"I would we were all of one mind, and one mind good." --Cymbeline, V.iv.209-210. An English teacher's log. Slow down: Check it once in a while.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Unsolicited Praise for Hillsdale College

Having spent nearly a week as a guest of Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, Michigan, I thought it worthwhile to post some pictures.

More important than the lovely campus is the mission of the school, which is essentially to preserve and pass on the best of Western Civilization and of the American experiment in democracy without getting deflected by leftist political agendas onto sidetracks that dead-end in irrationality and falsehood, and so lead to evil. In addition, the college and its president are actively attempting, through education, to restore to public discourse a true valuation of freedom and of the proper role of government, which is not to satisfy all needs but to provide for the common defense and to secure individual rights and justice.

Hillsdale establishes a civilized atmosphere in which students can thrive intellectually and morally. It has attractive architecture, richly appointed (non-“institutional”) reading and conference rooms, and a challenging and noble honor code. Its academic program demands the skills of the trivium (grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric) and offers core content of deep and lasting value (Aristotle, Shakespeare, the U.S. Constitution). Its teachers (several of them extraordinarily gifted) use reason and argument and do not apologize for faith in God or for their promotion of the universal fundamental values that I have consistently argued for in this blog. It keeps the lid on grade inflation in the name of quality education. And, consistent with its mission of teaching the responsibilities of freedom, it conscientiously resists the cultural depravities common on so many college campuses in our day, including not only sexual license, drunkenness, plagiarism, and grade fever, but the racism, prejudice, and coercion endemic wherever “political correctness” is the rule.

Hillsdale’s hospitality, standards of behavior, and vision are unparalleled in my experience of institutions of education. In keeping with its principles, it takes absolutely no public money from federal or state sources, including student loans. It is funded entirely by private donations so that it can answer for itself only to God, truth, and virtue without having to compromise ethical, political, and pedagogical principles under pressure from unconstitutional bureaucracies like the Department of Education. Check out the website here.

Some photos of the campus in July:

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Quotations from WITNESS

I have just read the remarkable autobiography of Whittaker Chambers (1901–1961) called Witness (50th Anniversary Edition from Regnery Publishing).

Chambers was an American Communist and a spy for the Soviet Communist Party. In response to the Hitler-Stalin pact and the Stalin purges, he was converted from the false promise of Communism, left the party at risk of his life, and rededicated himself to God, justice, and the fundamental values of the American experiment in self-government. Highly educated and adept at languages, he served as a writer and editor for Time. Eventually he became a witness against Communist agents who had infiltrated the American government, the most significant of whom was Alger Hiss, a high officer in the State Department (who had sat at the Yalta Conference a few feet behind Roosevelt while secretly serving Stalin and had influenced the formation of the United Nations).

Having named Alger Hiss as a Communist spy, Chambers was vilified by the Communists, fellow travelers, and sympathetic wishful-thinking liberals (whom the Communist Party considered little more than patsies) among the educated classes and by the press, which rushed to defend Hiss by spreading lies about Chambers. Nevertheless, though Hiss was not convicted of espionage because of the statute of limitations, he was convicted of two counts of perjury. After the fall of the Soviet Union, further evidence came to light confirming the guilt of Hiss. In 1984 President Reagan awarded Chambers the Presidential Medal of Freedom (posthumously) for his contribution to “the century’s epic struggle between freedom and totalitarianism.”

In 1951 Chambers wrote the autobiography he called Witness to record in detail the story of his calling to be a legal and moral witness against the Communist threat to American freedom. Here are several quotations from that book, chosen for their undiminished relevance.

1. A theme that readers of this blog will find quite familiar:

“Under the bland influence of the idea of progress, man, supposing himself more and more to be the measure of all things, has achieved a singularly easy conscience and an almost hermetically smug optimism. The idea that man is sinful and needs redemption has been subtly changed into the idea that man is by nature good, and hence capable of indefinite perfectibility. This perfectibility is being achieved through technology, science, politics, social reform, education. Man is essentially good, says 20th-century liberalism, because he is rational, and his rationality is (if the speaker happens to be a liberal Protestant) divine, or (if he happens to be religiously unattached) at least benign. Thus the reason-defying paradoxes of Christian faith are happily by-passed.

“And yet, as 20th-century civilization reaches a climax, its own paradoxes grow catastrophic. The incomparable technological achievement is more and more dedicated to the task of destruction. Man’s marvelous conquest of space has made total war a household experience, and, over vast reaches of the world, the commonest of childhood memories. The more abundance increases, the more resentment becomes the characteristic new look on 20th-century faces. The more production multiplies, the more scarcities become endemic. The faster science gains on disease (which, ultimately, seems always to elude it), the more the human race dies at the hands of living men. Men have never been so educated, but wisdom, even as an idea, has conspicuously vanished from the world” (p. 506).

2. “The simple fact is that when I took up my little sling and aimed at Communism, I also hit something else. What I hit was the forces of that great socialist revolution, which, in the name of liberalism, spasmodically, incompletely, somewhat formlessly, but always in the same direction, has been inching its ice cap over the nation for two decades. This is not a charge. My opinion of that revolution is not at issue. It is a statement of fact that need startle no one who has voted for that revolution in whole or in part, and, consciously or unconsciously, a majority of the nation has so voted for years. It was the forces of that revolution that I struck at the point of its struggle for power. And with that we come to the heart of the Hiss Case and all its strange manifestations. No one could have been more dismayed than I at what I had hit, for though I knew it existed, I still had no adequate idea of its extent, the depth of its penetration or the fierce vindictiveness of its revolutionary temper, which is a reflex of its struggle to keep and advance its political power” (pp. 741–42).

3. “No feature of the Hiss Case is more obvious, or more troubling as history, than the jagged fissure, which it did not so much open as reveal, between the plain men and women of the nation, and those who affected to act, think and speak for them. It was, not invariably, but in general, the “best people” who were for Alger Hiss and who were prepared to go to almost any length to protect and defend him. It was the enlightened and the powerful, the clamorous proponents of the open mind and the common man, who snapped their minds shut in a pro-Hiss psychosis, of a kind which, in an individual patient, means the simple failure of the ability to distinguish between reality and unreality, and, in a nation, is a warning of the end.

“It was the great body of the nation, which, not invariably, but in general, kept open its mind in the Hiss Case, waiting for the returns to come in. It was they who suspected what forces disastrous to the nation were at work in the Hiss Case, and had suspected that they were at work long before there was a Hiss Case, while most of the forces of enlightenment were poohpoohing the communist danger and calling every allusion to it a witch hunt. It was they who, when the battle was over, first caught its real meaning. It was they who almost unfailingly understood the nature of the witness that I was seeking to make . . . ” (pp. 793–94).

4. “One thing I knew: I was no longer a Communist. I had broken involuntarily with Communism at the moment when I first said to myself: ‘It is just as evil to kill the Tsar and his family and throw their bodies down a mine shaft as it is to starve two million peasants or slave laborers to death. More bodies are involved in one case than the other. But one is just as evil as the other, not more evil, not less evil.’ I do not know at just what point I said this. I did not even know that with that thought I had rejected the right of the mind to justify evil in the name of history, reason or progress, because I had asserted that there is something greater than the mind, history or progress. I did not know that this Something is God. . . .

“I do not know . . . by what subtle stages this conflict of the spirit of man gained on the doctrine and practice of Communism in me. I do know that over the years the unwanted thought sometimes crossed my mind: What is lacking in Communism? What lack is it that keeps the human level of Communism so low, that makes the party a rat’s nest of intrigue and faction? What is the source of its corroding cynicism, that makes the workers, in contrast to the Communists, seem like heroes of simple honesty, that makes us waste human life and effort without scruple and turns our greatest victories into sordid waste? Why is it that thirty years after the greatest revolution in history, the Communists have not produced one single inspired work of the mind? What is our lack?

“Now in my despair, I asked at last: can it be God? I asked it first as an acknowledged absurdity which the mind is reduced to after rejecting every other possibility. I asked it, astounded that I could ask it at all, and with aversion as if something old, cunning and fetid from the past had reached out unfairly to possess my mind in its moment of greatest weakness. I associated God with ill-ventilated vestries and ill-ventilated minds.

“How could it be God? Yet if it was just as evil to kill the Tsar as to kill two million peasants, it was evil because a violence had been committed against the soul—the soul of the murderer as well as of the murdered. It was not evil for any lesser reason. By the logic of history it was expedient, and in its directness merciful. ‘How long are you going to keep on killing people?’ Lady Astor would ask Stalin brightly. ‘As long as it is necessary,’ he answered and asked in turn: ‘How many people were killed in the First World War? You killed that many people for nothing,’ he had added, ‘and you blame us for killing a handful for the most promising social experiment in history?’ In terms of the modern mind, which excludes from its reasoning the undemonstrable fact of God, Stalin’s answer was unanswerable. It could only be answered by another question: ‘And man’s soul?’” (pp. 81–82).

5. “ . . . evil is not something that can be condescended to, waved aside or smiled away, for it is not merely an uninvited guest, but lies coiled in foro interno at home with good within ourselves. Evil can only be fought” (p. 798).