The Assault on American Excellence

Anthony Kronman, Sterling Professor of Law (Free Press)
Cover of the book titled "The Assault on American Excellence."

Anthony Kronman, Sterling Professor of Law

(Free Press)

In his tenure at Yale, Anthony Kronman has watched students march across campus to protest the names of buildings and seen colleagues resign over emails about Halloween costumes. He is no stranger to recent confrontations at American universities. But where many see only the suppression of free speech, the babying of students, and the drive to bury the imperfect parts of our history, Kronman believes these on-campus clashes represent a threat to our democracy.

Kronman argues in “The Assault on American Excellence” that the founders of the nation learned over three centuries ago that in order for the country to have a robust democratic government, its citizens have to be trained to have tough skins, to make up their own minds, and to win arguments not on the basis of emotion but because their side is closer to the truth. In other words, to prepare people to choose good leaders, you need to turn them into smart fighters, people who can take hits, and think clearly so they’re not manipulated by demagogues.

Kronman is the first to tie today’s campus debates back to the history of American values, drawing on individuals like Alexis de Tocqueville and John Adams to show how these modern controversies threaten the best of our intellectual traditions. “The Assault on American Excellence” makes the argument that to graduate as good citizens, college students have to be tested in a system that isn’t wholly focused on being good to them.

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