The View From 1776
Sunday, April 24, 2005
The Ideals of Education vs. Tyranny
Transmitting the ideals of religious morality via education is society’s only effective defense against political tyranny.
The following article is scheduled for publication in the next RepublicanVoices newsletter:
The concept of moral and cultural Ideals and their transmission through education is a distinctly Greek contribution to the Western world. The Athenian city state of which Plato and Aristotle wrote was one of individuality and rationality, differing essentially from Egyptian and Persian despotisms in its moral and cultural Ideals. Without those moral and cultural Ideals, as Thucydides noted in his “History of the Peloponnesian War,” the Greeks would have remained nomadic barbarians.
The Greek term that comprehensively embodied the spoken and written Ideals of their culture is paideia, of which the Wikipedia says: “Paideia” is found in the word “Encyclo paedia .” The Greeks considered Paideia to be formed by the aristocratic class, who were said to have intellectualized their culture and their ideas. The culture and the youth are then ‘moulded’ to the ideal. The aristocratic ideal is the Kalos Kagathos ; “The Beautiful and the Good.” This idea is similar to medieval knights, their culture and the English word gentleman.”
As noted in The Nature of True Virtue, America’s arguably greatest colonial-era theologian and philosopher, Jonathan Edwards, said of virtue:
“...moral judgments of good and bad originate in our sentiments, not in reason alone.? Following in Plato?s footsteps, he identifies the good with a kind of beauty, which is by nature attractive to humans.? Virtue is the beauty of the heart, of the human soul.? Virtue?s highest expression is in love, not love of self, but of the object of love, and the highest object of love is the totality of being itself, the entirety of the universe, which in turn is an expression of the Mind of God the Creator.? Hence, the highest virtue is the greatest degree of love for God.”
In his “Paideia: the Ideals of Greek Culture” (1933), Werner Jaeger capsules the classical Greek conception of education, another standard against which we can measure present-day secular education ideas. He wrote:
“The ancients were persuaded that education and culture are not a formal art or an abstract theory, distinct from the objective historical structure of a nation’s spiritual life. They held them to be embodied in literature, which is the real expression of all higher culture.
Plato said of the Iliad that Homer was the teacher of the Greeks, who dramatically presented the ideals of honesty, courage, loyalty, patriotism, friendship and other qualities that educated Greeks valued as essential aspects of Greek culture. In the “Symposium,” speaking of the Iliad, Plato has Phaedrus say, “Now Achilles was quite aware, for he had been told by his mother, that he might avoid death and return home, and live to a good old age, if he abstained from slaying Hector. Nevertheless he gave his life to revenge his friend, and dared to die, not only in his defense, but after he was dead.”
Professor Jaeger continues: “...Education is the process by which a community preserves and transmits its physical and intellectual character…. men can transmit their social and intellectual nature only by exercising the qualities through which they created it ? reason and conscious will. Through the exercise of these qualities man commands a freedom of development which is impossible to other living creatures ? if we disregard the theory of prehistoric mutations in species and confine ourselves to the world of experience.”
Contrast this to the liberal-socialistic practice of multi-cultural education, designed expressly to degrade and erase the foundational traditions of Western civilization, particularly Judeo-Christian morality. Contrast it to Darwinian evolution, which teaches the secular and materialistic doctrine that everyone and everything is nothing more than chance survival in response to continually changing material conditions, without Divine plan or design. For liberals, tomorrow is always a brand new day with brand new rules, and yesterday’s knowledge is to be regarded with suspicion and mostly rejected.
Disagreeing sharply, Professor Jaeger wrote:
“When these values are stable, education is firmly based; when they are displaced or destroyed, the educational process is weakened until it becomes inoperative. This occurs whenever tradition is violently overthrown or suffers internal collapse.”
That is precisely what occurred in American education in the 20th century, at an accelerating rate beginning in the late 1960s.
Our conception of education has become almost entirely a never-ending succession of novel, mechanical teaching methodologies, with little regard for imparting real understanding. Deliberately educators have severed the connections with our historical and cultural roots, dismissing past wisdom as ignorant ranting by dead, white males.
Today’s conception of politically-correct, multi-cultural education does two things: first, it corrodes the underpinnings of our society, leaving most people with no real understanding of what are glibly referred to as “American ideals;” second, it clears the path for autocratic, eventually tyrannical government.
In his dialog “The Laws,” Plato has an Athenian conversing with two inhabitants of Crete about the ideal political structure for a new colony they propose to establish. In Book Nine: Nineteen Plato speaks about dangers to a political society arising from the failure of education and the disintegration of law based on cultural traditions of virtue.
Of the ruler in such a state, the Athenian (Plato) says, “His human nature will always drive him to look to his own advantage and the lining of his own pocket. An irrational avoidance of pain and pursuit of pleasure will dominate his character…. That is why we need to choose the second alternative, law and regulation, which embody general principles, but cannot provide for every individual case.” As Plato and Aristotle note elsewhere, such rulers gradually grasp additional power by pandering to the desires of their followers, ultimately becoming tyrants.
That is essentially what has occurred to our society. Seeking maximum latitude for individual sensual satisfaction, our legislators and our courts too often have abandoned general principles and “found” rights to libertine license, at the expense of what our Constitution’s Preamble calls the general welfare and the blessings of liberty. The New Deal’s collectivization of power at the Federal level and President Franklin Roosevelt’s colossal expansion of the executive powers of the presidency led even liberal icon Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., to write apprehensively about “The Imperial Presidency.”
Speaking of education to avoid this descent into self-centered hedonism and tyranny, the Athenian in Plato’s “The Laws” says, “...what we have in mind is education from childhood in virtue, a training which produces a keen desire to become a perfect citizen who knows how to rule and be ruled as justice demands. I suppose we should want to mark off this sort of training from others and reserve the title of ‘education’ for it alone…. as a rule, men with a correct education become good… I call ‘education’ the initial acquisition of virtue by the child, when the feelings of pleasure and affection, pain and hatred, that well up in his soul are channeled in the right courses before he can understand the reasons why… [education] makes us hate what we ought to hate from first to last, and love what we ought to love. Call this ‘education,’ and I, at any rate, think you would be giving it its proper name.”
Regarding the sneering dismissal by Ivy League professors of the canon of Western literature as racist imperialism of dead, white males, Plato would emphatically have objected.
The Athenian goes on to say: “...all the rules we are now working through are what people generally call ‘unwritten customs’, and all this sort of thing is precisely what they mean when they speak of ‘ancestral law’.... they are the bonds of the entire social framework, linking all written and established laws with those yet to be passed. They act in the same way as ancestral customs dating from time immemorial, which by virtue of being soundly established and instinctively observed, shield and protect existing written law.”
The secular materialism that gradually took over American education in the 20th century will have none of it.
Professor John Dewey?s “Reconstruction in Philosophy” called for scrapping all existing ideas of morality, philosophy, and religion as superstitious dogma, because they were impediments to the advancement of science and social justice. We see this mantra endlessly repeated, for example, in demands for Federally funded stem cell research and unlimited access to abortions.
Professor Dewey’s prescription, of course, is the process at which the Soviets excelled.
The study of history and its ?dead? traditions had no place in Dewey’s progressive education or in the Soviet education system which Dewey so deeply admired. Like Soviet Communists (see Milan Kundera, “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” and “The Unbearable Lightness of Being”), Dewey wished to obliterate the inconvenient, two-hundred-eighty-year-old traditions of American political society.
In Kundera’s novels (which are based on historical experience), Czech youth grew up under Soviet-controlled education believing that Czechoslovakia always had been part of the Soviet Comintern. They were entirely ignorant of the real history and traditions of their homeland. Kundera’s characters in the novels muse about retouched official photos from which now out-of-favor, but formerly important, Czech socialist party leaders had been erased; how their names were removed from all news archives, text books, and official records, making them “non-persons.”
Rather the same process has been applied to our text books by the liberal-socialist committees of educators who slithered into the tent of education after President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society began, for the first time, to fund local schools under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The founding fathers are more or less marginalized as hypocritical slave owners, while obscure women and people of other racial and ethnic backgrounds are more prominently featured. Such people, of course, deserve credit for the real contributions they made to the survival and growth of the United States. But without the founding fathers, the United States simply would not exist today.
Without knowledge of them and of the Western European, and especially English, historical background, it is literally impossible to understand the United States. Thus today we get Ivy League cum laude graduates who are ignorant of American history, have no idea where Omaha, Nebraska, is to be found, nor have the slightest understanding of international capital flows. All they “know” is that the United States is a greedy, capitalistic, racist, and imperialistic nation that is responsible for all the world’s troubles. They freely denounce people as Nazis or Fascists without the slightest specific knowledge of the socialistic political systems described by those terms.
In history?s light, the combination of voter apathy and interest-group partisanship that increasingly characterizes American politics is far from comforting. No longer is there a commonly accepted understanding of the rights and obligations of citizens to each other, nor of the role of government in society, as there was in 1776. Far from a consensus on religious ethics, our children have been educated in public schools to believe that the only virtue is tolerance, which engenders equal indifference to a Holocaust or to a President?s marital infidelity, perjury, and obstruction of justice.
In a process that is the inevitable consequence of liberalism?s infatuation with socialist egalitarianism, America has sunk from the high ideals of civic virtue as the ordering principle of society to a variety of hedonism and Hobbesian atomism that can be summed up as “every man for himself, and Devil take the hindmost.”
Public indifference to President Clinton?s marital infidelities and related perjury and obstruction of justice simply reflects the fact that, since the anarchistic riots and social revolution of the late 1960s, the ordering principle of society has become hedonistic self-gratification, immediate pleasure at the expense of self-sacrifice, self-denial, and devotion to the classical ideals of civic virtue. Anything goes; if it feels good, do it! As the commercials proclaim, “You deserve it!” Ask not what you should do; do what your immediate impulses command.
Small wonder that Americans have near the lowest level of personal savings in the world and some of the highest rates of illegitimate birth ever recorded. Such markers of social disintegration can be correlated directly with the capture of our educational system by liberal-socialists intent upon indoctrinating students with secular materialism. Liberal-socialists regard high cultural ideals as unacceptably elitist; theirs is the vision of reducing everyone to the lowest common denominator of economic, social, and political rank, which they call social justice.
And, in the midst of the hedonistic orgy, at the very time when national politics has assumed more the characteristics of a holy war than of a debate, we confront a rising tide of immigration, much of it from Latin or Asian societies with cultural traditions very different from ours, traditions that encompass no experience of democratic self-rule comparable to ours.
Returning to high educational standards and the late-19th century “melting pot” conception of education is almost our only hope if the United States is to remain united. When education ceases to preserve traditions of morality and civic virtue, societies begin to fracture into warring camps. In such disorder, a tyrannical leader like Napoleon, Franklin Roosevelt, or Adolph Hitler always steps forward to restore order at the expense of political liberty.