Terry Eagleton has recently spoken on the idea of the ‘New University’ at Occupy Coleraine in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Ulster. Eagleton argues for a new concept of the university, which will reinstate the importance of critical thinking and a humanistic education.
Traditionally, he argues, universities have been taken to cultivate and guard certain values, as ‘places of enquiry, free exploration, dispute, dialectic, investigation and above all critique’. However, that ‘long and honourable tradition’ of the university ‘is now almost dead at its feet’. He argues that we must set about the work of re-creating a space for the exploration of these values, as the space made for enquiry and critique is constantly being diminished in our society.
Eagleton criticizes what the university has become in contemporary society, arguing that ‘the production of knowledge’ has been fully incorporated into ‘the institutions of corporate capitalism’. These institutions have become incapable of valorizing ‘self-realisation’ or ‘self-development’ and education no longer serves a function of ‘critical dialogue’ but consists merely of the ‘production of mind factories which sell commodified bits of knowledge’ in the current ‘education system which is almost a complete technocracy’.
His idea for a “New University” is based on what he sees in occupations such as Occupy Coleraine. What the occupiers represent, he argues, is ‘the real university … the true idea of the university’. At the end of his talk, he extends his solidarity and tells the occupiers,
You are here to defend this space as symbolic of the very idea of education ... you are here to teach the philistines who run these institutions a vital lesson.
Terry Eagleton defends Marx's legacy in the Chronicle of Higher Education, answering many of the usual tropes and explaining why the financial crises have prompted a resurgence of interest in the questions raised by Marx's thought:
The truth is that Marx was no more responsible for the monstrous oppression of the communist world than Jesus was responsible for the Inquisition. For one thing, Marx would have scorned the idea that socialism could take root in desperately impoverished, chronically backward societies like Russia and China. If it did, then the result would simply be what he called "generalized scarcity," by which he means that everyone would now be deprived, not just the poor. It would mean a recycling of "the old filthy business"—or, in less tasteful translation, "the same old crap." Marxism is a theory of how well-heeled capitalist nations might use their immense resources to achieve justice and prosperity for their people. It is not a program by which nations bereft of material resources, a flourishing civic culture, a democratic heritage, a well-evolved technology, enlightened liberal traditions, and a skilled, educated work force might catapult themselves into the modern age ...
There is a sense in which the whole of Marx's writing boils down to several embarrassing questions: Why is it that the capitalist West has accumulated more resources than human history has ever witnessed, yet appears powerless to overcome poverty, starvation, exploitation, and inequality? What are the mechanisms by which affluence for a minority seems to breed hardship and indignity for the many? Why does private wealth seem to go hand in hand with public squalor? Is it, as the good-hearted liberal reformist suggests, that we have simply not got around to mopping up these pockets of human misery, but shall do so in the fullness of time? Or is it more plausible to maintain that there is something in the nature of capitalism itself which generates deprivation and inequality, as surely as Charlie Sheen generates gossip? ...