This article summarizes four archetypal responses—the reactionary, conservative, pragmatist, and presentist—to the real or perceived threat to liberal learning in higher education. I advocate a balance between the conservative and the pragmatist responses. A conservative pragmatist response resists the canonical rigidity of the reactionary; responds to the ever-evolving social demands and practices that help frame the perennial questions of liberal learning, but values the poetry of conversation and the disengagement demanded by such a conversation, even if social problems initiate the reflective inquiry. The conservative pragmatist response highlights the perennial and the evolutionary, the universal and the particular, and the end in itself and the instrumental in liberal arts education.

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