The Classics will not save America

by Right Wing Fighter

I’ve noticed in more traditional right-wing establishments, such as Hillsdale College, a tendency to think that classical education will save the country.

It wont, and here’s why.

A classical education’s chief goal is to give you a sense of the breadth of the world, chiefly by emphasizing ancient history, novels and other literature across many centuries, and perhaps even an ancient language, like Latin.

It seeks to mimic the broadness of learning that many thinkers from long ago had experienced in their youth. Plato, for example, was exposed to a great number of different disciplines: mathematics, botany, medicine, drama, history, astronomy, and more besides. This breadth of learning is also present in many Renaissance, Romantic, and Enlightenment thinkers.

Through this means, they hope to build the country ‘from the ground up’ as it were. They consider sometime in and around the founding to be the halcyon days of the human race. And they seek to recreate those people in our time by educating them in the same way.

But it wont work for several reasons.

First, the economics of life are totally different. Whilst work has always been demanding, many jobs did not require semi-constant learning in order to keep ahead. Engineering, computer programming, medicine, to name a few, are constantly developing at a rate that didn’t exist in 1787. This puts a much greater demand on the average worker to keep up to date with his job. In removes a great deal of mental energy needed to cultivate a wider range of knowledge.

Second, many people got an education ‘against their will.’ The fact is, 1787 could be a time of incomparable boredom. Unless you enjoyed hunting, fishing, horseback riding, or hiking, there wasn’t a lot you could do by yourself. And if people were busy doing other things, sometimes all you could do is sit down and read. Many people must have read for boredom’s sake who wouldn’t have otherwise. Novels were big back then, because they were one of the most effective and least demanding ways to escape the present.

Third, the people were different. America was around 60% English in 1787. Today it’s hard to tell. But with the huge influxes of Germans, Irish, Italians, Poles, not to mention others, the fact is America is not made of the same people it was in ’87. Of course, to many supporters of classical education, ethnicity is meaningless and a person is perfectly moldable via education. This, incidentally, is another holdover from the classical era: many people thought that education was all that made a difference between people. Nowadays, with the intermixing of different ethnicities within a single nation, anyone who is willing to see the facts about ethnicity can do so.

There are more reasons why this classicalist approach will fail. But these are the most cogent.