The builder of railroads has a clear enough idea of the utility whereby he judges the value of his education; it is made manifest in rails that do not warp and axles that do not crack. He is still bound to a salutary though severely constricted truth. The political player—the man who falls in adoration before the cloaked vacuity of politics as the summum bonum—can have no such clear idea, because man will always frustrate anyone who demands perfection on earth, or even reliable prosperity and peace. The builder of railroads, when a gear turns up worn or toothless, alters the design of the gear or seeks a more durable alloy. The political player, when he meets with inevitable disappointments and reversals, turns in anger against his opponents, who must be wicked, or against the very mankind whom he purports to raise up.
The builder of railroads is interested in railroads; the academic politician is interested in victory. He has the moral code of Machiavelli, but, because he is too impatient to submit to the instruction of history, he has not the old master’s shrewd sense of human limitations and contradictions. He makes the worst of rulers: he is neither a lover of truth, nor a practical man of the world, nor an habitual examiner of his all-too-human and persistent failings.
Anthony Esolen, Higher Education in Hell