Great Books and Big Lies (“Theirs” and “Ours”)


In contrast to Plato’s ideal polity ruled by a “philosopher-king”, an ideal democracy must be ruled by “philosopher-citizens”, each of whom pursues wisdom through independent, critical thinking. One of the central ongoing tasks of such free thinking is the recognition, analysis, and rebuttal of the assorted “big lies” (i.e., propaganda) perpetually perpetrated by foe and friend alike. Lifelong liberal education grounded in the great books can help us do this. As the preface to an old University of Chicago reader once put it: “If citizens are to be free, they must be their own judges. If they are to judge well, they must be wise. Citizens may be born free; they are not born wise. Therefore, the business of liberal education in a democracy is to make free men wise.”