Thursday, July 18, 2019

Forgetting America's Past

According to Joel Kotkin American intellectuals are hellbent on erasing America’s past. Kotkin calls it an age of amnesia, and we would happily agree… were it not for the fact that we are not dealing with a cerebral event that has erased memory, but with a systematic attempt to degrade and demean and diminish the nation’s accomplishments.

Why do people want to do this? Simply put, they believe that America is an organized criminal conspiracy, needing to do some serious penance for its sins.

Kotkin compares the process to what is currently happening in China:

Major companies are now distancing themselves from “offensive” reminders of American history, such as the Nike’s recent decision to withdraw a sneaker line featuring the Betsy Ross flag. In authoritarian societies, the situation is already far worse. State efforts to control the past in China are enhanced by America’s tech firms, who are helping to erase from history events like the Tiananmen massacre or the mass starvations produced by Maoist policies. Technology has provided those who wish to shape the past, and the future, tools of which the despots of yesterday could only dream.

One notes a slight difference in the two activities. Erasing the American flag means erasing the symbol of national unity and national pride. Erasing the mass starvation produced by Maoism or the Tienanmen massacre means erasing events that betoken shame.

In principle, a nation ought to be able to handle both. But, clearly, China is erasing events in order to enhance national pride, while Nike was erasing the Betsy Ross flag to diminish national pride. Colin Kaepernick is not a proud American citizen.

Today in America and in Europe, history is taught to erase great achievements or to degrade them. One is apparently no longer allowed to use the nation's history as a source of pride. One must use it as a source of shame and guilt, to produce depression and to make more business for the psycho profession.

These trends are combining to produce what the late Jane Jacobs called a “mass amnesia,” cutting Western societies off from knowledge of their own culture and history. Europe, the primary source of Western civilization, now faces a campaign, in both academia and elite media, to replace its art, literature, and religious traditions with what one author describes as “a multicultural and post racial republic” supportive of separate identities. “The European ‘we’ does not exist,” suggests French philosopher Pierre Manent. “…  European culture is in hiding, disappearing, without a soul.”


 University summer reading lists largely ignore the great texts of Homer, Confucius, Shakespeare, Milton, de Tocqueville, Marx, or Engels. Professors have faced criticism for assigning too many books written by dead white males who, as a group, are linked to such horrors as slavery, the subjugation of women, and mass poverty. Books written before 1990, suggests the Guardian’s Ashley Thorne, represent “a historical cliff beyond which it is rumored some books were once written, though no one is quite sure what.”

So, we are no longer taught to think and write by studying the best. We are obliged to study self-important mediocrities, thereby reducing the national intelligence and producing generations of dimwitted self-important mediocrities.

And this produces intolerance of different ideals. Kotkin continues:

Intellectual intolerance thrives when the heritage of the past—with its mixed and inconvenient lessons—is sent down the memory hole. In feudal times, classical heritage was replaced by rigid religious dogma. Today’s clerisy uses the education system, the media, and the means of cultural production to impose its standards of “privilege” and value, and to decide who deserves special dispensations.


This ideological rigidity has shaped a generation of progressive activists who also now represent the best educated, whitest, and most politically intolerant portion of the American polity. A common tendency among progressives is to designate certain conversations as “hate speech,” an approach to free speech recently endorsed by the California Democratic Party.

Strangely enough, Kotkin compares the situation to the late Middle Ages. I say strangely because the caricature he gleaned from a no-account historian confuses the issue and defames an era of significant intellectual achievement. One understands that Enlightenment philosophers made a sport of denouncing medieval Scholasticism, but theirs was self-interested self-promotion.

Kotkin writes:

Writing in 1913, the historian J. B. Bury compared the Middle Ages to “a large field … covered by beliefs which authority claimed to impose as true, and [where] reason was warned off the ground.” Scholars at the University of Paris, described as the “theological arbiter of Europe,” were “licensed” by the bishop to, among other things, defend church dogma. In the late 1300s, the University held a conclave to reassert the reality of demons that were supposedly infecting society. 1   

Not to be overly pedantic but the thirteenth century gave us Thomas Aquinas, the man who bears the most responsibility for showing that rational thinking could accord with Christian faith. If Aristotle discovered and promoted empirical reason, Aquinas is responsible for bringing it into Western Civilization. Without Aquinas we would not have had an age of scientific discovery-- an age that seriously preceded the Enlightenment.

True enough, the Bishop of Paris, one Etienne Tempier, denounced some Thomist beliefs as heretical in 1288, but he failed… thanks to the political work of Aquinas’s Dominican brethren. When Aquinas became a Doctor of the Church, that did not mean that his views were dogma, but that they had to be treated with respect.

Aquinas was the greatest of scholastic thinkers, but his was not the only intellectual current in the medieval church. Mystical thinkers like Catherine of Sienna and Bonaventure were also greatly valued. From them we get the pseudo-therapeutic process of journeys of intellectual self-discovery. Both Aquinas and Bonventure were named cardinals at the same time, the better to allow for different opinions. As you doubtless know, Aquinas died on the way to his investiture.

As for the conclave in the late 1300s, we would note that the continent had undergone one of the greatest plagues in human history, beginning in the mid fourteenth century. The learned scholars of the time tried any one of a number of religious nostrums, to no real avail. They blamed it on demons because that was all they could do. They had not yet discovered the reality of bacteria. 


UbuMaccabee said...

“There is only one Education, and it has only one goal: the freedom of the mind. Anything that needs an adjective, be it civics education, or socialist education, or Christian education, or whatever-you-like education, is not education, and it has some different goal. The very existence of modified "educations" is testimony to the fact that their proponents cannot bring about what they want in a mind that is free. An "education" that cannot do its work in a free mind, and so must "teach" by homily and precept in the service of these feelings and attitudes and beliefs rather than those, is pure and unmistakable tyranny. ”

― Richard Mitchell

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

To Ubu’s point, I have no problem with the anarchist’s or socialist’s or Christian’s perspective being evaluated. Not one bit.

What I do object to is multiple points being included and not eventually judged for their merits. We MUST make a selection! Otherwise, we are a nation of dilletantes.

Certainly the anarchist position does have merits — if that’s the societal outcome you think is best. But those outcomes should be evaluated, because they have consequences.


And that is the problem with modern liberal education — the suspension of judgment. We must be able to select and make decisions. It is essential to the continuation of our species.

The problem is that the “non-judgmental” (a lie) think the “judgmental” use brute force to enforce their desires. Never in human history has this NOT been the case — the strong exert much less oppressive influence on the weak in today’s society.

So what’s it going to be?