Universities are no place to think. Here's another idea.

Can a new age of patronage restore the life of the mind?

(Image credit: Illustrated | iStock)

Until a fairly recent stage of Western history, there were two basic career paths for people who hoped to earn a living from ideas. One option was to join the church, whose schools, universities, monasteries, and pulpits provided learned men with training, salaries, and a forum for dispute. The other was to find a rich person to support you while you wrote your books, probably in exchange for service as an administrative assistant or private tutor.

Both tracks were broken up during the 19th century. Religious institutions were secularized or supplanted by rivals that lacked their commitment to a theological creed. And the slow but steady rise of political and economic equality eroded traditions of patronage, as aristocrats lost the wealth and authority they needed to sustain vast households of dependents. Some intellectuals won support from the state, which assumed responsibility for formal education. Others found that new communications technologies allowed them to earn a living as journalists while pursuing more serious interests on the side.

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Samuel Goldman

Samuel Goldman is a national correspondent at TheWeek.com. He is also an associate professor of political science at George Washington University, where he is executive director of the John L. Loeb, Jr. Institute for Religious Freedom and director of the Politics & Values Program. He received his Ph.D. from Harvard and was a postdoctoral fellow in Religion, Ethics, & Politics at Princeton University. His books include God's Country: Christian Zionism in America (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018) and After Nationalism (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2021). In addition to academic research, Goldman's writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications.