(December 13, 2001, Gazette)

A challenge explicit and implicit

Dear Editor,
Dr. Lloyd Axworthy was an excellent choice to be the inaugural speaker in the John Kenneth Galbraith Lectureship in Public Policy (St. John’s campus, Nov. 19). His training and experience (particularly his recent visit to Afghanistan) equipped him well to speak, both from within the academy and from the outside, on his topic, The Human Security Agenda: Prescriptions for Canada in an Age of Globalization.

It is not my intention here to comment on the content of Dr. Axworthy’s address directly. I could only give my strong approval to his words, delivered with a clarity and conviction that kept his listeners very much alert. His explicit challenge to Canadians was to enable the creation of community in a troubled and broken global village.

The point I would have raised had there been more time, and now take this opportunity to express, is his implicit challenge to the academy and academe. It was that the study of the humanities be taken very seriously. This is not to be critical of the work of other university faculties. But in Dr. Axworthy’s address, and in the public response, it was clear to me that there were deeper questions than those of means and technique coming to the surface. For example: Why should Canada be concerned about the common good in a global village? What principles are employed to define the common good? What is the true nature of community? Why should females and males be treated equally? Is the search for answers to these, and similar questions, rooted simply in cultural whims, self preservation, self aggrandizement? Or have the answers to do with the meaning and purpose of life, and the intrinsic equality of all human beings? I, of course, support the latter approach.

It is my opinion that unless his implicit challenge becomes a central focus of education, the approach to global issues will continue to exhibit a pragmatism, often not more than a band aid or quick-fix solution. The academy, therefore, must give greater emphasis to the equipping of young (and old) minds not only with the skills to earn a living – important as these are – but also the art of living itself. History is exhibit A of the human failure to know how to live, to seek the common good, honesty, truth and beauty. These ideals have to be taught; they are not, at least in our time, acquired by some process of natural absorption.

In conclusion, let me reiterate that my purpose is not to denigrate the important work of other branches of learning, or to suggest that these ultimate questions are not raised outside of a study of the humanities. I know better! My point is that there is a need to be more deliberate in dealing with them. Such an approach can only help those who follow us to seek solutions to the world’s problems based on principles and ideals that will create the genuine community to which Dr. Axworthy referred, in the global village. Our failure to respond will only speed up the realization of an Orwellian 1984.

Frank Cluett
Retired Provost of Queen’s College