We’ve already noted the abundance of good intentions that patriots like Noah Webster, Dr. Rush, and Ben Franklin had when urging a ‘New!‘ system of education upon us as a means to improve people and fit them to secure their new Republic, much of which sounded a lot like what ‘conservatives’ often say today. But were you aware that they also expressed some intentions which many would find to be not just at odds with the more liberty oriented ideals of our Founding Fathers, but which sounded more than a little bit like what we’d expect to hear from a Hillary Clinton or a (former) Gov McAuliffe?
I’ve picked on Noah Webster enough already, here’re two quotes off the top from another one of our Founding Reformers, Dr. Rush:
“…Let our pupil be taught that he does not belong to himself, but that he is public property…”
“…From the observations that have been made it is plain that I consider it as possible to convert men into republican machines. This must be done if we expect them to perform their parts properly in the great machine of the government of the state…”
, and similar statements can be found from Noah Webster, and Ben Franklin, though in their defense, it doesn’t take much reading of the rest of what they had to say to realize that they didn’t intend those statements to be as alarming as they are to anyone who knows the history that has followed in the wake of such statements, but the more important thing to note is how easily their good intentions concealed even from themselves, the radical nature of the unstated assumptions that are inherent in what they’d proposed. We, OTOH, don’t have their excuse, as their theoretically potential future is our actually documented past (and present), and we should know that, and we should know its effects on our past, and present, and how it is likely to affect our future.
The fact is that despite the very American sentiments that were ‘in the air’ at the end of the 18th century, there was something else in the air that was exerting a more southerly pull upon the compass arrows of those who came within its influence, and though it had many sources, where they all first came together most prominently at, was through the celebrated scribblings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Despite the glowing captions you’ll undoubtedly find around his smiling face in most of your kids Social Studies textbooks, where he’s usually portrayed as a champion of ‘Rights!‘ and a leader in ‘The Age of Reason’, it was Rousseau who infamously described the man who engages in the process of reasoning as being ‘a depraved animal‘ (which should raise some questions about the rest of those textbooks as well).
“…a state of reflection is a state against nature, and that the man who meditates is a depraved animal…” Discourse on the Origin of Inequality Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Rousseau was a determinist, a ‘necessitarian’, believing that a person’s life was not what results from the character, understanding, and judgement which their own choices had fashioned for them, but that ‘free will’ was an illusion and their lives were but the necessary products of the circumstances of their environment. While I can easily imagine why Rousseau would want to blame his own character & choices on the environment to explain why he prowled through the streets at night in search of young women to expose himself to, or to explain why he took each of his six infant children from their mother’s breast and sent them off to certain death in a foundling hospital, but exactly which environmental issues would cause that sort of behavior against a person’s will, escapes me.
What textbooks should instead be making known to students about Rousseau, is that he was one of, if not the first, major figure to denounce Western Civilization as being a mistake, and to glorify the primitivism of the ‘noble savage’ as being superior to it; and to deride property and property rights as mistakes that were the root of all evil, and to condemn the institutions of marriage and the family, and to promote a modern sense of Fascism wherein those who thought and spoke in disagreement with the General Will of the state – that they “…will be forced to be free…” (hence The Terror and the Guillotine of Robespierre & Marat in the French Revolution), and he was one of the first to seek to radically reform the purpose and means of educating the young (‘Emile; or, On Education’) so that they’d better fit into his ideal mold for them. In short, he was more Marxist than Marx, before Marx was even born, and it is no stretch at all to say that without Rousseau, there would have been no Marx, as the German philosophers who Marx learned from, were rooted in the ill-reasoning mind of Rousseau.
Rousseau’s darker intentions fed the roots of German philosophy via the likes of Immanuel Kant, who idolized him, and it was Kant’s convoluted philosophy that declared that the problem with philosophy was that reality, ‘the thing itself’, was ultimately unknowable to man, and so Reason had to be destroyed to save appearances (more on that in coming posts). Another was Johan Gotleib Fichte, an influential follower of Kant’s, who said that it wasn’t really a problem that we couldn’t know reality, because our own thoughts were the only reality that really mattered. And then there’s his density himself, GWF Hegel, who scoffed at both reality and traditional philosophy’s concerns over ‘mere Aristotelian contradictions’, as he claimed that the only ‘reality’ that really mattered was what emerged from his form of the ‘Dialectic‘ begun by Kant & Fichte, for ‘resolving’ contradictions, a process that was popularized (by Fichte) as “Thesis, Antithesis, Synthesis”.
That ‘new reality’ of the German Method filled the philosophically charged atmosphere of the early 1800s, and young American scholars breathed it in deep while taking the popular ‘European tour’,
“…The impact of German university scholarship upon nineteenth-century American higher education is one of the most significant themes in modem intellectual history…” Higher education in transition: a history of American colleges and universities
and its innovations were everywhere, from the University of Berlin‘s (re)introduction of ‘Phd’ certifications, to the fashion of giving everything a more scientific air as men in lab coats were going about subjecting everything from poetry to history, and the classroom as well, to laboratory experimentation. Those results were compiled and quantified and analyzed into claims of having accurately measured people’s thoughts and behavior (see Wilhelm Wundt) well enough, to be able to ‘improve them’ by ‘scientifically’ managing and improving every aspect of society (hello ‘Social Science‘ and “…Social studies emerged as an attempt to use education as a vehicle to promote social welfare…“). Age-old wisdom, such as Aristotle’s observation that:
“…it is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits; it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician scientific proofs…”
, were shrugged off as ‘old fashioned’ fears whose contradictions to their new ideas, were being resolved through their Dialectical process, and synthesized into new more useful terminologies & practices (what Nietzsche’s line has quipped into “They muddy the water, to make it seem deep.“).
Few works will give you a clearer sense of the practical nature of these new ideas than a series of popular lectures that Fichte had given on education in 1810, his ‘Addresses to the German People’, in which he urged that schools be used to create a stronger and more secure state through a more scientific application of education, affirming that a:
“… new education must consist essentially in this, that it completely destroys freedom of will in the soil which it undertakes to cultivate, and produces on the contrary strict necessity in the decisions of the will, the opposite being impossible…”
Fichte wanted to establish a compulsory system of education that would destroy its student’s free will, not because he intended to form the German nation into a people who would be the perfect tools for the rise of national socialism (though of course, it did help to do that), but as his solution to what he saw as the cause behind the recent humiliating defeats of the German states and Prussian army & society by Napoleon. He believed that students who were given a liberal education thought too much, and so were too likely to ‘choose wrong’ in the face of threatening situations. Fichte’s solution to ensure that would happen never again, was to prevent them from ‘thinking too much’ by scientifically controlling what materials students were exposed to and forcefully filling their heads with what experts had pre-determined to be ‘the right’ ideas, answers, and responses, and testing and re-testing those results into habits of mind, so that they would not be able to make wrong choices in the future.
Fichte’s ideas were more than simply new educational reforms, they were emblematic of those who were expert in the new ideas of a more malleable reality, one in which the modern man, the new man, had recast Metaphysics from the old Aristotelian study of what reality is, into convoluted assertions of modernity, that we cannot ever really know what is, or if anything really exists at all. Such views hammered away at reforming our understanding of how we know what is true, forming into competing epistemologies which, in the end, tend to conclude that ultimately we can know nothing beyond our own subjective opinions (if the relevance escapes you, pay attention to the footnotes, CRT would not, could not, exist as it does today without that as its foundation).
It should surprise no one that those who want to feel freed from the constraints of reality and its requirements for reasonable proof, will latch onto whatever ‘reason’ seems to justify demanding that other people accept their subjective whims as facts. For those who respect reality and value what is objectively true, the person making such claims as ‘because it’s true for you, doesn’t mean it’s true for me‘ reveal themselves to be unwise, and those seriously making such assertions can have no love for wisdom. But then again those willing to accept that reality can’t really be known, are not concerned with wisdom, and aren’t in the habit of questioning whether or not what they want to believe is actually true, and so when presented with arguments and evidence for what is ‘objectively true’, they’ll wave if off with ‘that’s just like your opinion, man‘.
Of course if those who disregard truth & wisdom actually believed their own words, they’d be dead, as ‘your truth’ that you can fly wouldn’t save you from having leapt off of a cliff, but again truth was never their real concern, getting away with lies, was; and much like the child who, seeing that their parent is too occupied to punish them for the cookie they see them stealing, will reach into the cookie jar for yet another cookie. Sure, they’ll get punished later, but for now they’re eating cookies.
They aren’t interested in reality or conforming to it, they are interested in change, and you are the reality that they want to see changed, not themselves, and certainly not what they so want to believe as being *true*. Modernity’s new North is that what is valid is not measured by ‘truth’, but by having sufficient quantities of likeminded people to force others to change; that’s the only measure of ‘respect’ for ‘truth’ they have (oh, hello political polling), and they’d do so without concern for whether or not ‘the Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return‘ – maybe they will return, but in the meantime they’re eating cookies.
Under such influences as those in the minds of ‘those who know best’ in society, the end of ‘The Age of Enlightenment’ brought an end to philosophy as ‘the love of wisdom’, as Hegel put it in the preface to the Phenomenology of Spirit,
“To help bring philosophy closer to the form of Science, to the goal where it can lay aside the title of ‘love of knowing’ and be actual knowledge — that is what I have set before me”
, whatever ‘good’ his intentions aimed at, he and his fellows transformed philosophy into a ‘misosophy’, the hatred of wisdom, and as society’s compass needle wandered steadily further from True North, the ethical compasses of the well intentioned reformers of the period wandered right along with them, pleased to begin taking their own good intentions as newly fixed stars to steer by, and thrilled to teach their new stars as being reliable guides for generations yet unborn to use in navigating their lives by.
As the saying goes: “Thar be dragons“.
How the new maps were made to reorient around their new more southerly (and sulphureous) headings, is what we’ll begin looking more closely at next.
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