Perhaps the most prominent commonality among conservative authors and bloggers is their emphasis on first principles, and the application of them to modern times. Everything flows from first principles. Since laws and traditions connect to the past, great truths will not appear until we see the chain which links them to others. Our Framers studied the past, yet were not slaves to it. They let experience be their guide as they applied first principles to their British and colonial heritage.
As Charles de Montesquieu showed, and our Founding generation demonstrated, the first principle, the spring from which republics emerge and are maintained is virtue.1 This is not the moral or Christian sense of the word, but rather public virtue, by which Montesquieu meant love of country.
Public virtue is not self-renunciation; it doesn’t ask citizens to deny their natural interests. It permits them to envision and work toward a flourishing and tranquil country. In prosperity, the citizen often finds his own peace of mind and independence, the peaceable possession and enjoyment of his property, and the hope of increasing it through freedom of commerce. Should his demeanor and judgement impress his fellow citizens, he can look forward to the temporary dignity of public posts to elective office.
In republics alone the government is entrusted to private citizens, and to survive, the republic must be loved. Everything therefore depends on establishing this love in a republic; to inspire this love is the principle business of education.
In his 1818 Report for the University of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson wrote,
The objects of… primary education (which) determine its character and limits (are): To give to every citizen the information he needs for the transaction of his own business; to enable him to calculate for himself, and to express and preserve his ideas, his contracts and accounts in writing; to improve, by reading, his morals and faculties; to understand his duties to his neighbors and country, and to discharge with competence the functions confided to him by either; to know his rights; to exercise with order and justice those he retains, to choose with discretion the fiduciary of those he delegates; and to notice their conduct with diligence, with candor and judgment; and in general, to observe with intelligence and faithfulness all the social relations under which he shall be placed.
A properly educated citizen understands the first principles of the American republic, and will naturally love his country just as he naturally loves his family.
Jefferson’s “objects of primary education,” continued into the 20th century. Topics in the opening chapter to A.D. Fradenburgh’s 1905 high school textbook, American Civics, addressed Civics and Civil Government, The State, The Origin of the State, Functions of Government, Kinds of Government, Monarchy, Democracy, Other Forms, Constitutions, and Departments of Government. Among the questions at the end of the chapter, it asked students to “Prove that the state is a necessary organ of society,” “Is it true that if all people were good, government would be unnecessary?”, and “Show that democracy is the best form of government for an enlightened people.” Foreign nations think twice before attacking a people imbued with love of country this curriculum inspired.
Where Montesquieu’s republican educators taught love of country, the purpose of education in despotic regimes is to debase the mind. Here, learning in the western sense is needless and dangerous. The mind must be made servile through demands of excessive obedience. Excessive obedience supposes ignorance in the person that obeys, for he has no occasion to doubt or to reason. All he must do is follow the will of the despot. Despotic education strikes the heart with fear and imprints the understanding of a few simple notions turned toward support of the state.
Where is American education today? Does it promote public virtue and love of country through study of first principles? The Annenberg Institute for Civics offers some odd lesson plans for high school civics in a republic:
- Visit a cultural center to see artifacts and hear first-person accounts of the victimization of Japanese Americans during World War II.
- Make connections between newspaper articles and issues (Professor) Butler raises in her book. Encourage students to involve themselves politically by writing letters that call for social justice.
- Conduct an opinion poll on racial profiling. Physically engage students by having them move around from “Agree” to “Disagree” to “Undecided” positions during discussion.
Lesson plans such as these do not uplift; they debase. Rather than promote republican ideals, they dull young minds into social justice conformity. Disdain of country replaces love of country. It is not the young people that are degenerate; they are soiled by those of more mature age already sunk into corruption. When generations are taught that their country isn’t worth defending, it follows that they won’t defend their country. The ongoing islamic invasion and open borders reflects a despotic ruling elite that not only do not love our country, they despise it. To illustrate, a couple of federal district court judges recently slapped President Trump with unconstitutional restraining orders involving immigration and sanctuary cities.
The Left corrupts first principles to justify ever changing fuzzy social justice. Montesquieu wrote, “Man, that flexible being, conforming in society to the thoughts and impressions of others, is equally capable of knowing his own nature whenever it is laid open to his view, and of losing every sense of it when it is banished from his mind.” (my italics) When public virtue and love of country are banished from our educational systems, the subsequent societal decay guarantees eventual dissolution of our republic.
While government is the business of politicians, the Constitution, our societal compact, is the business of every American. We are the many; our oppressors are the few. Now, it is our turn. Be proactive. Be a Re-Founder. Join Convention of States. Sign our COS Petition.
- Montesquieu, C. d. (2010). The Spirit of the Laws Translated by Thomas Nugent. Digireads.com. 26.