American Versus European Universities

Thinking now depends upon thinking yesterday, and the institutions and traditions it established then and how. Thus, to understand the different philosophies of education in Europe and the USA, one has to unveil history.

History determines initial conditions. From them, through systems of differential equations, flow the evolution of sociological reality.

The public educational system in Europe is at least 19 centuries old. The Roman empire used it. Poor students received room and board from the state under Trajan: the alimenti.

The public education system per se did not survive the corruption of the Roman empire by terminal plutocratization. Yet, its spirit was transferred to most Christian monasteries. However, simultaneously, Catholic Fundamentalism destroyed Romanitas, and even knowledge (quite a bit as Muslim Fundamentalists in the Middle East now).

Europe-Wide Famous Philosopher & Singer Abelard Taught At Notre-Dame Predecessor

Europe-Wide Famous Philosopher & Singer Abelard Taught At Notre-Dame Predecessor

By the Sixth Century, the successor state of Rome, the Imperium Francorum, started a systematic counter-attack against Catholicism. The Franks promoted secular education, brushing off the (lethal) threats of the (impotent) Pope (Gregory The Great).

By the Eight Century, the Carolingians made secular education of the public a mandate for all religious establishment, including churches, monasteries, cathedrals.

All over Europe. Including England after 1066. This is why professors were cleric.

This is also why European universities have no police, to this day (they were within cathedral grounds, initially).

However, by the Twelfth Century, the faculty of art allowed some teachers to NOT be theologians (and marry without controversy; Buridan was an example of a non-cleric professor).

The power of universities was enormous then. Abelard used his pulpit at the Paris Cathedral School to oppose the Second Crusade and Saint Bernard. (Abelard’s arguments lost, short term, but won, within 2 centuries.)

When the University of Paris got its entire body out, it extended from one end of the capital to the other. A year long strike in 1200 CE forced the papacy to authorize the teaching of Aristotle.

By 1300 CE, supported by his English vassal, the king of France, crushed the Pope and his army, the Templars. Philippe IV Le Bel’s aides were commoners, highly educated youth without fortune or honorable pedigree who thought the church ought to pay taxes.

Clearly education has been associated to progress and revolution in Europe, for 15 centuries. This has long increased its sacred aura, and its divine mission of global study.



American universities have a very different origin. They were mainly founded by powerful men.

Stanford, for example, was founded by the charming plutocrat, governor, and senator, with the eponymous name. Stanford used Chinese workers (who had few rights), to build railways…. While campaigning against the Chinese race.

Same story all over: in 1876 the trustees of the estate of Johns Hopkins, a banker and railroad magnate, had founded the university named that way, and the model spread all over: wealthy people create a wealthy university and they and their descendants, and friends control it (if it sounds like the banking system, it’s no coincidence).

Sometimes there are disagreements: the founding president of Stanford disagreed with Ms. Stanford, who headed the board of the university. Nothing that some strychnine could not solve: as she died, Ms. Stanford declared that: “… to be poisoned by strychnine is a horrible death…” Her jaws were already locked. Stanford University wisely buried the story.

Thus American universities had always a “conservative” (namely pro-plutocratic) bias. They were created by power, by huge financial power. They are not an independent power, just a dog on leash, trained to bark after all true intellectual tendencies.

The European University system was already a power, nine centuries ago, at the time of the “Cathedral Schools”. And its power was not, never, about money, or the police, quite the opposite. It was about the absolute, religious respect of study.

In “Excellence V Equity”, The Economist opines that: “The American model of higher education is spreading. It is good at producing excellence, but needs to get better at providing access to decent education at a reasonable cost.”

The same article vastly exaggerates the profits the American Universities brought. For example, it attributes the discovery of the jet engines to American higher learning. In truth, it’s the Germans, distantly followed by the British, who developed jet engines. Americans captured German jets and scientists. Even years later, remaining Nazi jets outperformed the American copies.



When one looks at history on the largest scale, one has to recognize the USA has been the world’s mightiest power for at least 150 years. On paper, the European colonial powers (Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal) because of their empires, looked more powerful. But that was just fluff, paper power. European empire depended upon fragile global mindsets… Which did not resist the concentrated punch of the American nation.

Mightiest economic power, that is.

However, not so intellectually. During those 150 years, the USA has remained a cultural dwarf. Probably the greatest American intellectuals were/are Nobel Laureate physicists, say Feynman or Weinberg. (And they are not of the order of the main discoverers of Relativity, say Lorentz and Poincare’ with their local time theory.

In sociology, philosophies, and more generally humanities, American universities produce, at best, parrots.

Even in science, tracking not publications, but fundamental breakthroughs, the USA come short. So far we are waiting for the first American thinker that will inflect history (as many European thinkers have).

However tremendous propaganda hides this. The best example is the transistor. Truly a Franco-German invention (in a French company employing also German scientists), it was attributed to Americans, who got the Nobel, for declaring they had invented the device, days before the French company started mass production.

So are American universities excellent? For the established order, yes. For civilization?

Only if the collapse into plutocracy is stopped. As it is, the principal notion American universities foster is money (and thus plutocracy). It does not matter how much lipstick one puts on that quadruped.

The first notion the universe teaches us is precisely the obverse. The universe teaches us that money, power on other people, does not matter. At all. On this intuition was founded the European University system, and it is exactly the notion which eludes the USA.

So the last thing the planet needs is to copy the American University model. It would pervert, it does pervert, the heart of the soul of mind.

Instead, it is the public, free European University, still found in leading European countries, which depicts the future we want. Or that we actually need, since a plutocratic future will soon crash.

Patrice Ayme’


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One Response to “American Versus European Universities”

  1. Laurent Coq Says:

    Coming out of a university is certainly a great achievement, no matter what country, let alone the long studious path that drives to such.
    Unless ultra technical, students grade do not really matter for what’s matter is how much students have become Men (or Female) how much maturity have they gained, will they be up to the task, will they bring a real difference, are they trustworthy?
    Universities are nothing more but a passage, the real deal starts 5, 6 days a week. 8, 10hrs per day…… (computing back and forth commute) year around……

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