WINNING THE LONG WAR
The Ephesians would do well to hang themselves, every grown man of them, and leave the city to beardless lads; for they have cast out Hermodorus, the best man among them, saying, “We will have none who is best among us; if there be any such, let him be so elsewhere and among others.”
Imagine trying to fight a war against a tyrannical enemy while granting that enemy authority to train your own soldiers. After all, you reason, sending your men to the enemy’s training centers frees up your time and resources for other priorities. Moreover, the tyrant has graciously promised to train your men in good faith, so denying him this privilege might seem ungrateful or provocative.
What are your chances of winning that war? You might win a skirmish here and there, if a few of your men somehow retain enough independence to question the lessons in surrender they were taught by the enemy. But your long term prospects are, of course, dismal, since even 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.
Modern civilization—all of it—is currently under the dominion of various degrees of progressive statism, with its inherent paternalism, irrationalism, and nihilism. The leading architects and engineers of this calamity have paved the road to the devil’s domain over many generations. Their recent boldness, moving in for the kill on the last, crumbling bastion of principled resistance, America, indicates that they believe ultimate victory is at hand, which in human terms means we are teetering on the brink of Ronald Reagan’s famous thousand years of darkness.
We who reject the progressives’ knee-jerk Hegelianism need not accept the inevitability of this result. Tyranny does not follow necessarily from any mechanism beyond human control. It does, however, follow necessarily from inaction and resignation. That is to say, civilization on its current trajectory is surely doomed unless we begin to mount a deliberate and determined defense.
The first step to mounting an effective defense is to understand how the progressives have won so much territory in this multi-generational war, by which I mean how, exactly, they have done it in practice, for concrete results derive from concrete actions. The nations of the semi-free democratic world have incrementally 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 real or would-be tyrants, promises of security, stability, and a prefabricated, risk-free life. Why? How did the sirens lead civilization astray? And why has their song proved so irresistible, such that intermittent stasis has become our age’s only reprieve from the damning drift?
The answer to those questions has been the theme of this book. For civilization, as Allan Bloom observed a generation ago, is merely another word for education, while education, in turn, is broadly speaking the process of self-development in accordance with human nature. But as we have seen, nature has been consistently (and correctly) identified as the chief obstacle to progressive social reform, as it inclines men toward private attachments and the pursuit of happiness, whereas progressive authoritarianism demands that the individual immerse himself in the pseudo-life of an artificial, abstract collective (see Dewey’s “social self”). Thus the inversion of genuine education entails the undoing of any civilized social arrangement grounded in nature. The progressives’ hope has always been to use a denaturing quasi-educational process to prime mankind so thoroughly for moral surrender that when the time comes for each new degree of enslavement, the rulers 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. They have every reason for confidence in their scheme, as they have been successfully training generations of men for such gradual surrender for the better part of two centuries, at public expense no less.
In short, as long as paternalists have your children in their schools, they own your, and your society’s, future. True, you may, in an age of nominal democracy, win an election here and there, or thwart a particular piece of progressive legislation once in a while; but even those little victories will be won on compromised 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 surely be accomplished tomorrow, because the political goals of tomorrow are being planted in the souls of the young right now, in schools designed for this purpose. Public schools 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 rivaling 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 government, 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. Recall, in this context, the founding revelation of the progressive religion, as formulated by the man who was both the great prophet of that faith and the father of modern schooling, Fichte: God is our collectively imagined Future, while the State itself is, as it were, the divinity incarnate, our savior. Public school is the church where we learn to be our savior’s faithful disciples.
In practical terms, the inherent momentum of public education toward increased school hours, perfect high school completion rates, and now even preschool and university viewed as increasingly universal bookends of the process, is not an impulse toward more learning, but rather toward less. More time in the artificial world of abstract, collective childhood means less time developing useful knowledge, private interests, and spiritual motivations that might have made a young person’s future more fulfilling, more exceptional, certainly freer—and more independent, purposeful, and self-reliant.
And this is exactly why the paternalists hate private, non-progressive education (for “the masses”), why they demand that schooling 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 lives grounded in their own skills 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 citizen, 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; having learned that they could not dismantle Rome in a day, and seen the risks of applying too much force at once, they instead carefully arranged the conditions of slow decay. The advent of compulsory schooling, masked as humanitarianism, was a political tipping point, the most essential coercive act required to ensure tyranny’s long-term victory. Universal public schooling created a social environment, both internally and within communities at large, which intrinsically undermined freedom, regardless of what was taught during class, or by whom. This point was crucial, because it meant the more direct lessons of compliance, and the more aggressive lowering of intellectual capacity, could be introduced gradually, as the basic social conditions of the schools themselves actually prepared populations for subsequent stages of degradation. Parents infected with earlier, milder degrees of diminution were less likely to object to having their children imbued with the next degree, and so on. And public educators, trained up to a sentimental concern with increased equalization of outcomes, the maintenance of “proper social order,” and the provision of emotional succor for the weak, rather than the fostering of independent effort and high achievement, became the perfect, seemingly benign carriers of progressivism’s global epidemic of tall poppy syndrome.
We have universalized the moral outrage of which Heraclitus accused his fellow Ephesians, in effect casting out our best men and women to prevent any from rising above the rest and thereby becoming a threat, or at least an effective resistance and counterexample, to established power. What judgment would Heraclitus level upon us?
Within just a few generations of its general introduction into the modern world, in defiance of thousands of years of counterexamples, and despite the fact that the very idea of forced government education contradicts the basis of modern liberal democracy or republicanism as blatantly as any idea could, compulsory schooling became an implicit and universal faith, and late modernity’s only absolute and unquestioned social good, hailed as indispensable by men of all factions, parties, and sensibilities. Before long, the best result anyone even hoped for was a reversal of some particular deterioration in the curriculum, or of some particular bureaucratic expansion. This trajectory ensured that the underlying conditions of civilizational decay—the retarding and demoralizing procedures of compulsory schooling itself—would remain forever intact. Thus, future generations, on whom we must pin our hopes for 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 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 the rationality and liberty appropriate to human nature in the long run. The necessary inference, then, is that 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: moral, competent, thoughtful, and self-reliant.
In short, remove individual children from public schools, and raise them as individuals, by which I merely mean with their own well-being, rather than state utility, as the purpose of the endeavor. This is not a legislative solution depending on corrupt or corruptible 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 all of us are dead and gone. This war’s short term victories will be small, but cumulative. Parents must begin to take back the responsibility of raising their own children, the future men and women who will determine whether progressivism is permitted to close the final, innermost gate of its labyrinth, locking our descendants inside to be devoured by the Minotaur of despotism (soft or, more likely, otherwise), or whether the monster will be killed at last by a modern Theseus, in the form of millions of healthy souls prepared to defend themselves as too few are today, and to rebuild their communities—to re-civilize—on principles of virtue and human nature.
You do not have the luxury of waiting for someone else to act. The trend throughout the world is toward increased restriction of parental authority. Private and/or home education, where they still exist, are severely hamstrung by state-mandated goals, and by societies become dependent on the state’s standardized vetting process. If and when these alternatives slide from being heavily regulated into being strictly illegal, the only way to rescue children from government education without being imprisoned would be mass civil disobedience, which would be highly unlikely in today’s climate. (For those who respond to the prospect of a complete ban on private education with the standard head-in-the-sand “Oh, come on,” I note a few of the ostensibly civilized, democratic nations in which homeschooling is already outright illegal or severely restricted: Germany, Sweden, Iceland, the Netherlands, Spain, Brazil, and Greece.) 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 control them for as long as they direct every nation’s educational establishment—which means for as long as there is compulsory schooling. What is required, therefore, is educational guerrilla warfare: preparing a rebel army of civilized, 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 what the godfather of all progressive public school administrators, Humboldt himself, called the “oppressive fetters” of state schooling.
Allow me to illustrate educational guerrilla warfare by way of a personal example. I once took a stroll with a friend in Korea—a graduate student, private teacher, and the young wife of a Christian pastor. When she mentioned their plans to have children, I asked her about the possibility of homeschooling, which is uncommon in her country. 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 its 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 state schools’ systemic demands for conformity?
(3) Do you wish 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?
(The sinister excesses of compulsory schooling’s indoctrination to acquiescence, and in general the disturbing marriage of bureaucratic and corporate interests that defines our late modern ruling establishment, may be encapsulated in one word: Ritalin. An entire civilization has invented an illness, ADHD, supposedly affecting absurdly high proportions of every community in the developed world, but for which we luckily have a wonder drug. The symptoms of the disease just happen to sound a lot like the effects of the boredom of artificial confinement combined with the anxiety caused by overstimulation of a child’s mind with rapidly changing flashing images. But no, we need those kids locked in their classrooms, learning to be submissive, and occupying their free time in a semi-comatose state with TV and computer games, rather than in reading, exploring, or talking with their parents; so we call their desperate squirming against restraint a “disease,” and treat it with drugs that shave all the edges off the energetic child’s emotional life, which means off his moral development. Ritalin is a perfectly acceptable, legal drug, produced by a perfectly respectable company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The disease this drug is used to treat might properly be called “public school resistance syndrome,” and the drug is the go-to solution adhered to by education ministries, school boards, and teachers the world over. To state the matter plainly, if public education were eliminated tomorrow, and parents freed to raise their children by any means they thought best and to change methods when something seemed not to be working, ADHD in the current epidemic sense might effectively cease to exist, the primary use of Ritalin might evaporate, and Novartis stock might sink. Is Novartis—the world’s top pharmaceutical company—aware that its financial interest is currently being served by the global schooling establishment’s impulse to subdue inconvenient childhood energy rather than educate it? Does the company know that its product is being exploited by government “education experts” to normalize the practice of drugging children into state compliance?)
(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 home- or church-based 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 do not believe she will evade her own conscience on this matter. 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 and their educational leaders. 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 nothing less than a war to preserve and rejoin a several-thousand-year continuum that progressivism seeks to erase from human memory forever. The battleground is the souls of today’s children, the soul of humanity’s future. The authoritarians have all the heavy weapons, in the form of their own educational establishment enforceable by law, funded by taxation, and defended by a sheep-like academic class, a bootlicking mass media, and a mass of mankind that has been trained to accept the terms of its own enslavement in exchange for the false comfort of liberation 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)
 Heraclitus, Fragment 114, translated by John Burnet, in Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy, 2nd Edition (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1908), available online at http://www.classicpersuasion.org/pw/burnet/egp.htm?pleaseget=65#N_47_.
 Cf. “Homeschooling International Status and Statistics,” from Wikepedia (accessed July 2015). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeschooling_international_status_and_statistics. This, of course, leaves aside the regulations on alternative schooling that already exist in those nations in which such alternatives remain legal. And in all nations, a complete ban on private schooling is always part of the progressive chatter, which means it is only a few steps away from serious legislative debate even in those countries where such debate has not already begun in earnest.