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.




Saturday, August 20, 2016

Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy Sayers


"The Lost Tools of Learning" by Dorothy Sayers is pretty much the Bible for the Classical Education movement. I may have read it or parts of it before, but I went back and read it again to make sure I was familiar with the whole thing. It's not that long. Just an essay, really. But this small piece of writing, helped inspire thousands and then millions of people. Including myself.

She starts off by discussing her qualifications, or lack thereof. She states, "There is also one excellent reason why the veriest amateur may feel entitled to have an opinion about education. For if we are not all professional teachers, we have all, at some time or other, been taught. Even if we learned nothing — perhaps in particular if we learned nothing — our contribution to the discussion may have a potential value." Then she makes this shocking assertion, "...if we are to produce a society of educated people, fitted to preserve their intellectual freedom amid the complex pressures of our modern society, we must turn back the wheel of progress some four or five hundred years, to the point at which education began to lose sight of its true object, towards the end of the Middle Ages." Pure educational heresy.

She laments the fact the even though we as a society are extremely literate, we seem prone to fall for whatever fallacy sounds good at the moment. She diagnoses the problem that we are good at teaching subjects, but bad at teaching how to think. She likens it to teaching a child to play a particular song on a piano, but no instruction in how to actually play any song on the piano.

She advises a return to the Trivium and the Quadrivium. She begins with the Trivium which teaches students how to learn any subject. The Quadrivium, then, deals with the actual subjects to be learned. Within the Trivium is Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric, in that order. This is the way of the Middle Ages. "Modern education concentrates on teaching subjects, leaving the method of thinking, arguing, and expressing one's conclusions to be picked up by the scholar as he goes along; mediaeval education concentrated on first forging and learning to handle the tools of learning, using whatever subject came handy as apiece of material on which to doodle until the use of the tool became second nature."

She recognizes in children three distinct stages: the Poll-parrot, the Pert, and the Poetic. These stages can easily correspond to the three stages of the Trivium. The Grammar stage comes first and for this she recommends learning Latin. "I say this, not because Latin is traditional and mediaeval, but simply because even a rudimentary knowledge of Latin cuts down the labour and pains of leaning almost any other subject by at least 50 percent. It is the key to the vocabulary and structure of all the Romance languages and to the structure of all the Teutonic languages, as well as to the technical vocabulary of all the sciences and to the literature of the entire Mediterranean civilization, together with all its historical documents." The student in the Poll-parrot stage of development learns by heart easily and for whom reasoning is hard. Use this time to teach Latin as well as 100s of other facts they can recite by rote back to the teacher.

Once the student moves into the Pert stage (about 5th through 8th grade), the age which "is characterized by contradicting, answering-back, liking to 'catch people out' (especially one's elders) and the propounding of conundrums (especially the kind with a nasty verbal catch in them), it's time to move to the Dialectic stage of the Trivium. This is the time of debates, arguments, and well-reasoned opinions. The student is ready and willing to use reason. The contents of the syllabus at this stage may be anything you like. The 'subjects' supply material; but they are all to be regarded as mere grist for the mental mill to work upon. The pupils should be encouraged to go and forage for their own information, and so guided towards the proper use of libraries and books of reference, and shown how to tell which sources are authoritative and which are not.

"It is difficult to map out any general syllabus for the study of Rhetoric: a certain freedom is demanded... Any child that already shows a disposition to specialize should be given his head: for, when the use of the tools has been well and truly learned, it is available for any study whatever. It would be well... that each pupil should learn to do one, or two, subjects really well, while taking a few classes in subsidiary subjects so as to keep his mind open to the inter-relations of all knowledge. Indeed, at this stage, our difficulty will be to keep 'subjects' apart; for as Dialectic will have shown all branches of learning to be inter-related, so Rhetoric will tend to show that all knowledge is one." This stage can be used in high school, but Sayers says the reason we have students in the past going to university at 14 is because they have mastered the Trivium which fully prepared them for the subjects offered there. She recognizes that at the end of the Dialectic stage a student will appear "behind" his modernly educated peer, but by the time he masters Rhetoric he will fly past the peer.

She believes, "The truth is that for the last 300 year or so we have been living upon our educational capital." That is, the vestiges of the Trivium exist in education but each generation gets farther and farther away from it. Some of it is passed down in the culture, but we are largely running on fumes at this point. It was the excitement of the post-Renaissance world that led scholars to abandon the Trivium and jump into an exciting, expanded Quadrivium.

She concludes with this: "The combined folly of a civilization that has forgotten its own roots is forcing [teachers] to shore up the tottering weight of an educational structure that is built upon sand. They are doing for their pupils the work which the pupils themselves ought to do. For the sole end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain."

I have to admit that I am very partial to this way of educating our young people. I tried to do this myself with my own girls to a limited extent. After all, I had not been educated this way, so it is all foreign to me. (Literally... Latin?) I would love to see this methodology integrated into my classroom. I'm not sure how to go about that exactly. That is why I am immersing myself in Classical thought. I want to live and breathe this stuff until it comes naturally to me!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning by Douglas Wilson

Since I am on a Classical education kick, I read another book by Douglas Wilson. This one mirrors Dorothy Sayers essay “The Lost Tools of Learning” and is called “Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning: An Approach to Distinctively Christian Education.”

Wilson starts off with the need to reform all education. The book was written in 1991 and at that time, he is declaring that “Time is short. If only half of theses reformers are right, we have a monumental task in front of us and very little time accomplish it.” (p. 42) He agrees with many of the reforms suggested, but finds them inadequate. Even Christians seem to be ignoring the fact that before any true reform can take place, we need to recognize that the foundation is fundamentally flawed. 

Too often, Christians have not lived up to their God-given responsibility to direct the education of their children. Wilson goes onto to state, “Christian parents must take into account three things as they consider their obligation to educate their children. The first is the instruction that children would live in an environment dominated by Scripture…Obviously, instruction on Sunday only is not enough. A thorough Biblical instruction can only be provided when related to all of life. Teaching must occur when we walk, drive, sit, and lie down…. The second thing we must remember is that we are commanded to love the Lord our God with all our minds…. The command to teach children all the time is not limited to religious instruction…Not only are parents responsible to oversee the Biblical teaching of their children, they are also responsible to see that their children don’t receive false teaching…A Christian parent has two options. The first is to neutralize the false teaching, which means the parents have to spend at least a few hours every night countering what the children learned in school. The is difficult because the parents don’t know exactly what the children leaned that day… The second option is a private school.” (p. 48-51)

Wilson goes onto assert that all knowledge will and must be aligned with a particular worldview. A pervasive belief in God can unify all knowledge or it will be unified under another system. “Education is a completely religious endeavor. It is impossible to impart knowledge to students without building on religious presuppositions. Education is built on the foundation of the instructor’s worldview… It is a myth that education cane nonreligious — that is, that education can go on in a vacuum that deliberately excludes the basic questions about life. It is not possible to separate religious values from education.” (p. 59)

To begin to explore what education should look like, we must first begin with a Biblical perspective. We start when we begin to understand the true fallen nature of children. “One result of fallenness seen in children is the aversion to work, and natural curiosity is not sufficient to overcome that aversion.” (p. 73) A Christian education will not save the child any more than a secular one will. Rather a Christian education takes into account the fallen nature of the student and offers space for the grace of God to work. As that grace manifests itself in the teacher and the student, a love of learning and of knowledge will develop because it all points back to a loving creator. A loving teacher who truly loves his subject, can impart that love to his students.

It starts with Latin. What? As Wilson lays out his program for a “distinctively Classical education,” he begins with a chapter discussing why Latin is the foundational class. Classical education is the entering into of the Great Conversation. And this conversation was largely held in Latin. If we want our students to have something to add, they need to be able to know what has already been said. He lists some of the benefits: 1. Better understanding of English. 2. Better appreciation of good literature. 3. Better perspective of our societal timeline. 4. Better training in the essentials of the scientific method. 5. Good foundation from which to study other languages.

Next he presents the Trivium as the Classical organizing principle. Students progress through a grammar stage, logic or dialectic stage, and finally to the rhetoric stage. Once they are able to effectively know how to present what they know and what they are learning, they specialize in different aspects of the Quadrivium (math, science, art, music). “It is at this point that the educational process begins to bear real fruit. It is sad that because so many Christian parents have reacted to public schools, they are content with basic literacy. But this basic literacy can be accomplished in the first grade. This is not education; it is the first step. We cannot say that our job as educators is done until the children have been taught how to learn for themselves and how to express what they learn.” (p. 96-97)

Unfortunately modernity provides obstacles to even Christian Classical education. For one thing, the children are less disciplined, the culture actively works against the goals of the school, and the cost of a private education. He even dislikes vouchers as a method for funding these schools because the money is still state-controlled and always comes with strings attached. Students today want to be entertained. School is boring when they are surrounded by a culture drenched in entertainment. Classical education can bring joy, but it is rarely what one would call “fun.”

He reiterates his desire that Christians engage in what he calls “intellectual piety.” Too many times our Christian students can feel that their faith is at war with reason. Christians can shun the idea of “intellectual elitism.” However the Puritans and Solomon give us examples of devout people who pursued the Lord with all their minds.

He writes a brief chapter on homeschooling. While he believes it has much to commend it, he places a higher value on a quality Christian school. He believes these places provide a wider range of knowledge and expertise than a single parent or set of parents can. He neglects the myriad options out there for homeschool kids when the parents are inadequate to the task. In addition, he glosses over some of the benefits of homeschooling, claiming they are available in a traditional school as well, while also glossing over the downsides to traditional school. This chapter was not very effective reasoning in my opinion. 

Next, he reminds Christian parents that public schools should be called “government schools.” They are fundamentally state controlled and suffer from the same defects as other government-run institutions. “The various critiques of intrusive government have demonstrated that inefficiency, corruption, product shortages, and so forth are all endemic to this approach. They are not corruptions of the approach, they are manifestations of it.” (p. 135) In short, while in theory government-run schools could do a great job, there is no reason for them to do so and no way to get them there. 

The last chapter summarizes the whole book: “From a Biblical perspective, effective reform of such an educational system cannot be accomplished because reform can only be effective if it is blessed by God. In a pluralistic society, how can the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ be acknowledged in the public schools? And if He is ignored, dare we expect His blessing?” (p. 142)


While he makes a strong case for Christian Classical education, I continue to believe that Classical elements can be implemented in public, charter setting. I’m also far from convinced by his anti-homeschooling argument. Unfortunately the overwhelming majority of children are not going to attend a Christian Classical school. So we must try to reach them where they are and at least make sure they get a decent education. They are Americans after all and our country needs educated citizens. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

Repairing the Ruins by Douglas Wilson, ed.

As part of my desire to educate myself classically and become equipped to teach in a classical manner, I stumbled across the writings of Douglas Wilson. I started with Repairing the Ruins: The Classical and Christian Challenge to Modern Education. He has collected a series of essays designed to train up one who would incorporate the model of Classical, Christian education into his school. Most are written by him or others he works with in his own school, Logos.

Wilson strongly makes the point that all education, even classical, must be Christ-centered. He states, “[We must] establish Scripture at every point as the foundation on which to build all knowledge. Moreover, Scripture is known to be the final arbiter of whether such knowledge was built in line with the foundation. If Jesus Christ is not the Lord of all, then two added to two does not equal four. If He did not die for the sins of His people, then A and ~A cannot be distinguished. If the triune God of Scripture did not speak the universe into existence, then there is no universe to understand.” (p. 15) That’s some heavy lifting right there. He’s right of course, but I can guarantee that almost no one, including most Christians, can follow that logic. But if He is the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life… then all Truth rests in Him and his existence. Without Jesus Christ as TRUTH, there is no truth at all. Wrap your mind around that!

Wilson elaborates, “… in Him is hidden all treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Col. 2:3) Christ is the point of contact between God and man, and through this contact God imports knowledge to man. Ultimately to reject Christ is to renounce knowledge. Because of Christ the mediator, even finite, temporal, changing man can come to know absolute, universal, and unchanging truths. These include logical and mathematical laws, absolute ethical norms, objective categories in language, and inherent properties of matter. Non-christian thought can account for none of these.” (p. 55)

Therefore, we study in a Classical manner because the history of the West, IS the history of God’s working in our world. Obviously, Christianity is a universal religion, but its impact is most clearly seen in the West. Neither story can be told without the other. He states that this overarching emphasis on Western Civilization “is not xenophobic or an expression of any desire to react mindlessly to the modern trendiness of multiculturalism. If this duty of cultural education is neglected, the result will not be appreciation for other cultures but rather a poor training in one’s own, and a resultant contempt for one’s own. Cultural excellence in the education of our children is therefore not a side issue. Those best equipped to understand and appreciate another man’s culture is the man who understands and appreciates his own.” (p. 21) 

Wilson discusses the concept in education today of “egalitarianism.” He calls it the great enemy. While acknowledging the Biblical truth that all men are created in the image of God and stand before Him as equals, he is specifically referring to an egalitarianism that assumes all students are the same and should therefore be educated by and held to the same standards. Because egalitarianism demands equality of outcome, the system, by definition, must be rigged. Students are not taught as individuals gifted by God with different talents, abilities, and desires. They must be funneled into a one-size-fits-all institution. 

Classical studies are hard and require students to put forth the best of their God-given abilities. A Classical education must teach the child to value and enjoy hard work. However, we must not pile on work just for work’s sake. Some of it is hard because it is boring, not because it is challenging the student to develop his mind. On the other end of the spectrum, to simply amuse the student, to provide “edutainment”, is to short-change the goal of a true education. To that end, he clarifies, “All hard work is difficult but not everything that is difficult is hard work…What is easy for one is hard for another. Educators must not establish a course of study which levels or minimizes those differences. Diligent work reveals how God made the world, while laziness unsuccessfully tries to blur it.” (p. 81) To this point, he is unapologetic in stating that some kids simply do not have what it takes to succeed in a classical environment. Ouch…

He then goes into a discussion of what Classical Education actually is, what it looks like. He models the Trivium: Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric. He readily admits that few of us were trained this way. It can make teaching this way, therefore, difficult. But persevere we must. This is why I am trying to give myself this kind of an education. 

One of the included essays reviews the book, The Seven Laws of Learning by John Gregory. I have read and summarized that book on this blog, so seeing it as a recommendation did my heart good. It means I am on the right track!

One particularly relevant essay deals with “The Why and How of History.” The author, Chris Schlect, makes a beautiful case for why to study history in the first place. “If learning comes through experience, then how much more does it come through the study of history! For history draws from far more numerous and varied experiences than one individual could ever attain in a lifetime, and this experience brings no bitter consequences to the student. Pylorus (c. 208 - 126 B.C.) had said in this same connection, ‘The surest and indeed the only method of learning how to bear bravely the vicissitudes of fortune, is to recall the calamities of others.’” (p. 151) Thucydides tells us that history is relevant, “because the past resembles the present and future, for no circumstance exists but that which is common to man.” (p. 152) I love what J.H. Merle D’Aubigne says in History of the Reformation, “The history of the world should be set forth as the annals of the government of the sovereign King.”  Schlect goes on to say, “Only when history is understood this way is it worthwhile and intelligible.” (p. 155) History is the story of what God did and what He is doing! What is more relevant or more necessary to protecting our children from lies than that!

The next essay is written by Wilson and covers literature in education. He begins with this sublime statement, “So what does genuine excellence mean?… We decide, before we begin, that we will not tailor our curriculum to suit the student; rather, we educate the student so that he conforms to, and masters, the curriculum. The process of education is larger than we are, and it transcends the generations currently alive. We do not set the pace according to the whims of a sullen kid muttering in the back row. The pace is being called by Homer and Jeremiah, Virgil and Athanasius, Shakespeare and Bunyan, Van Til and Lewis. As as this list should indicate, excellence in education means in good measure a literary education. It may not seem very practical, but when we are done we may understand why Lewis commented: “You see at once that education is essential for freemen and vocational training for slaves.’” (p. 164) 

Next Wilson describes “The Why and How of Rhetoric.” He describes one who is good at rhetoric as being, “‘skilled in speaking who addresses a public audience in order to make an impact  upon it.’ The language of such public speaking is commonly loftier than ordinary discourse, but when it is effectively done it does not draw attention to itself.” Children need to be taught the effective use of language to convey accurately their points while considering the audience. He describes the components of a good speech. The Inventio. First determine what is to be said. Second, the dispositio or how will it be arranged in its logical order. The third is elocutio or what style is the speech to be given. Finally there is memorizing and delivery. All of these work together to create effective speeches and speakers.

The next topic tackled is Apologetics. He begins with a very heard-hearted statement, blaming parents for when their children turn from the faith. “Of course, the primary responsibility for such rebellion has to lie ultimately with parents who — however painful it is to accept — failed over the years to reveal the beauty of Christ in day-today- family life. Deep, genuine, and pervasive Christian living is the only convincing apologetic for those close to us.” (p. 185) Ouch, again. That being said, he also recommends apologetic training in school. He says we need to be “Christian skeptics.” This means, “we challenge and doubt whatever fails to live up to the ultimate standard of knowledge — the mind of the Christian God… Nothing deserves the benefit of the doubt. everything is guilty until proven innocent.” (p. 187) In short, we put the world on the defensive. We assume a Christian worldview is the truth and make them prove their claims instead of vice versa. 

He finishes the book with a section titled, “Making it Work in This Century”. This is filled with practical tips for those who want to start their own Classical, Christian school. I will definitely need to refer to this part as I make that journey on my own. 

This book is not for the faint of heart. It is a full-throated call to reclaim education in the most politically incorrect way imaginable. It is an eminently practicable book for educators to begin the challenging, how-to process of Classical, Christian education. 


He ends with just what I need, another list of books to read!

The Bible
On Christian Doctrine, Augustine
Areopagitica and Of Education, John Milton
On Secular Education, R.L. Dabney
 Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, Douglas Wilson
√ The Lost Tools of Learning, Dorothy Sayers
 The Seven Laws of Teaching, John Milton Gregory
Why Johnny Can’t Read, Rudolph Flesch
√ The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis
Education, Christianity, and the State, J. Gresham Machen
The Messianic Character of American Education, Rousas Rushdoony
The Christian Philosophy of Education Explained, Stephen Perks
Christianity & Classical Culture, Charles Cochrane
City of God, Augustine
Angels in the Architecture: A Protestant Vision of Middle Earth, Douglas Jones and Douglas Wilson
Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, Christopher Dawson
Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin
Ideas Have Consequent es, Richard Weaver
Classical Education and the Home School, Wilson, Jones, Callahan
Holiness, J.C. Ryle
√ Amusing Ourselves to Death, Neil Postman
Idols fo rDestruction, Herbert Schlossberg
No Place for Truth, David Wells
Introduction to Logic, Irving Copi
The Art of Reasoning with symbolic Logic, David Kelley
A Concise Introduction to Logic, Patrick Hurley
The Logic Book, Bergmann, Moor, Nelson
Introductory Logic, Douglas Wilson and James Nance
Intermediate Logic, James Nance
The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, John Frame
How to Read a Book, Mortimer Adler
√ The Iliad and Odyssey, Homer
√ The Aeneid, Virgil
√ Hamlet, Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare
Brightest Heaven of Invention: A Christian Guide in Six Shakespeare Plays, Peter Leithart
Reading Between the Lines, Gene Edward Veith
Postmodern Times, Gene Edward Veith
State of the Arts, Gene Edward Veith
Apologetics to the Glory of God, John Frame
Art of Rhetoric, Aristotle
Ad Herennium, Cicero

Friday, August 12, 2016

History of the English-Speaking People by Winston Churchill

*update* I know this is RIDICULOUSLY long, but I simply cannot think of a good way to summarize a history book. A lot of stuff happened! Just remember, it's shorter than the book!

I had heard of the book History of the English-Speaking Peoples by Winston Churchill, and the title alone fascinated me. As I am desperately trying to educate myself, I knew I had to read it. It’s probably one of my favorite history books up to this point. But this time, I read it a little differently than I read most books. While I always take notes and write up a summary, this time, I used Susan Wise Bauer’s suggestions for how to read a history book. She includes over 20 questions to ask yourself as you read the book. So I did that and this summary took quite a bit longer. But I think it was worth it for the depth I feel I gained in doing so.

Churchill has written a political history. He is largely concerned with those in power, both how they got it and what they did with it. He uses these stories to tell the overriding story of the English. He organizes the book into three “books” within the whole: Book I: The Island Race; Book II: The Making of the Nation; Book III: The End of the Feudal Age. He states his purpose for writing saying, “[This book] aims to present a personal view on the process whereby English-speaking peoples throughout the world have achieved their distinctive position and character.” (p. viii) The major events of the history which he details include the Roman invasion and takeover of Britain, followed by the Viking takeover after the Roman Empire falls. Then the leadership turns to the House of Wessex, then the Normans and Plantagenet Dynasties, and finally the Houses of York and Lancaster battle it out. The book ends with the beginning of the Tudor line. Therefore, he story begins with the invasion by Julius Caesar in 55 BC and ends at the crowning of Henry VII (of the Tudors) in 1485 AD (Sometimes considered the end of the Middle Ages). It largely takes place in England with lots of forays into France. It also jaunts from time to time into Scotland and Ireland, but mainly concerns itself with the English and their French holdings. 

When discussing who the story is about, Churchill states, “I use the term ‘English-speaking peoples’ because there is no other that applies both to the inhabitants of the British Isles and to those independent nations who derive their beginnings, their speech, and many of their institutions from England, and who now preserve, nourish, and develop them in their own ways.” (p. viii) The challenge in the narrative comes about because the people are continually threatened by outsiders seeking power over the island nation. Usually the native inhabitants lose, but they always manage to find a way to bring the outside, usurping leader into their customs and habits through the great power of the nobility and the existing institutions. The story has a forward progression. The tyrannical leaders are repeatedly forced to come to heel. Each new dynasty promises to respect the unwritten Constitution and affirm the understood rights of the people and the nobility. This continual replacement of bad kings with kings who promise progress shows the English are not willing to settle for a bad king and eventually a bad dynasty.

The next stage of diving into a history book, the logic stage, concerns the major questions and assertions of the author. 

I believe the first question implicitly asked is, “What was the impact of Rome on England?” He begins the answer to this question with the first incursion by Julius Caesar when the island was inhabited by the Briton, Celt, Pict, and Scottish tribes. The British tribal chief Cassivellaunus was able to negotiate with the invading Romans and in exchange for hostages and tribute, get them to quit the island. Thereafter, they began to trade with Rome, but they were not conquered. 100 years later the Romans were back. “In the wild North and West freedom found refuge among the mountains, but elsewhere the conquest and pacification were at length complete and Britannia became one of the forty-five provinces of the Roman Empire”. (pg. 33) Of that time, Churchill states, “For nearly four hundred years Britain became a Roman province. This considerable period was characterized for a great part of the time by that profound tranquility which leave little for history to record. It stands forth sedate, luminous, and calm. And what remained? Noble roads, sometimes overgrown with woodland; the stupendous work of the Roman Wall, breached and crumbling; fortresses, market towns, country houses, whose very ruins the next comers contemplated with awe. But of Roman speech, Roman law, Roman institutions, hardly a vestige. Yet we should be mistaken if we therefore supposed that the Roman occupation could be dismissed as an incident without consequence. It had given time for the Christian faith to plant itself.” (p. x)Those Britons who accepted Roman ruled lived comfortable lives in a stable, but static colony. However, the North required a wall and vigilant defense. As Rome’s foundations were beginning to crumble, Britain seemed not to notice.

His second implicit question was “What ended the Roman Rule?” “The Roman world, like an aged man, wish to swell in peace and tranquility and to enjoy in philosophic detachment the good gifts which life has to bestow upon the more fortunates classes. But new ideas disturbed the internal conservatism, and outside the carefully guarded frontiers vast masses of hungry, savage men surged and schemed. The essence of the Roman peace was toleration of all religions and the acceptance of a universal system of government. Every generation after the middle of the second century was an increasing weakening of the system and a gathering movement towards a uniform religion. Christianity asked again all the questions which the Roman world deemed answered for ever, and some that it had never thought of.” (pg. 44-45) As the Roman Empire declined, they moved out of far away, hard to defend Britain. The Anglo-Saxons of Germany took this as their chance to invade. The Britons fought back, possibly under the mythical King Arthur, but eventually had to make peace with the onslaught of Saxons. This led to powerful chiefs which eventually gave way to kings who rewarded their loyal followers with land. This became the germ of feudalism.

I believe the next question to be, “How did England come into its own as one of the leaders of Western Civilization?” Compared to Rome, Saxon England was barbaric small kingdoms fighting for supremacy. Eventually all become Christian and some of the great Christian thinkers and saints live in England at this time, in order to unify the faith. Saint Augustine is sent to help the islanders maintain pure theology and Saint Patrick makes tremendous inroads in Ireland. King Offa could reasonably make a claim to be the King of England when he conquered most of the warring territories. He even gained the respect of Charlemagne. In addition, Bede re-reckons the calendar so that the dates originate at the birth of Christ. “In the eighth century indeed England had claims to stand in the van of Western culture…England, with an independent character and personality, might scarcely yet be part of a world civilization as in Roman times, but there was a new England, closer than ever before to national unity, with a native genius of her own.” (pg. 87) Churchill cannot overstate the importance of Christianity in uniting the island and creating a stabilizing force.

While the Muslims conquered most of the eastern and southern Mediterranean Sea, the Vikings began making a play for the northern territories. Four hundred years after the Saxons invaded England, they were repaid in kind by the Vikings. Because the church, filling in the void left by the Romans, had become so powerful and rich in Britain, it provided a tempting target. When Ivar the Boneless conquered England in the name of the Danish, they didn’t just plundered. They stayed. “The Danish settlement in England was essentially military. They cut their way with their swords, and then planted themselves deeply in the soul. The warrior type of farmer asserted from the first a status different from the ordinary agriculturist.” (pg. 103) The Saxons very nearly succumbed and the estates founded by the Danes had a definite military flavor.

Next Churchill asks, “How did England unite such a disparate group of people into one nation?” Along came Alfred the Great, leading to the time of Wessex ascendancy. Churchill describes him thus, “The sublime power to rise above the whole force of circumstances, to remain unbiased by the extremes of victory or defeat, to persevere in the teeth of disaster, to greet returning fortune with a cool eye, to have faith in men after repeated betrayals, raises Alfred far above the turmoil of barbaric wars to his pinnacle of deathless glory.” (p. 117) Churchill believes it was Alfred who basically founded England as we know it. Concerning him, he states, “We discern across the centuries a commanding and versatile intelligence, wielding with equal force the sword of war and of justice; using in defense arms and policy; cherishing religion, learning, and art in the midst of adversity and danger; welding together a nation, and seeking always across the feuds and hatreds of the age a peace which would smile upon the land. This King, it was said, was a wonder for wise men. ‘From his cradle he was filled with the love of wisdom above all things,’ wrote Asser. The Christian culture of his Court sharply contrasted with the feckless barbarism of Viking life. The older race was to tame the warriors and teach them the arts of peace, and show them the value of a settled common existence. We are watching the birth of a nation. The result of Alfred’s work was the future mingling of Saxon and Dane in a common Christian England.” (p. 122)

The House of Wessex continued to unite and reorganize most of England under the rule of law. But under the foolish Ethelred The Unready things begin to fall apart. His widow marries the Danish king who reintroduces stability and respects the Wessex way of life. But eventually the kingship returns to the Saxons under Edward The Confessor, the last Saxon king. By this time, the England was weak and was experiencing internal conflicts and contradictions.

Now we get to the question, “How did the French become so entangled with England?” William of Normandy, the illegitimate child of the Duke of Normandy, cousin of the last Saxon King, Edward the Confessor, angled to get the English throne. He made childless Edward promise it to him. And for good measure, he kidnapped the king’s brother-in-law, Harold, and made him swear fealty as well as a condition of his release. When Edward died Harold determined to get the throne for himself. He was first threatened from the north by a distant upstart and was forced to fight for the crown at the Battle of Stamford Bridge. This was immediately followed by the crossing of the channel by William in 1066 and the ill-fated Battle of Hastings.  William the Conqueror takes the throne and begins the Norman line of kings and the great entanglement with France that was to haunt the country for hundreds of years.

At first, William tried to keep the nobility French and impose French customs on England, but he was eventually forced to unite Norman with Saxon culture. His land reforms and redistribution led the beginnings of manorialism where, although the people might be free, the land was tied to the Lord and all belonged to the king.

William’s heir, Henry I further stabilized England, but on his death a succession crisis arose. HIs nephew, Stephen, claimed the throne, but Henry had stated he wanted his daughter, Maud, to succeed. A woman ruler was quickly denounced so she offered her son, Henry Plantagenet. The resulting civil war commenced in Henry II’s favor largely because he married Eleanor of Aquitaine who brought with her significant French territories. Of him, Churchill states, “The accession of Henry II began one of the most pregnant and decisive reigns in English history… He was accepted by English and Norman as the ruler of both races and the whole country. The memories of Hastings were confounded in his person, and after the hideous anarchy of civil war and robber barons all due attention was paid to his commands. Thus, though a Frenchman, with foreign speech and foreign modes, he shaped our country in a fashion of which the outline remains to the presents day.” (p. 199)
Henry II spread his influence throughout the area. He is known for his feud and possible inadvertent murder of Thomas Becket over issues of power and investiture. Because he was the most powerful Duke in France, the French king kept a wary eye on him. Despite his successful reign, Churchill states, “…Henry knew well that his splendor was personal in origin, tenuous and transient in quality.” (pg. 213)

Churchill then answers the question, “Where did English legal institutions that we would recognize today get their start?” Of Henry II Churchill sums up his importance, “ The Plantagenets were rough masters, and the temper of the age was violent. It was the violence however of vigour, not of decadence. England has had greater soldier-kings and subtler diplomatists than Henry II, but no man has left a deeper mark upon our laws and institutions… Henry II possessed an instinct for the problems of government and law, and it is here that his achievement lies… his fame will live with the English Constitution and the English Common Law.” (p. 215) His genius was in creating a system of courts under himself that used juries and promised greater justice than the provincial courts. This led directly to the English Common Law and the formation of the unwritten English Constitution as royal justice began to create national precedents.

His four sons each in turn rebelled against him, seeking to usurp the throne. His eldest, Richard, joined forces with the French King Philip to defeat his father. This kind of pattern was to play out repeatedly. “Although Richard was an absentee King (he fought in the Crusades and was captured then ransomed from the Duke of Austria) whose causes and virtues had proved a drain and disappointment to his subjects, his realm had not suffered so much as it would have seemed. The intrigues of the nobles and the treacheries of Prince John had been restrained by an impersonal Government ruling with the the force and in the name of high and also well-grounded principles. The system of administration devised by Henry II — the Civil Service as we may call it — had stood the test, and, undisturbed by royal interventions, consolidated itself, to the general convenience and advantage. It was proved that the King, to whom all allegiance had been rendered, was no longer the sole guarantee for law and order. There were other sureties upon which in addition the English nation could rely.” (p. 239)

Upon Richard’s death in battle, his brother, John, attained his long sought after prize. Churchill describes him saying, “He united the ruthlessness of a hardened warrior with the craft and subtlety of a Machiavellian… his cruelties were conceived and executed with a cold, inhuman intelligence… In him the restless energy of the Plantagenet race was raised to a furious pitch of instability.” This led the nobility to revolt against him forcing him to sign Magna Carta in 1215. “If the thirteenth-century magnates understood little and cared less for popular liberties or Parliamentary democracy, they had all the same laid hold of a principle which was to be of prime importance for the future development of English society and English institutions. Throughout the document it is implied that here is a law which is above the King and which even he must not break. This reaffirmation of a supreme law and its expression in a general charter is the great work of Magna Carta; and this alone justifies the respect in which men have held it. The reign of Henry II, according to the most respected authorities, initiates the rule of law. But the work as yet was incomplete: the Crown was still above the law: the legal system which Henry had created could become, as John showed, an instrument of oppression. Now for the first time the King himself is bound by the law.” (p. 257)

John’s death came at a time when the nobility, fed up with him, had actually called for the king of France to usurp the English throne. But upon his death, the conflict ended and his nine-year-old son, Henry III inherited the title. He further alienated the English aristocrats by his love of foreigners and intrigues with the church. The common people turned to the King’s brother-in-law, Simon de Montfort for leadership and reform.

The resulting Civil War led to the first glimpses of a modern Parliament as the barons chose sides between de Montfort and the King. Prince Edward finally killed de Montfort in battle. Yet de Montfort had lighted a fire among the people and would forever be remembered as their saint. Ironically, the new king, Edward I was forced to draw deeply on Simon’s ideas to maintain support within his country.

“Few princes had received so thorough an education in the art of rulership as Edward I when at the age of thirty-three his father’s death brought him to the crown. He was an experienced leader and a skillful general. He had carried his father on his shoulders; he had grappled with Simon de Montfort, and, while sharing many of his views, had destroyed him. He had learned the art of war by tasting defeat. When at any time in the closing years of King Henry III he could have taken control, he had preferred a filial and constitutional patience, all the more remarkable when his own love of order and reform is contrasted with his father’s indolence and incapacity and the general misgovernment of the realm.” (p. 285) Under his rule, feudalism begins to die, Parliament begins to establish its authority through the ability to deny taxes to finance wars, Whales is defeated as well as William Wallace and Robert Bruce in Scotland, and peace is made with France through a marriage of his own as well as marrying off his son and heir to a French princess.

After the Norman invasion and the establishment of the Plantagenet line of kings, Churchill answers the question, “Why did England decline?” Edward II, the son of Edward I, was a weak and ineffectual king. He lost Scotland at the battle of Bannockburn. And it’s possible he was gay. For this he was rejected by his French wife. She took his son to France where she and her lover conspired to have Edward II removed, killed, and replaced with Edward III.

As a side note, at this time Ireland was never truly under British rule, but did fall under its sway. Meanwhile in Scotland, the loose and weak confederation came to be ruled by Robert the High Steward, hereafter euphoniously called the Stuarts.

To its shame, England continued to lose vast amounts of territory in France. But with the invention of the long bow, her army appeared invincible. When the French king demanded a show of fealty from Edward III, also known as the Duke of Normandy, combined with mercantilist concerns over the wool trade across the channel, Edward III asserted his claim to the French throne through his mother’s side. This was all the English needed to launch what would become known as the 100 Years War.

Throughout Edward III’s reign, reform becomes a major theme. Wycliff sought church reforms that would pre-date and lend credence to the later Reformation, although he was largely rejected in his lifetime. John of Gaunt, Edward III’s third son, sought to reform government The war with France weakened both countries, most of the English territories in France were lost,  and the crown prince died before his father. Therefore the crown passed to his ten-year-old son, Richard II. No one objected. Well John of Gaunt might have been less than pleased.

Richard II became king under the regency of his uncle John of Gaunt. He had a son himself and was not anxious for Richard to come of age and take over the kingdom. Soon, King Richard II was unlucky enough to find himself king during the Black Plague. The social upheaval caused by so much death lead to peasants pushing for more power and eventually uprisings. This led to the aristocracy pushing back and in the process humbling the king. Richard did not stay humbled for long and sought vengeance on the kingdom. At one point, he banished John of Gaunt’s son, his cousin Henry. Churchill says, “The character of Richard II and his place in the regard of history remain an enigma. That he possessed qualities of high order, both for design and action, is evident. That he was almost from childhood confronted with measureless difficulties and wrongful oppressions against which he repeatedly made head is also plain. The injuries and cruelties which he suffered at the hands of his uncle Gloucester and the high nobility may perhaps be the key to understanding him. Some historians have felt that he was prepared not only to exploit Parliamentary and began maneuvers against the governing classes, but perhaps even that he would use social forces then and for many generations utterly submerged. At any rate the people for their part long cherished some such notion of him.” (p. 299-300)

After the upheaval at the end of the Plantagenet line, “How did England restabilize?” Richard’s cousin Henry soon took advantage of Richard’s unpopularity with the nobility and marched on London from his exile, and claimed the throne for himself. His reign was constantly marked by the label of usurper. He gained the prize but sank under the weight of it. His son was seen by those in leadership at the time to be a perfect antidote. He was much more sure of himself and made a strong king.

Henry V sought to cement his reign with victories in France. The battle of Agincourt restored English possessions in France, but reopened the bloody 100 Years War. It also gave Henry V the power to declare himself king of France. But he died young, leaving a nine-month-old infant son, Henry VI.
Of Henry VI, Churchill states, “Through his father he inherited the physical weakness of the house of Lancaster, and through his mother the mental infirmities of Charles VI.”  (p. 413) This is an auspicious beginning. France rebelled against the baby being declared King of France. Under the glorious vision and direction of Joan of Arc, France rose up and drove the English out. It was through her victories that the French king Charles IV was crowned, yet that didn’t stop him from abandoning her on the battlefield to be killed by forces loyal to England. Churchill sums it up thusly, “Joan was a being so uplifted from the ordinary run of mankind that she finds no equal in a thousand years. The records of her trial present us with facts alive today through all the mists of time. Out of her own mouth can she be judged in each generation. She embodied the natural goodness and valor of the human race in unexampled perfection. She glorifies as she freed the soil from which she sprang.” (p. 422)

Now that the House of Lancaster is firmly in place, “How did the War of the Roses between the Lancastrians and the House of York begin?” HenryVI was a very weak king who actually sunk into imbecility for a period. Meanwhile the Duke of York had built a popular following while ruling over Ireland. His followers pushed for him to be named the heir when it seemed that Henry would produce no offpsring. Because Henry IV of the house of Lancaster, had largely been seen as a usurper, Richard, the Duke of York, seemed to have a legitimate claim. Of Richard, Churchill states, “He was a virtuous, law-respecting, slow moving, and highly competent prince. Every office entrusted to him by the Lancastrian rĂ©gime had been ably and faithfully discharged.” (p. 433) Had Henry not lost almost all of the French provinces, Richard would have been content to rule over his territory there. As it was, he felt moved to exert authority over all of England.

Thus begins the War of the Roses. Richard, of the House of York, represented by a white rose, at first worked to legitimately gain the throne. The red rose of Lancaster was supported by the majority of the nobility. Richard was killed in a skirmish, and the younger generation, including his son Edward, took up the fight. Open war broke out. King Henry VI was weak and incapable of fighting, so his wife took up the challenge to ensure her young son would rule. “…the Lancastrian cause was sustained by the unconquerable will of Queen Margaret. Never has her tenacity and rarely have her vicissitudes been surpassed in any woman. Apart from the sullen power of Lancaster in the North, she had the friendly regard of two countries, Scotland and France. Both had felt the heavy arm of England in former reigns; both rejoiced at its present division and weakness.” (p. 450-451) Nevertheless, she was defeated and the king locked up in the tower. She and her son took refuge in France. Edward IV took the throne, the first king of the house of York.

Edward IV loved war and the pleasures of peacetime. He did not love ruling. He fell in love with a commoner and brought her and her large family into the royal fold. This did not sit well with the nobility who saw their power diluted. They turned to the ex-Queen Margaret, urging her to renew the fight now that her son was old enough to take the throne. Unfortunately, he died in the battle at Tewkesbury. This last hope for the House of Lancaster meant the king, locked up in the tower, was no longer necessary. The forces of York murdered him. But the house of York was not as secure as it seemed. Edward died young, leaving two young sons. His brother Richard saw an opportunity to grab the throne under the guise of a Regent for the two princes. 

Churchill’s next question seems to be, “How and why did this period of internal fights end?” In order to “protect” the young boys, Richard had them secured in the Tower. Within two years, they disappeared. Everyone assumed Richard had them killed in order to secure his position as king. Richard III worked hard to be a good king, but he could never be forgiven the murder of his nephews. When his only son and heir died, Richmond Tudor, who could trace his lineage back to Edward III, was the obvious claimant. Richard was killed in battle and and Richmond married the daughter of Edward IV. “The marriage of Richmond with the adaptable Princess Elizabeth produced the Tudor line, in which both Yorkists and Lancastrians had a share. Richard's death also ended the Plantagenet line. For over three hundred years this strong race of warrior and statesmen kings, whose gifts and vices were upon the highest scale, whose sense of authority and Empire had been persistently maintained, now vanished from the fortunes of the Island.” (p. 499-500) This marks another turning point in the history of the English-speaking peoples. The  next volume will undoubtably pick up here.

In answering his own internal questions, Churchill makes much use of previous histories. He doesn’t seem to do original scholarship. He also seems to rely extensively on his own conclusions and opinions. Because his assertions are largely fact-based, he seems to support his assertions. He is not generally making statements of opinion. As an amateur historian, he doesn’t list his qualifications except that he has served in government and war and seen many historical events firsthand and so his personal views might be interesting. I believe they are in fact very interesting.

The final stage of analysis is called the Rhetoric Stage. At this point, the questions go beyond the contents in the book to an analysis of the what exactly is the point the author is making.

I believe that the purpose for which Churchill is writing is to show the English-speaking people, who had just won WWII what exactly they were fighting for, what he would call the character of the people and their distinctive qualities and position. His story certainly offers hope and forward motion if England can hold onto what makes her great. He traces the times of barbarism to the quintessential English institutions always assuming they represent progress. It would seem that in Churchill’s reckoning, to be human is to be civilized and live under good, well-run government operating on the legacy bequeathed to it. Things go wrong in history when people desire power over the good of the nation and exhibit a tendency to usurp the throne. 

I believe that free will is one of the central characters in this story. While “Acts of God” happen and the leaders are forced to respond, it is people exercising their free will that leads to all the troubles. Although they are frequently tossed and turned by events beyond their control, even the lower classes have the power to support whom they would see as their king. 

Churchill is an indirect advocate of social problems. He holds in high esteem the English institutions that he would like to see preserved. It is clear he sees that they are fragile and thousands of years of history can be erased if we are not careful. Churchill would say that the end of history is to secure human rights under a government that respects and promotes those rights. I love that Churchill is unapologetic about his love for support of virtuous English institutions. He is also unapologetic about the stabilizing influence of the Church and Christianity on the nation. The perpetual struggle for power between the Church and the King seem to provide, for Churchill, a good balance, combined with the aristocracy’s desire to protect their own interests.


Because he is an eyewitness to history, I give him great deference. I believe his telling of events and support his conclusions. Civilization is fragile. Men, exercising their will to power can upend all that has been secured. As he lurches from generation to generation from ruler to ruler, we see how a weak ruler can lose the goodwill of the people and open the nation up to a usurper. All that took thousands of years to gain can be lost should the people stop fighting for their rights as Englishmen.