“Properly speaking, there is no such thing as education. Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to the next.”—G. K. ChestertonI am reminded of the above quote, which is among those taped to my desk, by numerous articles and commentary highlighting the debate over civic education in America’s public schools, to wit: what is the proper role, if any, of the teaching of civic virtue in our system of public education? Lately, the answer to this question has essentially boiled down to a tug of war between the political right and left, not about whether to teach civic virtue, but which values to teach. In spite of the claims of partisans on both sides, most professional educators seem to subscribe to the view that, since there is much broader consensus on the so-called intellectual virtues than the civic and moral virtues, public education should confine itself to the former while the latter should be left to the home and religious institutions. A corollary to this view is that the schools should focus more on training the mind toward the pursuit of knowledge than on the transmission of a specific body of knowledge. To me, this is a constructivist cop-out. Public education cannot be value-neutral and, to paraphrase Rabbi Daniel Lapin, depriving children of grounding in America’s civic virtue and belief may be a form of child abuse. Of all forms of government, a liberal democratic republic is most vulnerable to failure when it cannot, or will not, transmit its founding values from one generation to the next.
“Congress shall make no law…….abridging the freedom of speech.” What part of this passage is so difficult to understand? In a continuing dismantling of the founding principles underlying the First Amendment, the U. S. Supreme Court confirmed a direct hit on free speech in upholding the Campaign Reform Act of 2002. Much as the Court has emasculated the concept of the establishment and free exercise clauses as they pertain to religious practice in this country, it has now completely transformed the original meaning of free speech as envisioned by the Founders. And in so doing, it constrains and targets for regulation the specific type of speech that the Founders deemed most important to protect—the type that is political, partisan, and is used during the heat of election campaigns. This, of course, is consistent with the “John Rawls approach” to public policy deliberations, which, in terms of the right to free speech, is to “protect” the less affluent from the views of those who can afford to broadcast their opinions. As Thomas G. West sadly notes, the prevailing progressive mindset is that, if you publish or broadcast “too much”, government has the duty to silence you, and free speech in effect becomes a right dispensed by government only when it meets certain standards of fairness and justice. Of course, in the end, the intent of the law will not be realized, and the political class has already begun to devise ways to circumvent the new restrictions. And I must add that President Bush was AWOL on this issue by not vetoing this legislation that he clearly opposed, hoping that the Court would bail him out. Surely by now he should realize that the majority on this Court cannot be considered reliable in defending the Constitution.
With President Bush’s State of the Union speech and the Iowa and New Hampshire Democratic primaries behind us, the election year is underway, and the choice could not be starker. The Democrats are obviously eliminating all moderates and anyone who espouses support for the campaign in Iraq, and Bush, for his part, is openly defiant. I believe that we have not significantly advanced from the stalemate of 2000, and that, at the end of the day, the election will split along cultural/religious lines and the polarization of worldviews. In foreign policy, this boils down to whether one believes that the war on terror is a major confrontation between good and evil and that America’s role is to liberate large parts of the world from the forces of tyranny, or that it is a matter of law and order to be pursued by police action under the supervision of international institutions. In domestic policy, it turns on the electorate’s choice between America as “the opportunity society” within a moral order versus the “paternal state” protecting the “have-nots” from the fundamental unfairness of a regime driven by the special interests of the “haves”.At this point, the Democrats have not settled their nomination, although it seems to be John Kerry’s to lose. Contrary to some, I believe a Kerry-Bush race would be the most distinctive choice of all possible match-ups, and Republicans should welcome it, at least those with the courage of their conservative convictions, because Kerry more than any Democrat represents the legacy of the paternal state and the antithesis of the opportunity society in domestic policy and the legacy of liberal internationalism abroad. It will not be easy, however, and Bush will need to solidify his base early, primarily by doing two things—convincing fiscal conservatives that he has reversed his profligate spending habits and convincing social conservatives that he will make the wedge cultural issues central to his campaign as well as his governance and take them back from the activist judiciary. Let the games begin.
I have previously commented on the fact that the war on terror will be a major transforming event for the Arab Middle East, and I was reminded of the degree to which this is well underway by the report of a recent interfaith conference in which the father of slain journalist Daniel Pearl conferred with leading Arab scholars about the necessity of communication and reconciliation across religious barriers. A key point in the dialogue was that, despite the regret expressed for Pearl’s death, not a single Islamic imam has publicly denounced his murder as a sin under religious law. I mention this anecdote because it is instructive of the oft-mentioned need for an Islamic Reformation, which I believe will be necessary to resolve the split-mindedness in the Muslim world. Frankly, we cannot hope to live in long-term peace in an environment with one-sixth of the world’s population suffering from an intellectual/philosophical/theological schizophrenia—in which none of the mainstream religious leaders of Islam can bring themselves to condemn such an act in religious terms. Some will say that this is evidence of a clash of imperialist religions that has been looming for 1,400 years, but I believe it has been brewing for only about 100 years, or since the radical elements of Islam were hijacked by thugs and the ideologies of national socialism, and more recently fueled by even more radical totalitarian Islamist theology. Regardless of its lineage and the desirability that the coming reformation be conducted on theological and philosophical grounds, it, as with the Reformation in Western Christianity, probably will not be completely resolved without a civil war (or wars) to be waged within Islam, and we are already seeing some portents of this in the Palestinian and Saudi Arabian societies. Needless to say, the U. S. will not be able to remain a completely idle spectator, if for no other reason than that the Bush Doctrine will probably have been the catalyst.
There will be much more to say later as it plays out in Congressional deliberation and the election campaigns, but for now President Bush deserves credit for putting into play the thorny problem of illegal immigration. There is much not to like about his proposal, but what better time to debate it than during an election year? It seems to me that this issue as much as any presents a convergence of often conflicting American passions—our compassion for the underdog, our heritage as an immigrant nation, our free market idealism, and our commitment to the rule of law. I would like to believe that we will resolve it with due respect for all these instincts, but I know that some parts of all of them will suffer. I am not a “restrictionist” as that term has been defined, but I come down on the side of those who believe that we will not solve this problem without first committing to a policy of restoring the value of citizenship and strictly controlling our borders, while requiring assimilation to this culture by those we choose to admit.
For a fascinating read on two of the 20th century’s dominant intellectuals, I recommend The Question of God, by Dr. Armand Nicholi. The theme is a theoretical debate between two giants, Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis, who never actually met, but whose lives surprisingly paralleled and whose thought, in the end, anchored opposite poles of worldview and the meaning and purpose of life. It would be difficult to finish this book without an introspective analysis of your own purpose in life and contemplation of its two recurring questions–what should we believe? and how should we live? It is amazing how the opposing worldviews of these men continue to define many of our current philosophical and psychological conflicts.