The former dean of Yale Law School takes higher education to task for its concern with equality, which he sees as distracting from the mission of universities to cultivate an elite sensibility among their students—a concern he believes threatens American democracy.
Kronman wants his readers to believe that his own fears about his favorite, very exclusive university are really decisive for the future of the country as a whole ... Kronman goes on to assert that this education helps students become members of a natural aristocracy, developing a 'superior character' that should result in such people being 'elevated to positions of leadership with sufficient frequency for the regime to survive.' Kronman doesn’t say anything about how these superior beings would rule, but he does say they are more human and more real. He fails to give a single argument for his view of what real humans are or even a robust description of what superior character is. He just cherry-picks the canon to support the notion that his preferred mode of philosophic conversation does indeed raise one above everybody else. Socratic humility and irony disappear in the author’s commitment to his own taste ... Kronman paints a paranoid picture of campus life, and I am unpersuaded by the recycled anecdotes meant to show that a tide of levelers rejects the very notion of recognizing great achievement.
The Assault on American Excellence may well be the most full-throated attack on the academic embrace of diversity produced by a prominent, if former, senior university official in the entire half-century history of affirmative action in higher education ... in his frequent invocations of aristocracy, Kronman can sound as if he is an English earl who was raised on an ancestral estate ... He is deeply drawn...to focusing on diversity as the serpent in the garden, the major corrupter of his rococo educational vision. To do that is to blame it for something it didn’t cause; conversely, removing it would not produce the kind of university Kronman wants. His book ought to draw attention not so much to the continuing controversies around diversity as to the larger idea in which his attack on diversity is embedded. Do we really want our universities to become undemocratic institutions, ruled by a class that thinks of itself as being existentially superior to the rest of us?
In his new book about universities, former Yale Law School Dean Anthony Kronman rounds up the usual suspects for an unusual reason ... But he foregoes the usual next move of extolling the free exchange of ideas. A university, he knows, isn’t a speaker’s corner in a public park ... The Assault on American Excellence deserves many readers. But even fans will wonder, if the forces against which Kronman contends are both stronger and more deeply rooted than they were in 2007, how his arguments can prevail.