Studying Jefferson should be a guiding star.
Jamie Gass and Will Fitzhugh write: “Students of reading, writing, and common arithmetick . . . Graecian, Roman, English, and American history . . .,” Thomas Jefferson advised that democratic education “should be… able to guard the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens.”
Mid-April marks the 275th anniversary of Jefferson’s birthday. Given his world-changing achievements, this milestone is worthy of recognizing – and of being taught in our public schools. His contributions to the American civilization are incalculable; he was a revolutionary, statesman, diplomat, man-of-letters, scientist, architect, and apostle of liberty.
Rather than forcing a titan like Jefferson to conform to our era’s often Lilliputian-style narcissism, we should study history by entering the past with imagination and humility.
In drafting the Declaration of Independence, the most elegant and universally quoted political document in history, Jefferson displayed his greatest talents. He powerfully combined literary language and self-evident truths to shape the legal and political future of the United States.
The first member of his family to attend college, Jefferson loved books and classical learning. He could read six languages, including ancient Greek and Latin, while his 18th-century education taught him timeless principles.
Jefferson’s trinity of great thinkers – Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and John Locke – embodied what’s been called the Enlightenment’s “science of freedom.”
But his favorite writer was the ancient Roman historian Tacitus – a brilliant chronicler of warped, tyrannical emperors. Jefferson’s liberal-arts-centric education instilled in him a vigilance for liberty, which made him ever wary of threats to his republican experiment in ordered self-government.
Legal scholar David Mayer effectively summarized Jefferson’s strict federalism: “constitutions primarily [served] as devices by which governmental power would be limited and checked, to prevent its abuse through encroachments on individual rights…” Jefferson despised the corruptions of kings, standing armies, banks, and cities, which he identified with the Roman and British empires. Read the rest of this entry »
Communism is dead; long live Marx! The Soviet Union is gone. Das Kapital is little more than a punch line in academic economics. Dialectical materialism is barely even a thing. Yet Marxism continues to be essential for understanding modern political struggles, because Marxism continues to inform the thought-habits and inclinations of the modern Left.
Let me explain what I mean by thought-habits and inclinations. Do you think a person should be able to follow whatever faith he likes? You probably do. In fact, you probably answered, “Of course!” without even thinking about it. And you most likely answered this way, not because you are a student of John Locke, but because it’s just a habit of mind you’ve imbibed from our generally liberal culture. The farther left you go on the political spectrum, the more and more you find similar habits and instincts that are informed by Marxism. Of course, since we all live together and influence each other in this country, there’s no strict dividing line between American liberals and American Marxists. While Bryan Caplan is clearly a liberal and Cornel West is clearly a Marxist, most people are muddling around with a potpourri of ideas inherited from both sources.
It’s true enough that Marx and his intellectual heirs appropriated a liberal idea, equality (a word that is often used in mutually exclusive ways), but they rejected every single other intellectual and cultural principle of liberalism. For that reason, a Marxist’s egalitarianism is no more “liberal” than a Muslim’s monotheism makes him “Christian.” Marxism’s rejection of liberalism is so thorough that there is a dark, alternative-universe antecedent to each of the founding principles I outlined in my previous article.
- The class. The fundamental unit of Marxian loyalty is not the state! The chief object of a person’s loyalty, love, and allegiance is his or her class. A person with a conscience fully formed by Marxism feels the deep revulsion at the sight of class betrayers. When leftists openly fantasize about defecating in Sarah Palin’s mouth or publish racist cartoons about Condi Rice, they’re not merely engaging in double standards. They are naming and shaming class betrayers. When someone indoctrinated with Marxism sees a woman affirm the high value of her marriage, her husband, and motherhood and repudiate socialist government, he has the same visceral reaction that you or I do when we learn of a woman who murdered her two-year-old so she could have more time to get high, or a man who beats his wife and impregnates his masseuse. The class occupies the same emotional and moral space for the Marxist as the family does for a person civilized in liberalism. Indeed, Marx himself wrote that marriage is oppressive and to be done away with under communism.
- Equalism. The reverse of capitalism is not simply socialism. It is equalism. For example, fascism was a kind of socialism, but it was not equalist at all. Equalism teaches that neither the entrepreneur, the investor, nor the engineer are in any sense better than the line worker, the barista, or the unemployed beach bum, and therefore do not deserve more social respect, more income, or a better livelihood. Equalism is more dogma than theory, as it is easily disproved by even a cursory familiarity with biology or economics. But because of this, obtaining equalist result requires ever-increasing applications of violence, as there is simply no way for Lebron James and yours truly to end up with the same income, the same number of championship rings, the same public accolades, and the same number of interested women without a gun pointed at someone’s head. The killing fields were not an accident of Communism; they were the point.
- Revolutionary justice. Marxists tend to completely reject the rule of law, as it does not produce equal outcomes or serve the interests of “oppressed” classes. Marxists conceive of justice not as the consistent application of comprehensible, moral laws, but as the promotion of oppressed classes and the toppling of the oppressor classes. Whether or not someone is guilty or innocent of a crime is not just irrelevant, it is that Marxists deny the concepts of guilt, innocence, and law. In The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn related numerous chilling stories of innocent men who were told by the court, “Your guilt or innocence is irrelevant. What matters is whether your conviction will advance the revolution Read the rest of this entry »