In the US, the process whereby a hick church can become a Sunday school then "college" then "university" in only a few short years is trenchantly and hilariously documented in Paul Fussell's Class: A Guide through the American Status System. An equivalent - only slightly less radical - change happened in the UK when technical colleges became "universities" overnight, as if suddenly and miraculously acquiring a tradition for classical education and free thought.

Nowadays, a distinction of "universities" (even the true ones) is the production of a new type of technician and thinker. One not particularly favourable to classical liberal education and free thought. Or indeed to freedom itself.

As Mark Steyn notes:

"[The Pantybomber] was president of the Islamic Society of University College, London. Kafeel Ahmed, who died after driving a burning jeep into the concourse of Glasgow Airport, had been president of the Islamic Society of Queen’s University, Belfast. Yassin Nassari, serving three years in jail for terrorism, was president of the Islamic Society of the University of Westminster. Waheed Arafat Khan, arrested in the 2006 Heathrow terror plots that led to Americans having to put their liquids and gels in those little plastic bags, was president of the Islamic Society of London Metropolitan University."

I was at London School of Economics in the early Nineties, and visiting it recently was struck by the prevalence of flyers for Discover Islam seminars and rich girls niqab'd to the eyeballs. I had seen the beginning of it back then: certain friends - all Middle Eastern - becoming strangely keen on Koranic "numerology" and all manner of geopolitical conspiracy theory. Most were there because daddy could afford the hefty "overseas student fee" - a convenient-for-all-parties admissions track that discreetly allows other nationalities to bypass academic entrance requirements. On my course, there were less than ten UK nationals out of around three hundred students. (I can't believe we're that dumb.)

But educational degradation is a democratic force; it attacks from all angles. In France - which arguably has the most meritocratic higher educational system in the world - the notion that the four or five real universities (grandes écoles) should be permitted to maintain their academic excellence is now provoking the outrage of the Left. As Le Monde tells us, for the opponents of the long-established open entrance exam,

"testing for mastery of modern languages or general culture is too socially discriminating to enable the true openness of the universities." (my translation)

As if the whole point of a university degree is not allow those - who intellectually deserve it - to distinguish themselves from the rest. (Let alone speak the language and know the culture.)

The danger of liberalism in the long term is that it has no principal by which to set a limit to its own spread. All things that are unequal must eventually be forced into equality by it. For example academic ability versus none, or reason versus religious dogma. The guaranteed way to achieve this is the "tall poppy" method: cut down the salient, to make the whole crop look flat.

That way, the lowest get more sun too. And it doesn't get much lower than for a university educated man to stick explosives into his underpants in order to "bring down the West". A West, let it be noted, so liberal as to encourage every university to have its own Islamic Society. It's simultaneously terrifying and pathetic. With that kind of openness, who needs the tyranny of elites?

[Added: Nick Cohen on how radical Islam seduced the academics.]