With his every hair in place and his virtually homespun quips perfectly timed, Zakaria at Yale on Wednesday offered yet another manifestation of himself as the $75,000-a-speech-giver at investment bank dinners.
Americans who haven't given up on liberal democracy should pay close attention to what's going on behind Singapore's glittering facade before they praise Yale's role in plunging Yale-NUS' idealistic young students and faculty into a reinvention of liberal education there.
With students and even faculty scrambling to serve the casino-like financing of a consumer-groping global juggernaut that's delivering millions from grinding poverty into soulless depravity, who'll ensure that universities keep asking the right questions?
By collaborating with Singapore, Yale is doing no better than its old secret societies did at teaching when and how to draw distinctions between discretion and self-censorship. They erred too much toward the latter.
Two brave framers of democracy in Singapore created a sensation last week, thrilling many who'd been smothering under Yale's institutional happy talk about Singapore and inciting denial and consternation among the regime's and the Yale administration's operatives.
Yale may well have gone to Singapore because it sensed that it was failing to do better in New Haven and because its governors have embraced a neo-liberal, "World Is Flat" model, instead. But liberal education should nourish and provoke something better.
While Levin and his trustees have been deft managers of their storm-tossed craft, they've been poor visionaries and navigators for liberal education, whose course will require different risks and courage.
Singapore "loosens" a bit to take on democratic trappings, and Yale surrenders some of the hard-won commitments to freedom speech and political expression that I described in the long post mentioned above.
Yale asserts that there's no fire in its Singapore venture, but, if that's true, why say so much that's false? In an undertaking as fragile as liberal education, the cover-up can be worse than the crime.
Yale University sustained such a college for more than 300 years and, through it, the American republic, and for much of the time the republic led the world, but now Yale's captains have bound it contractually to an authoritarian corporate city state.
Yale-NUS graduates will get a "warm" welcome when they impress their business clients over dinner at the elegant Yale Club of New York and when, grateful for this access of grace, they respond to Yale's fundraising appeals. This is all that counts.
The Yale-NUS college train has left the station, according to this spin, and while some dissidents may have hoped to derail it by dancing a dance of protest, those who understand how the world really works will now get on with doing that work.
The very survival of the new global economy and public sphere depends on colleges like Yale standing somewhat apart from "the arts and sciences of career management" that markets and states have insinuated increasingly into their training at places like Yale.
Liberal education probably couldn't survive without markets and states, but Yale's Richard Levin should be reminded that, in effect, in a liberal capitalist republic like ours, markets and states can't survive without liberal education.