In the opening of his Toward the Perpetual Peace: A Philosophical Sketch (1795), Kant begins by openly acknowledging the fact that, from the perspective of the Statesman and the “practical politicians,” the idea of peace was only a “sweet dream fit only for the academy,” and the contemporary philosopher was likened to a child playing with draughts beneath the conference tables of state power. More recently, the idea of the Humanities has suffered the same pejorative description (i.e., as “a luxury only fit for the elite institutions in the wealthiest sectors of the global economy”) under a neo-Liberal view of “tertiary education,” which has been drafted in the boardrooms of financial capitalists and in the private conference rooms of the World Bank. Nevertheless, we might pause for a moment to consider the historical fate of these academic “ideas,” as well as the future of “the idea of the University,” which is currently undergoing radical and sweeping revision, that is to say, as an idea and as an institution that, in some form, and in the period of less than two-hundred years, now belongs to all of “Humanity.”
This lecture was given at the Idea of University and the Future of Knowledge conference, which investigates the relation between the university as the location of academic and scientific excellence and its civic environment, i.e. its social, cultural and political contexts.