Imagine trying to fight a war against an enemy led by ruthless tyrants, while granting that enemy authority to train your own military. After all, you reason, sending your soldiers to the enemy’s training centers frees up your time and resources for other priorities. Moreover, the tyrants have graciously promised to train your men in good faith, so denying them this privilege might seem ungrateful.
What are your chances of winning that war? You might win a skirmish here and there, if a few of your soldiers remain independent enough to question the lessons in surrender they were taught by the enemy. But your long term prospects are, of course, dismal, since after their rare provisional successes, your soldiers will only use their newly gained territory to set up a tent for conciliatory peace talks with the other side, in accordance with the rules of engagement they have learned in training.
Civilization – all of it – is currently under the domination of progressive collectivism in ethics, authoritarianism in politics, irrationalism in epistemology, and nihilism in metaphysics. The architects of this calamity have paved the road to the devil’s dominion over several generations. Their recent boldness, moving in for the kill on the last, crumbling bastion of principled resistance, America, shows that they believe ultimate victory is at hand, which, in human terms, means we face a thousand years of darkness.
We who reject the progressives’ knee-jerk historicism, however, need not accept the inevitability of this result. Doom does not follow necessarily from any mechanism beyond human control. It does, however, follow necessarily from inaction and resignation. That is to say, civilization is doomed unless she begins to mount a deliberate and determined defense.
The first step to mounting an effective defense is to understand how progressives have won so much territory, geographical and spiritual, over this multi-generational war. I mean, specifically, how they have done it in practice, for concrete results derive from concrete actions. The nations of the semi-free world have, over the course of generations, voted themselves into servitude, voted away their property rights, acquiesced in the breakdown of the family, and willingly given over their souls en masse to the rule of all the wanton and stupid desires and fears that men for millennia knew they had to control in order to remain men; they have forsaken the human heritage for the false promises of tyrants. Why? How did the pied pipers lead civilization away? And why does this process always tend in one direction, such that intermittent stasis has become our only relief from free fall?
The answer has been staring us in the face all along. For “civilization” – literally “the process of civilizing men,” or the society resulting from this process – is, as Allan Bloom observed a generation ago, just another word for education. Thus the reversal of true education is the undoing of any social arrangement consistent with human nature. The progressives’ deranged hope has been to prime mankind so thoroughly for surrender that when the time comes for each new stage of enslavement, they may simply swing open the next gate in their clever labyrinth of pens within pens, and men will walk into the new, smaller enclosure of their own accord. And they have every reason for faith in their scheme, as they have been successfully training generations of men for such gradual submission for more than a century, at public expense no less.
In brief, as long as authoritarians have your children in their schools, they own your future. True, you may win an election here and there, or stop a particular piece of progressive legislation once in a while; but even those little victories will be won on compromising terms, and the turf gained in one battle will never be used as the staging ground for a broader assault.
For generations, progressives have had the insuperable strategic and psychological advantage of knowing that anything they fail to accomplish today will be accomplished tomorrow, because the collectivist goals of tomorrow are being planted in the souls of children today, in schools designed for this purpose. (“We’ll get you through your children!” Allen Ginsberg shouted at Norman Podhoretz. This was not a wild threat. It was an unveiled description of public education.)
This is not merely a matter of curriculum. No mere textbook changes or administrative overhauls can undo the defining danger. Public schools undermine – and are intended to undermine – the attachment to private family, by draining most of a child’s energy and attention into a world unrelated to home; by forcibly creating an alternative social universe that engenders attachments rivalling those to parents and siblings; and by teaching children implicit and explicit moral lessons over the heads of their parents, lessons that may stand in direct defiance of the parents’ beliefs. The public school, which is to say the state, becomes the highest moral authority in the child’s life, the ultimate arbiter of truth, the child’s primary social realm, and hence the main source of the foundational states of character that will guide his future choices and inclinations.
The inherent impulse of public education towards increased school hours, increased high school completion rates, and “universal preschool” is not an impulse towards more learning, but rather towards less. More time in the abstract world of aimless, collective childhood means less time developing practical skills, private interests, and personal motivations that might have made a young person’s future more fulfilling, more exceptional, certainly freer – and more independent, confident, and self-reliant.
And this is exactly why progressives hate private, non-progressive education (for “the masses”), why they demand that government education be compulsory, and why they fight for increasing standardization of outcomes and methods, as well as for almost exclusive control of children’s time and energy from the earliest possible to the latest feasible age. Men capable of living independent, confident and self-reliant lives grounded in their own skills, their own interests, and their own minds, are a threat to the authoritarians, mainly because what such men naturally crave – more freedom – is precisely the opposite of the desire progressivism seeks to foster in every child, namely the desire of a helpless dependent for perpetual security, to be provided by the all-knowing, all-caring über-parent, Government.
This brings us back to our military analogy. The progressive enemy showed patience; knowing they could not reverse the mentality of a civilization in a day, and having learned the risks of applying too much force at once, they instead carefully arranged the conditions of slow decay. Compulsory schooling, masked as humanitarianism, was the single most essential coercive act required to achieve their long term goals. Public education created a social and moral environment which necessarily undermined freedom, individualism, private family life, and the innate human desire for self-development, regardless of what was explicitly taught, or by whom. This point is vital, because it means the more explicit moral lessons of leftist compliance, and the more aggressive lowering of intellectual standards, could be introduced gradually, as the basic social conditions of the schools themselves actually prepared people for the next stage of degradation. Parents imbued with the first, relatively mild stage of moral and mental corruption were more likely to consent to having their children imbued with the next stage, and so on. (This is the answer to people who say, “But the public schools were better in my day.” Yes they were – as Stage I cancer is “better” than Stage IV cancer.)
Within a generation or two – despite thousands of years of counterexamples, and the fact that the very idea of government education contradicts the basis of modern liberal democracy or republicanism as blatantly as any idea can – compulsory schooling became an implicit faith, an unquestioned good. Before long, the best result anyone even hoped for was a reversal of some particular degradation in the curriculum, or of some particular bureaucratic expansion. But this guaranteed that the underlying condition of progressive civilizational decay – the retarding, collectivizing, demoralizing nature of compulsory schooling itself – would remain forever intact. Thus, future generations, on whom we must pin our hopes for a broad cultural renewal, will always have been trained by the enemy, even if that enemy occasionally makes a superficial concession to keep up the absurd illusion of good faith.
How to solve this?
First, accept the obvious: there is no general will in a society grounded in government schools for undoing compulsory indoctrination immediately. We must therefore learn the most valuable lesson of progressivism, namely the indispensability of patience and gradualism. The next generation cannot be freed en masse from progressive mental control, and yet this freeing of minds is the only way to restore rationality and liberty in the long run.
The necessary conclusion, then: we must begin raising private militias for future battles – people who will not have submission to the progressives as their implicit goal, because, not having learned their rules of engagement in collectivist training camps, they will have become exactly the men most naturally resistant to progressivism: independent, confident, rational and self-reliant.
In short, remove individual children from public schools, and raise them as individuals. This is not a legislative solution depending on corrupt politicians; it depends on no politician or party. This is private action taken with a view to granting someone a gift he will instinctively want to share and fight for, namely a feeling of uncompromised self-ownership and self-determination.
The final battles in civilization’s ongoing war will be fought many years hence, perhaps when most of us are dead and gone. This war’s short term victories will be small, but cumulative. Parents must gradually take back the responsibility for raising their own children, the future men and women who will determine whether progressive authoritarianism is permitted to close the final, innermost gate of its labyrinth, locking our descendants inside to be devoured by the Minotaur of oppression, or whether the monster will be killed at last by a modern Theseus, in the form of millions of free souls prepared to defend themselves as too few today are, and to rebuild their communities – to re-civilize – on principles of reason and human nature.
You do not have the option of waiting for someone else to act. The trend throughout the world is toward increasing restriction of parental authority. Many Western countries have already outlawed homeschooling. (Homeschooling is imperfect, if it must be done in accordance with government standards, but it is infinitely superior to the Dewey/Marx pre-education camps.) Once it becomes strictly illegal to resist public schooling, the only way to rescue children from government education without being imprisoned would be mass civil disobedience, which is highly unlikely. Thus the time to act, for those still legally permitted to do so, is now.
The progressives control the mechanisms of power, and will unavoidably continue to do so for as long as they control every nation’s educational establishment – which means for as long as there are compulsory public schools. What is required, therefore, is educational guerrilla warfare: preparing a rebel army of civilized, moral, non-government-educated individuals who will gradually grow to sufficient numbers to challenge the foundations of the progressive establishment in government, in the universities, in the arts, and in the rearing of new generations of young people freed from the inhuman labyrinth of government education.
I have discussed the practical possibilities elsewhere, but allow me to explain educational guerrilla warfare by way of a personal example. I recently took a stroll with a friend here in Korea – a graduate student, and the young wife of a Christian minister. When she mentioned her plans to have children in the near future, I asked her about the possibility of homeschooling, which is uncommon here. Her initial answer was the typical, “It would be so difficult.” She has a conscience, however, so she immediately chuckled embarrassedly at her own words. Over the course of the ensuing conversation, and a subsequent one, I asked her the basic questions I believe all prospective parents must confront:
(1) Can you accept public education’s lowest common denominator standards and emphasis on basic social utility as satisfactory goals for your own child’s upbringing?
(2) Do you agree to give up primary control of your child’s moral development to the contingencies of childish mob pressures and the schools’ systemic demands for conformity?
(3) Do you prefer to have your child raised in an environment in which his own genuine interests and curiosities are punished or drugged out of him in the name of “paying attention” and “socialization,” thus diluting or smothering the natural enthusiasms that might have driven him to extraordinary achievements?
(4) Are you convinced that John Dewey’s programmatic wish to have every child raised in a collectivized setting in order to undermine independent thought and short-circuit the private family is better for your child than the private models of education that produced classical Greece and Rome, the Italian Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the American Revolution?
My friend is earnest and good-hearted. I believe she will not evade her own conscience on these matters, and others. Her children will be what they are capable of being, and what they want to be, rather than submissive, diminished, useful tools of authority.
If the friendly but pointed conversation I have just described under the name “guerrilla warfare” does not look like your idea of war, be assured – and warned – that it will look like war to the progressives. For however civilized (and civilizing) our methods might seem, the ultimate outcome of this war will be of as great a world historical significance as that of any previous war – and the authoritarians certainly know it. This is a war to preserve and rejoin the three thousand year continuum that progressivism seeks to erase from human memory forever.
The battleground is the soul of today’s children, the soul of civilization’s future. The authoritarians have all the heavy weapons – their own educational establishment enforceable by law, and supported by both a mass media and a mass of humanity that has been trained to accept the terms of its own enslavement in exchange for the false comfort of disengagement from human nature. We, their hated enemy, have only our powers of personal persuasion, our own and our friends’ private consciences, and the strength of knowing that truth and nature are on our side.
That’s enough. “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” (Lao Tzu)
(This article originally appeared at American Thinker.)