Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry


I started reading Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry based on the recommendation of someone I respect, but only know through Facebook. She is the mother of a friend of my daughter's. She has opened a classical Christian private school. In short, I want to be her when I grow up. So when she says she is reading a good book, it goes on my list.

I had no idea what to expect. With a name like, "Jayber Crow," it could be anything. I didn't know if it was fiction or non-fiction, biography or philosophy, historical or modern. It turns out to be the sweet fictional "life story of Jayber Crow, barber, of the Port William Membership, as written by himself." 

We learn he is old and near the end of his life at the beginning of the book. It is unclear who he is telling his story to or why. He is never famous, he never accomplishes anything that would cover him in glory. He lives an ordinary bachelor life as a barber in a tiny town. However, he is thoughtful and reflective. Being a barber gives him access to all the townspeople and their secrets. He watches and remarks, but never really gets involved. He is a consummate outsider all his days, yet he is in the middle of life in the small town like no one else.

I'm not sure if the book or its author is supposed to embody Christian values. Jayber considers going into the ministry for a time, but has to give it up due to serious doubts. Yet the book does not mock faith, and Jayber's life's journey seems to be finding answers to the doubts he expresses early in life. In fact, a respected theologian tells him that it may take his whole life, and possibly longer, to find the answers Jayber is looking for. 

However, the real heart of this slow, meandering story is Jayber's love for Mattie Chatham. He is a little older than her and he arrives in the town as the young barber, watching 14-year-old Mattie walk home from school. She eventually marries the town's basketball star, who, in Jayber's opinion, is wholly undeserving of her. After seeing her husband, Troy, out with another woman, Jayber makes a solemn, yet unsanctified, vow to Mattie, alone and in his own mind. He will be the faithful husband she deserves. For the rest of his life, while never telling her of his undying love, he sets out to prove that someone like Mattie can have a man who will sacrifice all for her, who will love her until the day she dies. 

This odd, but achingly beautiful, love story begins to parallel Christ's love for us. This message is so subtle, it can be missed, but I believe it to be the theme of the book. By the end of the book, Jayber is at peace, he has developed a secret, yet very chaste and innocent, relationship with Mattie when they meet accidentally and randomly from time to time at a secret spot on her property. When her husband sells the land she so cherished to developers as she lies dying the hospital, Jayber mourns with her in her hospital room. It is the closest they come to acknowledging any feelings for each other. 

I believe there is beauty hidden in this book. It is a slow tale, told in small vignettes. I think if I re-read it, I would see even further into the author's purposes in writing it. I believe his argument is that "while we were yet sinners, God loved us..." Jayber experiences and displays the most unselfish kind of love imaginable. He is faithful to a "wife" who barely acknowledges of his existence. He loves with no hope or expectation of it ever being returned. Along the way, Jayber describes the beautiful nature surrounding him. I'm sure there is meaning in this. He tells of the townspeople with all their faults and foibles. Yet despite the hurt and harm some of them cause, he can never bring himself to hate. Even Mattie's brash, selfish, and arrogant husband earns Jayber's sympathy. 

I suppose Berry is saying that we are all fallen and flawed, but we are all loved. That love is undeserved and beyond comprehension or even full knowledge. The townspeople never knew the depth of Jayber's feelings or insights into their lives. He was outside. Of but not in. Yet he knew them more intimately than they knew themselves or each other. 

If this is a Christian work, it is perfect in its subtlety and nuance. 

The Triumph of William McKinley by Karl Rove

I heard about this book when Dennis Prager interviewed Karl Rove about it on his radio show. Rove is not my favorite person, and I long ago swore off books written by conservative celebrities, but I do love history. Plus, my American History teacher in high school was William McKinley's direct descendant. So I felt a connection. The Triumph of William McKinley also came highly recommended by people I respect all over the front and back covers. How could I not love it?

Unfortunately, I didn't finish the book.

I'm sure it is fascinating to political insiders and those who love the horse race aspect of it. But it was too "inside baseball" for me. Too many names, too many nuanced policy positions, too many players to keep up with.

McKinley seems like a great guy. He seems to be a political genius. I just wish we got to know him more and less about the minutia of the process.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Toxic Charity

After having read When Helping Hurts, I noticed that a book called Toxic Charity by Robert D. Lupton, was also mentioned frequently alongside the other. So I put it on my list. Of the two, I think When Helping Hurts is the one I would read if I had to choose one, but they go hand in glove. In addition, I would recommend Poverty.Inc, a documentary to round out the course. 

While acknowledging a good heart behind charity efforts, the book starts off with a counterintuitive statement, “The compassion industry is almost universally accepted as a virtuous and constructive enterprise… Yet those closest to the ground — on the receiving end of this outpouring of generosity — quietly admit that it may be hurting more than helping?” (p. 2-3) The obvious reason for this is the dependency it creates. “When we do for those in need what they have the capacity to do for themselves, we disempower them.” (p. 3) Boom. There it is, right there. Mic drop.

So when does well-meaning relief become toxic? Luton gives the example of Hurricane Katrina which struck New Orleans. Six years later, relief was still being offered. He says, “When relief does not transition to development in a timely way, compassion becomes toxic.” (p. 7)

So in order to prevent Toxic Charity, he gives the compassionate crowd an oath he wants them take:
  • Never do tor the poor what they have (or could have ) the capacity to do for themselves.
  • Limit one-way giving to emergency situations.
  • Strive to empower the poor through employment, lending, and investing, using grants sparingly to reinforce achievements.
  • Subordinate self-interests to trends of those being served.
  • Listen closely to those you seek to help, especially to what is not being said — unspoken feelings may contain essential clues to effective service.
  • Above, all, do no harm. (p. 8)

He tells a story of a typical compassionate endeavor. A struggling seminary in Cuba was hosting U.S. volunteers. Twenty youth and adults arrived to lay tile in a new dormitory addition. They had no experience and the shoddy work had to be ripped out and done by local contractors after they left. The kitchen staff worked overtime to provide good, American-style food. Faculty members had to arrange the myriad logistical concerns such as housing and transportation. The president of the seminary knew the $30,000 spent by the volunteers on the trip was a total waste and cost her precious resources. But to turn them down would have endangered the much smaller cash donations the volunteering church made regularly to her ministry. This heartbreaking story is repeated countless times all over the world. 

The author found himself guilty of toxic charity right at home. He had worked for years with a group delivering holiday food and presents. But he discovered the lack of men in the house was often a symptom of shame as they hid from the volunteers. An emotional price tag cost those he most wanted to help. 

Then he discovered a quote from Jacques Ellul, a French philosopher in his book, Money and Power:

It is important that giving be truly free. It must never degenerate into charity, in the pejorative sense. Almsgiving is Mammon’s perversion of giving. It affirms the superiority of the giver, who thus gains a point on the recipient, binds him, demands gratitude, humiliates him and reduces him to a lower state than he had before. (p. 34)

Wow. Charitable giving can degenerate into a perversion. A counterfeit of true charitable love. This is a huge charge being made. But I believe Lupton backs it up. 

His solution is to return to a mindset based on Micah 6: 8, “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” We are to “act justly” and “love mercy.” Lupton elaborates, “Twinned together, these commands lead us to a holistic involvement. Divorced, they become deformed. Mercy without justice degenerates into dependency and entitlement, preserving the power of the giver over the recipient. Justice without mercy is cold and impersonal, more concerned about rights than relationships.” (p. 41) Therefore, we must make sure our charitable efforts do both. But how? He recommends doing your due diligence as any investor would. “And if you don’t have time to invest in foraging a trusting relationship, give your money to a ministry that does.” (p. 49)

Although he specifically works in domestic ministry, he discusses foreign aid as well. He describes the $1 trillion in charitable aid that has been given to Africa as “Dead Aid.” A Zambian economist, Dambisa Moyo, describes it like this, “Aid has been, and continues to be, an unmitigated political, economic, and humanitarian disaster for most parts of the developing world.” (p. 96)

Lupton discovered this was not the answer many charitable organizations were looking for. He told audiences, “When we respond to a chronic need as though it were a crisis, we can predict toxic results: dependency, deception, disempowerment….  Exasperated, I asked, ‘Why do we persist in giving away food when we know it fosters dependency?’ ‘Because it’s easier! the attractive lady blurted out.’” (p. 56) He goes on to sadly conclude, “A hunger-free zone may be possible, but developing the dependency-free zone is the real challenge.” (p. 101)

He lost friends and supporters when he began to ask people whom he partnered with to take the hard route. Unfortunately they wanted easy and they wanted something that would make them feel instantly good about themselves and the work they do. 

And there it is. 

All too often, charitable activity can mask a desire to feel like “a really good person.” Building two-way relationships and doing the hard work of balancing mercy with justice, while closely following the prompting of the Holy Spirit, is too messy and takes too much time. Better to give away free food and regale others with your stories of helping out the less fortunate. Ouch!

He urges churches to focus on a geographic area and work to build relationships with the people in that community. Have a vision of what the area can look like and develop attainable goals and a road map to get there over an extended period of time. Years, not “service project days”. Move from Relief, to Rehabilitation, to Development. He then offers some practical advice for getting started.

One family, who had moved to an urban neighbor for the specific purpose of helping the people asked him where to begin. He told them to do nothing for 6 months. Just watch. Try to see what the real needs are. Identify assets the community already has. Meet with leaders who are already in place. Then start with small achievable goals. Build relationships and live life daily with the people. Be part of the community and not an outsider swooping in to save them. Even then, it’s not enough. This is exactly what he did. He moved into a neighborhood, raised his family there, established relationships, only to hear his neighbor and close friend remark one day, “I hate church vans.” He knew the reference was to a van that had just gone by full of outside kids ready to embark on a service project. Even though this neighbor had, himself been a recipient, he hated that way he felt being on the receiving end. This shocked Lupton. He realized he needed to think long and hard about what our charitable acts are actually accomplishing. 

Don’t we all. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

I read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair because it is a classic and I feel a certain obligation to read it. I didn’t think I would like it. All I knew is that it was of the “muckraker” genre from the early 20th Century and it lambasted the meat-packing industry. Ironically, I discovered that going after the meat-packing industry as a muckraker was not Sinclair’s intention. Apparently, he intended to highlight the plight of the poor and immigrants in this country, but that got lost in his revelations about the work the central character does. I think the reason he didn’t fulfill his goal, was that his story seems unrealistic, even at the time. The story is such a haunting story of helplessness and despair, I think we can be forgiven for believing it is just a story and not the lived experience of the poor.

That being said, Sinclair opens in media res with a joyous scene taking place just after the wedding of two Lithuanian immigrants in a town just outside of Chicago. He wants us to feel the excitement and hope as the young couple embarks on a new journey together. This high forms a peak from which the lows can be measured, The ostensible leader of this ragtag group, Marija, is a strong, single woman who single-handedly takes it upon herself to make sure the group is well-taken care of. She barks orders and bends the will of those around her to do all she can to create a successful and joyous affair. Small, quiet and humble Ona has just married the gregarious Jurgis. He now sees himself as the man of the family and will do all he can to relieve Marija of the responsibility for the group, allowing her to have the life and family she dreams of. He’s strong, a hard worker, and a man of unfailing integrity and optimism. But the first chapter ends with a note of dire warning. The gifts from the guests are not enough to cover the expenses of the wedding and Ona may lose her job for having to take a day off work to get married. 

Soon, Jurgis gets a job in a slaughterhouse. He is excited for the opportunity to work and support his extended immigrant family as well as his new wife. Jurgis believes that as long as he is willing to work hard and sacrifice, bringing in an income will not be a problem. Sinclair lets us know right away that this will not be a dream job, but Jurgis is, for now, blind to the realities he will face. With their combined incomes, the family decides to move from an overpriced rented hovel, to a home they can purchase. Once again, Sinclair is heavy on the foreshadowing and the reader can easily infer this will not end well. 

Slowly, the immigrants begin to understand the realities of their jobs. The workers are taken advantage of. Injuries are not compensated and the worker usually loses his job after being hurt. They begin to sense they are trapped with no free will of their own to make their own way. The realities of homeownership also hit them hard. They discover that no one told them about interest on the loan they took out to pay for the house. Ona must return to work and the oldest child, Stanislovas must work as well. While Sinclair lets the struggling family have a moment of hope, the reader is not afforded that opportunity. We know this ends badly. 

If the conniving business owners and shady realtors aren’t enough, the weather conspires against our heroes. Jurgis’ father, Antony, dies a broken man, unable to find work, and unable to survive the cold. The run down home provides little shelter from the elements, and Jurgis begins to spend his hard earned money on alcohol to keep warm. 

Seeing how they are mistreated, for example only full hours worked are paid for, not partial hours, Jurgis and his family decide to form a union. He becomes an evangelical missionary for the cause, making a name for himself. Slowly the family comes to discover hardship after hardship in Packingtown. Disease is rampant. The food manufactures are only too happy to sell dangerous products to unsuspecting people. The politicians and the political bosses are thoroughly corrupt. There is nowhere to turn. No one can help. 

Eventually, Ona has a baby, but both she and the child are sickly. Marija loses her “good” job painting cans and is forced to take a job working in the meat industry. Again, more disgusting details are supplied of the way our food is produced. Jurgis falls at work and injures himself, costing his job as well. Another winter hits to further devastate the family. Jurgis falls into despair. He finally finds work in the worst possible place, the fertilizer factory. The stench seeps into his very being and forces him to become an outcast. The last one available to work, Elzbieta, goes to work in a sausage factory. Again, we don’t want to know how sausage is made. 

Jurgis continues to drink. Ona is pregnant again, and full of despair. We learn she has been sexually assaulted at work. Once Jurgis finds out and tries to kill the man, he is arrested and blacklisted. For a month, he agonizes in jail over the fate of his struggling family, who suffer terribly without him. He returns to find them homeless, relying on the kindness of neighbors. Ona goes into premature labor. Jurgis begs a midwife to help. The $25 fee is devastating, but he promises to pay. She and the child both die, and he turns even more to drink. 

Eventually Jurgis runs to Chicago to escape. A social worker lands him a job, but he learns that his first son, Antara, drowns in his absence. The children of Elzbieta are working in the streets and rarely return home. Feeling completely disconnected from what is left of the people he immigrated with, Jurgis takes off, living as a tramp, hitching rides on trains and doing odd jobs. He actually feels a bit of freedom and sees a different side of the country, but once again, winter looms. He returns to the city, finds work, but a broken arm has him out of the workforce again. He is desperate, out on the streets, begging. 

A criminal syndicate happens upon Jurgis and puts him to work. He enters the corrupt world of politics trying to gain spoils from the system. He had started off in America as a Republican, now he works for Democrats but both are equally corrupt. Eventually this lands him another job in a packinghouse. But when a strike breaks out, he continues to work as a “scab.” His union-supporting days are long gone. He sees the man who harassed his wife and beats him again. After getting out of jail, he looks up Marija. He finds her working in a whore house. Both are arrested when the police choose that particular time to do a raid. 

After being released, Jurgis finally finds his true calling. He stumbles into a meeting on Socialism. His eyes are opened. Finally the truth is revealed to him. A Socialist hotel owner offers him a job. Jurgis becomes an fired-up evangelist for Socialism. The story ends with big political gains for the Socialists in Chicago. 

I think because the book ends on such a propagandist note, whatever Sinclair’s argument was fails. He is clearly trying to persuade the reader of the need for Socialism and the horrific plight of the poor. Yet the actual effect of the book was to convince readers to reform the meat-packing industry. Why the disconnect? I believe it was because although his story portends to be a typical story of the working poor, people cannot relate. It simply does not comport with our lived reality. Of the 7 or 8 people who immigrated, two are dead, the children are running loose on the streets, one works as a prostitute, and one has a disgusting job. Only the enlightened, Socialist Jurgis is a “success.” This heavy-handed morality tale simply doesn't ring true. 

Sinclair paints all business owners and politicians with a very broad brush. All are corrupt. All are completely devoid of any morals. Only the Socialist care at all about their fellow man. He completely disregards reality. I kept wondering, “Why would a business sell food that kills its customers? Isn’t that bad for the bottom line?” “Why would a business owner so mistreat his employees? How long can he continue to find workers if he maims and kills them?” None of the actions taken by the evil corporations and politicians ring true. 

While Sinclair certainly creates a family that earns our sympathy, we really can’t relate. Their tale is ultimately foreign to the experiences of millions of immigrants. America is not the kind of country Sinclair believes it to be. Immigrants have struggled here, but most tend to do very well over time. Most do not end up dead or involved in criminal activity.  Further, his prescriptions are not what is best for America. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Man Who Would Not be Washington by Jonathan Horn

Horn begins his book on Robert E. Lee, The Man Who Would Not be Washington, with a strong assertion, “The connections between Washington and Lee are neither mystic nor manufactured. Lee was not the second coming of Washington, but he might have been had he chosen differently. As Washington was the man who would not be king, Lee was the man who would not be Washington. The story that emerges when viewed in this light is more complicated, more tragic, and more illuminating.” (p.6) Lee was perfectly positioned to be the heir of Washington. Yet he chose a different path. On the famous Mall in D.C., there is a straight line between the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Capitol. Lee’s house in Arlington sits across the river, symbolically and literally removed from the path of liberty. He chose a different path. And that path shapes our nation to this day. 



The Lee and Washington families had intertwined for generations. Harry Lee, Robert’s father, was a revered revolutionary leader. But he eventually sunk into debt and ignominy. He had gotten involved in speculative land deals with Washington, but when the deals failed, Lee ended up deeply in debt to Washington. After various stints in jail, he lived out his days in a self-imposed exile in the Caribbean.

Harry suffered from a lack of self-control. “Harry succumbed to his worst impulses: speculating, swindling, and self-pitying.” (p. 29) His son would not make that mistake. “Robert learned to put others’ emotions before his own.” (p. 31) He developed a devotion to duty so lacking in his father. When he moved, with his struggling mother to Arlington from Alexandria, he got to know the Custis family. George Washington had adopted Martha Custis’ children. When her son proved unable to parent his children, George Washington adopted them as well. But his adopted son/grandson proved no match to Washington. So Washington left him the family heirlooms but Mount Vernon went to a cousin. However, George Washington Parke Custis had a daughter, Mary, who caught Robert’s eye. But Robert needed to make a living first. He applied to West Point. 

Lee had a naturally melancholy personality. His decision to subjugate his life to be the antithesis of his father drove him to a place of deep resignation. “Often Lee described himself as playing a role in a script beyond his control.” (p. 43) His religious awakening added to his sense of suffering in order to do the “right thing.” Eventually Robert and Mary married. Robert saw firsthand the deficiencies Washington had discovered in her father. It wasn’t long before Robert was basically running the estate from afar. He spoke to his father-in-law as one speaks to a child. Soon Mary had a son. Despite Robert’s preferences, the boy was named George Washington Custis Lee. Once again, Lee’s sense of duty would prevail over his desires. 

Lee fought in the Mexican-American War, earning for himself glory and a majestic stature. But when Mary’s father died and Robert inherited Arlington, he once again had to choose between duty and desire. He was a good and respected soldier, but the managing of Arlington called. In addition, he inherited Custis’ slaves. Some of them had roots going back to Washington. They were the descendants of the slaves Martha had brought into the marriage with her. Both Washington and Custis had wanted to free their slaves, but the logistics made it impossible. Now Custis had decided to set them free in his will with a complicated maneuver that threatened to bankrupt Lee. While personally opposed to slavery, he found himself fighting to keep his inherited slaves enslaved. Once again he found himself in a place where he felt forced to do what he didn’t want to do. 

When abolitionist John Brown stole George Washington’s sword from the great-nephew who had inherited it in order to attack Harper’s Ferry, Lee was once again sucked into the fray. Although he wanted to see slavery’s demise, “a soldier schooled to deny himself could not admire a fanatic egotistic enough to conflate he own wishes with God’s will.” Lee’s faith resigned him to accept things the way they were, assuming that was God’s way. He found it arrogant to question God’s timing saying, “While we see the course of the final abolition of human slavery is onward, & we give it the aid of our prayers & all justifiable means in our power, we must leave the progress as well as the result in his hands who sees the end; who chooses to work by slow influences…” Lee was no revolutionary like his son’s namesake.

As tensions between the North and South escalated, Lee did not seem particularly invested. But when the time came, Lee knew the “right” thing to do was to stick with his beloved state, right or wrong. This surprised his fellow officers because, having married into George Washington’s family the assumption was that he would follow Washington’s lead, valuing the union above all. While the South tried to claim the mantle of Washington, “[he] was one of us — a slaveholder and a planter. We have studied his history, and find nothing in it to justify submission to wrong…” (Calhoun p. 100), Lee knew Washington always intended a perpetual union. He would never have acceded to succession. It was clear to Lee that the Framers knew a union that could be dissolved at will by a member state was anarchy. He knew Virginia was wrong to leave the union, but he wanted no part of a union that had to be held together with the sword. And he would never draw his sword on his native state. Once again, his fatalism led him to do what he felt was his duty, defend his state. Although he opposed the decision, he felt events had made the decision for him. He would stand with Virginia. 

Immediately after making his stand, Lee abandoned Arlington. As it was so close to Washington D.C. he knew that it provided too tempting a target. When the first battle of the war took place at Manassas, Lee was there to lead the charge. Although he didn’t ever want to be in this position, once circumstances dictated his duty, he knew he must serve to the best of his ability. 

Soon after the war began, Lee was assigned Augustine Washington, the heir of Mount Vernon. Like Lee, he felt serving the South was his duty. How ironic that the first Lee had served Washington fighting for the United States. Now a Washington served Lee fighting for disunion. Unfortunately the hapless soldier died in a minor skirmish with the North. The forces of Washington had killed the heir of Washington while the man most positioned to take up Washington’s mantle led the charge. 

As the war raged, “Lee viewed the South’s problems as fatalistically as he viewed his own. God wanted to teach his countrymen the self-denial his mother had taught him. The times, he wrote, ‘look hard at present, & it is plain we have not suffered enough, labored enough, repented enough, to deserve success.’” (p. 148) He began to notice the complaints of his soldiers as they grumbled about the work required. Raised with slaves doing the hard labor, they felt it beneath them. Lee had no patience for this kind of prejudice. Yet as he defended Richmond, his fortunes began to turn. In fighting McClellan, the original home of George and Martha Washington, long dubbed the original White House, was accidentally burned to the ground by Union forces. This strategically and symbolically gave the South a boost as people reacted to these events. 

Lee decided his best chance was to go north and take the fight into Maryland. It was ironic that Lee had joined up with the Confederacy to defend his state and now took the offensive position. Yet he felt trapped by circumstances beyond his control. Ironically when he lost and had to cross back over the Potomac, Abraham Lincoln used that victory as an opportunity to free the Southern slaves with his Emancipation Proclamation. In another irony, Lee had just made the decision on his own to free his slaves after battling them for years over his father-in-law’s will. 

When Washington fought the Revolutionary War, he knew his best chance at victory was to preserve his army and wear down Britain’s will to fight such a distant war. Lee had no such option. He knew the longer the war dragged out, the better the odds of a Northern victory. Lee could see his forces being depleted, and as the Union broke through at Vicksburg, Lee urged his superiors to focus the fight in the East. But the war was beginning to take its toll on Lee. He suffered a devastating loss at Gettysburg and his health began to fail. The loss rattled him to his core. Was this God’s will? It wasn’t Lee’s will. He tried to resign his commission, taking responsibility for the failure. His fatalism began to be shaken as he saw some events were under his control. Yet his resignation was refused. To the South he had become what Harry Lee called Washington during the War of Independence, indispensable. 

Meanwhile, the United States government had passed a special tax on properties used for the insurrection. As Arlington was one of the first properties occupied by the Union forces, Lee had no ability to pay the tax. Even if he did, Congress required that he pay in person, nothing less than a surrender would result. He lost his beloved home, which was being used as a cemetery and hospital during the war. It would eventually be bought outright after a lawsuit by Lee’s family. As it became clear that the South was losing the war, Richmond’s most respected newspaper called for Lee to step up as a dictator. They compared him to Washington, calling Lee “the greatest of living captains.” (p. 218) Finally the war came to a close as Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse. The author sums up with, “Lee had lost his family’s home. He had lost his wife’s inheritance… Despite all that Lee had done differently — despite all the discipline he had demonstrated from his childhood in Alexandria through his career ending at Appomattox — he had repeated his father’s fate. He was not a Washington. He was a Lee.” (p. 222) 

Lee was never really able to reconcile his support for the Union and Washington’s ideal with his support for the Confederacy. The closest he comes is saying, “True patriotism sometimes requires of men to act exactly contrary, at one period, to that which it does at another, and that the motive which impulse them — the desire to do right — is precisely the same.” He had struggled his whole life to “do the right thing” even while acknowledging it to be the wrong thing in the eyes of some. He struggled with the ambivalence his whole life. He never exactly said he regretted his decision, but he did say he felt he had no choice. The Founders had left the country unresolved on the issue of slavery, and his state had made the decision to succeed. He was just doing his duty in light of overwhelming circumstances out of his control. 

Hoping to boost their own fortunes, little Washington College in Virginia asked Lee to become their president. Such was his humility that rather than worry the small, dilapidated school was beneath him, he worried if he was worthy of it. Lee largely stayed out of politics and threw himself into revitalizing the college. Eventually the college was renamed Washington and Lee, perfectly encapsulating the intertwined lives of the two men. 

When it came time to begin construction of memorials on the Mall in D.C., Lee’s name was floated. The great-grandson of John Adams called him “brave, chivalrous, self-sacrificing, sincere, and patriotic,” saying if Lee was a traitor then Washington was one also. (p. 248) In what the author sees as perfect symbolism, the Lincoln Memorial stands where Lee’s would have. Lee inhabits the building across the Potomac at Arlington Cemetery. He stands on the wrong side. Had he followed his beliefs instead of his perceived duty, it could very well have been him staring at the Washington Memorial and the Capitol beyond, forever joined to his progenitor. Rather, he became, the man who would not be Washington. 

This author makes some fascinating assertions about history and humanity. He seems to believe that there is always a choice. Although Lee felt compelled by forces beyond his control, Horn definitely asserts that Lee always had a choice. He believes that humans are complicated and affected by myriad considerations, but at the end, we can choose our path. He presents Lee as a complicated, yet very real person. He is not the enemy, and he is not a hero. He is a man deeply conflicted, a natural leader, a gifted military strategist, yet unable to take control of his own destiny. He was offered the mantle of the greatest American. He willfully turned it down. I believe this author is using Lee’s life and choices to point out how often major events of history turn on a single individual. Nothing had to happen the way it did. Humans make their choices and history proceeds apace. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Liberty and Learning by Larry P. Arnn



Tim and I attended a Hillsdale Lecture by Dr. Larry Arnn in Orange County. We had heard of these, but had never gone, expecting them to be a massive fundraiser. We were wrong! They never once asked for money, but used the opportunity to introduce people to Hillsdale and the challenges faced by our country. When it was over, everyone received a free copy of Dr. Arnn’s book Liberty and Learning: The Evolution of American Education. I tucked the book away for future reference, but because I read so many library books, those take precedence. Well in my continuing saga of educating myself classically, I ran across a recommendation to read this book. Delighted that I already owned it, and that it is short, (75 pages) I jumped in. 

It was a great book highlighting the function of education and Hillsdale’s endeavors in the effort. His purpose in writing the book is to understand the relations between colleges, government, and the educational system. Arnn states, “… the stakes are therefore high. They involve our understanding of the purpose of man, the nature of his rights, and the way he is to be governed.” (p. xv)

According to the Northwest Ordinance, “religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall ever be encouraged.” (p. 5) The purpose of schools are clearly for the good of mankind with an eye towards morality and religion. And while the Federal government got involved in education through land grants contained in the Northwest Ordinance, Federalist #45 makes it clear that education was the province of the states. “The Founders did not seek administrative control of education because the nature of man is, in their view, best able to flourish under a regime of limited government.” (p. 12) Arnn further states, “One might say that it is because the Founders possessed a liberal education that they knew better than to make education an administrative fiefdom of a central power. It is the loss of that equation among powerful people today that works to deny it to others.” (p. 17) How did we get so far from the ideal set up in the beginning?

Arnn discusses the founding of Hillsdale College in 1844. Certainly closer to the Founders in time and thought than we are today. They were committed to a classical liberal education with a focus on the history and institutions of the United States. The school would cultivate character and mind, knowing that “ignorance is a prerequisite to slavery.” (p. 24) 

But at the time of the founding of the college, a Prussian educational influence would begin to make inroads in the nation’s educational establishment. “Behind it looms the notion that the infinite improvement of the human being — his evolution to a higher state of perfection — is the first object both of government and of human life. Under this conception we are no longer equal souls, entitled to our rights by nature, rightly governed only by our consent. Rather we become the object of an experiment.” (p. 35) This view of man as perfectible ran directly counter the liberal worldview of the Founders who saw man as fallen. Each individual had to fight their own nature, and a liberal education should provide the tools necessary for self-reflection and self-improvement. Our educational system has been profoundly influenced by the Prussian view that social engineering is a good and should be conducted by the elites and experts and put into practice by our schools. 

When Dr. Arnn arrived at Hillsdale in 2000, the school was under attack from the state of Michigan for failing to adhere to the prevailing dogma. Their first sin was to teach Western Civilization and not multiculturalism. Their second sin was not counting students by skin color. Arnn defends these positions saying that Western Civilization is the result of the combined philosophies from Jerusalem and Athens. “The confluence of universal monotheism and universal philosophy is very valuable. It may be uniquely valuable. It may be superior to anything found in the East. … multiculturalism is thin gruel for the mind. It begins with the promise that all cultures, whatever their differences, are equally worthy.” (p. 54) Concerning the counting of people by race, Arnn states, “Neither from the point of view of the nature of the human being, nor from the point of view of the highest goal of education, does it make the slightest difference what color someone is. Any other view destroys the possibility of knowledge in the human being, because it reduces the human being to accidental and material characteristics.” (p. 57) Hillsdale is committed to fighting back against these attacks on its mission.

Arnn points to his study of Aristotle’s Ethics under Harry Jaffa as an example of what education is meant to be. “We began our inquiry not in doubt, but in belief and wonder. We did not set out to discover our own thoughts, still less our feelings. We set out to find something quite outside ourselves that could help us know the meaning of ourselves and of everything else.” (p. 64) 

Dr. Arnn’s experience with government meddling has caused him to conclude, “The Founders of our nation did not intend to establish mandarins. That is why they taught that responsibility and authority ought to go together. That is why they did not give the federal government power to manage education. It was too important for that. For the sake of education, and for the sake of freedom, the federal government should get out of it.” (p. 74)

This compact, easy-to-read book is perfect for someone wishing to know a bit about the history of Hillsdale and its mission. Dr. Arnn makes a strong case for education the way the Founders both experienced it and expected it to continue in their new nation. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Years of Lyndon Johnson: Means of Ascent by Robert A. Caro

My friend heard Robert Caro, the author of several volumes on Lyndon Johnson, interviewed on the radio. She wondered what could possibly be so interesting about Johnson that would require FOUR very long volumes. So she read the first and was hooked. She urged me to read it as well. I did and summarized it here. Caro manages to make a corrupt, narcissistic, power-hungry man interesting as he takes us almost day by day through Johnson's life. This second book, Means of Ascent, deals almost exclusively with his Senate campaign in 1948.

He begins with an introduction to LBJ highlighting his accomplishments as president, most notably the Civil Rights legislation. Yet for all he accomplished throughout his lifetime, his peers did not trust him. He lied. He lied constantly and about all matters big and small. Nothing was beneath his quest for power. Usually he used the power to enrich himself and his backers, but as president, he did accomplish some long hoped for achievements on behalf of the dispossessed. "Those noble ends, however, would not have been possible were it not for the means, far from noble, which brought Lyndon Johnson to power. Their attainment would hot have been possible without that 1948 campaign. And what are the implications of that fact? To what extent are ends inseparable from means?" (p. xxxiv)

This book focuses on the seven years between Johnson's initial bid for the Senate, in which he lost, and the later bid when he won in 1948. "These seven years are years in which Johnson was all but totally consumed by his need for power, and by his efforts to obtain it." (p. xxviii) In addition, he maps out the genesis of Johnson's fortune and the "service" rendered by LBJ during WWII. He finds the 1948 campaign as particularly instructive in revealing Johnson's genius at mastering political power. It is a clear vision of the old style of retail politics vs. Johnson's new tactics to mobilize voters (or at least the names of voters). "As a result, we can observe the impact of these techniques with a clarity that illustrates the full force of their destructive effect on the concept of free choice by an informed electorate." (p. xxxiii)

The first chapter reviews Johnson's loss for the Senate in 1941 during a special election to replace a man who had died in office. It was his first loss ever. He worked as hard as he ever had, but he messed up when he announced the count on his bought votes too early. "As usual, [he] had been unable to refrain from boasting about what he was doing. As always, he not only outsmarted opponents but displayed a deep need to make sure they — and the public — knew he had outsmarted them. But this time, at the last minute, he had been outsmarted. He who had stolen elections, who had been confident he had stolen this election, had had the election stolen from him instead." (p. 9) His cockiness allowed his opponent to raise the bid and steal the votes Johnson had already stolen. When he returned to Washington DC as a lowly House member on a path to the Presidency he called, "too slow," his powerful friends urged him to run again for Senate in the following regular election cycle. 

As war loomed during his campaign, Johnson had repeatedly promised to enlist and serve in a combat role on the front lines. Of course as the war became a reality, he did all he could to fulfill the promise by obtaining a cushy, safe position in the navy. He finally finagled a job inspecting military shipyards and partying on the west coast. The boys he promised to follow into war were being decimated in the Pacific. At the same time, he agonized over the upcoming election filing deadline. Could he fulfill his promise to "serve" while at the same time run for Senate or even his current House position.  He could not do all three. At the last minute, he and his people decided he should run for reelection to the House.

Of course running for Congress meant the press would be asking about his "combat" experience. He knew he had to do something out in the military theater that he could offer up as his own personal war story. "For five months, he [had ]delayed and stalled, making no serious attempt to get into combat while having what his sidekick John Connally was to call 'a lot of fun.' And when, after six months of the war had passed, he finally did enter a combat zone — when he no longer had any choice, when, 'for the sake of political future' he had to get into combat zone, and get there fast — he went not to fight (in the trenches or anywhere else), but to observe." (p. 46) He flew into Australia, accompanied a single mission, and then flew out. The mission he needlessly accompanied was dangerous. The first plane that he should have been on was shot down and all lost. His own plane came under heavy fire. Because he had acted "selflessly" by getting on the plane in the first place, he was awarded the Silver Star. Afterward, he became violently ill and spent weeks in the hospital. He combined all of this into a fantastical tale of life in the trenches, complete with the boys he had grown to know and love only to lose to the enemy. His lies became so big and took on a life of their own until he believed them himself. He even lorded his Silver Star over veterans who had legitimately earned one!

Johnson married his wife for the same reason he did everything, political power. She had money and her father had connections. He wooed her with false promises and once got, treated her very poorly. "[Other's] attitude toward Lady Bird Johnson was influenced by her husband's attitude toward her. She never tried to talk very much, of course, and when she did, she wasn't listened to very much. She was jus a drab little woman whom nobody noticed." (p. 60) But when Johnson left to gain his "combat experience",  it was up to Lady Bird to run his congressional office. She surprised everyone, including herself when she did a brilliant job. She did it with grace  and gratefulness, the exact opposite of the way Lyndon had run things. It didn't matter. When he returned, he treated her with as much contempt as he had before. In one of his first discussions upon his return, he shattered any dreams she might have had of being included with a brisk, "We'll see you later, Bird."

After serving so valiantly in the war, (he thought), Johnson felt he deserved the honored position of Secretary of War. This was never seriously considered. Then he hoped to regain his powerful position distributing DNC money in House and Senate races. This too was denied. Seeing the House as a too slow waystop on the path to the Presidency, he soon lost any interest in even doing that job. He had only ever used the job as a path to power, legislation was never an interest of his, but now even that got pushed aside by a new goal, making a lot of money. Power was still his ultimate goal, but money became a necessary means to that power.

LBJ began manipulating his access to the highly endangered FCC. By making himself its champion and working to protect their funding, the FCC allowed him to buy a fledgling radio station that had been caught up in a regulatory hell. He bought it in his wife's name which allowed him some plausible deniability when he repeatedly lied and claimed he had nothing to do with it. Once it became the Johnson's, the red tape immediately fell and the station became situated to provide exactly what LBJ wanted, money and power. He used the station as a personal slush fund. If you wanted something done at the congressional level, buy an ad on the station. Apparently he is the inspiration for the Clinton Foundation.

But the money pouring in did not solve all of LBJ's troubles. Power was his ultimate desire. "Although he wanted money, had always wanted it, money was not what he wanted most — needed most... The hunger that gnawed at him most deeply was a hunger not for riches but for power in its most naked form; to bend others to his will. At every stage of his life, this hunger was evident: what he always sought was not merely power but the acknowledgement by others — the deferential, face-to-face, subservient acknowledgement — that he possessed it." (p. 119) With the death of his patron, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Johnson was pushed outside of any influence whatsoever. Truman had seen his manipulation of powerful men and would have nothing to do with him. Desperate for power and cognizant of the fact that he weilded none, he decided to gamble everything. Win or bust.  Johnson decided to run for Senate for the second time in 1948. However, his opponent in the upcoming primary, Coke Stevenson, would prove a very formidable obstacle.

Coke Stevenson was an anti-politician. He never wanted to run for office in the first place, his heart was out on his ranch. But his integrity and character led other men to encourage him to run for various offices. He ended up having one of the most successful political careers in all of Texas history. He won by landslides. The self-taught, strict Constitutionalist was given the nickname "Mr. Texas." He was beloved by all. He felt no need to make campaign promises or defend himself against attacks. He figured the people of Texas knew who he was and of his honest reputation. His character was enough to persuade the voter. He had actually retired to his beloved ranch after the death of his wife and his time as the governor. But swayed by an urgent call to go to Washington to represent Texas, he threw his hat into the ring.

Johnson knew that in order to defeat Stevenson, he would have to run the kind of campaign that had never been run. He would use the power of his radio station to raise money and keep his words constantly before the public's hearing. He would use the new political tool of polling. He would spend more money, by far, than had ever been spent on a political campaign of any kind in Texas. He knew he'd have to spend a lot to buy the votes needed to win, but he wanted to put even more money into play in such a way that an old-fashioned, honest politician like Coke Stevenson couldn't compete. Johnson's ally, Connally, believed that "Coke Stevenson 'didn't know how to raise money.' And Stevenson wouldn't want to; he had been campaigning the old way for so long, and so successfully, that he wouldn't realize the power of the new politics — until it was too late." (p. 193)

As often happened to Johnson when he was stressed and working very hard, he got sick. He had a kidney stone that was causing him unbearable pain. There was a treatment, but he would have to be hospitalized. This meant he would lose precious time campaigning. Finally he passed the breaking point and went to a hospital for an experimental treatment. It worked on the kidney stone, but it cost him more than two precious weeks of campaign time. Meanwhile, Stevenson kept driving around from small town to small town, shaking hands and drumming up support. Again typical of LBJ, he became desperately depressed and unglued knowing he had bet everything on this campaign and he was losing.

In a stroke of genius, LBJ emerged from his funk with the most unorthodox campaigning method yet. He would commandeer a helicopter to take him throughout the rural, far-flung towns and hamlets of Texas. He knew this would definitely win him some publicity as well as gin up the crowds. He worked like a dog darting from location to location with his team on the ground struggling to keep up. He took great risks in the machine, and for someone extremely physically risk adverse, this is saying something. Meanwhile he began to slander Coke Stevenson with repeated attacks on his integrity and took to mocking his slow, deliberative speaking style. He knew that Stevenson wouldn't respond and that gave Johnson a wide open opportunity to say anything and see what stuck. He finally settled on claiming that Stevenson had made a secret deal to repeal the popular Taft-Hartley Act. In town after town, Johnson demanded that Stevenson "tell the truth" and reveal his secret pact with Labor. As expected, Stevenson refused to respond, relying on the people's knowledge of him, his previous actions, and his personal integrity. What Stevenson didn't understand was that this was a campaign unlike anything he or anyone else had ever run up against before. "Never before had attacks against Stevenson been repeated day after day, week after week, not only on the radio, that powerful medium, now, for the first time in Texas, being exploited to its fullest, but in weekly newspapers, daily newspapers, in campaign mailings, so that voters heard and saw the charges against him, it seemed, every time they turned on the  radio, read a newspaper, opened their mail." (p. 227) Despite Johnson's increasingly desperate rantings and out-of-control temper tantrums, and despite the lies and the unheard of publicity blitz, Stevenson still managed to garner 71,000 more votes than Johnson in the primary. Not enough to secure the nomination however. There would be a runoff, but the all signs pointed to the other candidates' votes going to Stevenson.

As they went into the runoff, LBJ and his backers became desperate. They were simply in it too far to lose. If someone other than Johnson won, they would lose their lucrative government contracts, and their corrupt methods would certainly come to light. They would likely end up in jail. They had infuriated people in prominent positions that loved Stevenson, and they were sure those people would come after them. Therefore, no punches, legal, ethical, or moral were pulled. They began a "whisper campaign" in which citizens and government workers were paid to talk up Johnson in their daily lives. The benefit was that the listener would have no idea he was speaking to a paid campaigner. They employed friendly journalists to ask questions the Johnson campaign designed to impugn Stevenson's character, and write articles disparaging him based on false information. They sowed mistrust among Stevenson's financial supporters so that they would pull their backing. They tapped Stevenson's phones or paid operators to listen in, in order to spy on his campaign. They spent highly extravagant amounts of money much of that going into straight cash payments for votes. And they continued the campaign of straight-up lies about Stevenson and his positions. When major labor unions endorsed LBJ, despite his lies that it was Stevenson in the pocket of Labor, LBJ made sure that information was buried. Then Johnson went even further below the belt. He ran on the "wife card" knowing that Stevenson's wife had died and therefore he could use Ladybird to shore up the women's vote.

"From the earliest beginnings of Lyndon Johnson's political life — from his days at college when he had captured control of campus politics — his tactics had consistently revealed a pragmatism and a cynicism that had no discernible limits. His morality was the morality of the ballot box, a morality in which nothing matters but victory and any maneuver that leads to victory is justified, a morality that was amorality." (p. 287) Even ideological principles did not constrain him. He had none. When asked to give an rabidly anti-Labor speech copied from his previous Senatorial opponent saying he believed the exact opposite of what he had always claimed, he did it with a vengeance. His aids were amazed that he probably convinced even himself that he was speaking of his true opinion. Stevenson had a devastating response when he stated that Johnson, for all his supposed passion on various issues,  had not pushed forward a single bill in all his 11 1/2 years in Congress, but he didn't have the money to get out his message. This irrefutable information rarely reached voters.

Even with all the corrupt dealing and thousands of purchased votes by the Johnson campaign, Stevenson still managed to win by more than 850 votes. "Lyndon Johnson had tried to buy a state, and, although he had paid the highest price in Texas history, he had failed." (p. 312) But the Johnson campaign kicked into high gear doing everything they could to "find" more votes. "'Campaigning was no good any more,' [campaign official] Ed Clark says. 'We had to pick up some votes.' Votes in the numbers needed could't be picked up by conventional methods, he says. 'We needed blocs. Ethnic groups — that was the place to go... That meant going into the Mexican country: the Rio Grande River, the border...'" (p. 304) When Jim Wells County called in to say they had accidentally reported 765 votes for Johnson when it was actually 965 votes, that put Johnson over the top by 87 votes. Later testimony said that a loop had clearly been added to the "7" to make it a "9." Johnson had managed to steal the election by every means available.

While screaming that he had won the election "fair and square," Johnson called in every favor he could to keep the original ballots and ballot count from the city of Alice from ever seeing the light of day. A restraining order keeping anyone from reviewing the ballots was issued by a judge friendly to Johnson. Despite this, Stevenson and some law-enforcement officers were allowed to view the tally sheet and the recording of the ballots, kept in a box referred to as "Box 13," for a few minutes. This is when they noticed the "7" that had been obviously changed to a "9." They also noticed that the last several hundred ballots were recorded in a different color and the voters names were in alphabetical order! For a state long used to ballot buying, this was a whole new level. Never before had this kind of corruption had a significant effect on a state-wide election. Coke Stevenson declared "This is the first instance in recorded history that those bloc voting counties have determined the result of a statewide election." He further stated, "This is the first time that the manipulators of the voting in these counties were not content with all-out bloc voting, but re-opened the boxes in secret long after the election had closed and stuffed them with a directed number of ballots." Apparently, even in the world of ballot buying, there were still lines that weren't crossed. Johnson crossed them.

Johnson had a strong card to play when trying to convince Texas Democrats to look away from the fraud obviously perpetuated. Because of political concerns, a Johnson win would provide more delegates friendly to Truman. While Truman was no fan of Johnson, it was in his best interest to let the vote stand. After Stevenson was repeatedly blocked by judicial rulings favorable to Johnson, there was a chance he could get the Texas Democratic Executive Committee to investigate the fraud and declare Stevenson their nominee. Therefore Johnson's people kicked into gear buying or manipulating votes on the executive committee. The committee members were bribed, heckled, threatened and cajoled to no end. Finally Johnson's efforts paid off. In a dramatic vote, he won the nomination by one vote 29-28. Since Texas was effectively a one-party state, the Democratic nomination meant a win statewide.

Coke's sense of justice could simply not let the theft stand. Stevenson settled on the idea that a wrong committed must have a way to right it. Therefore he sued under federal civil rights laws, saying his civil right to stand for election had been violated. A federal judge agreed and opened an investigation. Time was a pressing concern. The ballots would be printed in a matter of a few days. One judge had offered a compromise of both names on the ballot as the Democratic nominee or there would be no Democratic nominee if the court case was undecided. Johnson was fighting to get his name alone on the ballot. His only recourse was to get the case thrown out before the investigation was done. In a complicated legal maneuver he managed to get the Supreme Court involved to stay the investigation. Johnson's name alone appeared on the ballot, and he went on to win the general election and was seated in the Senate.

Johnson's tainted win forever tarnished his image. The author was able to locate the strongman, Indio Salas, responsible for making sure that no one saw "Box 13." It was he who testified that the box and all copies of the ballots had disappeared. But decades later, he confessed to the author the whole fraudulent scheme. Asked why he had decided to admit what he had help perpetuate, Salas said "he had been unable to forget the look in the eyes of that strong, silent man, and ever since, 'The only remorse I feel is... for what we did to Coke Stevenson.'"Johnson, himself, did not even bother to pretend he had not stolen the election. In fact, "for some years the memory was kept vivid by the very man who had allegedly done the stealing. People hearing him reminisce about the campaign, or watching the grins and winks with which he joked and talked, could hardly escape getting the impression that the election had been stolen, and that he was not ashamed of that fact. Far from it. The impression he conveyed was of a politician who had outsmarted an opponent, done something illegal, and hadn't been caught. The impression he conveyed was of a man who not only was unashamed of what he had done, but who was proud of it — who boasted about it." (p. 400) Several years later, while president, Johnson showed a hostile reporter a picture of himself with the notorious and "missing" Box 13. Caro states, "For him to display the photograph to a hostile journalist is evidence of a psychological need so deep that its demands could not be resisted."

In spite of all this, Coke Stevenson might have gotten the last laugh. While he never forgave Lyndon for the theft, he went on to live a wonderful life. He got remarried to a wonderful woman and had a beloved daughter. He got the ultimate revenge. He was happy. No deep psychological need for affirmation here. He was just deeply content, healthy, and whole. He died at 87, mentally and physically fit almost until the end.

The whole purpose of the Caro books on Lyndon Johnson are to show him as a man motivated simply by the will to power. He uses this particular book to show the lengths the man will go to achieve his dream. It is not pretty. I believe Caro more than makes his case of LBJ as a power-hungry, amoral man who was deeply bent and unhappy. His research is impeccable. While his story definitely has forward motion, we know it is progressing towards the Presidency ultimately, it is not a positive story. It's like watching a train-wreck. We know how it ends, but are powerless to stop it. I think Caro seeks to reveal an injustice. Maybe he wishes to prevent future charlatans, but probably he is just telling us that they exist. They are willing to cross lines they should not. But in this story, since he ends with a beautiful postscript detailing Coke Stevenson's ultimate happiness, perhaps Caro is saying that while injustice exists, it does not ultimately "win." Good men, full of integrity like Coke Stevenson, cannot be defeated. Living well is the best revenge.




Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Devil Knows Latin by E. Christian Kopff

Just the title alone was enough to inspire me to read The Devil Knows Latin by E. Christian Kopff. I mean, really, does it get any better than that? It's subtitle, "Why America Needs the Classical Tradition" meant that I had to read it in my perpetual quest to understand and imbibe Classical Educational principles. The title comes from the words spoken by a priest, Ronald Knox, when he was baptizing a child. The parents ask that the words spoken over the infant be in the vernacular. Knox defends his use of Latin by saying, "The baby does not understand English, and the Devil knows Latin." (p. xv) In effect, he is saying the enemy knows our language, so must we. The traditions that give life to and sustain our civilization, our values, our priorities, our religious traditions, come from classical beginnings. When we forget our past, we can be sure the enemy has not and he will use our ignorance against us.

He state the purpose for writing the book right away in the introduction, "The purpose of this book is to suggest that the permanent things embedded in traditional are good things for human life, and that they have not yet entirely vanished from the Western landscape. Into the shadows of the gloom, admittedly real and growing, an occasional ray of light may shine, illuminating the vitality of tradition and the possibility of its restoration. Tradition is a hardy thing." (p. xiv) He further states, "We talk of creativity and the future, but we ignore the discipline of learning the rudiments of the past. I maintain that the past is our most important source of creativity. True creativity is always the acquisition of of the old in order to fashion beautiful and meaningful things for the present." (p. xvi) If we want to avoid the servile condition of the non-creative, we must embrace the past.

He decries the "lunatics" that would have us always thinking of the future and disregarding the past. They see the past as a prison from which to free themselves. But it is tradition that preserves for us the necessary components for true freedom. "Human fulfillment, which cannot be realized without society, religion, and science, therefore requires nourishment from the past. Our very future, which is born of our past, demands it." (p. 10)

We in the West must learn to tell our own story. When we got rid of Latin and Greek, replacing ancient languages and works with modern translations and stories, we began to forget what it means to be part of the Western tradition. To even say that we should learn about and embrace Western Civilization is an affront to modern ears. However, Kopff believes that a "multicultural" education "is not only intellectually incoherent, it is culturally incoherent. It prepares the student to participate in no one culture. It leaves the victim of such a curriculum on the outside of every culture, hungry and cold with his nose pressed against the window, staring enviously and impotently at the riches within." (p. 23-24)

He notes the importance of Latin for the progress in our society. "Our society, unlike many others, has been able to assimilate change and newness without coming apart, and that is because we have always explained development and innovation by employing concepts and words drawn from tradition. It is a typically Western thing to do, and by doing it we maintain continuity with our past and keep our balance. When we turn our backs on tradition, the risk we face is falling. Without the solid foundation of our classical heritage, modern Americans can no longer use the past to keep sane in the present. Is is any wonder life so often feels like a free-fall experience?" (p. 32)

Therefore he advocates going "Back to the Future." If we are to proceed forward, we must know our past, starting with ancient Greeks. This is the way our Founders learned, and it is what they advocated. The traditions we have in this country of liberty and self-government harken back to the Greeks and the Romans. Learning about and loving these ideal requires the hard work of studying their advocates. We can only perpetuate all that it means to be an American by learning how we became Americans in the first place. We must have the education our Founders had to truly understand what they have bequeathed us.

Kopff sees the current attack on traditionalism in the federal government's attack on Christianity, which directly threatens to our republic. He finds the 14th Amendment as the source of the religious liberty attacks. Because the 14th Amendment nationalized the Bill of Rights, states are no longer free to promote whatever religious exercises they choose. At one time, the Bill of Rights applied only to the national government. Today it has been stretched all out of proportion and has stripped the states of the power they once enjoyed. This means that the people are far less free to exercise their religious freedom, ironically, by guaranteeing the right to freely practice religion in the states. Washington, Jefferson, and Tocqueville believed religious expression to be integral to our republican institutions. As religious expression weakens, so too does our society. Kopff states, "... a government which attacks its people's religious traditions is embarking on a suicidal kamikaze mission. To stop this attack, we need to restore America's central traditions: republican institutions and a truly federal government founded on personal responsibility, trust in the popular will, and faith in the God of the Bible." (p. 62)

The Enlightenment began this attack on traditionalism. Hippocrates proudly told his students that he stood on the shoulders of those that came before. Rousseau said, "Let us do away with the facts. They have nothing to do with the case." And so we proceed, rudderless and directionless, each new generation propounding its own theories. We have sucked out the foundation from under us and think all that we hold dear can still stand.

Classical liberalism is in crisis. But we continue on like nothing is happening. It has rejected religious tradition and metaphysical assumptions and now tries to make moral judgements without a foundation. "Practical ethical reasoning must take place within a definite, historically conditioned tradition — a tradition that brings with it certain religious and metaphysical assumptions..." (p. 89) Kopff asserts that the Enlightenment thinkers such as Hume and Kant helped establish a "vendetta against tradition and prejudice — The Enlightenment prejudice against prejudice." (p. 93) This is its self-defeating fatal flaw.  "More specifically, Enlightenment minds use and misuse ideas and methods that make sense in one tradition but no in another. They view any particular tradition as so many discrete cultural elements that con be moved like game pieces. Consequently, such minds are constantly trying to transfer what cannot be transferred." (p. 144) He finds returning to reason impossible without a return to religion, which is the only foundation for a cohesive worldview.

Kopek goes on to discuss why we need a classical education today. He refers to Albert Nock's book, The Theory of Education in the United States, when detailing the difference between training and education. Training prepares one for a job by teaching the requisites skills necessary. A classical curriculum actually educates people, creating "thoughtful people who have at their disposal a wealth of general knowledge, and who, in the light of this knowledge and with the courage to face facts, can judge matters of significance in a disinterested manner." (p. 100) Obviously we need people trained to do the jobs necessary to the functioning of society, but without educated people, our civilization will collapse entirely. Our educational establishment shifted into a "training" mode in the late 19th century. We began by throwing out Latin and establishing a mix of electives instead of a required core. Ironically, in order to enlarge the minds of our students into myriad subjects, we have stunted creativity. Kopff states that "creativity is found in tradition." Here is where the greatest thinkers of all time are found. It is how they were educated. It is where we can and should lead our students.

The next section is called, "The Good, the Bad, and the Postmodern." He begins by decrying "Critical Theory" and deconstructionism. These have led to a fun-house mirror world in which words mean nothing. This kind of criticism has led to an attempt to destroy "our story." It disconnects students from their culture, focusing all its efforts on opposition and attempting to discover what isn't being said rather than what is being said. "The mystery of tradition — that one must be happily rooted in family, in nation, in religion, in culture in order to rise above them — is lost on the critical theorists. By betraying home and family [they] cut [themselves] off from understanding great literature and, consequently, from genuine criticism." (p. 134) There are echoes of C.S. Lewis' understanding of the Tao. To criticize the Tao (ultimate Truth) one must operate inside the Tao. The critical theorists, by rejecting all tradition, do not have a place to stand to criticize it. What metric is available to them? They have rejected traditional metrics with the Enlightenment.

Section 3 discusses "Contemporary Chronicles: Role Models and Popular Culture." In this collection of essays he discusses myriad authors and chronicles the ways in which they further or detract from a classical understanding of Western Civilization. I'm unfamiliar with many of the pieces he references, so while this was interesting, it is simply too much for me to digest and summarize here. But referring to popular culture today, Kopff says, "Western science, technology, and politics (republican, liberal, or Marxist) are the creations of Western culture, the fruits of what Yeats called a 'great-rooted blossomer.' The tree of Western culture will be able to keep on producing those fruits only if it is nurtured by people who have worked long and hard to master the skills and knowledge needed to maintain that tree. The technocrat, the multiculturalist, and the postmodernist have declared war on the long and difficult course of study and acculturation needed to participate in the tradition that produces the science, technology, and politics that so many want." (p. 246)

He quotes a poem by "Douglas Young: A Freehanded Scot," which I believe perfectly captures the classical vs. modern rivalry:
Last Lauch (Last Laugh)
The Minister said it wald dee, (would die)
the cypress-buss (bush) I plantit. (planted)
But the buss (bush) grew till a tree,
Naething dauntit. (Nothing daunting it)
It's growan, (grown) stark and heich (high),
derk (dark) and staucht (straight) and sinister,
Kirkyairdie-like and dreich. (Churchyard-like and dull, long-suffering)
But whair's (where's) the Minister?  (p. 211)
Tradition will stand because it is rooted in Truth. Those seeking to destroy it will disappear. However, much is to be lost in the meantime as we wander through the wilderness.


The Epilogue contains Kopff's recommendations for the future of education:
1. Simplify the elementary school curriculum to concentrate on language, mathematics, and history.
2. Take teacher certification away from schools of education. "Observation of a master, countless practice sessions, regular criticism, and much guidance constitute the traditional route to acquiring new skills." (Perfectly mirrors Building A+ Better Teacher.)
3. America's churches should start teaching the Sacred Tongues.