Nussbaum calls her book 'a manifesto'. Her manifesto on why democracy needs the humanities is made up of 6 interlocking propositions: (1) there is a crisis going on in education today; (2) this crisis is the shedding away of the humanities, which produce the necessary espirit de corps and competencies for an active and productive democracy; (3) this shedding away of the humanities can be attributed to the growth-oriented economy, which prefers professional skill-ism rather than the critical thinking skills and the imaginative empathy cultivated by the humanities; (4) at the same time, events in the world today are heading in the direction where more international cooperation and collaboration is needed, which must surely demand critical thinking and imaginative empathy for cross-cultural work; (5) however, we are heading in the opposite direction through our present attention on standardized testing and technically oriented education directives, which produce "useful machines" (pp. 2) but not imaginative and empathetic human beings; (6) hence, not only do we ultimately undermine our own cherished democracy, but ultimately too we undermine the solidarity needed for a universal democracy that can solve universal problems affecting all.
To be fair, we will have to take Nussbaum's argument one step deeper: that societies, and hence to a certain extent also publicly funded universities in many places, prefer practical skill-ism rather than the humanities. Since the growth-oriented economy requires skillful workers who can obey and work rather than to question and think, classes oriented to imparting practical or applied skills are much more favored by policy-makers, bosses, parents and students alike--because everyone in this squarish ecology seemed well-pleased. However, even growth demands people who possess the abilities to think and imagine creatively, and the humanities can help to cultivate that. Therefore, it is according to Nussbaum, never an 'either/or' for or against the humanities; rather, we can have both growth and the humanities. As a matter of her opinion, to have growth we ought to invest and grow the humanities.
I leave you to ponder on Nussbaum's surprising acquiescence. But the strangeness of this acquiescence to incorporate the humanities into the growth-oriented economy is surely, and only, because of Nussbaum's paradoxical nullification of the very thing she sought to defend in this book: how is it possible to defend the humanities by deliberately subjecting, and designing the humanities so that it can support growth (i.e., economically oriented growth laced with many externalities)? Thankfully Nussbaum's did not say how, beyond these hints, and to what extent this can be done. But at least one thing is clear: the kind of growth Nussbaum criticizes is also the kind of growth that bears no special allegiance to anything or anyone; as long as something expands the economy in the short-term, this something is valued. Thus to expect growth to value the humanities because the humanities seem to impart valuable fundamental and hence, somewhat long-term competencies with uncertain outcome is naive at best.
And half expecting this book to fulfill its large graphical and title promise on the critique of the for profit system (i.e., "NOT FOR PROFIT..."), Nussbaum unfortunately did not venture into the intricacies of the 'FOR PROFIT' teleology working at every level of the society today. Instead what Nussbaum presented is a defense for Socratic pedagogy and a fastpaced clip through the ideas of several education progressivists, names like Rousseau, Dewey and Tagore. I don't think Socrates needs to be defended again; and I certainly don't think Rousseau is as innocent as Nussbaum made him to be, or Dewey so easily and swiftly understood. Rather, I think that both Socrates and Rousseau et al.--the progressivists--are misplaced as two whole chapters in a book with a more critical and urgent mission. For these reasons, I am also not convinced.
In more than a few places Nussbaum makes uncritical statements that seem at odds with the overall thesis in her manifesto, for example, "knowledge is no guarantee of good behavior, but ignorance is a virtual guarantee of bad behavior" (pp.81). Well, that depends on what kind of ignorance one speaks of. Arrogant and inconsiderate ignorance, yes, of course. But humble and considered ignorance: isn't that the goal of Socratic teaching and the beginning of knowledge? Similarly but on a broader interpretation, Nussbaum's uncritical call for the 'universal citizen' or the cosmopolitan citizen demands a very careful review: who and to what extent, can be a citizen of the world today and for what purpose or mission? And what are the underlying ethos of such a global citizenship? What are its underlying binding values? Without answering these questions, we can only suspect that what Nussbaum has in mind as the underlying ethos is the ideal form of democracy that she is familiar with. This is unlikely to go well with everyone in the world today. Not only so, Nussbaum's uncritical call is likely to exacerbate her very quest for a productive citizenship of the world.
In all, I think this manifesto is a missed opportunity for a stronger and a more convincing call-to-arms in the humanities today. Insofar as Nussbaum's premise is concerned, I think it is relevant for the complex crisis the world is facing today: what to do at the limits of the market economy and how to deal with the threats of the environment at its limits. However, Nussbaum's subsequent arguments stray too often from the deeper and much more urgent mission that her premises promised.