I have been involved in the work of recovering a right understanding of the liberal arts in education for decades now. One of the reasons for this is that we have to destroy what is now called liberalism—what also goes by its other names of progressivism or leftism, depending on which convenience store they are sticking up. But others may have noticed—and it would be hard not to—that when I write on economics, I write from what might be characterized as the perspective of classical liberalism. What is this gumby word?
Thomas Sowell has written persuasively that the basic division in our cultural wars lies between those with a constrained vision and those with an unconstrained vision. For the conservative, the world is shaped by limits and limitations. Progress in this world is possible, but only if we carefully navigate the necessary trade-offs. For the liberal, the world is not shaped or bounded by such constraints, and so he thinks naturally and instinctively of solutions—and not of the price tag.
The conservative Christian—the kind of Christian who believes the Bible—is a person who is placed naturally, readily, easily, within the category of those who believe in a constrained vision. Because of the fall, we distrust all utopian schemes. We are aware of the bent within, the twist that will cause all the political promises to come crashing down. And because of the doctrine of creation, we distrust those who would erase creational boundaries—like the distinction between male and female, say.
Now for someone who has unbounded faith in man, a devotee of the unconstrained vision, there is a problem. If man is by nature unconstrained, how do we explain all . . . the constraints? If man is basically good, how do we explain all the badness? The basic humanistic impulse, going back to Socrates, is to say that man does evil because of ignorance. And if ignorance is the disease, then what is the solution? The solution has to be education. This is why advocates of the unconstrained vision so naturally turn to education as their messiah, as their savior.
But there is more to it. Men do not just do evil in various instances of individual criminal acts. No, there is clearly a lot wrong with institutional man. Going back to Rousseau, man in his primitive condition, or in his youth, is uncorrupted, and it is society that corrupts him. Society is the sum total of our accumulated bad habits, and something must be done about it. That something is, again, education.
And this is why advocates of the unconstrained vision gravitate naturally, instinctively, inexorably toward educational salvation, but it must be an educational salvation that debunks.
And this is why George Washington can’t get a fair shake anymore.
The word liberal comes from the Latin liber, which means free, in the sense of “free man.” But of course a word like free is going to take on its local meaning from whatever it is you want to be free from. The liberals want to be free from the older, orthodox constrained vision for man. The constrained want to be free from the disasters that will surely follow if we continue with the cliff-jumping, imagining ourselves to be in possession of wings. We self-identify as winged—and which has to be true. We incurred 100K in student loan debt from an elite institution on the east coast to teach us that self-identifying was good enough.