule about which of those is right; it depends on the circumstances.
If you’re at the point of exhaustion where you’re not going to be able to work effectively anymore, you better take a break. But if you’re not at that point and some great thing is available to be done, maybe you better do that. You can’t write a rule about that. That is in the province of what Churchill calls, not Churchill. I confused Churchill and Aristotle and for good reason—that’s practical judgment.
Remember everybody has to have it because everybody has to make choices every day. Most of our mental weather is figuring out what to do in light of everything we know and hope for. And reconciling the contradictions in them and adjusting constantly because the circumstances are always changing. That’s what it is to live a human life; if you hedge that about with a welter of rules.
Our college doesn’t take any money from the government. We love the government in its own form and fancy. We know as much about [it] as anybody alive. But this modern thing, if you let the federal government pay for your student aid, the pages of rules are 500 plus—changing all the time, and I have been told by several lawyers I could never understand them.
We don’t abide by them, we don’t take the money. But I was curious. I said, “Send me the rules.” He said, “Oh, you can’t read them.” He’s a lawyer and I like to say, “He’s a lawyer and I’m an educated man.” Said that, “You know I’m pretty smart. I bet I could read them.” He said, “No, I can’t read them. We have specialists who read them.” Now that’s a different way of governing; it’s a different kind of thing.
There are forms of government. The old form in America—that’s, in my opinion, the most glorious form. And the point is whether you like this or not, you have to be able to recognize it’s a different kind of thing. It’s a kind of thing where we can’t participate in it in the same way because nobody can know all the rules. Only experts can know the rules.
Madison writes, “If the laws be so voluminous and changeable,” that’s a paraphrase. It’s in the Federalist 73 I think, “voluminous and changeable that people can’t understand them, then it doesn’t matter how they’re made. They’re not really laws.” You see. Now think about the pandemic.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s absolutely fascinating. Gets us back to this question, how did we end up assuming that the experts get to rule? When I look at what happened since February, March of 2020, a lot of us clearly have assumed that that’s the case.
Mr. Arnn: Yes. First of all, there has to be something powerfully attractive about it. It’s not some plot that nobody believed in. Science can do so much. You’re here, I’m here. We don’t live in the same place; we had to get here.
We’ve got some equipment around us. You had to bring it and it has to be carriable. That wasn’t true 30 years ago. So science does wonderful things. Its claim has come to be more and more that it can do everything, but then what will there be left for us to do?
Mr. Jekielek: And there’s this huge irony. It’s almost like you have to create an academy to actually explain to people what science is now, right?
Mr. Arnn: Yes, and it shouldn’t be. Do a thought experiment. Imagine the American government in 1900. It’s 6 or 8 percent of the gross domestic product. That 6 or 8 percent is distributed in a pyramid and the wide big bit at the bottom where most of it is, is in counties and towns. Then the second thinner bit is states, and the federal government is a little bit up at the top.
Well now the government is 52 or 3 or 4 percent of the gross domestic product, and there’s a system of centralized control up and down the line that makes it extensively uniform. Now that’s a different kind of thing. Turns the whole thing upside down and then makes it much bigger. Why did that happen? And there are arguments about that. That’s a story that can be known.
We have a Constitution Reader and it is pretty fat. It’s really great. And it starts with the form of the American government and its purposes and the reasons behind them. It goes through the slavery crisis and then it goes into the Progressive Era. American history can be divided into three parts.
In the Progressive Era in the 19th century, these ideas came into America from Germany. I think they probably came into China from Germany through us, right? But I’m not sure about that. I do know that Karl Marx was a German and these guys called themselves Marxist. That was all hope.
Woodrow Wilson, John Dewey and Frank Goodnow and people like that—those are the leaders; the most wonderful hopes for the future. We can rationalize society; we can make everything orderly. Everybody can have an opportunity.
They started gathering power into a permanent class of experts now known as the bureaucracy or the administrative state, and that has become a force of its own now. Huge political contributions come out of that and from what we call the regulated community. That means that there are people who are … they have an interest. Some of these people are actually right.
You can read all this in our Constitution Reader, every Hilltop kid reads it. And you get to read its charms and evaluate its weight and arguments. Because this is all just stuff I’m saying, you can read it yourself. They believed that if you took a large group of trained people and gave them a guaranteed position and a salary, that they would not have any personal interest than to serve.
I mean, they write that and just about those words in many places. Come to find out, those people are still human. The old laws can’t really be repealed. We don’t get to have heaven here on earth. And even if we could, we couldn’t make it ourselves.
Mr. Jekielek: You mentioned a little earlier about how there’s this project to engineer society, engineer people from the ground up. This is where we and the experts believe they can do that. Reality, I think you alluded to this earlier too, takes the backseat. But there’s also this social constructivist ideology that actually, reality is whatever it is that we say it is. Or we believe it is. But there is an element of truth to this, right? Hence our acceptance of a whole lot of rules and dictates over the last couple of years.
Mr. Arnn: Force can do a lot. Tyranny can be devastating to people. What it can’t do is make them happy. That means that there’s always tension in it. China is richer than it’s ever been today. There’s an argument that it’s become the most powerful country in the world. Are the people happy there? I know some people in Hong Kong and Taiwan who are very unhappy—Hong Kong because they’ve been taken over; Taiwan because they fear.
Mr. Jekielek: The same, yes.
Mr. Arnn: That’s right. That’s not good. But there must be, I mean there is. In mainland China, in the regime itself, people surely don’t like to be scored and rated; their compliance measured constantly. And that’s possible now, in America too. Because if you just go back to the nature of the case, human beings are mortal beings but there’s something immortal about them. It’s apparent from birth.
The most important being alive today is my first grandchild who’s just turned one year old. There’s another one coming too. I’m happy to report to the world that we’re beginning to produce, my family. Just watch her grow up. She knows early that she’s the same kind of thing we are and she should emulate us. And she’s making choices about that.
We’ve always had Boxer dogs; we have a puppy right now. They’re wonderful; but they are what they are. They’re governed entirely by their nature. The spark of freedom is not in them. Charlotte is the name of my granddaughter, and she knows what kind of things are already and she’s learning to talk. No other creature has ever done that. Every human child does it and they teach themselves. That’s magic. That’s a mystery. That’s a beautiful thing about us.
Yes, we have our limits. But the trouble with tyranny is it takes that specific thing—the best in us, and interferes with it. Whereas better to let it flourish and then we can be happy. These people in Virginia who don’t like their kids taught the stuff they’re being taught, and they don’t like the threats that the kids will be taken away if they object.
I mean they challenge the custody of parents over children, and they don’t like the FBI looking into them. Well that seems to me natural; that, of course they don’t because having children is the most impractical thing somebody can do.
Takes forever to raise them. They’re nothing but trouble, and yet if you don’t do it you’ve missed something essentially human and you know it every day. That means that in the family, the community and in work, everybody gets a chance to be a king or a queen. That’s a promise of America.
See, you can have a domain. In the pandemic I was very touched by it. I was cross about it too because they were interfering with our work with our students. And for the most part we were able to stop them doing that. But next time maybe not.
There’s a diner in Jonesville. Hillsdale is a little town and the diner is the greatest diner in the world: it’s Spangler’s. And that guy—that’s a 50-year-old business. His father started it; his mother still works in it. He’s buying it from his mother so that when she dies, the children can all have an equal piece of it.
The whole family: three generations he’s got a kid working in it. They depend on the diner. They were shut down the first time and they almost didn’t survive it. And they could see how long they could last in a shutdown.
The second time he refused to do it. He saw it. We became the legal aid society for local businesses; and he is just lovely. I mean, I just love that guy. He’s an unassuming guy but he just says, “Just like the people in Loudoun County, these are our children.” He said, “This is my life’s work and we have lived a good life serving people. Literally what you do in a restaurant. And why should this be disrupted?”
Mr. Jekielek: This is so fascinating, what you’re saying, because it just struck me recently. I’ve been thinking about what it takes to activate a society against convincingly, arguably irrational policy? So it’s the children. Loudoun County is a great example. In Virginia where children are being taught things that parents are really willing to—what normally weren’t—we’re just unassuming, uninterested in politics.
Or they’re suddenly active, “Hey, wait a sec. Okay. Now you’ve gone too far.” Similarly with vaccine mandates for children. For example, with the proposal of vaccinating children. Okay, wait a sec. It seems to me like these are the questions, ultimately, that are waking up the sleeping giant, so to speak.
Mr. Arnn: You and I are having the same thoughts. The college has a publication called “Imprimis” and it goes to about 6 million people. I’ve written the next one soon to be published. It makes that argument that when you interfere with the nature of things, those things rebel. I use as an example, Loudoun County and Mitch Spangler and his diner.
What does it take to wake people up? Well just think what critical race theory is; it’s a simple thing. They’re saying that accidental features of you—an accidental feature of a thing is just something that doesn’t define it—it just happens to have it. Accidental features of, especially, your race and your sex; but also other circumstances of yours are defining of you.
Now, no parent tells the child that. What you tell the child is you should become a good human being and then you can do anything a human being can do. There’s no limits except the human limits, right? So they’re taking these children and they’re introducing them to the limits they face. They’re taking away from them, specifically, their humanity. And no parent wants that to happen.
I have a child; she’s a Ph.D. now. When she was a little girl, if you told her no, she would lie on the bed on her back and kick her feet and cry. I’d stick my head in there and say, “What’s wrong with you?” And she’d say, “Why don’t you let me be happy?” And I’d say, “You’re too young to be happy. You have to learn to be good.”
She wrote her doctoral thesis on that, on Aristotle. She’s one of the world’s leading experts on that point now. And it is deeply true. Children are naturally happy, but also they have to learn to be good. If they learn that, then anything human is possible to them. And that’s what parents want.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s very interesting too. I’ve been learning recently more and more about Hillsdale’s initiatives in this realm of K-12 education, the younger generation. I guess with Charlotte in mind, as it certainly must be the case. What is it that motivated this kind of interest in the K-12 education for Hillsdale? Why is that something that you jumped into? It seems to be accelerating from what I’ve been seeing.
Mr. Arnn: The first line of Aristotle’s “Metaphysics” is, “The human being stretches himself out to know.” The book “The Metaphysics,” after physics; the things that come beyond the physical world—the last book is about God. It sorts of builds to God, but the first thing it starts with is us.
We want to know and we can know, you see. So everybody at some point in his life falls in love with learning. Something strikes you and all of a sudden, you’re in a different place. And all you have to do is know it, see it. Well, we all want that and if you really want that, then the next thing you know, you’re working in schools. I almost went to a fancy law school. I was forced to read Plato’s “Republic” and I fell in love.
I can describe to you the scene in Book I of Plato’s “Republic,” they made me do that. I didn’t even want to take the course; I was forced to. So that’s why education. Also, we’re harder to raise than other creatures. It takes a long time because there’s a lot more to get done. Our bodies and our souls, our thoughts, and our physical beings—they have to be educated. And it takes a long time.
There’s a first-grade teacher in Leander, Texas outside of Austin. Sorry, she’s a kindergarten teacher, and she’s maybe the best teacher in America. I won’t say her name here, but I’ve been to her class many times. She’s in one of the charter schools we sponsor. If you go in there it’s just riveting. I’ve turned her into a tourist attraction.
If you go in there on a given day there’ll probably be three or four people sitting there. They want to see the show. Well, these little wigglers, they want to know. And she knows how to dispose them, make them realize that. They learn fast, and they learn amazing things right away. Well, so that’s why education.
And if you can see that it’s joyful, because it is. One of the reasons we take the joy out of it today, because it’s mostly gone today in most places, is that we forget that this is a fulfillment and exercise of our nature and it’s not an engineering project. I like to say, we’ve got to stop thinking that education is making something. It’s not.
You’re helping something grow, and things that grow have the principle and energy of growth inside themselves. You don’t do it for them. If you do it badly, you can only stunt them because you’re trying to make them grow in a different direction from what they are. Because we’ve turned our sights on nature itself and attempted to overpower it. That’s why we’re distorting children today and that’s cruel.
Mr. Jekielek: I’ve been wanting to ask you what is it that really drives you? What really motivates you. But I feel like this whole conversation has been letting me know this.
Mr. Arnn: Yes. Like any serious person—like you, I fell in love and I’ve just not fallen out. I love my wife, fell in love with her, but she is a form of all the things I love. If you love those things, especially, you get to have a wonderful experience.
Hillsdale College is very difficult to get into these days, and we regret that, and take sinful pride in it probably. But these kids are smart enough to go anywhere they want to go and they come to us. And they have to take half the time; the courses are the same for everybody.
If you say, “I don’t like science,” we say, “Shame on you. Now take it.” Everything is like that. That means that it’s a common conversation among people who are delighted to be where they are.
One thing I never had any doubt about, I know Vice President Pence and I talked to his task force two or three times. He said, “Are the kids afraid of the pandemic?” and I said, “No.” He said, “Why not?” and I said, “Well, there are two reasons. One is they’re young; they feel immortal. But the other is that they can read.” He said, “What a crazy thing to do to take four years off in your life and earn nothing.”
It costs a fortune, by the way—for us, for the people. Hillsdale College is cheap for the student, but people all over the country help and they don’t charge them much. It just takes all their time. They have to learn to do something.
They’re young and beautiful and strong, and they’re made for the joys of spring. They have to learn to sit in a room and concentrate on difficult things for hours at a time. That’s an amazing form of self-mastery. If you get it, and the best of them, they all get it—but some of them get it to the point where they really don’t want to do anything else.
They play sports and they have dances and they do all that stuff too, but you can … My favorite sport is eating in the dining hall with the students. They’re all in there and you just walk in and sit down with them. I’m the old guy who sits with the students. And they put cartoons in the paper about it. I always twist whatever they say around to the question of the good.
It’s just in the minute, and they’re young and we’re all familiar with each other. So when I sit down, it’s a big deal when I sit down. But they soon forget who I am and we get to talking. Then they’ll say they like something as an example. I’ll say, “Why do you like it?” You never have to ask more than two or three questions until they’ll say in some form or another, “This is a good thing.”
Then you say, “Oh. What is it for a thing to be good?” They’ve all memorized Aristotle’s definition of that because they know that’s what I think and teach, and then I disagree with it. Now we’re really having to talk. You see? And everybody sits up straighter and the time flies and they’re very dutiful.
They don’t want to be late for class. So they’ll start looking at their watches and that’s how I know what time it is. But if they don’t have class, they’ll sit there for three hours and I will too. So yes. Why college? Why not?
Jan Jekielek: Well Dr. Larry Arnn it’s such a pleasure to have you on the show.
Mr. Arnn: I’m an admirer of you and your enterprise. Thank you.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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