The unexamined acceptance of the inevitability of Progress as an obvious unassailable fact is under discussion at Rotten Chestnuts. Starting with the Enlightenment, the notion that Change, in the form of Progress, is, so to speak, the only constant, took over polite society. So understood, Progress is not, in any rational sense, a conclusion. Progress can only be a framing devise, a filter, a way to pre-process information.
It might seem odd that an age that produced wave after wave of increasingly insane skepticism about just about everything would accept and vigorously promote as obvious the notion that Progress is a positive force governing Human Development through History. Descartes claims to doubt everything except his own existence; Hume claims to doubt cause and effect; Kant throws out the entire idea anyone can know anything about objective reality (although he says he doesn’t – he says a lot of contradictory things); Fichte simply states that all reality is subjective; Hegel denies the law of non-contradiction and all logic while claiming to be ‘scientific’.
John C. Wright speaks of how unserious philosophy became starting with the Enlightenment. A Socrates might die for his philosophy; a St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that it is in fact necessary to be willing to die for a correct philosophy. Hume famously decides to go shoot some billiards when it all becomes too much. How would anyone from Descartes on know that dying for one’s philosophy is a good thing? Severian has a page dedicated to the worst argument in the world, of which there are many variation sharing the same skeleton. This argument boils down to: we cannot know anything about things in themselves.
Yet we are to assume universal Progress, except insofar as reactionaries of one flavor or another have temporarily turned back the clock on the wrong side of History.
Here’s the thing: the only area where it can be confidently asserted that humanity has steadily progressed over the last, say, 1,000 years, is technology. Technology is undoubtedly better today than it was 10 years ago; it was better 10 years ago than it was 20 years ago; and so on, back to maybe 900 AD in the West.
Everything else? People can and have made arguments in favor of these following examples, but – clear? Beyond dispute?
Government “progressed” from a peak of some semblance of liberal democracy to – Pol Pot? Stalin? Mao? That’s progress?
Art “progressed” from Rafael to Pollock? Let alone a crucifix in a jar of urine?
Architecture “progressed” from Gothic to Brutalism?
And so on. Sure, there are reasonable people who will argue that Van Gogh is an improvement on Bouguereau, but they’re basically arguing on taste alone. On every technical and aesthetic basis, Bouguereau is the superior artist (and I love Van Gogh!). There are people- damaged, sad people, for the most part – who will and have argued that Brutalist architecture is superior to Gothic. There is no aesthetic of technical basis for such a claim. Rather, it seems that Progress, acting as filter, simply demands that the products of modern minds is definitionally better than the products of less progressive minds.
So, one might imagine the great Enlightenment philosophies start with technology as the basis for their claims. There is quite a bit of that early on, as where Francis Bacon says:
I am come in very truth leading to you Nature with all her children to bind her to your service and make her your slave. … [S]o may I succeed in my only earthly wish, namely to stretch the deplorably narrow limits of man’s dominion over the universe to their promised bounds.
Bacon wants to put science -materialist science as he understood it – in the driver’s seat for pretty much all human activities. The distinction we sometimes make between science and technology seems less clear here. Nature was something to be conquered and put to use by man. In this sense, science – the study of nature in order to understand it – and technology – using that scientific knowledge to conquer and control nature – are separate only in concept: for Bacon, it would be pointless to talk of one independent of the other.
So: Bacon saw himself and other natural philosophers (scientists) as clearly progressing from his (weird caricature?) of Aristotle to the starting line of modern science. Bacon saw his efforts as the beginning of the true program of science – understanding nature so as to control it – with nothing but Progress from there on out indefinitely.
And progress was made – eventually. Bacon lived in the late 16th and early 17th century. Life expectancy in England was around 35 (high infant and young people mortality) in 1600. As a result of the Bacon-lead scientific and technological revolution, life expectancy shot all the way up to around 40 – after a mere 200 years. (The population in England in 1600 is estimated to have been about 85% of what it had been during the high middle ages 250 years earlier, before plague, famine, and increasing political unrest cut in by around 60%. It nearly doubled from 1600 to 1800, to about 50% larger than it had been in 1290.)
Maybe this conquest of Nature thing and all the improvements to human life that would follow upon it wasn’t so obvious to the little people? Who seemed to be dying as readily as before, up until the late 1700s, at any rate? But it was very striking to the better off, who could not get over it. Still can’t. Of course, technological progress kicked in like crazy once the 19th century got going, and life expectancies began to rise, to around 50 by 1900 to around 80 by 2000. That’s progress anyone who prefers not to be dead can readily see.
Our self-appointed betters seemed to have extrapolated from technological improvements, and made the categorical error of thinking that the obvious progress in technology proved that other fields, such as politics and philosophy, must also have made similar progress. Hegel, who lived from 1770 to 1831, in what was at the time the most technologically advanced culture on earth, went to far as to write a book telling us that logic, as that term was understood by everyone else, had failed to progress and was therefore clearly insufficient. Logic had remained essentially unchanged since Aristotle, unlike all other fields (besides basic arithmetic and geometry, ethics, and writing – he doesn’t mention those, IIRC) and therefore, by that fact alone, was no longer valid.
Savor this: classic Aristotelian logic, the application of which was at the core of all the scientific and technological progress made since Bacon, needed to be rejected – OK, suspended in a dialectical synthesis, which, practically, means rejected – because, and solely because, it had not changed in 2500 years. The only unalloyed and inescapable support for the notion of Progress – technology – is to be rejected – in the name of Progress.
Hegel was aware that all technology and science depended on exactly the logic he had just discarded. He graciously allows that old-timey logic might be important and useful to the little people – mathematicians, scientists, technologists – but was certainly nothing a *real * philosopher need concern himself with. Law of non-contradiction? Out! Logical arguments? Beneath a real philosopher’s dignity. Only the calculated incoherence of Hegel and those wise and enlightened souls who, naturally, agreed with Hegel, need be considered.
From this it falls, naturally, that 2+2 can indeed equal 5, if such is required by *real* philosophers like Hegel. Motte and Baily. Progress is obvious to everyone! You doubt our latest developments in Critical Theory mark the inexorable march of Progress? What? You want to go back to living in the Dark Ages, you moron?
Thus, a priori, any information that might cast a shadow on the notion that we all live right now in the Best of All Possible Worlds, until dawn tomorrow reveals and even better best, is right out. Only a reactionary Luddite would dare mention how all this Progress has some downsides, how it might even lead to something undesirable. Even worse are those (me, I hope) who reject and mock the very idea that Progress stands athwart the modern world, no feet of clay anywhere to be seen!
Got another ‘final’ COVID 19 post all cued up, but let’s talk Education History!
Decided to reread Fichte’s foundational Addresses to the German Nation which you can find discussed at some length here on this blog. After having finished rereading Parish Schools and more Pestalozzi, it seemed necessary to reread with, one hopes, a deeper understanding, the work that underlies the schooling that we are enduring today.
The general rule – don’t read about somebody until you read what they have to say for themselves – having been observed here, I also started DuckDuckGoing (totally a verb) around to find further information on particular points in Fichte’s philosophy.
Aside: Severian turned me on to David Stove, the late sort of Neo Positivist Australian philosopher, who, while fundamentally as crazy as the next anti-metaphysician (also totally a word), spent his career providing the desperately necessary mockery of the pure nonsense spouted by Hegel, Kant and the whole clown car of modern philosophers. He tends to simply quote them, and holds up their own words for well-deserved ridicule. I haven’t read anything of his where he goes after Fichte, but that would be a fun ride. Ultimately, what all these lunatics and posers need to be deprived of is people taking them seriously. The only response to such nonsense is to ignore or mock them. They never should have been able to raise their heads in a legitimate university spouting such idiocy. But I digress…
One chapter in my much to be yearned for (by me, at least) education history book will be titled “Messianic Schooling,” containing an account of history of the belief that the world can only be saved by schooling, that there is one right way to educate, and, once everybody is educated that way, heaven on earth will be achieved. Fichte will get a starring role; poor Pestalozzi, who never could see, or at least, never could articulate, the political ramifications of his ‘discovery’ of the one, perfect way to educate children, is mere putty in the hands of Fichte. Pestalozzi sees the (properly instructed, using his textbooks) mother as the ideal educator. Fichte loves Pestalozzi’s idea of having every student’s every school minute managed by a (state trained and certified) teacher as a reason to simply discard the family. Family is a bad influence on children; the state will of course do a much better job once mom and dad are out of the way.
I’m about 40% of the way through my rereading of the Adresses, and, yep, it’s a lot clearer this time around. This time, his fanatical confidence in human perfectibility shines through, as does how he bases all this on poetical and mystical ‘insights’, not on anything as mundane as a sensible argument. He sees 5 stages of human development, identifies Germany and the world at large as stuck in Stage 3, and a moral imperative to all right thinking German men* to do what it takes to get us to the next level.
Sort of like a video game.
Thus have we endeavoured to pre-figure the whole Earthly Life of Man by a comprehension of its purpose;—to perceive why our Race had to begin its Existence here, and by this means to describe the whole present Life of humankind: …There are, according to this view, Five Principal Epochs of Earthly Life, each of which, although taking its rise in the life of the individual, must yet, in order to become an Epoch in the Life of the Race, gradually lay hold of and interpenetrate all Men; and to that end must endure throughout long periods of time, so that the great Whole of Life is spread out into Ages, which sometimes seem to cross, sometimes to run parallel with each other:—1st, The Epoch of the unlimited dominion of Reason as Instinct:—the State of Innocence of the Human Race. 2nd, The Epoch in which Reason as Instinct is changed into an external ruling Authority;—the Age of positive Systems of life and doctrine, which never go back to their ultimate foundations, and hence have no power to convince but on the contrary merely desire to compel, and which demand blind faith and unconditional obedience:—the State of progressive Sin. 3rd, The Epoch of Liberation,—directly from the external ruling Authority—indirectly from the power of Reason as Instinct, and generally from Reason in any form;—the Age of absolute indifference towards all truth, and of entire and unrestrained licentiousness:—the State of completed Sinfulness. 4th, The Epoch of Reason as Knowledge;—the Age in which Truth is looked upon as the highest, and loved before all other things:—the State of progressive Justification. 5th, The Epoch of Reason as Art;—the Age in which Humanity with more sure and unerring hand builds itself up into a fitting image and representative of Reason:—the State of completed Justification and Sanctification. Thus, the whole progress which, upon this view, Humanity makes here below, is only a retrogression to the point on which it stood at first, and has nothing in view save that return to its original condition. But Humanity must make this journey on its own feet; by its own strength it must bring itself back to that state in which it was once before without its own coöperation, and which, for that very purpose, it must first of all leave. If Humanity could not of itself re-create its own true being, then would it possess no real Life; and then were there indeed no real Life at all, but all things would remain dead, rigid, immoveable. In Paradise,—to use a well-known picture,—in the Paradise of innocence and well-being, without knowledge, without labour, without art, Humanity awakes to life. Scarcely has it gathered courage to venture upon independent existence when the Angel comes with the fiery sword of compulsion to good and drives it forth from the seat of its innocence and its peace. Fugitive and irresolute it wanders through the empty waste, scarcely daring to plant its foot firmly anywhere lest the ground should sink beneath it. Grown bolder by necessity, it settles in some poor corner, and in the sweat of its brow roots out the thorns and thistles of barbarism from the soil on which it would rear the beloved fruit of knowledge. Enjoyment opens its eyes and strengthens its hands, and it builds a Paradise for itself after the image of that which it has lost;—the tree of Life arises; it stretches forth its hand to the fruit, and eats, and lives in Immortality.
“Ponderous Teutonic prose” indeed. Fichte was dogged by accusations of atheism. You may notice the lack of that God person in the above, and the Pelagianism of his take on Man’s role in his own redemption. This could hardly be any more contrary to Luther, and, indeed, in the Addresses he does get around to damning the great reformer with faint praise. The progression is perhaps familiar: just as in America at almost the exact same time, the great Calvinist Puritan tradition of the absolute depravity of man became, almost suddenly, the Unitarian Universalist position of salvation for all, Fichte was preaching to the Germans that they must move from the depraved Third Age – “The Epoch of Liberation … the Age of absolute indifference towards all truth, and of entire and unrestrained licentiousness:—the State of completed Sinfulness,” to the 4th, “The Epoch of Reason as Knowledge;—the Age in which Truth is looked upon as the highest, and loved before all other things:—the State of progressive Justification.”
Notice, also, the lack of any family references. We move, in Fichte’s philosophy, almost directly from the individual to Mankind as a whole, with only a brief stop with our neighbors to pick up consciousness, self-consciousness, and morality. Fichte’s whole philosophy is built upon the self-positing ‘I’ which finds self-conscious in the recognition of the ‘Not-I’. We’re on the threshold of stage 4, where peace, love, and understand will bloom everywhere, once the state supplants the family and beats a little of Fichte’s pure love of Truth into our children. Until then, we’re screwed:
I, for my part, hold that the Present Age stands precisely in the middle of Earthly Time; … In other words, the Present Age, according to my view of it, stands in that Epoch which in my former lecture I named the third, and which I characterized as the Epoch of Liberation … the State of completed Sinfulness.
Surfing around for some back-up materials, found this which ties together Fichte’s 5 Ages with his plan for national education (although the author, it seems, is simply wrong about where Fichte believe Mankind stands – not in the 4th on the threshold of the 5th age, but in the 3rd on the threshold of the 4th, as stated above):
In 1804-1805, Fichte delivered a series of lectures entitled Characteristics of the Present Age (Grundzüge des Gegenwärtigen Zeitalters), in which he outlined five stages of human development. Having travelled from the primal state of noble savages in ‘the Age of Innocence’, through dark ages, absolutism, and the ‘State of Progressive Justification’, mankind was now on the threshold of ‘the state of completed justification and sanctification’. Indeed, the ideals of the French Revolution had been characteristic of the State of Progressive Justification, but to reach political nirvana it was not enough to rely on the ideals of the French, which in any case had been undermined by the conquering forces of Napoleon. So in 1807 – the year after Hegel had described seeing ‘the world spirit on horseback’ in the guise of the French emperor, and at a time when the Germans were at a historical nadir and the once all-powerful Prussia was a shadow of its former military self – Fichte proposed that the Germans had to seize the day. In fourteen addresses, delivered as entertainment for bourgeois Berliners on Sunday afternoons in the winter of 1807, Fichte asserted that the Germans had a historical role: namely that of shepherding humanity into the bliss of a cosmopolitan utopia.
from Philosophy Now magazing, Matt Qvortrup’s Brief Life of Fichte
Love ‘delivered as entertainment for bourgeois Berliners on Sunday afternoons in the winter of 1807’ – man’s gotta pay the bills. Further:
Kant had argued that trade liberalisation – what he called ‘the spirit of commerce’ (der Handelsgeist) – would slowly but surely lead to a kind of brotherhood of man. Fichte agreed with Kant that the “whole race that inhabits our globe will… become assimilated into a single republic including all peoples” but he did not see free trade, let alone economic liberalism, as the path to perpetual peace. Rather, he feared that the economic competition between states would generate new enmities that would lead to war. Moreover, unlike his former mentor’s espousal of classic economic liberalism, Fichte made a case for economic protectionism and a planned economy in Der geschlossene Handelsstaat (The Closed Commercial State, 1800). This book’s defence of social justice facilitated by government intervention is but one of the reasons it has been labelled the first systematic case for the welfare state.
The Closed Commercial State was a philosophical Rubicon for Fichte. He maintained that all people eventually would be united into a single “peoples’ republic of culture,” and here he began to consider how this would be achieved, gradually coming to the conclusion that the German people could play a pivotal role in the process of creating a cosmopolitan utopia.
Marx, anyone? Since God, to Fichte, is something like the drive toward morality as expressed in Human history, Marx is pretty much all there even before Hegel picked up the baton and wrapped it in even more dense and ponderous Teutonic prose.
The Germans themselves were not yet ready to take on the burden of educating humanity. True, their language enabled them to utter deep thoughts, and so potentially to spread reason to the rest of mankind. But in order to fulfil their mission, the Germans themselves needed educating. Thus educational reform, not military strength, was Fichte’s key policy proposal. And in his Second Address he went to great lengths to explain how the aim of education was to make active and creative individuals who would “learn with enjoyment and love, purely for the sake of learning itself.” The aim was to facilitate “the capacity to spontaneously construct images that are not at all replicas of reality, but are capable of becoming models for reality.”
You may also see Pestalozzi peaking through here. “The capacity to spontaneously construct images” could have come straight from any of his works. The important part for Fichte is having children spontaneously imagine and be moved to action by perfect images of their own creation – in accordance with Reason, ‘natch. He’s after, almost exactly, what John Lennon described in his execrable song: bringing into being a purely imaginary reality in accordance with Reason.
It’s easy if you try.
The point here, of course, is that this is the philosophical underpinnings of modern state schooling: schooling is the means to messianic salvation. This – the promise of an Utopia to be achieved via the state’s training of children – is what Mann and Torey Harris and the NEA at its founding were attracted to and embraced. There is no discussion of ‘the basics’ – reading, writing, and ciphering don’t and never did figure into it. It’s simply not what these folks are interested in. The plan is and has always been: get kids away from their families to form them into the new citizens of the coming paradise on earth.
Therefore, homeschoolers and other dissidents cannot be ignored or tolerated. We are heretics, keeping the enlightened from achieving Paradise! Wrong has no rights, here. Burning at the stake is too good for us. The goal, except peripherally, is not staffing factories and armies. That might be OK, as an interim step, during the period where the Vanguard must rule absolutely to usher us sheep toward the eventual Worker’s Paradise (thanks, Lenin, for clearing that up for us) – but that’s not what, in the vision of its founding light, modern compulsory state schooling is for.
* Literally, men of the male persuasion: Fichte argued that “active citizenship, civic freedom and even property rights should be withheld from women, whose calling was to subject themselves utterly to the authority of their fathers and husbands.” – Wikipedia
I highly recommend Parish School by Timothy Walch as the place to start reading on the history of Catholic schools in America. Unlike me, he’s a real historian, who properly sources and references his materials. In addition to providing an excellent, if short, overview, it’s a gold mine of contemporary sources. I first got turned on to many of the key players by this book. Dr. Walch was kind enough to send me the current revised edition, which I’m now about 1/3 through (re)reading. Since the goal of the revised edition was to bring this history up to the 2010s, not surprising I’m not seeing any obvious differences in the first chapters.
It’s a lot of fun to reread this material after having tracked down a few of the sources and gotten a bigger picture. In particular, having now read some of William Torrey Harris, these passages from the beginning of Chapter 7 take on a new light. From the Report of the U.S. Commissioner of Education for 1903:
The most impressive religious fact in the United States today is the system of Catholic free parochial schools. Not less than 1 million students are being educated in these schools. This great educational work is being carried out without any financial aide from the state…. the diocesan superintendent has been a powerful factor in the great progress made in these schools in recent years. It would be well if every diocese had such an officer. Indeed, there can be no perfect organization of the system without him.
William Torrey Harris, U.S. Commissioner of Education.
Even his fanboys and girls recognize that, as a philosopher, he’s a 2nd rate Hegelian; I’d say that’s a little generous. Be that as it may, there’s no denying he was a true devotee of that wacky take on Lutheran theology whose enduring contribution to thought is glib rejection of the need to make sense. This rejection remains the hallmark of academic philosophy to this day: the law of noncontradiction is for the little people, you see. Real philosophers can and do both mean and not mean anything they say. So when you notice academic statements make no sense or are self-refuting – feature, not bug.
Hegelians are looking for the Spirit, incarnate and effectively co-extensive with people taken as a whole over time, to unfold itself in History. Rather than history being a rolling up and cumulation of the acts of millions of us little people, capital H History is the Work of God, and thus at the same time beyond human understanding and the only worthy object of the speculative philosopher.
While Hegel himself made the critical and obvious point that, until the Spirit unfolds History, it is unknowable (almost by definition, although ‘definition’ is a curious concept in context). We can look to the past, in other words, and see what the Spirit has done, but looking into the future makes no sense, as the necessary conditions for understanding what the Spirit will do are not present.
Just as Dewey popularized Pragmatism by ignoring what Pearce said it meant and going with the much more coherent ‘the ends justify the means,’ Hegelians, in the splendor of their diversity, have ignored this caution against fortune-telling except when convenient. Thus, they worship Progress (as one of the Spirit’s manifolds) while both seeing it everywhere and rejecting any demand to state clearly what it is.
Anyway, so Harris, who tried during his time as U.S Commissioner of Education to get Hegelianism declared the official philosophy of American education, looks at parish schools and sees their fundamental value not in the millions of educated children, but in the establishment of diocesan education directors. It is the perfection of the organization of the system in which Progress is manifested. It’s worth
If you think I’m making too much of this, here’s what Harris said about Native Americans:
Harris called for the forced and mandatory education of American Indians through a partnership with Christianity in order to promote industry. It was Harris who called for the removal of Native children from their families for up to 10 years of training for the “lower form of civilization” as opposed to the United States government’s policy of exterminating them. Harris wrote, “We owe it to ourselves and to the enlightened public opinion of the world to save the Indian, and not destroy him. We can not save him and his patriarchal or tribal institution both together. To save him we must take him up into our form of civilization. We must approach him in the missionary spirit and we must supplement missionary action by the aid of the civil arm of the State. We must establish compulsory education for the good of the lower race.”
So why did he not call for the forced and mandatory education of American Catholics in the same way? It’s what Fichte would have done (and Fichte was a big influence on Hegel). Mostly, it would have been political suicide, given the millions of Catholic voters now present on the rolls. I don’t think he lost any sleep over this, however, because he saw the *progress* being made on that front. For the previous 8 decades, including the couple decades Harris spent as a more local school bureaucrat, that’s exactly what good, solid Protestants were calling for, one way or the other. If the dirty Papists sent their kids to the existing state schools, where they would have a little Protestant Jesus beat into their heads and thus become good Americans, well and good. If they insisted on founding their own schools, we’ll make them pay twice – tax them for our schools, then make them raise money from the same poor people for their own. This step worked very well, as at no point did as many as half of Catholic kids attended parish schools.
Then, to complete the Americanization (which every ‘good’ American knew meant the Protestantization) of Catholic kids, we’ll find a way to exert state control on Catholic school curriculum.
Harris could look with satisfaction at the current state of Catholic schools in 1903. The Spirit was clearly unfolding his idea of Progress among them. When Archbishop Ireland addressed the NEA in 1890 and said that it was his dream that Catholic kids would all attend public schools, and paid his homage to the goodness and light embodied in compulsory state education, which then as now is the NEA’s reason to exist, why, he warmed the cockles of Harris’ heart! The firestorm of controversy Ireland’s remarks caused among Catholics who had worked so hard and sacrificed so much to keep their kids away from state indoctrination was merely the last gasp of one leg of the dialectic getting subsumed and suspended in the synthesis that is compulsory education managed for the good of the state.
And Harris didn’t even have to do anything! The immigrants’ burning desire to fit in and outshine the natives in an ‘anything you can do, I can do better’ race to the bottom did all the work for him – or, I should say, the inexorable unfolding of the Spirit thus manifested itself in History.
The elephant in the room: the critics of Archbishop Ireland and all the ‘liberal’ Catholics of the day have proven to be correct. If there’s anything distinguishing the local products of our parish schools from the products of similarly situated public schools, it’s amazingly subtle. So subtle that not only are Catholics largely uninterested in spending money to send their kids there, non-Catholics can send their kids to the typical parish school with little worry they’ll come out Catholic.
Catholic schooling has about the same cultural meaning as eating organic or driving a hybrid.
One final note: wanted to see what the NEA had to say for itself, and found the unabashed propaganda one would expect.
On a summer afternoon in 1857, 43 educators gathered in Philadelphia, answering a national call to unite as one voice in the cause of public education.
At the time, learning to read and write was a luxury for most children—and for many children of color, it was actually a crime. But almost 150 years later, the voice of the fledgling Association has risen to represent 2.7 million educators, and what was once a privilege for a fortunate few is now a rite of passage for every American child.
Take passing note the anachronistic use of the fancy-dan word ‘educator’. Teachers, maybe? One chapter of my planned book will be titled “Messianic Schooling,” in which I’ll cover the various salvation/end times myths perpetrated in the name of compulsory schooling. Here, for example, the writer simply lies: in 1800, excluding slaves, literacy was near 100% in America. She lies so that she can frame up schooling as Messianic: we ‘educators’ have come to free the people from the bonds of illiteracy! You know, the land where de Tocqueville observed farmers reading Descartes while resting their plowhorses, and where the Last of the Mohicans adjusting for population, outsold Harry Potter. Where the Federalist Papers were printed in general circulation newspapers and where, a couple decades later, among hundreds of other publishers, there were 125+ newspapers and magazines dedicated to the anti-papist cause.
Sound illiterate to you? Here’s the opening of Last of the Mohicans:
It was a feature peculiar to the colonial wars of North America, that the toils and dangers of the wilderness were to be encountered before the adverse hosts could meet. A wide and apparently an impervious boundary of forests severed the possessions of the hostile provinces of France and England. The hardy colonist, and the trained European who fought at his side, frequently expended months in struggling against the rapids of the streams, or in effecting the rugged passes of the mountains, in quest of an opportunity to exhibit their courage in a more martial conflict. But, emulating the patience and self-denial of the practiced native warriors, they learned to overcome every difficulty; and it would seem that, in time, there was no recess of the woods so dark, nor any secret place so lovely, that it might claim exemption from the inroads of those who had pledged their blood to satiate their vengeance, or to uphold the cold and selfish policy of the distant monarchs of Europe.
Cooper starts his book here – after quoting Shakespeare. Those poor illiterate sods who bought this book by the thousands! Clearly, we need ‘educators’ STAT!
Or take this beautiful mistake back in the NEA history web pages:
Lafayette, Indiana, August 21, 1854
“And I must not forget the Schoolhouse which is a log house thirty-five by thirty with four windows & two doors… The cracks are filled with mud and plaster & there is no ‘loft’ & the shingles are very holey so that when it rains we take the books and stand in one place till it begins to drop down & then we move to an other spot & then an other…”
Excerpt from a letter written by Martha M. Rogers, a young female pioneer who headed West to teach. Reprinted with permission from Women Teachers on the Frontier by Polly Welts Kauffman.
from the NEA website
Those familiar with one-room schools should recognize a couple things here. In the 1850s, it was common for young single women, generally with nothing more that a one-room school education themselves, to head out to the frontier to teach – and to snag a husband. (If you’ve read the Anne of Green Gables series, you’ve run across the phenomenon, more or less.) Teacher turnover was high, as one would expect.
On the frontier, as part of the homesteading laws, pioneers would build, manage, and staff a one schoolhouse per 36 square mile section, near the middle, so that no kid would be more than an hour’s walk from it. Such schoolhouses were built to the standards to which the farmers built their own buildings – the schoolhouse as described above was probably very similar to the surrounding farmhouses.
The schoolhouse became a sort of ‘town hall’ where meetings and voting and other socialization took place. While it’s very probable that the schoolhouse maintenance and improvements lagged those of the farmer’s own buildings sometimes, it is unlikely it lagged much very often. Few really old schoolhouses survive, as they tended to get replaced over time. Those pretty clapboard postcard-perfect ones that you see were likely build just before the turn of the century or a little later, when farmers were doing well enough to want to show off their success a little. There was even some competition among neighboring sections: one section might spring for a belltower and a bell – soon all the neighbors had one as well.
So, even on the frontier, you had farmers building a schoolhouse as soon as they could and as well as they could, keeping it up as well as they could, and hiring as good a teacher as they could find. A young woman of, say, 16, who had graduated school and yet not found a suitable mate in her own section had an obvious strategy: become a teacher at a nearby section where maybe the male/female ration in the proper age range might be more favorable.
It worked remarkably well. Miss Rogers above, who could very probably be just such a young woman, write very well! Nice letter! You think your typical public high schooler writes any better than that? The truth is, extensive samples of the writing of people educated only in one-room schools exist, and it’s pretty good for the most part. And there’s the rub: in the late 1800s, ‘educators’ like William Torey Harris had identified those one room schools as the enemies of Progress. They began the mythology that those hicks in the country – deplorables, they might call them today – were ignorant rubes and needed proper schools to free them from the tyranny of their ignorance. The most horrifying evidence of this ignorance was their rejection of the idea that they needed to have their happy and successful locally managed schools replaced by modern consolidated schools run by and for their betters.
For the one room schools worked in any measurable way. Their graduates did better on standardized tests, and got into college (the few that did) at a higher rate than the graduates of ‘scientific’ schools. Which brings us to the little dodge the writer of the NEA history used: start by criticizing the ignorance of the non-centrally schooled people, but when presenting an example, shift to their *poverty*. This is, in fact, the route taken historically. The practical, stoic farmers wanted to see exactly why their schools needed to be replaced. When the tests were administered and it became obvious that from any practical educational perspective, the one room schools generally did better than the schools eager to replace them, the strategy shifted: One room schools were dirty! They were poorly equipped! And their teachers aren’t even certified by the state!
So the farmers upgraded their schools, as mentioned above. They spent a little money on better equipment. They even started hiring certified teachers (who, nevertheless, remained under their surveillance).
And thus, the one-room schools survived, until technology (e.g., tractors), the resulting bigger farms, rural depopulation and finally the Great Depression combined to do them in. That last generation mourned the loss; now, it has all but passed from living memory.
That this is a preposterous title for any essay I, a lightly-read non historian who would have to crawl to the starting line to even begin serious study of the subject, would write is part of the point. Spoiler: the promulgation of what now passes for history has fallen to anti-historians. It won’t do to call them non-historians, less to call them amateurs, a word that means at it root ‘lovers.’ Here’s what they hate:
History is the telling of tales. I don’t mean this in any derogatory sense. Among the most basic and characteristic activities of people is telling stories. ‘True’ stories, in the modern sense, are those where the ‘facts’ check out. Our more sophisticated ancestors would not have been as interested in those facts. In past eras and in all other cultures, stories were ‘true’ were those that conveyed something real about people. An infinite number of things happen. Few make good stories. Among those few, we love and retell those that reveal to us something about ourselves. In this sense, those who know no history have forgotten who they are.
The modern distinction between history and myth would, I think, have been a bit baffling to most people in times past. I don’t know what the reaction the children of the original Hawaiians had to the stories of Maui and his fishhook, but it is true that the Hawaiian Islands are surprising and a gift from the gods, and that it is delightful that people get to live there. That some demigod would play tricks on his brothers and yank them up from the deep is hilarious – and just about right.
Just like the ubiquitous genealogies, myths tell us who we are. More important, they tell us how we know who we are: by our relationships to particular people, places, and nature. In stories from every culture I’ve ever heard of, every so-and-so is introduced as the offspring of a string of forefathers, often pointing back to an ancestral hero or demigod. A place and social setting get named: Abram is introduced as descended from Terah, Nahor and Serug, and ultimately Adam. He is from Ur. The importance of parentage and place are illustrated by Oedipus, who doesn’t know who his parents are nor where his home lies, and is the most cursed of men, and as a direct result of his foundational ignorance, commits the greatest sins of patricide and incest.
Since there will be an infinite number of potential stories to choose from, the ‘historian’ in the sense I’m using here is the one who chooses the stories. Each generation will inherit some stories that are just too good to forget, and generate more potential stories in their own time. The good ‘historians’ will tell their stories in memorable, exciting form, and emphasize what is most telling in the stories. A little or a lot of embellishment is to be expected. Some stories survive from generation to generation, and become defining to the point where not knowing that story is a sign you are not of the tribe. Greeks memorized Homer; Jews memorized the Bible.
A famous incident (that a few minutes of web searching failed to turn up, so we’re working without a net here) concerned some anthropologist who was studying some tribe in New Mexico (I think) shortly after the kind of incident that generates History had come to pass: a party of this tribe had gone to do some official business and had strayed into the territory of an unfriendly tribe. A fight broke out, and one tribesman was killed. The factual story was relayed to the anthropologist. A couple generations later, after the participants in the event had all died, another anthropologist followed up. The story he heard was recognizable, but different: it concerned how the tribes had had to work out that territorial dispute, had retconned the dispute into a central place in the original purpose of the trip, and made the man who had died into a sort of martyr for intertribal peace.
Was this wrong, or a lie, or primitive propaganda? No. What had made the story memorable once it had passed from living memory was the resolution of the tribal territorial dispute. The myth now contained important information: at great cost – the death of a tribal leader – peace had been established and borders set with a neighboring tribe which had earlier been antagonistic. I don’t know, but I would be surprised if the actual ‘treaty’ was not included in the story, so that future generations would know the territory and the rules agreed to.
In the West, starting with Herodotus, we start to have a different set of standards. Drenched in myth from every direction, Herodotus wants to know what’s true in a typically Greek abstract sense, not merely what are the stories each people tell themselves. He finds himself in Tevye’s position: He might be able to acknowledge that the stories of People A are true, and that the stories of People B are also true, but when it is pointed out that they can’t both be true, the old Greek isn’t quite magnanimous enough to allow that they can remain true even if contradictory.
Nope – Herodotus wants to settle the differences. He turns to the blunt instrument of facts. This appeal to facts, perhaps most celebrated in the discovery of the ruins of Troy in the late 19th century, tends to obscure the truth that the stories that make up history, even or perhaps especially in our enlightened postmodern age, remain selected and embellished.
While Herodotus wanders a bit and clearly delights in the odd tall tale at the expense of more focused storytelling, Thucydides is recognizable as an historian at all points. He’s followed by Livy and Tacitus (and a bunch of guys I’ve not read – poser, remember?) who also read as history. But while these men were at least trying to tell us What Happened, the usual filters were in place. Thucydides was an exiled Athenian, writing about a war Athens ultimately lost due to horrible political stupidity. I find him very circumspect and even-handed, under the circumstances. It’s not all ragging gleefully about the fall of the people who exiled him – that doesn’t come across at all, at least to me. He seems to think the truth, and as full a record as he can manage, is important. We should all do so well.
Thus, a standard for historical storytelling was established, against which other historians might be judged and to which they might aspire. Yet, other than scholars, people still got their stories by word of mouth, and remembered, embellished and repeated those that they found interesting. The lives of the saints, especially the dimly-remembered but much loved early martyrs, are classics. Butler dutifully repeats the general lore, while always noting when there’s nothing but legend to back them up. He assumes, prudently and piously, that there’s most likely something to a story when centuries of storytellers have passed it on, even if the name and naked fact of martyrdom are about all we can be confident in. This is the way History works, more often than not. We have stories. They are almost always filtered by the preferences of the ancestors who passed them on. When available, the luxury of the written record supplies us not only with facts we may not have had, but perhaps more important, with what the more thoughtful, or at least more literate, people at the time thought worth remembering.
Before the written, then recorded, then broadcast, then videoed, word displaced the spoken as the conveyor of stories, it would have been difficult, I suppose, to tamper with history as the term is used here. Things might have changed in the telling over time, but not too much, when the hearers were as familiar with the stories as the tellers. Long after the invention of writing, it would still be the case that most people in just about any culture would learn the stories from hearing them.
Theological issues in the West are inseparably entangled with history, since any Christian theology must deal with real, named people in real, known physical and historical places. The stories about Jesus and His companions and Apostles were literally sacred, written down and copied and told with great care; the writings of the early Fathers and the hagiographies of early saints were also nearly as sacred. To dispute a dogma all but requires, at minimum, a repackaging of history; to refute the Church calls for a major rewrite.
The serious, conscious rewriting of history in the West seems (for I am not an historian) to have begun with, maybe, Wycliffe? Certainly, he didn’t like the history/stories he’d received, and proposed a hermeneutic of Bad Clergy, Monks, and Pope! Bad! as the filter to use on his revisionism. Not sure if he adopted a Great Apostasy theory, but such a moment of presumed fracture is required, as was recognized within a century or so.
The Protestant Reformation represents the first major attempt at rewriting history, both in the formal sense of drafting new texts that tell a different story according to new selection and embellishment criteria, and in spreading new stories among the people. Ever since 1517, a second set of stories parallel to the existing set have been developed and told, with written histories revised accordingly. The old set, dating back to at least Ignatius of Antioch if not the Apostle Paul, tells of Jesus founding a Church and commissioning very fallible Apostles to spread and maintain it, so that the history of the West consists of stories about very human men taking boneheaded if not out and out evil actions over and over again AND of a Church nonetheless effecting the conversion of the known world from India to Ireland and Russia to Ethiopia within a couple centuries of the Founder’s birth, despite 300 years of secular persecution and zero political power. The newer second set tells of Jesus founding a church which quickly all but vanished, to be replaced by evil men enforcing vile lies as dogma, only for a 16th century German Augustinian monk and a couple of other firebrands, building on Wycliffe and Hus, to reestablish the original Church, bring it out of (presumed) hiding and fight the Antichrist, which is the Pope, and his horrible church.
“To be deep in History is to cease to be a Protestant.” Newman may be overstating it a little. To have any grasp of history at all is to cease to be a Protestant, because the essential claims, such as the Great Apostasy and Sola Scriptura are historically unsupportable: no one ever imagined them, until Protestantism required them. I have great sympathy with people raised as Protestant intellectuals, who have inherited and personally invested in the second set of stories with the hope that they might thus be saved. That’s powerful stuff, and not to be denigrated. But on a simple, logical level, I have to fight off the ‘Oh, come on!’ response to patently nonsensical historical positions.
This theological division not only lead to the historical division described above, but to a corresponding philosophical division. The mundane, work-a-day, logical process described by Aristotle and greatly enhanced and developed by Aquinas and that crowd, was hopelessly tainted by its association with the Antichrist. Therefore, and, evidently, because of something like boredom (Descartes, I’m thinking of you!), new or at least recycled philosophies were developed.
These philosophies, like Protestantism itself, quickly metastasized. As I’ve mentioned before, the difference in Philosophy results from or at least reflects the theological division: Sola versus Scola. Catholicism and the Perennial Philosophy are team efforts, with the archetype of St. Thomas leading students through the Questions Method, where different views are expressed and refined before being being challenged, and the result is almost always a ‘given what we know now’ conditional truth. Protestantism’s end point is a man, a plow boy even, alone with his Bible, enlightened without the mediation of church or priest. The final authority is the Good Book itself, trumping anything a priest or scholar or anyone else might say. Similarly, Descartes, Hume, and Kant speculate not in a classroom with their fellow man, but in their own private rooms, alone, with the shades drawn. TRVTH must be found looking inward; the rough and tumble of the Schools is not for them.
A function of their protests against the Church, the one thing that unites our Protestant brethren no matter how fragmented their theologies, is a dismissal of the Church’s history. But as Belloc points out, the history of Europe IS the history of the Church. Awkward.
A little timeline:
1781 – Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason
1800 – Age of Enlightenment ends (more or less)
1822 – Hegel begins delivering his lectures the Philosophy of History at the University of Berlin
Busy time. Kant pushes reason, in the sense of reasoning alone within one’s own head, to its extreme. He famously states that “I had to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.” What could go wrong with that? Note that Catholic doctrine, the Scholastics, as well as pretty much every Catholic thinker back to St. Paul and back on into the Old Testament writers, states that, while God is beyond our mind’s grasp, we can know His existence by very straightforward use of reason. Kant denies this. After him, the non-perennial philosophers seem to have had enough with reason. Today, such lines of thought are labeled metaphysics and largely shoved under the rug.
Hegel changed the way people talk about history. The emphasis is taken away from recounting What Happened as honestly as possible, and even away from telling a good story, to deciphering what the Spirit is unfolding ™. History is seen as having a direction and goals; the historian’s job is to get himself aligned with the Spirit such that he knows that direction and those goals.
Hegel considered himself a good Lutheran. Luther was an Augustinian. Augustine developed the idea of Salvation History as the hermeneutic for understanding Scripture. So the God of History, in the sense of history as the stories that tell us about ourselves, informs our lives and aides our salvation through the story of salvation as told by Him in Scripture.
One catch: the God Who Is becomes, under Hegel, the God Who Becomes. Being, far from the ultimate reality, is illusion. What is real is Becoming. Since logic depends on statements of being, and the Law of Noncontradiction upon which all logic hangs is a statement about being, logic in the form everyone had understood it up to that point must be jettisoned.
Again, what could go wrong? The filters used from the beginning of mankind to select what stories would be told are now replaced by a filter that selects stories, and how they re to be told, for how they best illustrate the historian’s idea of what man is Becoming, to best show Progress.
In the hands of a really humble and honest historian, this might not be too bad; in the hands of a Marx, it becomes a blunt object with which to beat people. In the hands of his even less stable followers, it was used to beat 100 million innocent women, children, and men to death.
The switch from the primacy of Being to the primacy of Becoming leads, with an irresistible logical gravity, to a dismissal of the past. This switch is clear in the now-fashionable formulation of Marxist dogma: everything is a social construct. Under this rubric, nothing *IS*. Everything is no more than an evanescence of some mystical social consciousness, as real as a dream and in any event merely a meaningless and mutable moment along the way toward Progress.
While Protestants had practiced historical revisionism to move the Church from a white hat to a black, they all still very much wanted Jesus at the center of the story. The philosophical giants – Kant and Hegel – certainly wanted not just God, but a recognizably Christian God, playing the central role, and remaining in some sense the eschaton. When Marx came along and set Hegel upright, God Himself was cast into the dustbin of history into which the Protestants had long cast the Church.
The sheep must be lead gently at first. When the Fabian communist H. G. Wells wrote his Outline of History in 1919, all he did (so I am told – not an historian) was remove Christianity from the center of the story, where it had appropriately been since the time of Christ. The story remained recognizable in outline, naturally, it just now made different points and punchlines.
Wells was not an historian, but that hardly mattered. To write this work, he needn’t do any beyond reading what historians had written, and then apply his Marxist hermeneutic to it: History is unfolding itself, leaving behind outdated concepts such as God and personal responsibility and the individual as more than a bee in a hive. We are where we are as the result of huge, irresistible forces. History will lead us inevitably into the future, where outdated ideas (and the people who hold them) will be excised. The eternal God and the poor saps who worshipped him didn’t really do anything, they were just along for the ride, at best an expedient used and now discarded by History.
Belloc, a real historian, promptly wrote a long essay in rebuttal. He traces how the West is the Church and the Church is the West, in that it was in the Church that all the good new ideas were developed, the good old ideas were preserved, and both old and new were promulgated and physically expressed. The story of the West – of Christendom – is the story of martyrs and missionaries, monasteries and monks, who, inheriting a Roman social order, spread order and rational hierarchy and learning with the Good News. Bloodthirsty tribal cultures, admiring the Romans and drinking deep of the Christian ideals, became feudal societies where rights and duties bound peasant, priest, and prince to each other and to God. These Europeans built the great cathedrals, the first universities and hospitals, invented modern science, saved ancient learning, and slowly and imperfectly turned barbarians into civilized peoples. The Church forbade divorce and the bartering off of daughters into marriages against their wills: she condemned the endless cycles of revenge murders; she placed the mother and father in the center of the home, with rights and duties no king could justly violate.
Likewise, Chesterton wroteThe Everlasting Man, in which he, tongue firmly in cheek, thanks Wells for have removed the barrier to non-historians writing history. (1) Thus justified, Chesterton lays waste to Well’s underlying and unspoken assumptions, destroying the idea that we know the history of prehistory, for example, or that cosmic generalizations somehow reduce individual men to dust grains in a breeze, or that ‘comparative religions’ is comparing like things.
In a broader sense, Belloc and Chesterton were assuming their customary good cop/bad cop roles, each taking Wells to the woodshed. Much of educated society, however, was on the side of Wells, including specifically the Fabians, who saw no need to play fair (what is ‘fair’ anyway, in a world of becoming?) when working for something as noble and desirable as the Worker’s Paradise.
Thus, Well’s approach of setting Religion, by which he meant Christianity and most especially Catholicism, aside, and teaching history as if it were a string of inevitable developments under the guiding hand of (the totally not a god!) Progress, has won the day. That’s the history taught K-18 to this day. Any attempt to acknowledge the role of the Church in history in a positive way is shot down before it can arise. By now, with our education system in the unchallenged hands of Marxists for at least 30 years, there will be very few with credentials able to even raise the issue. It would be career suicide.
Since before Wells, but evidently much accelerated since, the rewriting of history, of the stories that tell us who we are, where we belong, and what is important in life, have been a major academic endeavor. As time has gone on, as academia has been more and more taken over by Marxists and their Useful Idiots, history as taught is a slate upon which to expound Marxist dogmas. No longer is history an art meant to convey important information about what has happened, what the people involved did and thought, what lead up to events and what followed. History as the stories that help us see who we are has been denied to almost everyone. The individual is nothing, the collective everything. What is truth?
History is today taught in America to convince our children that they are victims of vast forces of oppression who can only be overthrown by a revolution. Nothing they do matters for good or ill: the only cause of unhappiness is oppression. Therefore, the only valid academic exercise is to search out the oppression that causes any particular unhappiness and oppose it with activism designed to bring about the revolution. The Useful Idiots may not know this – dear God, I hope not! – but the true believers do.
As Chesterton say about dragons: children don’t need to be told they exist. Kids already know that. Children need to be told that dragons can be defeated. A history in which personal action is pointless, in which all victories and defeats are inevitable or meaningless, and in which the only goal is destroying a ‘system’ without the faintest understanding of what that system is: such a history leaves the heart terrified and the body petrified. Here be dragons, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Belloc and Wells were at the time engaged in a rather heated public exchange over Well’s playing fast and loose with the facts. Chesterton enters with: “As I have more than once differed from Mr. H. G. Wells in his view of history, it is the more right that I should here congratulate him on the courage and constructive imagination which carried through his vast and varied and intensely interesting work; but still more on having asserted the reasonable right of the amateur to do what he can with the facts which the specialists provide. ” – intro to the Everlasting Man
A full definition of modernism would be rather difficult. First it stands for certain tendencies, and secondly for a body of doctrine which, if it has not given birth to these tendencies (practice often precedes theory), serves at any rate as their explanation and support. Such tendencies manifest themselves in different domains. They are not united in each individual, nor are they always and everywhere found together. Modernist doctrine, too, may be more or less radical, and it is swallowed in doses that vary with each one’s likes and dislikes. In the Encyclical “Pascendi”, Pius X says that modernism embraces every heresy.
One reason a full definition of Modernism would be difficult is that Hegel, the tent-pole Modernist, held that definition – stating what something or some idea *is* and *is not* – is right out. The world is Becoming, not Being, so that all statements of being are essentially meaningless. Thus, expecting some sort of consistency in the beliefs and behaviors of Modernists is also nonsensical. They are all manifesting, in better or worse, or more or less advanced, ways the feelings of the age.
That “embraces every heresy” line is interesting. The future saint doesn’t say “is open to” or “may fall victim to” but “embraces” – a positive act. This embracing of the heretical, expressed in phrases such as ‘everything is a social construct’ or ‘that’s your truth’ is not just a letting down of our guard against heresy, but, in keeping with the Hegelian rejection of statements of being, a necessary step in the upcoming synthesis. A heresy is not wrong, it is merely the expression of the antithesis to some dogma, destined to become suspended yet not contradicted in a new and better understanding.
Note that one outcome of this kind of emoting – it would hardly do to call it thinking – is the readily apparent moral race to the bottom we’re seeing now. Nothing at all can be fundamentally wrong, but merely daring or transgressive, soon to be incorporated into enlightened understanding. Hegel, who imagined the Spirit driving all this enlightenment, may have not meant it that way, but it’s a funny tendency of ideas to get off leash and be pursued to their logical conclusion regardless of who thought it up and what they may have wanted.
A remodelling, a renewal according to the ideas of the twentieth century — such is the longing that possesses the modernists. “The avowed modernists”, says M. Loisy, “form a fairly definite group of thinking men united in the common desire to adapt Catholicism to the intellectual, moral and social needs of today” (op. cit., p. 13). “Our religious attitude”, as “Il programma dei modernisti” states (p. 5, note l), “is ruled by the single wish to be one with Christians and Catholics who live in harmony with the spirit of the age”. The spirit of this plan of reform may be summarized under the following heads:
– A spirit of complete emancipation, tending to weaken ecclesiastical authority; the emancipation of science, which must traverse every field of investigation without fear of conflict with the Church; the emancipation of the State, which should never be hampered by religious authority; the emancipation of the private conscience whose inspirations must not be overridden by papal definitions or anathemas; the emancipation of the universal conscience, with which the Church should be ever in agreement; – A spirit of movement and change, with an inclination to a sweeping form of evolution such as abhors anything fixed and stationary; – A spirit of reconciliation among all men through the feelings of the heart. Many and varied also are the modernist dreams of an understanding between the different Christian religions, nay, even between religion and a species of atheism, and all on a basis of agreement that must be superior to mere doctrinal differences.
Every get frustrated with the idea of Progress as an intransitive verb, divorced from any idea of progress toward something? That’s a feature, not a bug.
So Rodney King’s ‘why can’t we all just get along?”, that Hull House lady Jane Addams (I think) who convinced John Dewey that there are no real disagreements, only misunderstandings, and Jo Swenson’s Empathicalism, where the goal of life is “to project your imagination so to actually feel what the other person is feeling.” – these are all flavors of Modernism. Right?
Perhaps Modernism could be defined as the idea that humanity will find peace only once all join hands in a sufficiently murky emotional miasma.
For [Modernists] external intuition furnishes man with but phenomenal contingent, sensible knowledge. He sees, he feels, he hears, he tastes, he touches this something, this phenomenon that comes and goes without telling him aught of the existence of a suprasensible, absolute and unchanging reality outside all environing space and time. But deep within himself man feels the need of a higher hope. He aspires to perfection in a being on whom he feels his destiny depends. And so he has an instinctive, an affective yearning for God. This necessary impulse is at first obscure and hidden in the subconsciousness. Once consciously understood, it reveals to the soul the intimate presence of God. This manifestation, in which God and man collaborate, is nothing else than revelation. Under the influence of its yearning, that is of its religious feelings, the soul tries to reach God, to adopt towards Him an attitude that will satisfy its yearning. It gropes, it searches. These gropings form the soul’s religious experience. They are more easy, successful and far-reaching, or less so, according as it is now one, now another individual soul that sets out in quest of God. Anon there are privileged ones who reach extraordinary results. They communicate their discoveries to their fellow men, and forthwith become founders of a new religion, which is more or less true in the proportion in which it gives peace to the religious feelings.
The attitude Christ adopted, reaching up to God as to a father and then returning to men as to brothers — such is the meaning of the precept, “Love God and thy neighbour” — brings full rest to the soul. It makes the religion of Christ the religion , the true and definitive religion. The act by which the soul adopts this attitude and abandons itself to God as a father and then to men as to brothers, constitutes the Christian Faith. Plainly such an act is an act of the will rather than of the intellect. But religious sentiment tries to express itself in intellectual concepts, which in their turn serve to preserve this sentiment. Hence the origin of those formulae concerning God and Divine things, of those theoretical propositions that are the outcome of the successive religious experiences of souls gifted with the same faith. These formulae become dogmas, when religious authority approves of them for the life of the community. For community life is a spontaneous growth among persons of the same faith, and with it comes authority. Dogmas promulgated in this way teach us nothing of the unknowable, but only symbolize it. They contain no truth. Their usefulness in preserving the faith is their only raison d’être. They survive as long as they exert their influence. Being the work of man in time, and adapted to his varying needs, they are at best but contingent and transient. Religious authority too, naturally conservative, may lag behind the times. It may mistake the best methods of meeting needs of the community, and try to keep up worn-out formulae.
Those church songs I’m always going on about, where we, the gathered people, are mentioned directly or indirectly to the exclusion or near-exclusion of God – these are not some accident. They embody the above emphasis on *us* as the source and summit of religion.
What could possibly go wrong?
All heresies are rejections of the Incarnation. From Satan on down, pride inclines us to reject the idea that an all-powerful God could ever be so humble as to become one of us. Modernism rejects the idea that, having become one of us, Jesus might have something to say, and, having said it, might expect us to embrace it. They called him ‘Rabbi’ that is, ‘Teacher,’ yet we are incapable of being taught. No – we turn to feelings, to our personal direct experiences without any animating influence from that guy on the cross. We may stumble across Him (not that that could be all that important) and feel some connection. Or not. But that hardly matters. What matters is that we embrace our feelings and each other as we stumble into the sulfurous cloud.
Little heavy, there. But nothing compared to Pope St. Pius X. He was metal. Perhaps his St. Michael’s pray would be a good palate cleanser at this point.
Concluding this review with the final lecture in the series. Lecture I review here, Lecture II here, Lecture III here, Lecture IVhere. Going into more detail than usually is possible, including just pasting the the entire lecture below, because of Harris’s importance in advancing compulsory state schooling, and the lectures are short enough to admit of it.
This final lecture is also written as one run-on paragraph, this one nearly 3 pages long; clearly, these are outlines or note.
Let’s summarise our current state after Lecture IV: Harris believes all ‘substantial education,’ which he defines as the rote training and thoughtless inculturation every child in every culture receives, reduces the student to an ‘automata,’ careful to accept cultural premises and follow acceptable cultural paths. He tacitly dismisses the idea that a child could learn to think for himself, and accepts some form of tabula rasa: the idea that a child might already be himself, and thus not a clean field for indoctrination, is never considered.
In Hegel-speak, a substantially educated child has his individuality ‘subsumed’ into the culture. Such a one will have surrendered his individuality in order to belong. Harris then proposes a second educational principle, which frees the student’s individuality from this subsumption (while simultaneously not freeing it – hey, it’s Hegel!): learning to be an Hegelian. Only Hegelians, in Harris’ view, possess the tools to address society’s problems.
This second kind may be called individual or scientific education; it is the education of insight as opposed to that of authority.
Here we find the traditional Hegelian and especially Marxist abuse of the word ‘scientific’ to mean ‘untestable and poorly-defines assertions that I’d really like to be true.’ We know Harris means this, because he calls this an ‘education of insights’. Hegel places insights – direct infusions of truth into the soul, not subject to logic nor testable by experiment – above and beyond the reach of the little people and their math and science and technology. It is by insight, for example, that the enlightened Hegelian sees the Spirit unfolding and coming to know Itself through History. Thus progress is not a measure of net relative advances, if any, over time, but is instead Progress, a god-like force moving us ‘forward’. This is all very scientific.
Another aspect of scientific education is that it must be doled out a spoonful at a time by experts – here he echos Pestalozzi and Fichte – lest the child get the crazy idea that he can figure stuff out on his own, and become unmanageable. We see here the foundation of our dumb-them-down system that does everything possible to exclude or trivialize parental involvement. Harris praises textbooks as the perfect tools to this end.
So, after the first two lectures, we are to understand that we all are automata except insofar as we’ve been enlightened, the sole measure of this enlightenment being our agreement with Hegel and his acolytes like Harris. Our schools need to be run by professionals, who alone are able to properly ration out knowledge, and who will take great care that their charges remain docile.
After an excursion through Kant and some more blank slate nonsense in Lecture III, Harris gets to the point in Lecture IV: the little benighted people need to be lead by the good and enlightened people, a sort of revolutionary vanguard, as it were.
LECTURE V. February 4th, 1893. HERBERT SPENCER AND WHAT KNOWLEDGE IS OF MOST WORTH. (found here.)
In Herbert Spencer, the return to nature means the study of natural science, and this becomes the great thing. But natural science is only the instrument with which we conquer nature. Everybody becomes filled with the idea of progress by it, for we see that nature as it is, existing in time and space, is conquered by inventions and made to serve man. There was never a more unscientific book made than Spencer’s essay on education ; for while he praises science, he does not apply it to a study of education as it is and has been. To do this he ought to study the genesis of the course of study and explain its functions. The unscientific person takes things as they are, and cares not for their origin. To study things from a scientific standpoint means to take an inventory of them to find the process in which they are being produced ; to connect them with other things ; to see things in their causal process. He does not understand the system of education as it exists, because he does not know the educational value of its branches. The education he proposes for us is for the purpose of complete living; but what is Spencer’s definition of this complete living? Spencer does not take education as the genesis of man’s spiritual life, but merely as something useful for showing how to care for the body and perform the lower social functions as the tool of life, the instrument by which life is preserved.
More specifically Hegelian criticism. All current action is to be judged by its place within the Spirit’s unfolding both now and in the future. I have little knowledge of Spenser’s educational theories and would likely find them appalling based on what little I do know, but Harris’s critique here hangs on Spenser not being Hegelian enough, which I would take as a complement. Sure, sound education is first and foremost education toward spiritual growth. Hegel’s idea of spiritual growth is hardly anything I’d sign up for.
Now suppose the definition of complete living to be, to elevate each individual so that he can take advantage of the life and experience of his race. Then he would find complete living to involve the initiation into the civilizations of the past that furnish the elements out of which our own civilization is formed.
This sounds good, having children learn about past civilizations, until you see it in an Hegelian context: past civilizations are mere illustrations of the Spirit’s march through History. One would not be permitted by Hegel to dwell too much on how our modern age has in many ways lost the excellence of past cultures – e.g., Greek excellence, Roman honor, Medieval logic, Renaissance conceptions of beauty – and failed to replace them with anything of equal value, let alone exceed them. Hegelians have no place in their schema for genuine admiration of the past, which is just prelude to an ever more glorious present and future.
Spencer thinks that the first business of the child is to know physiology ; the next is the selection of a vocation or trade, which leads to training for citizenship ; and last of all he puts relaxation and amusement, in which he includes literature and art. Now, Aristotle characterized man as the symbol-making animal. Human nature has to be expressed by symbols. The poets of a people first paint the ideal, which makes civilization possible. Literature furnishes the most essential branch of education, so far as its function is to help the child into civilization. Man sits in the theatre of the world (as Plato tells us) and sees the shadows of men and events thrown on the curtain before him. Behind him and out of his sight is the Great Leader, who is making these shadows. From them he draws his ideals, but ideals are potentialities, not realities. Self-activity, the freedom of the soul, is made possible by the institutions of society, the family, civil society, State and Church. We must not confound the mere school with these other great institutions of civilization. In the family are learned the mother tongue, habits, and nurture. Civil society teaches him his vocation; the State, his duties as citizen ; and the Church shows him his place in the divine plan of the universe. Spencer calls education the subject which involves all other subjects, and the one in which they should all culminate. But some one has better said that school education is the giving to man the possession of the instrumentalities of intelligence. By his school education he does not attain all education, but he gets the tools of thought by which to master the wisdom of the race.
OK, sure, pretty common understanding, although the glossing over of “church” Mere Christianity style fails to address the real, passionate disagreements people have over what constitutes a proper church. This, I suppose, would be an area Harris would expect the little people to be lead by their betters.
There are, then, three epochs of school education elementary, secondary and higher. The first or elementary stage is the opening of the five windows of the soul. (1) Arithmetic is the foundation of our knowledge of nature, by which we measure and count all things inorganic. When its first principles are mastered the child begins to want to combine the organic with the inorganic, and then we come to another window (2), that of elementary geography. The distribution of animal and plant life is learned, and the child begins to peep into the organization of things, the growth of plants, and the formation of the continents and the earth. Thirdly, he learns to read and write, and gets a glimpse into literature. The original colloquial vocabulary learned at home, variously estimated at from 300 or 400 to 3,000 or 4,000 words, deals only with commonplace things. But the school takes this colloquial vocabulary as a key and opens up the great reservoir of literature in books, initiating him into a higher class of words, expressive of fine shades of feeling and thought. Thus, to his own vocabulary are added those of great writers, who have seen nature from a different point of view, and presented their thoughts in gems of literary style. Literature lifts up the pupil into the realms of human nature and discloses the motives which govern the actions of men. Yet Spencer puts this last in his course of study. After learning all science has to give, after learning one’s trade and the care of his body, he would then, if there is leisure, permit literature and art. But literature is the greatest educator we have. It has made possible newspapers and periodicals and books, with pictures of human life and of the motives governing our actions. The fourth window of the soul is grammar, wherein we have a glimpse of the logical structure of the intellect as revealed in language. The fifth window is history (that of his own country), wherein he sees revealed the aspirations of his countrymen, his own nature, written out in colossal letters ; and these five studies should make the elementary education of the student.
Here the Pestalozzian approach is clear: the expert decides the child shall learn Arithmetic first, and not go on to anything else until it is mastered; then basic Geography, and only once this is mastered, reading and writing; then Grammar, then the History of his own nation.
Well? Anyone who has been around kids knows that no two are alike, and that one may take to math like a fish to water at age 5, while another will find it baffling into adulthood. Lumping kids together by age, a barbaric practice championed by Harris and his predecessors, makes it certain that the first kid is going to be bored out of his mind and the second baffled and confused. Sure, in some Pestalozzian, anti-Fichtean dream world each kid gets all the attention he needs and moves ahead at his own pace. Sure. History shows how well the graded classroom model has approached that ideal. If education were the goal, it might; but since control is the goal, it won’t.
And so on. I’m old enough and, after a fashion, smart enough that I got left alone by the teachers for the most part when I was a little kid, because I either knew the stuff or could fake it. Now? from what I can tell, teachers are not allowed to let a kid skate on attention or classwork if he seems OK to them. Nope, conformity is demanded. Control is, after all, at the base and summit of Harris’s ideal.
The secondary education takes up human learning and continues it along the same lines, namely : 1, inorganic nature; 2, organic nature; 3, literature (the heart); 4, grammar and logic (the intellect); and 5, history (the will). Algebra deals with general numbers, while Arithmetic has definite numbers to operate with. Geometry and physics continue inorganic nature, while natural history continues the study already commenced in geography. Then come Greek and Latin, and here is opened up a great field of study into the embryology of our civilization. In the dead language* we have the three great threads running through the history of human progress. The Greek, with its literature and aesthetic art and its philosophy, showing the higher forms of human freedom in contrast with the Egyptian, which showed only the struggle for freedom and never the man separated from the animal and the inorganic world. The Roman, with the continual gaze upon the will of man, seeks the true forms of contracts and treaties and corporations, whereby one man may combine with another, and it essays the conquering of men and reducing them to obedience to civil law, not only external conquest but internal conquest as well. The Hebrew thread is the religious one, which we recognize in the celebration of worship one day each week and in the various holy days. We acknowledge this the most essential thread of our civilization. So, with the secondary education we begin to get the embryology of our forms of life.
As mentioned here, high school education at the close of the 19th century puts virtually all undergrad work to shame. Admission to Harvard at this time merely required a demonstration of basic competence in Greek, Latin and calculus – which a high school student who hoped to go to college could reasonably be expected to have achieved.
Harris seems to support this model, which is quite similar to what I went through at St. John’s College. He seems confident it will produce exactly the good little Hegelians he invisions all enlightened people to be.
But what if it doesn’t? What if the vanguard decides good little Hegelians are good little Marxists? Then, understanding history, logic, scripture, etc., become positive liabilities if they don’t produce such Marxists. There’s even a risk a student who really learned this stuff might forcefully reject Marx! What if education leads away from, not towards, the glorious revolution?
Best not to take that risk. Stick with basic indoctrination. It’s the only way to be sure.
The higher or collegiate education is the comparative step of education. Each branch is studied in the light of all the others. Natural science and sociology are investigated ; logic and mental philosophy ; ethics and rhetoric; as well as the philosophy of history and of literature, and the comparative sciences, which furnish the light for the whole method of higher education. The first, or elementary education, then, is but superficial, a mere inventory ; the secondary insists on some reflection on what has been learned ; and the third, or higher education, is the unity and comparison of all that has been learned, so that each is explained by the whole. Give the child possession of the embryology of civilization, and his insight into the evolution of civilization is insured.
“Insight” – and there you have it. Harris is naively confident this insight is Hegelian. His Marxist successors excised all the basic stuff because they more wisely understood that all this education could, from their view, go terribly wrong.
Educators have adopted the course of study as it exists, led by an unconscious or blind impulse. Herbert Spencer should have investigated and discovered its purpose, which is a far deeper one than he has thought out when he advocates its overthrow for the sake of knowledge that leads to direct self-preservation.
“…led by an unconscious or blind impulse. ” More Hegel, the Spirit unfolding itself despite men not being aware of what is happening.
Rosenkranz: Paedagogik als System (English Translation, D. Appleton it Co., New York). Third part, treating of the substantial contents of the national education Its sacred books, and the idea that the nation stands for in the history of the world. (Lec ture 1.)
Karl Schmidt : Geschichte der Paedagogik ; gives a much fuller statement of the details of the culture systems of the several nations. (Lecture 1.)
Continuing this review. Lecture I review here, Lecture II here, Lecture III here. Going into more detail than usually is possible, including just pasting the the entire lecture below, because of Harris’s importance in advancing compulsory state schooling, and the lectures are short enough to admit of it.
One more after this one. Another lecture written as one run-on paragraph. This one, more than the previous, appears to be just an outline or notes. I’d assume there was a lively discussion period afterwards?
LECTURE IV. January 25th, 1893. ROUSSEAU AND THE RETURN TO NATURE. REVOLUTIONARY PROTEST. (found here.)
The time of Louis XIV: the nobles attracted to Court and to a life of gayety, neglecting their estates and wasting the fruits of toil in riotous living ; the laborers deprived of the advantage of the directive power of the nobility fail in power of production. The French Revolution is the result. Rousseau its prophet ; he proclaims a return to nature. “Nature,” a word of ambiguous meaning; human nature versus physical nature; human history the revelation of man’s nature; it is realized in institutions and not by man as an isolated individual. Nature in time and space is under the dominion of necessity, everything constrained to be what it is by outside forces. Human nature is an ideal, and when realized it has the form of freedom and self-determination, each man a law unto himself and each one engaged in helping every other one, for by this each one helps himself. Rousseau appealed to nature in everything. What we call civilization was to him a mere artificial form. His plea was to be natural, come back to the point where nature leaves you. Rousseau came from Switzerland to France, and at an opportune time for him ; for there was a great ferment of ideas at this epoch. He was struggling along in Paris, barely securing a livelihood, when there came the offer from the Academy of Dijon of a prize for an essay on the progress of the arts and sciences, whether it has tended towards the purification of morals and manners. The negative side suggested itself more forcibly to him, as he was better fitted for it by his mode of living and morals, and by his literary style, and he found himself at once a “censor of civilization.” This essay was soon followed (1752) by one on the origin of the inequality among men. The great tension produced by the artificiality of the civilization of the Court life of the time had caused men to become anxious to get back to a simplicity of living, and Chateau briand painted the charms of the forest life of the Indians. In this reaction the meaning of civilization is ignored. Man emancipates himself from drudgery and compels nature by the forces of his intellect to feed and clothe him. The “Social Contract” followed (1762) this with an attack on the authority of the State; and in the same year his Emile undermined the School and the Church : and so he attacked all the social institutions one after another the family, civil society, the Church and State. He proposed to sweep all away by summoning them before the bar of his individual judgment and condemning all. In the opening paragraph of his Emile he declares that everything which comes from nature is good, while everything degenerates in the hands of man. The antithesis of civilization is savagery, and Voltaire wittily exposed the fallacy of Rousseau’s teaching in his letter accepting the book. He said “never has anyone employed so much genius to make us into beasts. When one reads your book he is seized at once with a desire to go down on all fours.” External authority is a perennial necessity for man in his immaturity. An appeal to nature is always a piece of jugglery with words. In mere nature we have matter and force. Everything inorganic is made by some external influence. But organic nature is the opposite of inorganic. The plant has the power of assimilation, and the animal the further powers of locomotion and feeling, or ability to select or choose its surroundings. In man this is still further increased by recollection and memory, by which the mind makes over its impressions. To do his duty properly he must look to higher things, and in ethical ideas the human becomes transcendental. The moral man acts as though the sole being in the world is humanity. No natural instinct is admitted as having validity against the moral law. If we adopt the doctrines of material nature and yield to our feelings and impulses, we remain animals. But if we take nature in the sense of our ideal, divine possibility, and realize it by education, we attain to human nature properly so-called, which is not something given us without effort, but only the product of culture.
Harris is an Hegelian:
With Brockmeyer and other of the St. Louis Hegelians, he founded and edited the first philosophical periodical in America, the Journal of Speculative Philosophy (1867), editing it until 1893. It promoted the view that the entire unfolding was part of a universal plan, a working out of an eternal historical dialectic, as theorized by Hegel.
It is said that Harris, as the United States Commissioner of Education, tried to make Hegelianism the official philosophy of American compulsory schooling. He only succeeded in making it, as dumbed down(!) by his incorrigible idiot child Marx, the *unofficial* philosophy of American schooling.
Now, the primary and defining belief of Hegelians is that they’re smarter and, most importantly, more enlightened than everybody else. They worship the power they lack but feel they deserve. Therefore, in their world, ignorant masses need (and deserve) to be lead into the glorious future by better people: “…the laborers deprived of the advantage of the directive power of the nobility fail in power of production. The French Revolution is the result.” Catch that? One might suspect that Harris is not entirely on board with America’s idealized egalitarianism. Also, I’m thinking there might be a few more tiny steps between indolent French counts and marquis neglecting to guide the farm hands and the Committee for Public Safety decapitating nuns. But hey, I’m not an Hegelian.
Following right on the heels of this vigorous & evidently double-jointed self back-patting (1) and not so subtle petulance about not being in charge is the idea of Progress: there’s this universal plan, see, under which the Spirit (2) reveals itself to itself inevitably through History. Through, of course, the ministration of enlightened Hegelians such as Harris, whose belief in the inevitability of Progress doesn’t seem to extend far enough to stay the hell out of imposing it on others.
Rousseau is a manifest idiot. Figures he’d be the prophet of the murderous idiocy of the French Revolution.
Now we get to the hardcore Hegelianism:
“Nature,” a word of ambiguous meaning; human nature versus physical nature; human history the revelation of man’s nature; it is realized in institutions and not by man as an isolated individual. Nature in time and space is under the dominion of necessity, everything constrained to be what it is by outside forces. Human nature is an ideal, and when realized it has the form of freedom and self-determination, each man a law unto himself and each one engaged in helping every other one, for by this each one helps himself.
Digression: Generally, the world, or ‘Nature,’ can be understood according to two general steps. The base level is either/or, as succinctly stated in the Law of Noncontradiction. The next level is both/and, and is perhaps best expressed in the Schoolmen’s advice: “Seldom affirm, never deny, always distinguish.” Using these two steps, one first establishes what is logically necessary and what is common experience, and moves from there to what might be (conditionally) true about the world. The Church, for example, has for centuries issued anathemas and proclaimed dogmas as a first step, then seemingly splits hairs when considering the application of those dogmas and anathemas. Science works the same way: the definitions and assumptions are necessarily dogmatic; data collection is always thoroughly hedged in by the assumptions and definitions; conclusions are always conditional. In both cases, we may yearn for more forceful and unconditioned conclusions, but the careful thinker is not likely to give us them.
Hegel strove for a third way: he wanted a dialectic within which everything is conditional – nothing ‘is, everything is ‘becoming’ – where violations of the Law of Noncontradiction were never resolved but rather suspended in the synthesis, where the currently unknowable workings of the Spirit create a new reality in its unfolding through time.
If this sounds like bafflegab, that’s because it is. It’s meant to fend off – summarily dismiss, really – the sort of careful dissection of questions which is the hallmark both of the Aristotelian/Thomist schools and science insofar as science works. (3) Hegel, and Marx much more so, are simply nonsensical. They contradict themselves in word and deed at every step. But since they know they’re right – what superior individual does not? – these contradictions must not be valid. Therefore, etc.
Here’s where Harris gets evil: “…human history the revelation of man’s nature; it is realized in institutions and not by man as an isolated individual.” Under the both/and approach, one would distinguish as follows: it is the inalienable dignity of men as individuals that gives any meaning to the institutions within which man finds himself; yet it is true that men are formed and most fully realized within these institutions: marriage, family, village, state and church. Under Harris’s formulation, one would focus all efforts on changing institutions (sound familiar?): change the institution – school, in Harris’s case – and thus change the individuals.
One of the things naive supporters of more centralized control over people – progressives, socialists, Marxists (but I repeat myself) – seem unable to imagine is that this control, once established, will not long remain in the hand of the avuncular and well-intentioned as they imagine the Bern to be, but will in short order end up in the hands of Pol Pot. That’s the lesson of small ‘h’ history; that’s why capital ‘H’ History seeks to ignore and rewrite it.
Another historical aside: throughout the history of philosophy, there have been camps promoting multiple truths that need not gibe, and those after the beloved Emerson Cod: “The truth ain’t like puppies, a bunch of them running around, you pick your favorite. One truth… and it has come a knockin’.”
Here, Harris is proposing that there’s a material world of complete determination, and a spiritual world where, once idealized human nature is realized, everyone will be perfect little saints. Not one world of matter and form, but two worlds where different truths prevail. Subtle, but important: rather than a man striving to be personally better as a creature comprising an inseparable and essential body and soul, Gnosticism has crept back from the dead: the body is evil, only the soul is good. Gnosticism has proven many times over the centuries to ba an idea tending inexorably toward misery.
We have thus arrived at a situation that should sound very current and familiar: we are to focus our attention on changing institutions, which, once conformed to the enlightened ideas of the elect, will produce perfect, happy little people. Remember, enlightenment means never having to listen, let alone explain yourself, to the unenlightened – they just won’t understand! (This also conveniently absolves the enlightened from having to personally behave themselves, since their personal behaviour has no effect by definition: Weinstein can rape away and Gore and AOC can jet around like rock stars, just so long as they mouth the right platitudes in favor of *institutional* change.)
After thankfully disposing of Rousseau – hey! Stopped clock got one right! – Harris turns back to his own naive mysticism:
External authority is a perennial necessity for man in his immaturity. An appeal to nature is always a piece of jugglery with words.
That he considers man immature is almost a tautology; that he considers appeals to human nature ‘jugglery’ is an appeal to more Hegelian and especially Marxist nonsense: while Hegel merely denies any permanence to our understanding of human nature – it’s unfolding along with the Spirit, and is always becoming, never being – Marx just flat out denies the existence of human nature: it’s a social construct, man.
He and his will be happy to provide the external authority needed by us immature people until the point at which we are mature: by definition, when we agree with Harris. Not quite fair: when we agree with Harris, we will be counted among the enlightened and allowed to indulge our tyrannical jones over the less enlightened and sit at the Kool Kids Table until the Spirit is done unfolding itself. Not kidding: Harris worked his whole adult life to make the schools the instrument of the Enlightened.
To do his duty properly he must look to higher things, and in ethical ideas the human becomes transcendental. The moral man acts as though the sole being in the world is humanity. No natural instinct is admitted as having validity against the moral law. If we adopt the doctrines of material nature and yield to our feelings and impulses, we remain animals. But if we take nature in the sense of our ideal, divine possibility, and realize it by education, we attain to human nature properly so-called, which is not something given us without effort, but only the product of culture.
Ethical ideas are spiritual. Natural instincts are controlled by morality. Going with feels is to remain an animal. So far so good. “But if we take nature in the sense of our ideal, divine possibility,” This sounds sensible, out of context “… and realize it by education, we attain to human nature properly so-called, which is not something given us without effort, but only the product of culture. OK, so we yearn to fulfill our divine destiny, which can be realized through – school? We’ll school kids so that they will change the culture? To bring about the Hegelian Valhalla?
What could possibly go wrong?
One more lecture to go.
How do they not pull a muscle?
Hegel may not have invented the practice of renaming old ideas in order to sound smart and hip, but he certainly advanced the art: here, anybody else would say ‘God’, but that turf had already been worked over pretty good by the Salvation History folks, most prominently Augustine. In contrast to Hegel’s Spirit unfolding and coming to know itself History, Salvation History posits, on the one hand, a God Who reveals Himself to us over time and on the other a lamentably realistic view of secular history as one long tragic train of failure punctuated every now and then by a passing victory, until, in the end, we all lose – and then Jesus comes! Hegel wanted God embedded, as it were, with the forward troops in a long march to Victory! Marx’s eschatology, all but indistinguishable in outline from traditional Christian eschatology excepting that that God person has been renamed History, reflects this persistence.
The irony here: Hegel, writing in the early 19th century, assumes Progress is so completely obvious that his task is to explain the origins and workings of that Progress. In doing so, he dismisses scientists, mathematicians, and technologists as the little people, those who need to use logic and reason as traditionally understood – not *real* philosophers like Hegel, who have transcended all such crutches. Problem: the only really obvious progress has been made by precisely those scientists, mathematicians and technologist Hegel dismisses. Everything else we might want to call progress is highly debatable, to say the least. He saws off the branch he’s sitting on.
Still beating myself up over having done such a woefully poor job stating the rational reasons why anyone of good will and sound mind should reject Gender Theory. So, assuming there are people willing to consider being swayed in their support for this bit of carefully-constructed propaganda by reasonable arguments (both such posited people are hanging with Sasquatch on the shores of Loch Ness, one imagines), here we go, from simplest and most obvious to more complex and subtle:
1 The policy of gender affirmation – of affirming anyone’s stated gender with no questions asked or even allowed – is built on the more general principle that a person’s identity is something he and he alone can define. Appeals to anything outside the individual’s own feelings about who he is are a clear form of oppression, and must always be opposed.
Thus, if a little girl says she’s a boy, she IS a boy, and her subjective feelings about her gender have created objective moral and legal obligations on everyone else: I MUST affirm her feelings; I am subject to legal consequences if I don’t.
This much is clear, and is the claim routinely made by gender theorists. But the principle – that a person’s identity is something he and he alone can define – cannot reasonably be confined to gender. If gender is a social construct, then so is everything else. This much is also routinely confirmed by gender theorists: everything is a social construct.
Therefore, if the little girl were to assert that she is not only a boy, but a fat boy, we likewise have no moral option but to affirm it. To disagree would be to make an appeal to objective reality, and such appeals have already been ruled out when we mandate affirmation of her assertion she is a boy. Body image is a social construct, after all. Thus, we can only affirm that this little girl is now a fat boy. To do otherwise would be hateful and oppressive.
In my experience, this is exactly what children of all ages feel is the correct response: the little wisp of a girl is now a fat boy. Period.
Now the fat boy announces that since he is a fat boy, he is going to the bathroom to puke up his lunch. Well? If you object based on objective reality, noting that it’s bad for you to puke up you lunch, the fat boy can simply reply that, as a fat boy, it’s not bad for him and besides, who are you to judge? Health, after all, is a social construct.
Finally, the fat boy says he finds life too tiresome to endure, and so wants to kill himself. On what basis could a gender theorist possibly object? On what basis could any argument be made that wanting to kill yourself is anything other than a sacred act of self-definition, just like gender and body image and health? A preference for life over death is the ultimate social construct: if we won’t argue with grandma when she seeks assisted suicide, how can we argue with an 8 year old who wants to die? To even try to dissuade him is an act of violence, oppression and hate.
Gender affirmation leads inescapably to the demand that all affirm and support a child’s wish to kill himself. To this, all reasonable people should object. Encouraging and helping children to kill themselves is monstrous. Nor is this a theoretical issue, as all statistics show a very much heightened incidents of suicide and attempted suicide and other self-destructive behaviors among children suffering under confusion about their sexual identity. Sane and loving adults try to help such children find reasons to live; a logically consistent gender theorist would necessarily find ways to help them die.
2 Background: when Fichte, who laid the philosophical and political foundation for modern compulsory graded classroom schooling back in 1811, asserted that the goal of schooling is to render the student incapable of thinking anything his teacher didn’t want him to think, he found instant enthusiastic acceptance among the ruling and managerial classes of Prussia, who promptly set about implementing Fichte’s ideas. When William Torrey Harris, U.S. Commissioner of Education 1889 – 1906, stated that 99 out of a 100 students are automata, and that this was the result of substantial education scientifically understood, he was not expressing a hope, but stating a *fact*.
What our schooling – public, and all private that uses graded classrooms – is intended to do is establish what might technically be called ‘epistemic closure’. The teacher, and much more importantly, the structure of the schools build and reinforce the feeling that success is gotten primarily by doing what you are told and secondarily by regurgitating what you’ve been taught. Failure is much more linked to failing to conform – to bells, lines, schedules, and arbitrary commands – than to learning anything. Troublemakers are not those who don’t do their Spanish homework, but rather they’re the ones who get up to use the restroom without asking permission.
This inculcation of mindless conformity is the whole point of schooling, as Fichte, Mann, Dewey, Freire, and all the fine graduates of education schools understood and understand, albeit the idea is typically dressed in bafflegab and diversions. For example, Freire, who is required reading in all the better education schools, states flatly that the goal of education is to ‘radicalize the student’. Learning anything concrete, things that might even better their lives, is not irrelevant, but positively counterproductive.
A radicalized student has achieved perfect epistemic closure. His every thought is shaped by what he has learned in school – he cannot even think anything his teacher would not want him to think. All allowable questions have been formulated; all possible answers have been defined. When faced with an opinion that denies his assumption, with questions that lie outside the closure, with answers or, worse, results that fail to conform to the prescribed schema, the only possible reactions are confusion and anger.
One sees this state all the time. People will say they ‘don’t understand” positions they have spent exactly zero time and effort trying to understand; name calling, often vile, is used to answer challenges. Finally, an concerted effort is made to silence those who dare challenge the closure.
Gender theory exists entirely within the epistemic closure now enforced in all colleges and universities (with negligibly minor exceptions), and, by extension, in all professions and polite pseudo-educated circles in their orbits. This fact is of course completely invisible to those within the closure, as is the fact that nobody outside the closure accepts gender theory. There are 1.4 billion Indians and a similar number of Chinese, as well as another billion total Africans and South Americans. There’s another billion plus across Southeast Asia, not to mention 1.6 billion Muslims. My rough math, and allowing for some overlap, suggests that 5 and a half billion out of 7 billion people on earth either have never heard of gender theory or, if they have, laughed or cursed it off the stage. Then, even in Western Europe, America, Canada and Australia, it’s likely a small minority who really embrace it – many people may roll their eyes and go along, but they have yet to feel the enforcement arm. Their day is coming.
Because people within the closure accept it not on the basis of argument, but because it’s what their teachers, broadly understood, have trained them to accept, the vast majority of people under the spell will have no idea and less interest in where their ideas come from or where they lead. It would be a miracle if any even listened to the following very straightforward and easily confirmable (Google, anyone? Wiki-freakin’-pedia?) account of the origins of Gender Theory.
Critical Theory is Marxism repackaged as various academic ‘disciplines’: See here, for example, or here, where the Encyclopedia Britannica describes it as ‘Marxist inspired’. Marxists, starting with Marx and his incessant and largely irrelevant footnotes to Capital, love to drag in other fields to ‘prove’ their ‘science’ – thus, all sorts of deconstructionists, feminists, Nazis (Heidegger, one of Critical Theory’s “3 Hs” was a freakin’ literal member of the National Socialist Workers Party under Hitler), obscurantists (Husserl makes Withers sound like Frost) and philosophers (Hegel is the first H) get drafted or recruited to the cause, and used to misdirect away from Critical Theory’s obvious Marxism. See? It’s not just Marxism! Hey, it works on the historically and philosophically clueless – 99% of all recent college grads, for pertinent example.
Since reality contradicts Marxist theory at every turn, reality must be denied: Everything is a social construct. From within the epistemic closure, this sounds profound – at least, you can count on everybody in your classroom or faculty lounge nodding seriously whenever anything is declared a social construct. From outside the closure, it’s moon-barking mad and moronically stupid. It’s a classic example of a self-refuting position: hey man, the concept of social construction is, like, a social construct. Deep.
The Individual is nothing; the Collective is everything. Marxists don’t care about you. Individuals are of value only if they further the Revolution. Since morality is also a social construct, and Marxists are pragmatic after their fashion, they believe they are completely justified in lying, manipulating and using you to further the glorious ends. No Marxist sheds a tear thinking about the 100+ million people murdered in the name of Marxism, nor the hundreds of millions more who lived lives of terror and poverty under it. They are making an omelette. Eggs will be broken.
Marxism denies science, unless it can be framed in such a way as to support Marxism.Lysenko. Biology, evolutionary biology and human genetics all say people come in two sexes. All gender study ‘science’ starts with the premises that the problem is oppression and the solution is revolution; therefore, there is no gender theory science: no fair, and no science, assuming your conclusions.
Gender Theory should be rejected because it is simply a flavor of Marxism; Marxism should be rejected because it is evil, anti-science, and denies any morality whatsoever, and because of the 100 million+ defenseless, innocent women, children and men murdered by Marxists. If Naziism is to be condemned because Nazis killed about 12 million innocent people, Marxisms must be condemned even more strongly for the 100+ million they sacrificed to their idiotic ideology.
The critical (ha ha) point: the epistemic closure is 100% Marxist. Marxist dogma demands that the only, as in THE ONLY, source of suffering and pain in this world is oppression. (1) Therefore, the only allowable course of inquiry is: how is this X here explained by oppression? Who is oppressing whom? Next, the only allowable solution under Marxism is revolution: oppression will never cease as long as the Hegemony continues. As one American Politburo member put it: we’re not here to fix the system, we’re here to overthrow it. Finally, Marxism demands that reality be denied in order to save the theory.
Over the last 6-8 years I’ve been looking at this, I’ve noticed a trend on common on-line sources away from owning up to Gender Theory’s status as simply a sub-discipline of Critical Theory. As the Beatles so succinctly put it: If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao you ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.
People who accept Gender Theory while denying or ignoring its Marxist roots are – according to the Marxists – useful idiots.
3 Forgive me, I’m now about to extensively quote myself:
Freud, the rest of the story:
When Ziggy first started analyzing people, his customers were, naturally, people who could pay for it. Thus, the parade of identified patients were largely the children of wealth and status.
In this parade, Freud found a number of patients who claimed they were being or had been sexually molested. Thus, he came to one of the great turning points in modern psychology. He could believe the patients (his records show that he initially did!) and go to bat for them – and find himself accusing the people who were paying his bills, the people to whose parties and teas he was being invited, of being monsters or, at least, of having monstrous things happening under their noses. It would have most likely ended his career, or at least put it on a less immediately gratifying trajectory.
Or he could ‘discover’ in a flash of Hegelian enlightenment that these patients were merely fantasizing or hallucinating because they were sexually repressed or suffering under an Oedipus complex or just in general obsessed with sex in the deepest darkest corners of their minds. That way, he could refocus what would be really uncomfortable attention from the family and friends of the patient back onto the patient’s own problems. He could still get invited to all the cool parties, build his practice with their help, and get paid.
So, for decades afterward, any number of abused children, when sent to Freudian analysts, were systematically convinced that they were deluding themselves, that their memories were mere fantasy, and that they needed to focus on their own twisted minds. Mom and dad were largely off the hook – the patient may have issues with them, but, alas! we’re all slaves to sexual repression, so what else could one expect?
When this gaslighting was finally exposed, largely in the 60s and 70s, Freudian teachings and theory were of course excoriated from all the pulpits of academia, and his name became an insult and cautionary tale. Just kidding! Nope, his theories had proven far too useful for deflecting and misdirection, so we continue to use his language and understanding to this day.
Similarly, up until that fateful day in 2013, when ‘gender dysphoria’ was slipped into the DSM in the dark of night, responsible therapists, when presented with a child who claimed to be of the opposite sex, would gently poke around a little, to see what else was going on it the kids life. Were they being bullied? Were the boys pestering them for sex? Were daddy and mommy getting along and being kind to them? Did they understand that puberty was hard and confusing, but that people do get through it OK? Those therapists, had they received their training prior to the complete convergence of their field in academia, were aware that 1) the vast majority of kids presenting as dysphoric resolve their issues in favor of their actual sex if given time and support, and 2) that cases where that doesn’t happen tend to very miserable – all the usual problem: addiction, depression, suicide, etc. occur with much higher frequency and severity.
In other words, specifically, the post 2013 words, such careful and compassionate therapists were the hatiest haters and bigots imaginable! They dared to ask questions that might just point back to the ruined lives of these kids, ruined by divorce, abuse, and rootlessness. Under the new theory, even asking questions was hate and bigotry. Just like the victims of Freud, the new heroes of gender theory get to bear their pain alone, while having everyone around them explain everything away – and, desperately seeking relief and reinforced by the adults around them, the kids will embrace it!
‘Gender Affirmation’ transfers all responsibility for the raising and happiness of our children away from the parents and onto ‘society’, which, as a reified abstraction, has no agency: Society doesn’t do things, people do. Instead of asking the hard questions of ourselves and the other people in the child’s life, we can simply affirm the child’s suffering, give it a societal diagnosis, and get on with our wretched lives. The child is thus instructed to blame largely nameless other people for his unhappiness and let moms and dads (in whatever configuration exists this week) skate free. Moms and dads are eager to embrace an ideology that absolves them, that hands them a stick with which to beat down to incessant call of what’s left of their consciences. Sacrificing their kids is nothing new: they’ve been doing it for years through divorce, casual relationships, and the constant betrayal of their own children that such lives entail.
We are all weak human beings, but this is pure evil
In typical Marxist When Prophecy Fails fashion, Marx ‘s original version was that Capital, the reification of Bad Men Making Money, oppressed Workers, little saints all; when that failed to actuate, Lenin broadened oppressors to include all sorts of reactionaries and counterrevolutionaries, which under Stalin ended up including the little children of Ukrainian farmers, who therefore needed to be murdered. But the real breakthrough in providing proper boogiemen to revolt against was made by Gramsci, who imagined a hegemony, whereby all that is wholesome and happy is nothing more than a tool of oppression, we happy, wholesome people are just too stupid to see it. Marxists need never lack for oppressors again!
Yea, yea, beating a dead horse. Here I collect, organize and expand upon a number of themes that converge to get us to the sorry state we now find ourselves in. Expanding on a Twitter thread I wrote this morning:
When William Torrey Harris said “substantial education” (greatly facilitated by the graded classroom model being imposed everywhere back in the 1890s, and universal now) turned people into “automata, careful to follow prescribed paths” he meant that as a GOOD thing. He wanted everyone to absorb a culture, in his case, an Hegelian culture, whatever that might mean.
But there is a next step: after you’ve trained people to just follow orders, get in line, regurgitate on command & collect the participation trophy, THEN – (translating from Hegelian jargon to Modern English) – you need to get them Woke. For Harris, this meant a culture where everyone is open to being enlightened, allowing Progress to happen by approaching all problems via Hegelian dialectic. This the substantially educated would just do, no questions asked. There is no option, as Harris sees the the world, to working for Progress through the unfolding of the Spirit through History, etc. All is Becoming, nothing really IS. The usual Hegelian bullsh*t.
Reminder: Harris was not just some loopy poser (although he was that) – he was the US Commissioner of Education from 1889 to 1906.
By the 1890s. Hegel had been set upright by Marx. I am oddly sympathetic to this traditional claim, as the God of Hegel is no god at all, but rather a mutable force finding its ultimate expression in History. Seems more tidy, even if equally dazzlingly incoherent, to just assign to History whatever god-like traits Hegel had hung on Spirit. Cut out the middleman, as it were, and lose whatever tenuous relationship Hegel’s Spirit had to any traditional understanding of the Supreme Being.
Marxists have no use for God, but the schooling Harris helped establish suited them just fine. School of Darkness describes, peripherally, how this change from the barmy and superficially benevolent totalitarianism of Harris to the much more bloodthirsty totalitarianism of Marx came about.
Jump ahead 50 years. Ambitious people had long recognized college as a meal ticket. (They failed to see that it’s only a meal ticket when it’s selective and hard – it doesn’t create jobs, just filters out the riff-raff, so to speak). So college became a universal goal, an unmitigated good. As such, the government got heavily into subsidizing it. For totally benevolent reasons, I’m sure.
Remember: follow the money. We pretend we’re subsidizing students but we’re not – students get debt, colleges get the real money. More and more flush with cash as the 60s rolled into the 70s and 80s, with more on the table for the taking from students loans, our fine colleges and universities practically wet themselves in the search for more students, any students! But faced with the dumbed-down products of Harris’s schooling, colleges were and are highly motivated to create classes & degrees for the unprepared and stupid. Today, even freshmen at elite colleges need to take remedial classes to attempt even the radically dumbed down curricula, so that, for example, 50% of incoming freshmen at Cal must take remedial math & English. These are kids who got into Cal based on all those AP credits and high SAT scores.
Today, anyone drawing breath can get into college and get ridiculous loans to pay highly inflated tuition prices so that they can get a college degree on the patently false theory that a better job will magically come with it.
The colleges get the money.
Luckily for the colleges, they already had a field-tested model of content-free education that could be passed by relative morons: Education schools, which have handed out degrees to the bottom 10% of students for over a century now. All they had to do was apply the rigor-free regurgitation approach perfected in education, where Harris’s philosophy, as modified and refined by such luminaries as the Communist apologist Dewey, is taught to the idealistic, if less intelligent and more gullible, fraction of students.
RAD(1) (Right Answers Disciplines) classes, like math, or even accounting, are deemphasized and removed from requirements while those demanding simple regurgitation of the prof’s pet theories multiply like rabbits. Old subjects that used to at least pretend toward some rigor, such as history and philosophy, are castrated to become as manageable as education.
Colleges became participation trophy diploma mills. Businesses can no longer use a degree as an indicator of minimal intellectual competence. Employers want to know you studied something, you know, hard-ish, before they give you that coveted slot in the cube farm. (2) Grads who never should have attended college in the first place weep that they have a lovely Studies degree but no one will hire them!
EXCEPT for the lucky few who get hired BY THE COLLEGES to teach yet more Studies classes to yet more heavily-indebted, unprepared students. Even the remaining RAD classes are under intense pressure to be made easier.
At some point, I’m guessing around 15 or 20 years ago, the Studies faculty began to outnumber the RAD faculty. This means that the hiring & tenure committees as well as internal governance and discipline boards came to be dominated by Studies professors.
This has had negative consequences.
Go back to Harris & being Woke. The Studies people have one thing in common: Critical Theory. Critical Theory has one answer to all questions: oppression. The only acceptable exercise is exposing the oppressor/oppressed dynamic that explains all misery everywhere.
Critical Theory which is merely Marxism configured for academic consumption, is, like Marxism in general, fundamentally an adolescent idea. It’s stupid, and contradicted by all experience. Any adult-level interaction with reality would disabuse one from it – but the products of our schools are inoculated as far as possible from any such interactions. Get ’em while they’re young! Because once it’s set in, it often takes a nuclear-level red pill to break the spell.
Back to colleges. We’ve reached the point where now, if any RAD professor were so crazy as to suggest that biology, history, (non-Marxist, i.e., real) economics, etc. contradict the crazies, the Studies people can deny him tenure or get him fired – if he somehow made it past the hiring committee in the first place. Then the loving, enlightened students will harrass him, dox him, threaten his children, threaten any venue that publishes his work and slander anyone who interacts with him.
Good times. Just imagine how bad it would be if our Woke children weren’t so loving and kind.
Thus, when the serious-looking talking head says idiotic things like Science supports Gender Theory, the biologists, physiologists, evolutionary biologists etc., who know this is idiotic nonsense stay silent – if they want to keep their grants and jobs.
The well-educated, who spent 12+ years ‘succeeding’ by sitting in their desks, standing in their lines, regurgitating the acceptable answers, and in general doing exactly as they were told feel a thrill of victory when the bad man who said mean things is punished. This is called being enlightened.
Even more convenient, being Woke means you already know the answer. Being Woke is inoculation against ever having to think. You know you are just the best, finest, most moral people EVER, in a way that simply cannot be explained to the unwoke. To even attempt such an explanation would be ridiculous. You either get it or you don’t.
The schooling we have today, promoted by Harris (and many others), taken over by Critical Theorists, is the chief tool of today’s totalitarian, anti-science nihilism. Comply or Die!
Conclusion: we are so screwed. The schools must be burned to the ground. True, the useful idiots will be the first to go if the revolution they are enabling ever comes to pass. A successful backlash would save their lives. Amusing if you like bitter irony, but small comfort.
Probably going to move out of my home state of California, always the leader in social trends. I’m taking suggestions for states that are accepting political refugees like me and mine, preferably ones where a finance/business guy can find a job. Any ideas?
Heard RAD from Severian, not sure if it’s original with him, it was too cool not to use.
The bottom rung in business, smarts-wise, is Human Resources. If a Woman’s Studies grad were ever to get hired, that’s where she’d end up – where they can act as gatekeepers to future job applicants. What could go wrong?
As I have argued elsewhere, the attraction of political narratives that posit vast unseen conspiracies derives in part from the general tendency in modern intellectual life reflexively to suppose that “nothing is at it seems,” that reality is radically different from or even contrary to what common sense supposes it to be. This is a misinterpretation and overgeneralization of certain cases in the history of modern science where common sense turned out to be wrong, and when applied to moral and social issues it yields variations on the “hermeneutics of suspicion” associated with thinkers like Nietzsche and Marx.
Readers of this blog may recognize in Feser discussion above what I refer to as the Galileo Trap: the tendency or perhaps pathology that rejects all common experiences to embrace complex, difficult explanations that contradict them. In Galileo’s case, it happens that all common experiences tell you the world is stationary. Sure does not look or feel like we are moving at all. That the planet “really” is spinning at 1,000 miles an hour and whipping through space even faster proves, somehow, that all those gullible rubes relying on their lying eyes are wrong! Similar situations arise with relativity and motion in general, where the accepted science does not square with simple understanding based on common experience.
Historically, science sometimes presents explanations that, by accurately accommodating more esoteric observations, make common observations much more complicated to understand. Galileo notably failed to explain how life on the surface of a spinning globe spiraling through space could appear so bucolic. By offering a more elegant explanation of the motion of other planets, he made understanding the apparent and easily observed immobility of this one something requiring a complex account. But Galileo proved to be (more or less) correct; over the course of the next couple centuries, theories were developed and accepted that accounted for the apparent discrepancies between common appearance and reality.
We see an arrow arch through the air, slow, and fall; we see a feather fall more slowly than a rock. Somehow, we think Aristotle was stupid for failing to discover and apply Newton’s laws. While they wonderfully explain the extraordinarily difficult to see motion of the planets, they also require the introduction of a number of other factors to explain a falling leaf you can see out the kitchen window.
Thus, because in few critical areas of hard science – or, as we say here, simply science – useful, elegant and more general explanations sometimes make common experiences harder to understand, it has become common to believe it is a feature of the universe that what’s *really* going on contradicts any simple understanding. Rather than the default position being ‘stick with the simple explanation unless forced by evidence to move off it,’ the general attitude seems to be the real explanation is always hidden and contradicts appearances. This boils down to the belief we cannot trust any common, simple, direct explanations. We cannot trust tradition or authority, which tend to formulate and pass on common sense explanations, even and especially in science!
Such pessimism, as Feser calls it, is bad enough in science. It is the disaster he describes in politics and culture. Simply, it matters if you expect hidden, subtle explanations and reject common experience. You become an easy mark for conspiracy theories.
I’ve commented here on how Hegel classifies the world into enlightened people who agree with him, and the ignorant, unwashed masses who don’t. He establishes, in other words, a cool kid’s club. Oh sure, some of the little people need logic and math and other such crutches, but the pure speculative philosophers epitomized by Hegel have transcended such weakness. Marx and Freud make effusive and near-exclusive use of this approach as well. Today’s ‘woke’ population is this same idea mass-produced for general consumption.
Since at least Luther in the West, the rhetorical tool of accusing your opponent of being unenlightened, evil or both in lieu of addressing the argument itself has come to dominate public discourse.
A clue to the real attraction of conspiracy theories, I would suggest, lies in the rhetoric of theorists themselves, which is filled with self-congratulatory descriptions of those who accept such theories as “willing to think,” “educated,” “independent-minded,” and so forth, and with invective against the “uninformed” and “unthinking” “sheeple” who “blindly follow authority.” The world of the conspiracy theorist is Manichean: either you are intelligent, well-informed, and honest, and therefore question all authority and received opinion; or you accept what popular opinion or an authority says and therefore must be stupid, dishonest, and ignorant. There is no third option.
Feser traces the roots:
Crude as this dichotomy is, anyone familiar with the intellectual and cultural history of the last several hundred years might hear in it at least an echo of the rhetoric of the Enlightenment, and of much of the philosophical and political thought that has followed in its wake. The core of the Enlightenment narrative – you might call it the “official story” – is that the Western world languished for centuries in a superstitious and authoritarian darkness, in thrall to a corrupt and power-hungry Church which stifled free inquiry. Then came Science, whose brave practitioners “spoke truth to power,” liberating us from the dead hand of ecclesiastical authority and exposing the falsity of its outmoded dogmas. Ever since, all has been progress, freedom, smiles and good cheer.
If being enlightened, having raised one’s consciousness or being woke meant anything positive, it would mean coming to grips with the appalling stupidity of the “official story”. It’s also amusing that science itself is under attack. It’s a social construct of the hegemony, used to oppress us, you see. Thus the snake eats its tail: this radical skepticism owes its appeal to the rare valid cases where science showed common experiences misleading, and yet now it attacks the science which is its only non-neurotic basis.