01 July 2015

Ignorance and The Great Books

                                      July 27, 2014


So I’m jamming to some good tunes, just driving along minding my own business. Then a thought interrupts my listening pleasure immediately followed by another, “How in the hell did this guy get elected?” “How did I get from music to politics?" Non-sequitur, it's strange how the mind works.


The question keeps coming to me like that ever since Obama was elected back in 08. It doesn’t happen every day and sometimes I go months without it entering my thoughts. When it does, though, the answer is always the same.
Can you explain how a community organizer and junior senator could just pop up on the scene and become President of the United States? You might say the pro-Obama media had a lot to do with it. Yes, I agree. It had something to do with it.
Then there is the conspiracy theorist. Those who believe the almighty plutocracy pulls the strings, the Bilderberg’s or whoever, and Obama and the rest in congress are merely puppets. Well I’m not a “black helicopter guy” so if that satisfies you then all the more power to you brother. Good luck fighting the Invisible Hand.
At this point if you’re looking for an in-depth analysis of how Obama got elected I suggest you go to the Heritage Foundation or maybe the Cato institute. Here, just an over-simplified answer.
Ignorance is why Obama got elected, twice. (Just to clarify: ignorance does not mean stupid)
Just one example will do. The other night I was listening to The Mark Levin Show. A listener called in and said he had been a conservative all his life but had never read the Constitution and the Declaration until recently. He went on to say how excited he was about it. Now he’s invigorated. Now he understands. Now he knows what it means to be a patriot! Incredible.
Most conservatives can explain, or rather, repeat back to you the core ideas of conservatism — limited government, lower taxes, fiscal responsibility, and a strong national defense, etc. But if pressed further on why they believe in conservatism you might experience an awkward pause, followed by the sound of crickets.
The problem is not lack of access to information. The Web is like having your own personal library at your fingertips. And it is not that conservative bloggers and radio talk show hosts have it wrong, especially exposing the irrationality of liberalism and media bias. The problem is a philosophical ignorance of the ideas that inspired our forefathers and writers of the Constitution.
How many professed conservatives have read the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, or John Locke’s 2 essays on the civil government? What does The Republic by Plato, and Aristotle’s Politics have to do with our form of government today? It might seem at this point I am picking on conservatives but I’m not. Ignorance is a national epidemic.
Mortimer J. Adler said in so many words the educational system in the United States is a wreck, that it would take a hundred years to bring us up to speed. To give you an idea of what he meant, he believed the student by the time he graduates from high school should have already read the Great Books. This writer purchased the 54 volume set about 4 years ago.
Immediately after my purchase I started a 10 year reading program and I am still hacking away at it. But the neat thing I discovered was the more I read, the more I understood that the ideas and problems we wrestle with today have already been dealt with or refuted.
Socrates, for example, destroyed relativism but somehow it still pervades our colleges and society. You can find it in the dialogs of Plato. Communism goes further back in time than the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx, or even Plato’s Republic. (Actually, The Republic is not about communism, but’s that is another discussion) And on my second reading of The Republic I found J.R Tolkien’s idea for the powerful ring. I will save that one for another post.
There are no vacuous thoughts, we are all standing on the shoulder of giants as they say. Our form of government, the Constitution and Bill of Rights, is the culmination of the greatest thinkers up to that time. They have not been surpassed since. 

Obama would not have been elected twice if Americans understood this, but how can they understand unless they have read the Great Ideas for themselves? What we need is not a another party, or political revolution, but an educational revolution.  I believe the Great Books is a good place to start.

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