Do we Face Our Final Curtain?

Mark Steyn is an amusing and insightful writer who thinks we are facing our final curtain. Here’s an article¬†he¬†wrote,¬†responding¬†to the truly eery Audi SuperBowl commerical,¬†in which he coins the term “conformo-radicalism” that sums up the vacuousness of pop and political thought today. Do you think he’s exagerrating? Does the contradictory term¬†conformo-radicalism draw parallels in your mind to National (conformo) Socialism (radicalism)?

As you can see, this article brought to mind or came to my mind in relation to my reflections on the rise of Nazism in Germany.

Preparing the way for Hitler (part III of a series)

In my previous post in this series, I said I would discuss why Germany was so ready for Hitler and why they supported him so enthusiastically.

To understand this, you must understand that Hitler came to power in a Germany that had been preparing for him for a long time. An evil on the scale of Nazism, or Communism for that matter, does not come about without a long gestation. It requires enormous technological power, ideas about reality and human nature, a certain national spirit, political systems and assumptions, and probably a good dose of demonic involvement.

The same is true of a good on the scale of our constitution and liberties.

Life is the interchange of ideas and applications. It is not possible to determine which comes first for the simple reason that neither exists apart from the other. An idea  not embodied is an idea not thought.

Practically, therefore, our lives are a dialectic between our ideas and our circumstances. We dream big and try to make it happen. We find that we can’t perfect it, so we have to make a choice.

We can love the dream enough to accomplish as muc of it as possible. Or we can replace the dream with a fantasy and chase the hobgoblin of our dream. Or we can abandon the dream altogether.

We do this with our schools. A private school comes to be when a person or a few people share a vision for what education can accomplish. Then it gets hard. What will the leadership do?

Whatever they decide at this point will determine the actual life of the school.

We do it with our marriages and love affairs too. In this hyper-Romantic age people put the weight of the cosmos on their love-affairs. When you listen to the love songs of the 50’s and 60’s, it’s cute how they commit themselves to dying for each other to sappy music, how they look to their partners to be their soul-satisfying gods and goddesses. In the late 70’s, that childish impulse remains in the uber-pop music that people find so embarrassing after they turn 20 (or at least should), but disco, heavy¬†metal,¬†and punk inject a cynicism into popular music that has pretty much taken over.

It might seem quite a reach to write about popular love songs in the context of the rise of the Nazi’s, but I think you’ll see the point as we go on.

Music embodies ideas, sometimes in lyrics, sometimes in melodies, harmonies, and rhythms –¬†and in the relation of these elements. Music is the metrical and sonic¬†imitation of the movements of the soul.

Everything we do, think, and feel, is the embodiment of an idea.

Therefore, if we are going to understand how Germany was prepared for Hitler (and Russia for Lenin and China for Mao etc.), we have to understand the ideas that Hitler embodied in his rule of Germany.

We can study that question directly by asking, “What were the ideas that dominated German thought?” And we can study it indirectly by asking, “What forms did those ideas take?” In other words, what changes took place leading up to Hitler? What remained the same but was used by Hitler for his purposes?

Examples of the less direct approach would include, for example, the rise of Bismarck and his establishment of a “United Germany.” Bismarck had prepared the political/industrial soil.

No study of Nazism would be complete that did not take a close look at Bismarck’s effect on the German character, social structure, political activities, etc.

But as much as I love history, I find it easier to look at the world through the eyes of philosophy. A study of philosophy reveals a few things to us. For one, philosophy never arises in a vacuum. So what Randall called “the career of philosophy” will reveal something of the character of the people among whom a philosophy develops.

Second, philosophers (I use the term loosely here to include everybody who claims to be a philosopher and is studied in some philsophy class somewhere¬† – even though most contempory philsophers are sophists and anti-philosophers) have, historically, been the Dutch Uncles or the Uncle Tom’s of a culture.

What¬†I¬†mean by that is that philosophers come up with complicated rationalizations for all sorts of¬†behaviors. ¬†The reason for this is that ethics are rooted in a view of reality and philsophers at least pretend to try to explain reality. We’ll see shortly that they have, by and large, given up on that quest, but the point remains important.

College professors and government officials tend to look to philosophers to tell them what is right and wrong.¬† Then they tell their students. Then their students go home and inflict their new morality on their families. And if their students are studying in the teacher’s college, then they go into the classroom and teach it to the nation’s children.

This has happened over and over again over the past 800 years, so by now it should not need much defense. It is happening again in our country, and it happened in Hitler’s Germany.

So the study of philosophy as a human activity (as opposed to the study of Philosophy itself Рi.e. the quest for wisdom) embodied in philosophical writings and societies can tell us a great deal about the society in which it grows and it will show us why a people thinks they ought to do some things and not do others.

In my next post, I will describe as simply as I possibly can the primary philosopher who prepared Germany for Hitler (and whose influence in 20th century American education has been infernally profound).

Let me end with a somewhat lengthy quotation from Owen Barfield’s unbearably brilliant book Poetic Diction that will highlight the¬†war I¬†am describing and underscore at least one of the main battlegrounds of that war. Everything that follows in this discussion, everything that happens in your life, is influenced in some way by what Barfield says:

The conflicting theories of knowledge of which the following pages take cognizance show every sign of diverging more and more widely, leaving a deeper and deeper gulf of incomprehension between them. Between those for whom ‘knowledge’ means ignorant but effective power [ed. note: please remember this phrase], and those for whom the individual imagination is the medium of all knowledge from perception upward, a truce will not readily be struck. Nor can we safely assume that the conflict will be confined to the intellectual arena. In the nineteenth century, belief in imagination proved itself to be clearly allied with belief in individual freedom; necessarily so, because the act of imagination is the indivdual mind exercising its sovereign unity. [ed. note, please remember that phrase as well]¬† In the twentieth century we are gradually learning that the converse is equally true. There is a curiously aggressive note, often degenerating into a sneer, in the style of those who expound the principles of linguistic analysis. Before he even begins to write, the Logical Positivist has taken the step from ‘I prefer not to interest myself¬† in propositions which cannot be empirically verified’ to ‘all propositions which cannot be empirically verified are meaningless’. The next step to ‘I shall legislate to prevent anyone else wasting his time on meaningless propositions’ is unlikely to appear either illogical or negative to his successor in title. Those who mistake efficiency for meaning inevitably end by loving compulsion, even if it takes them, like Bernard Shaw, the best part of a lifetime to get there.

Owen Barfield, Poetic Diction, 1973, Page 22 (emphasis added)

If that quotation or any of the foregoing is incomprehensible to you, don’t worry. It was to me too at first. I’ve had to read it a few times, reflect on it, now write it, and read other things that helped me grasp it. There is no shame in not understanding a difficult passage. I will try to explain why I included it in the following posts.

By the way, these posts have arisen from my reflections for the summer conference on liberty. I hope you’ll be able to come as we are, as our government told us over 25 years ago, a nation at risk, and they rightly located that risk in our school system. I do not know how much longer we will be a free country. I do know that we cannot remain free without educated citizens.

facebook pages and blog talk radio

I was mucking around over at facebook and have created a CiRCE facebook page for those of you who would like to join the conversation. Go to facebook¬† and search for circe and it should take you right to it. It’s a bit rough right now, but we’ll get it fixed up as we progress.

The thing that sold me on it was the discussion forum. While the Internet is obviously a tool of the devil, it’s also great for connecting and communicating in ways that were previously impossible. Let’s talk!

Also, Leigh Bortins from Classical Conversations has a Blog Talk Radio program called Leigh at Lunch. She interviewed me yesterday, so if you’d like to hear me talk with her about education and liberty and a few other things education related, head over to this link and lend an ear.

CS Lewis on Nature and Freedom

The very idea of freedom presupposes some objective moral law which overarches rulers and ruled alike. Subjectivism about values is eternally incompatible with democracy. We and our rulers are of one kind only so long as we are subject to one law. But if there is no Law of Nature, the ethos of any society is the creation of its rulers, educators and conditioners; and every creator stands above and outside his own creation.

CS Lewis: The Poison of Subjectivism (an essay included in Christian Reflections)

Lewis shows the necessary tie between natural law and freedom that was broken in the 20th century, a break that threatens our freedoms today.

I’m not sure there’s a clearer explanation of why our 2009 conference theme, nature, so easily led to our 2010 theme, liberty, though we had not so planned it.

In an astounding development, the 2010 conference is already 40% full. I hope you can make it!

Click HERE to learn more.

Two Wonderful Discoveries

First, a conference in Louisville, organized by my friend David Wright: The Climacus Conference.

Second, a blog that goes with a book called¬†Beauty for Truth’s Sake. Looks wonderful, so I’m adding it to¬†our blog list.

A Contemplation of Liberty

Can we be free without God?

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately. The history of western Europe from the 16th through the 20th centuries is supposedly the story of increasingly secular and increasingly free societies.

With the fall of the Berlin wall and the Soviet Empire, the world was supposed to be ushering in an era of freedom unknown to any previous generation.

Has it?

I’m not convinced, neither about the current spread of freedom under the WHO and the UN (those bastions of democratically elected officials), nor about the myth of the spread of freedom over the past 500 years.

I believe that our United States are nowhere near as free as we have allowed ourselves to pretend.¬†The reason we think we are still “the leaders of the free world” is because we have tried valiantly to redefine freedom.

I also believe that we hold our remaining freedoms tenuously (and not tenaciously) for one simple reason: our rights are distributed at the will of the state. Consequently they can be removed by the will of the state.

For this reason, and many others, the summer 2010 CiRCE conference has been announced:

A Contemplation of liberty.

Confirmed speakers so far include Leigh Bortins, Andrew Pudewa, Dr. James Taylor, Leah Lutz, and myself. More will be announced over the coming weeks.

We are gathering on July 15-17 in Dallas, TX, with details being finalized.

Please note that we have moved the conference forward two weeks.

Now get this (and¬†I’d recommend you pass the news on to those you know and love):

Until January 31, we are offering a super early registration fee of only $200/person. If you are a school and you know you want to send, say,¬†five people but¬†don’t even know who¬†they might be yet, you can just tell us the number and we’ll register you for five.

If you are a home scholar and want to save a lot of money, now’s the time to register.

This is a huge savings, over 33% if my calculator is working, as the regular rate is $269.

At last year’s conference we argued that the world has lost its moorings because of the attack¬†on the idea of nature.

Now we are exploring how one of prices of that attack has been and continues to be our freedom.

The problem starts in school. The solution has always been bound up with education.

Will you join us?

To learn more, visit our website for occasional updates or call us at 704 236-3964.

If you know you will be coming and want to secure your huge early bird savings, please visit our webstore at this link and secure your seats early.

I can’t wait to see you in Dallas!

From the CiRCE Store this Christmas

Looking for a gift this Christmas? Why not consider our 2009 Christmas CD set, The Incarnation of Christ: A Christmas Celebration?

This six-CD set contains some of our favorite conference recordings, specifically selected for Christmas. The perfect gift for a teacher, parent, or head of school who hopes to cultivate wisdom and virtue in their students!

Included in the set are the following talks:

1. James Daniels: The Incarnation of Christ and Its Implications On Teaching
2. Ken Myers: Ordering the Soul to God
3. Andrew Kern: Orthodoxy, Heresy, and Order
4. Dr. Lloyd Newton: Knowing and Loving within the Trinity
5. John Hodges: A Sacramental View of the World as a Basis for the Arts
6. Laura Berquist: Christianity Does Not Simply Replace Our Natural Life (Colloquy)

Sold separately, the set would go for $36, but we’re offering it this Christmas for only $24!

You can go here to purchase.

Additionally, each of our complete conference CD sets are 20% off until January 2nd! That’s a savings of nearly $30.

If you’ve ever been to one of our conferences and enjoyed it so much you want your friends and family to be able to share that experience with you, then this is the ideal gift for you.

And for those of you who have been unable to join us in years past – or who have only recently found out about us – now is the perfect time to take advantage of the sale and discover for yourself what our attendees have been experiencing each July for the past eight years.

All you need to do to receive the discount is enter “CHRISTMAS2009” in our coupon box.

To purchase or view the CD sets in more detail simply visit our store here.

Merry Christmas from your friends at The CiRCE Institute!