Friday, March 14, 2008

If I Were King…

…and I were given responsibility to rule for the common good, I would have a duty to learn what is for the common good wouldn't I? Wouldn’t I have a duty to know about political theory, current events, science, history and a host of other things? The answer is clearly yes.

If we are all rulers here in America, don't we all have a certain duty? Or should there be some “golden class” of elites that are responsible for the common good in America? You don’t hear a lot of people debating this much past the eighteenth century in America, but whether it is discussed anymore or not, it remains a vexing question.

Even if we do not believe that all Americans can or will look after the common good, if we love our country, if we want to consider ourselves good people, we need to take up the yoke by at least being informed. We hear a lot of banter right about now about how important it is to vote, but what difference does it really make if all you ever do is vote once or twice a year if you are ignorant? You probably do as much harm as good.

(see also my next post "I am King" above)

11 comments:

maureen martin said...

So, how does this square with everyone insisting they have a college degree? Personally, I think some people are suited to college and others are suited to trade schools and that it doesn't mean one group is better than the other. If this is the case, are you advocating that brick masons should carry around copies of Plato with them to read on their lunch breaks (actually, I think JPII used to read poetry during his lunch break when he worked at a rock quarry.)

Civis said...

Well, it sounds like maybe you lean toward the idea that the masses cannot or will not rule themselves. That may be the case.

Your point about education is a good one: when everyone gets an education, no one gets an education because things have to be dumbed down.

Ryan Hallford said...

The comments make me think of another question: Can the masses somehow have the tools to know and do the good (the moral life) without the type of concentrated formal education found in higher education? Intuitively, I would have to say yes. As Maureen points out, every person may not desire or be suited for academics. I don't think this somehow exempts people from thinking, but it does complicate things.

Possibly if society were properly ordered towards the good, namely we had a virtuous society, we would not need formal education to understand the virtues and the good life because society itself would condition people towards the good life. Every good person in society is an informal teacher on the good life. The good society more naturally disposes people towards the good.

I think one of the problems is that many institutions of higher education don't properly form minds in virtue, truth, beauty, and goodness. Many of these same institutions do teach political theory, current events, science, history, literature, etc. Yet, the cardinal virtue of prudence is not correlated to level of education. One thing Peter Kreeft says often in his lectures is that some philosophical theories are so outrageous that it takes a PhD to believe them.

With that being said, what ought we try to recommend as a base level education? How do we encourage people in a democratic society to take an active role in their government? I imagine this base level of education what the mandatory public school system tries to address.
I think the argument for teaching history, political theory, science, literature and all that jazz lies in the importance of self-identity which is tied into the identity of the community and vice versa. T.S. Eliot said in The Wasteland “A people without history Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern of timeless moments.” I think Eliot rightfully stresses the importance of history and the past in his poetry. Only people with a history can be redeemed because they become aware of their folly and true nature. To ignore history is to ignore man’s beginning, his sin, and consequently his end. Social awareness is important to self-identity and participation in community. My point is that simply learning about history and theories is not enough, and it is wasted if it doesn’t help direct a person towards the “good life.” However, whether learning about history, political theories, events, science and the such does help the person live morally depends upon the interior disposition of the person and how they approach the truth, others/ community, and God.

I think we need to re-evaluate the current educational process and implement the importance of virtue ethics. Even from the most secular view point, certain virtues are mandatory whether one pursues higher education or decides to attend trade schools.

Rodak said...

If this is the case, are you advocating that brick masons should carry around copies of Plato with them to read on their lunch breaks

This is exactly the kind of thing that Simone Weil tried to effect in her role as a teacher, working in the French school system by day, and offering instruction on her own to workers at night. Everybody should read Simone Weil writings, as well as one of the biographies written by her admirers.

Rodak said...

when everyone gets an education, no one gets an education because things have to be dumbed down.

This attitude assumes that education is merely a means to an end, i.e., a meal-ticket. The attitude of Simone Weil was that education entails the ability to appreciate the cultural achievements of humanity, and thus is a good and desirable end-in-itself that should be made available to all individuals, regardless of their station in life.

Civis said...

"Possibly if society were properly ordered towards the good, namely we had a virtuous society, we would not need formal education to understand the virtues and the good life because society itself would condition people towards the good life."

Let me play the devil's advocate here: I'm not sure we all need a formal education. My grandfather's generation had a lot more virtue that my father's or my generation and few in his generation had a formal education. He had an education; he could read and write and knew more poetry my memory than anyone else I have met, but he got that at home between crops.

Civis said...

"This attitude assumes that education is merely a means to an end, i.e., a meal-ticket."

How is that? I don't see how you get that from what I said. I'm not saying it's not a basic good, what I am saying is that when everyone is required to go to school, including people who don't have the interest or the ability and the teacher is supposed to teach a class of 30 kids some of whom are slow, some wo struggle, some who have potential, and some are brilliant--It doesn't work. To be blunt about it, the class can only rise to the intellectual level of dumbest kid in the class.

Civis said...

"Many of these same institutions do teach political theory, current events, science, history, literature, etc."

Unfortunately a lot of them don't do that.

"One thing Peter Kreeft says often in his lectures is that some philosophical theories are so outrageous that it takes a PhD to believe them."

I can sure relate to that. I recall debating with one of my professors and thinking "this guy has got worms in his head--if he could ever stop and think like a normal healthy person." I think what happens is that they swallow an assortment of presupositions without considering if they are true, and they get stuck asking the wrong questions. Aristotle said somewhere that a lot of the time it is not som much that a person is thinking illogically or that they are unintelligent, they are asking the wrong questions.

Civis said...

"With that being said, what ought we try to recommend as a base level education? How do we encourage people in a democratic society to take an active role in their government? I imagine this base level of education what the mandatory public school system tries to address."

I agree and I think it is a good idea and a noble undertaking. One thing I know and one thing I'm unsure of.

I know the current system isn't working. From first grade through graduate school American education has gone down the tubes.

I am unsure whether the universal education envisioned by our current system is possible.

Rodak said...

My grandfather's generation had a lot more virtue that my father's or my generation

As measured how? I don't think that this statement will stand up to even a casual scrutiny of the actual historical record.

Civis said...

Rodak,

As measured by self-sacrifice and devotion to duty. My grandfather's generation (Which I belive would be your father's generation) was more devoted to their employer's, and tended to put thier country and their family ahead of themselves.

My father's generation still had some of that spirit. An interesting anecdote here is that people thought it ridiculous that a character in WE WERE SOLDIERS said "I only reget that I only have one life to give for my country." Well, that's what the man actually said just before he died. People today cannot imagine that.

But my dad's generation also had the pot smoking, long haired self-righteous, draft doging, hypocritical, cowardly hippies.