Continuing Your Classical Liberal Education: Practical Benefits
So, you have gotten that position you’ve been working toward. You are now safely ensconced in a think tank, policy analysis firm or public policy research organization. Surely now school is behind you and you can do what most graduates do when they finally complete and get a post : put their books to one side and draw a line under their education? Not at all. This would be a mistake in a number of ways, as well as being bad in itself. You should now be thinking of how to continue your education in classical liberal ideas and arguments and look upon it as a long-term project that you carry on alongside your regular job. Fortunately, it has never been easier to do this, and it’s a lot of fun, as well as helps you in your new career in policy.
Why though should you do this? Obviously, one basic reason is that learning and knowledge are good in and of themselves. However, there are lots of practical reasons why you should not stop your education once you graduate. In the first place, there is still so much to learn, much of it directly relevant to the work you are now doing. In the whole of your time as an undergraduate and at graduate school, you will have only touched on part of the rich and varied continent of classical liberal ideas. Suppose you have specialized in economics. There will still be many aspects of economic thinking that you hardly know even after that. There will be even more opportunity to learn new things in other areas, such as political science, international relations, philosophy, and history. All of this is a source of arguments, information, and explanatory analysis that you can bring to bear in your career in public policy. Why let it lie fallow and unexplored?
Moreover, the sum of classical liberal knowledge and argument (or indeed intellectual and scholarly argument in general) is not fixed and unchanging. Scholars are constantly producing new theses and undermining old ones, discovering new things and looking at established and known facts in a new way. You need to keep up with these developments, both because they are interesting in themselves and because they will often have a direct bearing on the kind of more practical policy-oriented research that you are now doing. If you are looking at criminal justice policy for example, new findings in sociology or psychology will have direct relevance for you; they may lead you to rethink your line of argument or the kind of policy recommendations that you make.
In addition to these practical benefits of continuing your education, there are more fundamental reasons for doing this and making it a life project. These have to do with the kind of person that you want to be or become. If you stop learning and exploring the ideas you believe in and are committed to, you will eventually forget why you got into this business in the first place. You will become concerned only with the process of politics and public policy and lose sight of the goal, the ideal you had that shaped your choices and that you went into the policy world to help realize or defend. You will become a technician and stop being an idealist. One result is that your mental horizons will shrink, you will lose the vision you once had, which helped you to think in original ways. Increasingly, you won’t ask fundamental questions. Instead, you will only look at the practical mechanics of policy and lose sight of the deeper questions.
Dr. Stephen Davies is the Education Director at the Institute of Economic Affairs in London. This post is an excerpt from Dr. Davies’ chapter in the IHS Policy Career Guide. The next excerpt from this chapter will discuss various steps young professionals can take to pursue a lifetime of learning.
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