We Are All Socialists Now

Once upon a time, a little chicken named Chicken Little was sitting under a tree when an acorn fell on her head. In a panic, she ran around telling everybody who would listen that the sky was falling. At first nobody believed her, but finally one particularly silly and vulnerable little creature panicked with her. Then that silly little creatures silly mother believed her out of sentiment, which drew in her father out of family loyalty.

Pretty soon Chicken Little ran into a little mouse who doubted that the sky was falling. “Look at all these others who know it is,” cried Chicken Little, that little chicken. How could little mouse deny it. Of course, all these other creatures couldn’t be wrong. So the little mouse joined the little Chicken Little gang. It wasn’t long before most of the little creatures in the animal kingdom had become chickens, unable to argue against the sagacity of the group.

Then they approached Fox Hart.

It didn’t take Fox Hart but a second to realize what was going on because he could smell fear from a mile away. “Yes, clearly the sky is falling,” he said, “But what has Chicken Little done to help you?” In no time at all the creatures had turned on Chicken Little and plucked her feathers. “Tell us what to do,” they cried anxiously to Fox Hart.

Now the first thing Fox Hart did was to ensure that anybody who denied that the sky was falling would lose his position. The entire Flammulated Owl family lost their nesting rights. In fact, of all the owl clans, only the Screech Owls maintained their manorial claims. And to do so they had to screech twice as often as normal. Any Professor that didn’t provide evidence that the sky was falling was denied tenure.

A great drain was established on the edge of Fox Hart’s dominions where creatures’ brains were released from the bondage of their owners’ heads.

At last every creature in the great kingdom of Fox Hart was drawn into a vast corral and, one by one, Fox ate them. Usually because they owed him so much they could never pay him back, so they let him cook them for dinner. They thought he was quite clever and helpful while they boiled.

And they all deserved exactly what they got, which is precisely the point of the true Chicken Little story.

Virtually every change that has occured in our nation’s approach to politics over the last century is rooted in our fear of self-governance. We have abandoned our patrimony because we did not trust our ability to make decisons or our capacity to endure hardship, so we handed our decisions to the government. Now, as Newsweek’s cover article said last week, “we are all socialists.”

We have long had socialist schools. We have seen our federal governmennt expand its control over the banks. In the stimulus package it has established agencies to meddle deeply in health care and to politicize the inspectors general (who investigate charges of fraud and corruption).

We have, because we are afraid, granted unbelievable powers to our federal government, abandoning any pretence of self-governance in the process. Is it worth mentioning all the powers we have handed over to the unelected bureaucracy at the United Nations?  

Because every time an acorn hits our head we cry out with Chicken Little, “The Sky is Falling!”  

God have mercy on our children. Perhaps we will end up calling it down on ourselves in the end. But let us not believe for a moment that there are not fear-smelling foxes seeking whom they may devour.

Natural Law, Nature, and Relativism

The Liberty Fund just sent me one of the treasures they publish to try to save the world from its own follies. In this case, it’s called The Natural Law: A Study in Legal and Social History and Philosophy. Heinrich A. Rommen wrote this book while practicing law during the dissolution of the Weimar Republic and the rise of the NAZI party in Germany. Eventually, he was forced to flee to the States, where he became a professor at Georgetown University.

The Introduction tells us that he was imprisoned by the Nazi party for his political and legal work, and that “the book was written by a lawyer in response to a political and legal crisis.”

Every generation, it is said, finds a new reason for the study of natural law. For Rommen and many others of his generation, totalitarianism provided that occasion. As he put it in his book on the state, “When one of the relativist theories is made the basis of a totalitarian state, man is stirred to free himself from the pessimistic resignation that characterizes these relativist theories and to return to his principles.” Rommen’s writings were prompted by the spectacle of German legal professionals, who, while trained in the technicalities of positive law, were at a loss in responding to what he called “Adolph Legalite.”

Rommen speaks from the destruction of order that is Nazi Germany to draw our attention to the roots of this destruction, and that root is relativism. Relativism is the great enemy of the human soul, of thought, and of civilization. It is a parasitic despairing anti-philosophy that arises because people who poke their own eyes out refuse to see what others  see at birth.

And the opposite of relativism is not so much absolutism as the recognition of nature. For example, Aristotle tells us that “it is the mark of an educated man to  look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits.”

That statement cuts at the root of most of the intellectual Tom-foolery of the past 400 years. But if you don’t believe in nature, that statement is meaningless and knowledge disappears.

I am eager to read more of this book and highly recommend it and anything else the Liberty Fund publishes. I also recommend you turn up at the 2009 CiRCE conference to discuss this idea of nature some more. All of our thought leads into and out of this idea.

Practical Benefits of the 2009 CiRCE conference.

Heads of school prudently ask me, “What will my teachers take from your conference on nature? Will there be anything practical?”

To that I joyfully respond, “I think so.”

But I’m being mischievous. I’m happy to say that the conference will be full of practical workshops. For example, my wife, Karen, will be presenting a talk on the development of the moral imagination in young children. She gave this talk the other day at Covenant Classical School where she teachers and already a number of parents have told her that they have changed the way they read to their children – and that, following the change, their children have begun to like reading! In this talk, she describes what to read to young children and how to read to them.

In addition, Debbie Harris will be coming back to talk about developing a classroom culture. I think it was two years ago, Debbie described how to cultivate a sense of beauty in the child’s soul by the way you teach and arrange the classroom. It was one of the best workshops I’ve ever heard. I was driving along Independence Blvd. while I listened and I kept shouting: “Yes!” and punching my steering wheel. Debbie has a perception into the child’s soul that is clearly a gift from God.

I’ll describe more speakers and topics as time passes, but there’s something else I want to add. There is nothing more practical for a teacher than sound ideas. Let me repeat that.

There is nothing more practical for a teacher than sound ideas.

To refine that thought a little bit, the good teacher is the one who understands reality as it relates to her responsibilities. For that, she needs words and concepts that clarify instead of confusing. She needs to understand things according to their nature. Oh, there’s that word again!

That’s why we are dedicating the entire 2009 conference to “A Contemplation of Nature.” What is this neglected, misapplied, and even forgotten idea? Why does it matter so much? How can having this idea clarified in our minds serve to clarify every other idea? How can clarifying our ideas help us teach better?

The teacher who understands the Christian classical conception of the idea of nature has a tool that will help her do everything she does more effectively, especially teach.