Monday, April 17, 2017

Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation by Alen C. Guelzo

I received the book Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation by Allen C. Guelzo at a Hillsdale function for educators. The purpose was to teach how to teach the Civil War. The book has sat on my shelf for about a year while I worked through other books. It's too bad it took me so long. It is a wonderful and engrossing read. It's a history book the way history books should be. It carries you along in a narrative that feels like it's unfolding in real time. You feel the tension and the backdrop under which Lincoln struggled to free the slaves. 

Of his research, Guelzo states, "The most salient feature to emerge from the sixteen months between [Lincoln's] inauguration and the first presentation of the Proclamation to his cabinet on July 22, 1862, is the consistency with which Lincoln's face was set toward the goal of emancipation from the day he first took the presidential oath." (p. 4) He further states, "I believe that Abraham Lincoln understood from the first that his administration was the beginning of the end of slavery and that he would not leave office without some form of legislative emancipation policy in place." (p. 6) Today, Lincoln is often derided for not doing enough, but Guelzo shows that not only did Lincoln do all he could, he was able to navigate a minefield better than anyone else of his day to push the country towards true equality. Most of all, Lincoln understood the danger posed by anything other than a legislative solution. He had seen the damage the judiciary could do in Dred Scott. This acknowledgement of the danger any proclamation would face on myriad fronts explains the legal language, so widely criticized. It may not have been flowery or lyrical, but it accomplished a significant change in America.

Guelzo has organized his book into five broad chapters. The first is called "Four Ways to Freedom," and details the efforts after the Civil War began but preceding the Proclamation to free slaves. The election of Abraham Lincoln started the whispers of freedom among the slaves. Lincoln believed this as well, but unlike the Abolitionists, he preferred a gradual, orderly emancipation that would pass Constitutional muster. However, a war would come first. Once Union troops began to show up in the South, slaves made their way to the encampments, believing that if they could just get there, they would be free. This presented a logistical problem of what to do with them. In addition, General Fremont was in Missouri declaring all the slave free under Martial Law. This was a mess Constitutionally and a PR disaster with the border states. Legally the Fugitive Slave Act was still in force. A case could be made that the slaves were war materiel, but only if it could be proved that their ownership furthered the Confederacy's efforts. This was hard to determine and hard to enforce. Generals, making decisions in the field, often led to contradictory and unconstitutional outcomes. While the Confiscation Act was passed by Congress to try to clear up the ad hoc methodology, nothing was permanent and the future of the freed slaves was wholly unknown. Whether they were considered contraband, confiscated from Confederate forces, or declared free through Martial Law, this was not the way to free the slaves.

Lincoln, while appearing maddeningly indifferent to the efforts of those in the field to free slaves, had a plan he felt could pass constitutionally and would forever guarantee the slaves' freedom. He wanted the federal government to buy the slaves, emancipate them, and then work with states to legally outlaw slavery in their respective state. He had a plan for gradual emancipation that would allow for time to transition the slaves into the role of freemen. In addition, he favored colonization for the freed slaves in either Africa, the West Indies, or South America. He believed there was far too much water under the bridge for blacks and whites to ever live together peacefully. Although his plan would be very expensive, he thought he could appeal to the border states, and eventually the South with compensation. It would, after all, cost less than a war, and be far less damaging to the country.

Lincoln thought Delaware would be the place to start with his plan. He surreptitiously introduced his idea to some Delaware legislators. He was disheartened to find little support. Even from blacks themselves. It seemed that abolition had come to mean that whites would be free of the problem of slavery, and they did not much care what would happen to the freed slaves. The slaves were not interested in colonization or in any plan orchestrated by whites, ostensibly for their own good. They wanted to be involved in determining their destiny. Whites worried that once the slaves were free, they would come to live and work among them, and racist attitudes could not stomach that. Ironically, they preferred to send their sons and husbands to war, fighting for abstract ideals, to actually emancipating slaves and having to deal with a post-emancipation society. As is so common to humans, we fight for something because it makes us feel good, but the actual consequences of success are neglected and ignored. Abraham Lincoln's plan forced Northern whites to face the consequences of their feel-good ideas, and they didn't like them. Meanwhile, McClellan's intransigence in fighting the war and his veiled threats of a military coup, led a discouraged Lincoln to conclude that gradual, compensated emancipation and colonization was not going to happen. 

Finally, Lincoln came to the conclusion, that in order to save the Union, he would have to put forth an Emancipation Proclamation that would forever free the slaves in the rebellious states. This, he believed, would shift the focus of the war and clarify the position of slavery henceforth. When he presented it to his cabinet, he brooked no argument except as to his wording. He knew a hostile Supreme Court would do all in its power to nullify it. But he believed he had the power under the not-as-yet-defined war powers, and he intended to use it. Additionally, he did not believe it could be called unconstitutional because, definitionally the southern states had excluded themselves from the protections of the Constitution when they seceded. After taking a few suggestions from a stunned cabinet, he was presented with the option to wait for a military victory before issuing it. The thought was that if he put forth the Proclamation when the war was going badly, it would look like a desperate move and lead to discouragement. By waiting for a victory, he could ride that momentum. But a victory with McClellan would take a miracle. Not a particularly religious man for most of his life, Abraham Lincoln was beginning to see the need for God in his life. Yet he would serve Him in his own way. In fact, when a group of ministers met with him, saying that God wanted him to declare emancipation, Lincoln rashly replied that God should speak directly to him if that was the case. It didn't take long before that happened. In a field, some Union soldiers came across Lee's war plans wrapped around cigars. Even McClellan could not snatch defeat from the jaws of victory with such divine backing. After the win, and of course McClellan did not pursue Lee to finish it off, Lincoln had his divine sign that the time was right. In September, after telling his cabinet that he discerned the hand of God in the timing, he issued the Proclamation, designed to go into effect on January 1. He gave the rebellious states four months to stand down. 

Abraham kept the country guessing right up until the moment the Emancipation Proclamation was officially issued whether or not he would actually do it. When he put it into action on January 1 as he promised, the country reacted in celebrations and denunciations. His friends and allies split. Some called it unconstitutional, while others rushed to his defense. Even these however, rested their case on shaky ground. While he justified the act under his war powers, granted by the Constitution, he felt compelled to add an handwritten note at the end to further explicate his rationality. He had worded the declaration very carefully, trying to escape a legal challenge. However, he added, "Upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgement of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God." (p. 203) Lincoln knew he had to shore up the proclamation with his plan for gradual, compensated emancipation. Even his supporters were aware of the extent to which he had stretched the war powers. He also took this opportunity to fire General McClellan. All of this before the upcoming 1864 elections. He played his whole hand and relied on the country to support him and return him to office. 

The expected race wars that were assumed did not happen. Rather, the North won the war, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments were passed, and Reconstruction began. Unfortunately, the South devolved into Jim Crow. For the 50th anniversary, the Emancipation Proclamation was celebrated, but by the 100th anniversary, the document began to be derided. It was clear by this time that the promise had not fully materialized. That would take a bit more time. 

Abraham Lincoln deserves his vaunted place in history for being a true statesman capable of navigating unimaginably difficult waters. He balanced so many competing positions and I believe he perfectly threaded the needle. Although what followed was not something to necessarily take pride in, I think that had he lived, we would have seen a far different outcome. While he was disappointed with Abraham Lincoln's commitment to abolition in many ways, Frederick Douglass summed it up well. "Measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined... [Lincoln] is doubly dear to us, and his memory will be precious forever." (p. 283)

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Myth of the Robber Barons by Burton W. Folsom

I learned of this book because it is written by a member of Hillsdale faculty, and I have read books written by him before. This short book, The Myth of the Robber Barons by Burton W. Folsom, Jr. is a quick easy read. Although he has done tremendous research, he uses that information in a story-telling  manner that makes it easily digestible. 

The book is seven chapters, the first six deal with individual personalities and the last is a conclusion. Each of the men described enjoy a reputation for fabulous wealth somewhat tainted by an unearned reputation for unscrupulous dealings. 

Folsom begins by differentiating between "market entrepreneurs" and "political entrepreneurs." The former eschews government handouts and works under free market conditions. The latter needs government intervention in order to survive. He starts with Vanderbilt and his contributions to the steamship industry. While Robert Fulton was the first to build and begin a steamship company, he operated under a government-granted monopoly. Another operator hired young Cornelius Vanderbilt to try to break into that market. He ran illegal ferries until the Supreme Court finally struck down the monopoly as unconstitutional. In a free market, Vanderbilt undercut all his competition, drastically lowing rates. Eventually he took on the cross-Atlantic, subsidized mail carriers, where he had competition on both sides of the pond. He found creative ways to cut expenses, including sailing such well-built ships that he did not feel the need to buy insurance. Eventually, the government-subsidized companies could not compete. Their mismanagement was revealed and they went bankrupt. Folsom states, "In the steamship industry, political entrepreneurship often led to price-fixing, technological stagnation, and the bribing of competitors and politicians. The market entrepreneurs were the innovators and rate-cutters." (p. 15) Federal aid appeared to be a curse. 

He then moves onto the railroad industry. All schoolchildren learn about the glorious Transcontinental Railroad built by the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific. What they do not learn is that it was a government-financed boondoggle. In fact, Folsom tells the story of James J. Hill who built another transcontinental railroad completely free of government money, that operated both efficiently and profitably. Instead of rushing and acting inefficiently in order to get the job done quickly and maximize government funding, Hill took his time, carefully studied the path of the tracks and used high-quality materials. Therefore his train ran a shorter distance with greater dependability for less money. Folsom calls the Union Pacific's eventual bankruptcy all but foreordained. "The aid bred inefficiency; the inefficiency created consumer wrath; the consumer wrath led to government regulation; and the regulation closed the UP's options and helped lead to bankruptcy." (p. 22) With his profits flowing in, Hill began buying up failed, subsidized railroads and making them profitable. Hill built slowly, developing the areas around his railroad in order to promote exports that he could ship. He even opened up trade to the Orient. Unfortunately he was caught in the morass of legislation and laws meant to protect the nation from unscrupulous, subsidized businesses. His very successful, self-built company was declared a monopoly and ordered disbanded. 

Of course, the railroads could not function without a cheap supply of iron. This is where the Scrantons come in. Looking to produce iron, William Henry joined with his relatives, the Scrantons, and purchased land in northeast Pennsylvania. They faced fierce pushback from the local iron manufacturers and unforeseen poor land conditions. They quickly began to fail. Desperate, they tapped all their friends and family for funds to continue operations. They made the very risky decision to challenge the English and enter into the rail market. Undercutting the British, they got a contract almost impossible for them to fulfill, yet fulfill it they did. However, they knew that in order to continue to succeed, they would have to build up the local infrastructure to make it more amenable to transporting raw and finished materials. In the barren wilderness, they single-handedly developed the town of Scranton. The phenomenal growth of the town attracted other entrepreneurs like the five-and-dime Woolworth's stores. Interestingly, Folsom details the stories of the children of the original entrepreneurs. Some did well with the resources handed to them, but many did not. He makes the case that entrepreneurial spirit is not necessarily in the genes. Wealth does not always follow the families bequeathed it. 

Although I know of him in the context of financial investing, apparently Charles Schwab made his fortune in the steel industry. To demonstrate his ingenuity, Folsom tells of a story of an under-performing steel mill. After asking what had been done to motivate the workers and hearing a recitation of various threats, coaxing, and pushing, Schwab asks how many "heats" had been produced that day. After hearing that six had, he simply took some chalk and wrote the number 6 on the floor. When he returned days later, he saw the 6 crossed out and replaced with a 7, and then a 10. He had, in his own unique way, motivated the men and instilled the spirit of competition. 

Schwab worked for Andrew Carnegie. He worked tirelessly to make the factories more efficient and earned bonuses and promotions as a result. Unfortunately he did not imitate Carnegie's pension for clean living. Scandal eventually forced him to resign from U.S. Steel. While president of U.S. Steel, he had purchased Bethlehem Steel for his own portfolio. It was to this venture that he turned at his lowest point. This tiny company may have seemed like a radical demotion, but Schwab was determined to turn it around and make it competitive. Schwab even took on his old company and challenged the giant U.S. Steel. His attitude was, "If we are going to go bust, we will go bust big." (p. 73) He was eventually able to make a very profitable company out of Bethlehem Steel. But later in life, he ran out of steam. Once again ignoring the example of Carnegie, he went back to his profligate ways. The man who could single-handedly, through dint of his own hard work and motivational skills, make two companies very successful, died deeply in debt. 

John D. Rockefeller rose to the ranks of the fabulously wealthy in the field of oil production. He came from very humble beginnings but showed entrepreneurial promise early on. He was fascinated with the burgeoning oil industry and the ability to produce kerosene from crude oil, but right away, he noticed the appalling waste and fluctuating prices due to overproduction. He and a partner opened an oil refinery and determined to produce the best kerosene at the lowest price, while finding profitable uses for the myriad byproducts, which others threw into the river. Eventually, he decided to take on the Russians, who had all the natural advantages. He beat them at their own game by being more efficient. Although he was shrewd in business, he was quiet man, who "displayed none of the tantrums of a Vanderbilt or a Hill, and none of the flamboyance of a Schwab." (p. 93) His humility impressed all who knew him. Rockefeller was a devoted Christian and family man, who always put God and family before career. He donated tremendous sums of money and still managed to wind up with $900 million. 

The final biography Folsom turns to is that of Andrew Mellon. He was a Secretary of the Treasury of whom it was said that 4 Presidents served under. He had the revolutionary idea that too-high taxes would actually reduce revenue. He had made his money in the aluminum industry. His business skills brought him to the attention of President Harding. When asked to serve as Secretary of the Treasury, Mellon took a tremendous pay cut and accepted the challenge of turning around a post-war stagnant economy. Mellon believed that both the rich and the poor were being overtaxed. He saw first-hand that the wealthy were likely to shield their wealth in tax-exempt accounts rather than use it for investment in the economy. He despaired of this misallocation of resources. He advocated for the slashing of taxes, and true to his theories, revenues increased as more available money grew the economy. 

Mellon's program had four components: 1. Cut taxes to 25%, the maximum he felt the wealthy would pay before they shielded their money. 2. Cut taxes on low incomes, especially the regressive excise taxes on products. 3. Reduce the federal estate tax in order to discourage the sheltering of wealth in tax-exempt foundations. 4. Introduce efficiency into the government, cutting staff and expenses. He faced stiff opposition from the Progressives who wanted more, not less, government spending and higher taxes on the rich. Mellon's plan worked exactly as he predicted. More tax revenue came from the rich, with lower tax rates, and the lower income people had relief as well. Unfortunately, Mellon's legacy has been repeatedly described as tax cuts for the rich at the expense of the poor. This is the moniker the Progressives had hung on him during his lifetime and it stuck. It's unfortunate because Mellon is someone we could all learn from.

Folsom concludes by stating that the lessons of history will not be learned if we fail to understand what actually happened. Time and again, we see government subsidies retarding a company, leading to waste, fraud, and abuse, and the entrepreneurs that eschewed government handouts succeeding through bare-knuckled efficiency, which always benefited the consumer. History likes to portray these market entrepreneurs as "Robber Barons." Of this history, Folsom points out, "We did have the industrialists, such as Jay Gould and Henry Villard, who mulcted government money, erected shoddy enterprises, and ran them into the ground. What is missing are the builders who took the risks, overcame strong foreign competition, and pushed American industries to places of world leadership." (p. 127) Folsom celebrates these men in a way the history books do not. The "market entrepreneurs made decisive and unique contributions to American economic development. The political entrepreneurs stifled productivity (through monopolies and pools), corrupted business and politics, and dulled America's competitive edge." (p. 132) It is unfortunate that they are all lumped together. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Why Coolidge Matters by Charles C. Johnson

Ever since reading Amity Shlaes The Forgotten Man, which gave a few insights into Calvin Coolidge, I have been interested in this forgotten president. So when a book comes out about him, I'm interested. Judging by the title, Why Coolidge Matters by Charles C. Johnson, this book would seem to fit what I was looking for. 

Johnson begins right away stating why he feels a book like this is important. "For too long, we have neglected our history. But delving into the details of the past can help us better connect the dots between the politics of today and the essential ideals of yesteryear. Seeing more clearly what we have lost may help us return to America's founding principles. A few among us remember the Coolidge presidency and -- notwithstanding the long assault on its record -- look to it for inspiration." (p. XXII) Yep. Johnson adds, "It is my contention that Coolidge is ignored (in some cases even hated) not because he was ineffective as an executive, but because he was spectacularly effective at helping the common man while defeating attempts to socialize America." (p. 4)

Calvin recognized that the best way to "spread the wealth" was a vibrant economy, spearheaded by successful businesses. Only by allowing people to the "right of a reward to thrift and industry" could inequality be addressed. (p. 8) Coolidge believed that rewards should go to those who contributed to an enterprise. In addition, Coolidge saw the threat to the American way of life poised by Socialism. With the Russian Revolution in the very near past, that America might embrace its tenets was a very real possibility. In an era of great upheaval, Coolidge eschewed a grand legislative program. "His skepticism about new laws was rooted in his conviction that the purpose of politics was not to achieve certain ends, but to defend rights and protect the public safety." (p. 16) He feared a too large government and the unintended consequences he felt were sure to happen when the government sought to control too much. The one area, however, that he wanted to government to work to do a better job was education. He knew that a well-educated citizenry was vital to the health of the Republic. 

Coolidge gained national prominence when he put down a police strike in Massachusetts. He felt the police were neglecting their duty to the people. Their mob-like actions usurped the authority of a duly elected government. This he believed was the definition of tyranny. 
Coolidge received a classical education. Therefore he learned the value of the whole soul. Work was necessary and uplifting, providing much needed dignity, but it could not be a person's total focus. People had rights and responsibilities to and within society. He believed that faith was necessary to a free people. He pointed to the Declaration of Independence as the perfect example of the faith needed by the American people. Without a belief in a Creator, the rights we enjoy are ephemeral at best. "Religion, classical education, and a love of country all strengthened Coolidge's resolve against the excesses of Progressivism, which, Coolidge feared, would become predatory if it were not checked. The Progressives' intention to minister to souls all to often resulted, he saw, in a byzantine, indifferent bureaucracy that mastered the people it aimed to serve." (p. 51)

Coolidge saw a real danger in the progress of science and the lack of a classical education to keep that progress from resulting in unmitigated horror. "When classical ideals have first priority, war might more easily be avoided. When they are ignored, men can become machine-like in their capacity for killing. In so arguing, Coolidge broke with the Progressives, who held that progress in modern science inevitably meant progress in political science and thus in overall quality of life. This argument of the Progressives undergirded their belief that man was perfectible, a notion that Coolidge rejected out of hand...'We have no right to expect as our portion something substantially different from human experience in the past. The constitution of the universe doesn't change. Human nature remains constant.' It follows from this assertion that the study of the classics, which speak to that human nature and have existed down throughout the ages, teach important lessons to mankind. For Coolidge, men come to the study of the classics because they 'realize that the only road to freedom lies through a knowledge of the truth.' "(p. 58)

One professor at Amherst, Charles Garman, made a tremendous impact on young Calvin. In a beautiful recollection of his time with him, Coolidge states, "His course was a demonstration of the existence of a personal God, of our power to know Him, of the Divine immanence, and of the complete dependence of all the universe on Him as the Creator and Father 'in whom we live and move and have our being.' Every reaction in the universe is a manifestation of His presence. Man was revealed as His son, and nature as the hem of his garment, while through a common Fatherhood we are all embraced in a common brotherhood... The conclusions which followed from this position were logical and inescapable. It sets man off in a separate kingdom from all the other creatures in the universe, and makes him a true son of God and a partaker of the Divine nature. This is the warrant for his freedom and the demonstration of his equality. It does not assume all are equal in degree but [that] all are equal in kind. On that precept rests a foundation for democracy that cannot be shaken." (p. 67)

This faith led him to revere the Founding Fathers, attributing a measure of their greatness to the Great Awakening. Coolidge had a great respect for the Founding documents and saw his job as one who would keep the flame. In order to do this, America had to keep its commitment to Christianity, since he saw religion and God as the source of our liberties. His training under Garman had convinced him of this vital link. 

"America's moral mission in the world, Coolidge thought, would never be divorced from the font of her spiritual power, the Declaration. When this religious origin is seriously considered, it is only 'natural that the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence should open with a reference to Nature's God and should close in the final paragraphs with an appeal to the Supreme Judge of the world and an assertion of a firm reliance on Divine Providence.' It is only natural because man is, at base, a spiritual creature who wants to live in harmony with God's laws." (p. 103)

Coolidge feared that America was losing her moral bearings. "It was increasingly clear to Coolidge that America's colleges, founded on religious truths, had started to go awry. Progressivism, with its ceaseless indictments and diminution of fundamental principles, had been a phenomenon of the universities and was starting to have a corrosive effect on the nation's civic life." (p. 112) Coolidge did his best to check this pernicious tendency. 
"President Coolidge's capacious understanding of the powers of teh presidency saved him from being a mere time-server when, on August 3, 1923, he ascended to the office upon the death of President Harding. Portrait painter Charles Hopkinson had asked Coolidge what his first thought was when he learned that Harding had died. 'I thought I could swing it,' he replied." (p. 113) Coolidge had a tremendous respect for the role of the President as the Founders had envisioned it. Some compared him to George Washington in his devotion to integrity and duty. A lifetime of sticking to his principles had prepared him to step into a role few ever attain.

He believed one of his first duties was to teach the American people what America was really about. He was a scholar of the Founders and after the Wilson presidency, Americans needed to be reminded of the role that government and the President were to play. Coolidge did not enter the presidency with a specific agenda. He believed the President's role was to execute laws crafted by the representatives of the people. He would not, however, shun the use of the veto pen to guide policy. He believed in the concept of a "unitary executive." He knew the bureaucracy threatened to encroach upon the presidential powers and he used every means at his disposal to ensure the bureaucrats acted according to his priorities.Coolidge constantly referred the people back to the Founders and the documents they read and produced. He believed that they had founded a system of balanced powers and that each branch should work effectively within their own sphere. He was determined that the Presidency, under his control, would protect its power, but not overstep its boundaries. 

As a nation founded on the concept of natural rights, Coolidge believed that America had no place for prejudice, and rather, had a calling to preach her republican ideals to the world. Coolidge saw that a shared sacrifice and common identity would unite the diverse groups within America. At a time of virulent racism - the Klan was on the rise - Coolidge eschewed the racist philosophies of many presidents before him. In fact, he believed racist beliefs were hostile towards the Union. 
"As racial enmity increased with the rise of the Klan, Coolidge highlighted 'the negro' -- his plight and his progress -- in every one of his Sate of the Union addresses. In 1923, he reminded Congress that blacks' right are 'just as sacred as those of any other citizen' and encouraged Congress to 'exercise all its powers of prevention and punishment against the hideous crime of lynching' and to 'formulate a better policy [of racial reconciliation] for mutual understanding and confidence.' " (p. 171)

When it came to other minority groups and those that did not enjoy the full rights of citizens, Coolidge worked hard to bring them into the American fold. He wanted Indians to be educated in the ways of Americans, he defended the Japanese against vicious attacks, he bragged about how many Catholics and Irish voted for him, and he declared his desire for women to have the right to vote. His overriding philosophy concerning immigrants and other minorities was their ability to understand and live up to American ideals. He worked as hard as he could within the political realities available to him to create more Americans. He worried that a too loose immigration policy would dilute those essential characteristics and sometimes he is faulted for his caution. However, for Coolidge, it was not race or gender that cared about, it was the American way of life. Any race, any gender that could promote those values was welcome as far as he was concerned. 

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Coolidge came to power at the height of Progressivism. As such, he was fighting a constant battle with them to preserve America's heritage. He and Harding had ascended right on the heels of Wilson's presidency, which sought to relegate America's founding documents to the dustbin as ancient relics. Coolidge had his work cut out for him. After the passage of the 17th Amendment and the direct election of Senators, he had to fight a Senate increasingly abusing its responsibility to sign off on treaties as an excuse to meddle in foreign affairs. While they approved the Kellogg-Briand Pact, outlawing war, Coolidge used his authority to build up the navy as a deterrent, knowing the pact was useless.

Johnson has great respect for Calvin Coolidge as President. He concludes with, "Coolidge was great because he was modest, moderate, and thoroughly republican in an immodest time... Disliking ambitious solutions to problems and opposed to complicated, unconstitutional machinery, he always reduced a problem to common sense. In doing so, he discharged his constitutional duties faithfully. If he was a dull figure in comparison with some presidents, it is because the events of his day did not demand the more obvious kind of greatness -- of which he was fully capable." (p. 233) 

It is more than a bit ironic that Coolidge did not get to prove his greatness in a large way because he was able to keep America on an even keel and economically prosperous. The problems that confounded the nation after him, the stock market crash of 1929 and the following depression, would have undoubtedly given him the opportunity. However, I believe he would have navigated those crises so successfully that even then, he would have been denied his due. It's also ironic that the president who presided over and arguably lengthened Great Depression gets more credit than the man whose calm rationality and adherence to constitutionality earned him the moniker "Silent Cal." He was actually quite vociferous and has much to teach us today.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Tactics by Gregory Koukl

On a recent visit to Oakdale Academy in Pontiac, Michigan, I had the pleasure of observing an Apologetics Class. The teacher very generously gave me a copy of the book they were reading and discussing in class - Tactics by Gregory Koukl. The part we read during class was fascinating, so it was easy for me to decide to finish the book. 

This short, easy read was well worth the time. Apparently Gregory Koukl is the go-to apologist, having debated with the best. He has developed tactics to graciously and effectively introduce and defend Christian convictions. Conveniently for me, he has a detailed summary at the end of each chapter. Koukl's aim is to make us twenty-first century ambassadors for Christ. For this we need three skills, knowledge, wisdom, and character. The wisdom part is the main focus of the book. 

Chapter 1 emphasizes diplomacy over all-out warfare. That is the central purpose of the book. He wants to give us tactics that we can use in order to be diplomatic rather than confrontational. While strategy is the big picture, tactics are the methods of accomplishing that strategy. However, we must not think of tactics as tricks or ploys to humiliate. Tactics are rather a way to "gain a footing, to maneuver, and to expose another person's bad thinking so you an guide him to truth." (p. 29)

Some might have reservations about this kind of thing, but Koukl addresses those. First, recognize that arguments are not fights. We should make arguments which advance clear thinking, but we do not need to fight which is not productive. While he recognizes that only God can change a heart, He can use our arguments to change thinking. Jesus and Paul did this all the time. This recognition lifts the burden from us to "convert" people. God does that. Our job is to look for those He is already working in. If we can just "put a stone in someone's shoe," we might cause them to question the beliefs that separate them from God. 

The first tactic he introduces is called "The Columbo Tactic" after the famed T.V. Detective. "There are three basic ways to use Columbo. Each is launched by a different model question. These three applications comprise the game plan I use to tame the most belligerent critic. Sometimes I simply want to gather information. Other times, I ask a question to reverse the burden of proof, that is, to encourage the other person to give the reasons for her own views. Finally, I use the questions to lead the conversation in a specific direction." (p. 49) The beauty of this questioning plan is that you can use it immediately, even before you have time to think through the ramifications of the statement being made. It's easy to start with, "What do you mean by that, exactly?" The benefits of using questions include their use as conversation starters, their interactiveness, the neutrality they offer, the valuable time to think and listen, and the ability for you to control the direction of the conversation. Asking a person to clarify a statement often leads to a recognition that they haven't actually thought through what they do, in fact, mean.

The next question in the Columbo tactic is "Now how did you come to that conclusion?" (p. 61) This puts the burden of proof on the other person. Often we can get tripped up trying to disprove the other person, but often they can disprove themselves when they are unable to provide solid reasons. Remember to let them prove themselves right. It is not my job to prove them wrong. When they offer their explanations, ask yourself, "Is it possible? Is it plausible? Is it probable?" (p. 63) Often these questions will show you an obvious flaw in their thinking. Make sure they offer reasons, not just opinion or stories. This tactic relieves us of having to have all the information required to refute bad thinking. Instead, we are fact-finders. We are not proffering an argument, they are. Make them prove it. 

After using questions to clarify and gather facts, we can use questions to further the conversation in a direction we'd like it to go. For example, when people question our beliefs about salvation or sin, a factual answer can come across as harsh and is certainly incomplete. We use questions to lead to the additional information we need to present. For example, we can ask, "Have you ever committed a moral wrong?" After acknowledging that we all have, we can turn the conversation to a discussion of why we all need Jesus. Another tactic involves using, "Have you considered...?" This one does require some knowledge of where we want to go and how we are going to get there.

Koukl offers three specific ways we can improve our Columbo tactic. First of all, debrief with yourself or someone who was with you as to what happened. Discuss what worked and what didn't. Second, don't let the tactic be used on you. If someone starts with the questions, simply turn it back on them and ask them to make their point as a statement, rather than lead you. Third, when someone asks a question for which they clearly do not want a real response, ask them to simply make their case as a statement or start with the Columbo question, "What do you mean by that?" 

In the second section titled, "Finding the Flaws," Koulk discusses beliefs that self-destruct under a little scrutiny. Some of these he calls Suicide Views - they sow the seeds of their own destruction through self-contradiction. Usually, with a bit of work we can see that a statement says both "A is" and "A is not" within the same statement. For example, "God doesn't take sides." We can ask, "Is God on your side on that one?" Or "Truth cannot be known." Is that true? Both make a clear declaration with an implicit contradiction. The easy way to spot these is to ask if the claim applies to itself. Some of the Suicide views do not self-contradict, but are impossible to act on or promote. They defeat themselves by being impractical. For example one might say, "It is wrong to say people are wrong." But you cannot actually say this without contradicting your own statement. Or "It's wrong to impose your views on another." Isn't that imposing your view?

The next set of self-defeating views he refers to as Sibling Rivalry and Infanticide. Sibling Rivalry are two sets of beliefs, held simultaneously, that contradict. For example often people will believe that a good God would not send people to hell, while at the same time decrying His seeming lack of justice in allowing all the evil to exist in the world. You cannot simultaneously reject a punishing God and also reject Him because He doesn't punish. Infanticide is a belief that contradicts the parent belief that must exist for it to be true. The best example of this is people who do not believe in God because of the existence of evil. However, without a transcendent God to declare what is good and evil, evil cannot exist. Therefore this idea actually makes the case for God.

Next, he encourages us to "Take the Roof Off." This is basically a take on reductio ad absurdum that takes an argument to its logical conclusion. Often a "roof" has been constructed to shield the person from the results of their belief. The first step is to boil a statement down to its basic argument. Then, take a "mental test drive" to see where the principle leads if followed consistently. It may lead to absurd conclusions or obvious contradictions. Finally point this out to the person, asking, "Have you considered where this belief might lead?" He gives the example of Mother Theresa who opposed capital punishment on the grounds that Jesus would forgive. While it is true that Jesus forgives us as we approach Him in repentance, if Jesus forgave criminal liability, then we have no ability to punish anyone for anything. Would Mother Theresa subscribe to that?

Even with the best-laid plans and the most logical arguments, we will encounter those who will not hear what we are saying. Many have emotional reasons that keep them from recognizing the truth of our arguments. Also, we can encounter a "steamroller" which is a person who uses the force of his personality to overwhelm you. The solution for this is to politely ask him to make one point at a time and allow you time to respond. If shaming him into courtesy doesn't work, it's time to leave. 

One tactic the other side uses is to trot out so-called experts to refute the claims of Christianity. Often these people may not have actual expertise in the area their opinion covers. Sometimes they are just wrong or they have let biases color their views. Like anyone else, we must not just take an opinion on face value as accurate, we must ask for reasons. "What an expert believes is not as important as why he believes it. Fancy credentials are not enough. What matters most are not the opinions, but the reasons." (p. 125). Sometimes assertions are made by regular people that sound like they are based on expert testimony. Yet often, the person making the claim cannot back it up with facts. This is what Koukl calls "Just the Facts," as we ask them for the facts that support the statement. While we can always use the Internet to see if the facts check out, often, we can apply the smell test. Does that idea even sound right? However, the best way to counter factual claims are to have our own specific, precise facts handy. This requires advance preparation. 

That kind of advance preparation is advocated by Koukl in a chapter called "More Sweat, Less Blood." He recommends these eight quick tips:
1. Be ready. Look for opportunities.
2. Keep it simple. Have one point of focus and don't rabbit trail.
3. Avoid religious language. This can put people off and cause us to be misunderstood.
4. Focus on the truth of Christianity. Too often we go to the benefits
5. Give reasons. Provide support for your arguments.
6. Stay calm. If a discussion ends with shouting and anger, you lose. 
7. If they want to go, let them leave. It's not longer productive at this point.
8. Don't let them leave empty-handed. Have a business card, website, book, or pamphlet ready to give to the person. 

He encourages us to jump in and engage. Each conversation is a learning opportunity as well as a chance to put a stone in someone shoe. Give people something to think about. They may just do that!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Why Johnny Can't Tell Right From Wrong by William Kilpatrick

Since I'm making it a duty of mine to read all the books recommended by the Hillsdale Bookstore, I picked up Why Johnny Can't Tell Right From Wrong by William Kilpatrick. Obviously the title is modeled after Why Johnny Can't Read, the best seller in the 1950s that woke America to the dangers of an educational system failing its students. This book is a similar harbinger. While it was written in 1992, it remains every bit as relevant today as it was then. In fact, I think we are seeing even more of what he predicted as time as gone on. 

After recounting some particularly horrific accounts of kids gone wild, he acknowledges the natural inclination to call for the teaching of morality in schools. "To someone with that idea it might come as a surprise to learn that moral values courses have been in the schools for over twenty-five years. In fact, more attention and research have been devoted to moral education in recent years than at any time in our history. Unfortunately, these attempts at moral education have been a resounding failure." (p. 15) And this, 25 years ago!

Character education switched to the decision-making model, asking students to reflect on their self-discovered values rather than learning the ones "handed down by adults." (p. 16) This closely follows the child-centered, individualist mantra which consumes educational theory. This has failed on every level to produce citizens with a common store of values, rather leading to subjective ideas of right and wrong. "In these curriculums a lot of time and energy are spent exchanging opinions and exploring feelings, but practically no time is spent providing moral guidance or forming character. The virtues are not explained or discussed, no models of good behavior are provided, no reason is given why a boy or girl should want to be good in the first place. In short, students are given nothing to live by or look up to." (p. 22) It's no wonder this type of moral education has failed. 

Character education programs began with drug education programs. It soon became apparent that bull sessions by students discussing the morality of drug use actually led to more experimentation, not less. The idea was based on a therapeutic approach, in which the students explored their feelings in a non-judgmental environment. At the same time, the "self-esteem" movement was gaining traction that sought to affirm students and validate their choices. By 1988, the U.S. Department of Education had seen the bad outcomes of this type of curriculum and encouraged schools to steer clear of such pedagogy. It recommended adult authorities clearly communicating right and wrong. How novel. In fact, the schools that successfully decreased drug usage were those that took a hard line against drugs, advocating for drug-free schools. 

Next up for the "moralists" was sex education. The curriculum introduced on this topic followed closely with the drug education. It was values-free, barely acknowledged abstinence, and focused on "responsibility." This too, caused an uptick in sexual activity, with the expected disastrous results. Its relativistic framework meant that there are no binding rules. Schools became just as sex-saturated as the culture. Although there seems to be a correlation between academic achievement and abstinence, we continued to teach children, that as long as they think its OK, its OK

These ideas grew out of the 60s and the cultural decay seen running rampant. Educators decided that culture and cultural values were not worth preserving. Rather, the students needed to find their own way to their values. Students would be given "decision-making" skills, not indoctrination. So highly esoteric situation were presented to students to get them to try to clarify their own values. "After being faced with quandary after quandary of the type that would stump Middle East negotiators, students [would] conclude that right and wrong are anybody's guess." (p. 85) Rather than encourage students to exercise time-honored virtues in normal circumstances, children were being asked to make highly nuanced determinations based on their as-yet-unknown hierarchy of values. Educators were making the highly dubious assumption that students already highly honored those principles generations past worked hard to inculcate. Kilpatrick likens it to the absurd proposition that we teach history to children by asking them to evaluate historically moral ambiguities like the Founders' ownership of slaves without teaching them the of their great achievements. To our shame, this is exactly what we are doing. Ironically, the only value this kind of education engendered was tolerance. But tolerance is an anti-value. It definitionally holds that there are no empirical values that citizens should embrace. We are seeing the ramifications of tolerance uber alles affecting the population today. The only "sin" in our culture today is intolerance. 

All throughout human history, the formation of character in the next generation has been a central concern. Ronald Reagan famously said we do not pass on freedom through the blood stream and that we are one generation away from losing it. "An effective moral education would be devoted to encouraging habits of honesty, helpfulness, and self-control until such behaviors become second nature." (p. 97) Children would be asked to respond automatically through the force of habit in a moral way to tempting situations. For a culture that ostensibly values freedom of choice and liberty, we seem paradoxically addicted to substances and behaviors that curb that very freedom we claim to hold dear. "None of this would have surprised Aristotle. A culture that neglects to cultivate good habits, he would have observed, will soon find itself the prisoner of bad habits." (p. 98) As rationalism and Romanticism came to influence Western Civilization, rather than counter-balance each other, they both "prized individual autonomy over any other goal." (p. 110) So today, while it seems we swing back and forth between these two extremes, we actually need to "move toward a wholly different mode of understanding human action." (p. 111)

In many ways, the thesis of  this book perfectly mirrors what those like E.D. Hirsch have been saying about the failures of education in general. In fact, just as Hirsch advocates for cultural literacy, Kilpatrick promotes a moral literacy, a set of values held in common by Americans. There used to be a common set of ideals and examples designed to socialize the youth into the values the larger society held dear. Today, few would recognize the stories that pervaded schoolhouses across the nation. Just as they are doing in education, so also in morality, the multi-culturalists decry a common core that they claim neglects the contributions of various disenfranchised groups. Ironically the traditional Western value system is actually the best way to honor what is good and should be emulated in other cultures. Western values provide the yardstick against which people can judge right and wrong. Without that ability to measure, students are left "adrift on a sea of relativism with no compass." (p. 128)

The primary way we taught the virtues in the past was through stories. Yet Enlightenment theorists today, decry moral stories as the stuff of ignorant and illiterate farmers. Today we should be able to rationalize our way to good values avoiding the harmful superstitions and narrow prejudices embedded in ancient stories. Yet a moral framework is often the result of a transformation of vision. We "see" things in a new light. Stories are a perfect way to get young students to "see" the need for particular values. "Moral principles also take on a reality in stories that they lack in purely logical form. Stories restrain our tendency to indulge in abstract speculation about ethics." (p. 137) Moral stories are the opposite of the values clarification curriculum promulgated by the education establishment. But stories do something "bull sessions" cannot. They make implicit assumptions about values that should be embraced. They make people and consequences real and concrete. Stories have the power to implicitly say, "Act like this. Don't act like that." They are a marvelous, time-honored way to morally socialize our youth. We have abandoned them to our peril. "Once we lose sight of the human face of principle, the way is clear for attacking the principles themselves as merely situational or relative. The final stage of the progression is moral nihilism and the appeal to raw self-interest." (p. 143)

As we have rejected definitive moral values to be inculcated in the youth, we have opted for the idea that our job is to reform society instead. The message is, "You are great. Society stinks." This relieves the next generation of the hard work of building their own character through habit and rather focus their attention on societal ills. Morality then becomes all about politics and a giant power struggle. This creates the endless need for victims of problems it is society's responsibility to alleviate. Ironically, if moral standards are discarded, then societal problems actually increase. The modern solution to moral issues is creating the disease. The abandonment of traditional Western Values impacts the most vulnerable in society by unmooring them from the lodestones that have generally bound society together.

Kilpatrick wades into even more controversial waters in his discussion of  beauty. We've all been taught that beauty is highly subjective and only exists "in the eye of the beholder." Yet Kilpatrick argues for an objective standard of beauty that has been used over the millennia to civilize generations of young people. It is not even the lyrics of some forms of music that he condemns, but the modern stuff of angry gyrations. He believes the harmonies inherent in good music produce harmonies of the soul and of society and holds little hope for moral renewal as long as our standards for beauty are non-existent.

Returning to his love of story as central to the human condition, Kilpatrick states, "The desire to be a hero, so common to children and adults, is part of a larger wish: the hope that one's life can be like a story. It is such a basic wish that we hardly reflect on it. For the most part we simply assume that our lives will make sense." (p. 191) Therefore, good moral stories "can give us not only a reason for living but also a reason for living well." (p. 196) "When the narrative sense is absent from individual lives, society also suffers an impoverishment.... Both for society and the individual the loss of story and history amounts to a loss of memory. We become like amnesiacs, not knowing where we are going, because we don't know where we have come from, and -- for the same reason  -- susceptible to the most superficial attractions." (p. 205)

Rather than outgrowing moral stories, our society is in need of them more than ever. Unfortunately our society is at a crossroads. It can choose stories that promulgate "moral imagination," the idea of how things ought to be, or "idyllic imagination," the idea of how things can never be - a utopian ideal. "At best the idyllic imagination provides a respite from the serious business of living, but for the serious business itself -- the call of duty, the necessity of hard work, the taming of selfish and violent emotions, facing sickness and death -- the idyllic imagination is inadequate. The serious business of life requires a more serious imagination; the moral imagination." (p. 209) While, with so many detrimental cultural components, this one was ushered in in the 60s with the hippies and love children, the idyllic imagination has a dark side. Told the universe can be a Utopian place, young people are hit hard with reality. Not given the tools to cope when life is hard, they become angry at the betrayal. This amorphous anger manifests itself in myriad destructive tendencies. I believe it's why we are seeing the acting out violently on college campuses today as students have their precious idyllic vision of the universe punctured by those who offer an alternative viewpoint. "The idyllic and utopian visions mistakenly imagine that virtue and character can be safely left out of the picture. But when that happens, vice only looms larger. Moreover, when we ignore or minimize the tragic limitations of life, tragedy is only multiplied." (p. 223) In trying to naively better society, we have instead sowed the seeds of its destruction by ignoring the wisdom of the ages.

His solution to all this is schools that are not morally ambivalent, but boldly champion the moral imagination and "embody the kind of character they hope to instill." (p. 224) Since all problems are at heart, a moral problem, Kilpatrick believes true moral education is the only path forward. Unfortunately it seems like a lot of hard work. Both teachers and students have a self-interest in neglecting this component of education. It can be daunting to try to figure out what values we actually want to teach. It can certainly be controversial. He recommends starting with the four cardinal virtues  - prudence, justice, courage, and temperance. He would probably add in patience for good measure. In addition to the schools, parents can work to produce disciplined children. Learn to say, "No." Forget trying to "understand" the child and validate his voice. Rather train up a child in the way that they should go.

At the end of the book, Kilpatrick recommends a reading list that will help with the moral training:

Picture books, story books, beginning readers: 
Aesop's Fables. Fritz Kredel, Grosset
Beauty and the Beast. Jan Brett
Betsy-Tacy. Lovelace
Book of Greek Myths. d'Aulaire
The Children's Bible in 365 Stories. Batchelor
The Children's Homer; The adventures of Odysseus and the tale of Troy. Padriac Olum
Clancy's Coat. Bunting
The Clown of God. dePaola
Dogger. Hughes
The Door in the Wall. De Angeli
The Emperor and the Kite. Yolen
How Many Days to America?: A Thanksgiving Story. Bunting
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Joffe
John Henry, An American Legend. Keats
Just Enough is Plenty; A Hanukkah Tale. Goldin
Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie. Roop
The Little Engine That Could. Piper
Little House in the Big Woods. Wilder
The Little Match Girl. Andersen
Magical Hands. Barker
Marta and the Nazis. Cavanah
A Tale of Three WishesSinger
Thy Friend, Obadiah. Turkle
Waiting for Hannah. Russo
When I was Young in the Mountains. Rylant
Yonder. Johnston

Middle Readers:
All-of-a-Kind Family. Taylor
Black Beauty. Sewell
Blue Willow. Gates
Caddie Woodlawn. Brink
The Chronicles of Narnia. Lewis
Cracker Jackson. Byars
Dear Mr. Henshaw. Cleary
A Dog on Barkham Street. Stolz
A Dog So Small. Pearce.
The 18th Emergency Byars
Five Children and It. Bland
Gaffer Samson's Luck. Walsh
A Girl Called Al. Greene
Good Morning, Miss Dove. Patton
Harriet Tubman: Conductor on the Underground Railroad. Petry
Heather and Broom: Tales of the Scottish Highlands. Alger
Thistle and Thyme: Tales and Legends from Scotland. Alger
Heidi. Spyri
The House of Sixty Fathers. DeJong
The Hundred Dresses. Estes
Ida Early Comes Over the Mountain. Burch
The Indian in the Cupboard. Banks
Island of the Blue Dolphins. O'Dell
Johnny Tremain. Forbes
Ladder of Angels. L'Engle
Lassie come Home. Knight
A Little Princess. Burnett
Pagan the Black. Benedict
Plain Girl. Sorenson
Pollyanna. Porter
The Potlatch Family. Lampman
The Rabbi's Girls. Hurwitz
The Railway Children. Bland
Roll of Thunder, Hear  My Cry. Taylor
The Sign of the Beaver. Speare
Snow Treasure. McSwigan
Sounder. Armstrong
The Taize Picture Bible. de Saussure
Thank You, Jackie Robinson. Cohen
Tuck Everlasting. Babbitt
Understood Betsy. Canfield
Walking the Road to Freedom: A Story About Sojourner Truth. Ferris
The Wheel on the School. DeJong
The Witch of Blackbird Pond. Speare

Older Readers:
Abraham Lincoln: From Log Cabin to White House. North
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain
April Morning. Fast
Building Blocks. Voigt
Call of the Wild. London
Captains Courageous. Kipling
Cheaper by the Dozen. Gilbreth
A Child's History of England. Dickens
The Chosen. Potok
The Count of Monte Cristo. Dumas
David Copperfield. Dickens
Diary of a Young Girl. Frank
Drums Along the Mohawk. Edmonds
The Endless Steppe: A Girl in Exile. Hautzig
Great Expectations. Dickens
The Great Gilly Hopkins. Paterson
Gulliver's Travels. Swift
Hard Times. Dickens
The Hero and the Crown. McKinley
Hobberdy Dick. Briggs.
The Hobbit. Tolkien
Kidnapped. Stevenson
Knight's Fee. Sutcliff
Little Women. Alcott
Moby-Dick. Melville
Narrative of the Life of  Frederick Douglas. Douglass
1984. Orwell
The Old Man and the Sea. Hemingway
Old Yeller. Gipson
Oliver Twist. Dickens
Paul Harvey's "The Rest of the Story." Aurandt
The Phantom Tollbooth. Juster
The Red Badge of Courage. Crane
Rifles for Watie. Keith
Robinson Crusoe. Defoe
The Scarlet Pimpernel. Orczy
Something Wicked This Way Comes. Bradbury
The Space Trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, That Hideous Strength. Lewis
Stories for Children. Singer
A Study in Scarlet. Doyle
The Sign of the Four. Doyle
The Hound of the Baskervilles. Doyle
A Tale of Two Cities. Dickens
This Hallowed Ground: The Story of the Union Side of the Civil War. Catton
Typhoon. Conrad
Warrior Scarlet. Sutcliff
Watership Down. Adams