Americans are suffering from a knowledge gap about what American freedom is about, and it’s one of the most important underlying factors in what divides Americans today.
If you are immersed in the 24/7 news cycle, you can’t help but reflect on the wide and wild political divide in America. Just as surely, as a reasonable American, you are asking reasonable questions: Why can’t people just live and let live? What’s with all of the agitation, the mindless street theater and street violence, the harassment of people in restaurants and in their homes?
Why would a member of Congress (Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters) actually rile up crowds to engage in more such harassment? Why do some people seem to prefer eternal hostility over talking to one another? Why is an uncorroborated accusation, or politically incorrect view, or an incorrect pronoun enough to get someone fired or expelled, even jailed? What’s going on? Don’t people want to get along?
Many have put forth excellent ideas about what is driving the tantrums in today’s politics. Social critic Angelo Codevilla sees a divide between arrogant power elites — the ruling class — and the rest of America. In a recent essay, “Our Revolution’s Logic,” Codevilla wrote that the resistance to the 2016 elections has been a predictable but extremely strong and fast reaction by the ruling class thwarted in its ambition to remain just that.
Columnist Salena Zito echoed this assessment of the divide, writing, “It’s not about left vs right, but about insider vs outsider.” A recent Wall Street Journal op-ed attributes our “yawning divide” primarily to the development of two powerful demographic forces: sex and college education. There are many more ideas.
This all seems quite sudden to many. We can remember a time not that long ago when we could disagree with a neighbor on an issue, and the disagreement wouldn’t provoke rage or violence. We all generally agreed that everyone was entitled to his own opinion. Then we’d move on with our lives or have an election or a vote on an issue, then move on with our lives again.
Consider how the Senate went about its advise and consent role in 1993, when it confirmed the controversial but well-qualified Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court by a vote of 96-3. Ah, but that was then. Now look at the confirmation process of the well-qualified Brett Kavanaugh. The gonzo mobs, the vicious character assassination, the delays, the disruptions, the contentious 50-48 vote. The goal was not to defeat. The goal was to destroy.
Americans Have a Knowledge Gap
Our divisions are driven primarily by what some of us know, and what some of us do not know, about our national purpose. It’s almost surreal to have to spell this out, but I fear many Americans, maybe even most, have lost this knowledge.
Once upon a time, American students got an unvarnished look at the U.S. Constitution. They learned about the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, as stated in the Declaration of Independence. Equality of opportunity. Minimal interference from the government. Checks and balances. The separation of powers.
The logic of barring the state from policing our speech and our thoughts and our conscience was simple to comprehend: People can only be free if they are free from government restraints. Bloat government power, and pretty soon the state owns you, body and soul.
A student with a good grasp of history could easily put the Constitution into context, and understand that it gave birth to a republic unlike any that ever existed on the face of the earth. It addressed the flaws of the nation because it was designed for self-correction guided by and for the benefit of its citizens. In short, the Constitution was a miracle.
This knowledge and clarity about our founding principles has been deeply eroded. A sort of collective dementia has set into a large part of the electorate. The picture of what America represents has faded and been replaced by distortions, solipsisms, and bafflement.
Many Americans have been taught to believe America is the root of evil in the world. Many are stuck in their own grievance and victim mentality, and, as weirdly twisted as this gets, they think government force is both the source and guarantor of their “freedom.” About half of all Americans, if we can believe recent elections and polling, seem to believe this.
It’s Been a Long Time Coming
Today’s collective dementia of so many Americans didn’t just happen out of the blue. The knowledge gap has been growing for generations. Decades of a steady diet of distortions, dishonesty, and government largess, coming from so many of the American elites — academia, media, and political leaders who don’t believe in the merits of the very system that allowed them to flourish — have eroded the faith that Americans have in their own system of governance.
Indeed, a century ago, radicals were espousing a “long march through the institutions” explicitly to undermine Western civilization. Academia has been saturated with arrogant, anti-thought professors who enforce non-thinking on students. The media has been flooded with elitist, anti-thought pundits who enforce non-thinking on the general public. Hollywood is saturated with self-important celebrities who spread their special brands of mindlessness among their millions of adoring fans.
The enforced speech codes of political correctness were anticipated more than half a century ago when Herbert Marcuse, an immensely influential leftist academician, espoused a policy of “repressive tolerance,” with the goal of wiping out any opinions or ideas that Marcuse and other cultural Marxists could never tolerate.
The Cultivation of Ignorance
This long march through all of the institutions of American life has long since overtaken public education. Basic content knowledge, including broad knowledge of civics, has been withheld from generations of students by our public schools. Instead, students have been fed — both in K-12 and in our universities — a steady diet of increasing resentment for American principles of freedom, tolerance, and constitutional self-governance. The radicalization of American education has been going on for decades.
This cannot be an accident. Those who claim that more government control over our lives will somehow “make us free” — the elites, the ruling classes — are committed to making the rest of us ignorant of what was actually at play in the American Revolution: an awareness that too much power in the hands of too few people is a bad thing. If such knowledge remained common, it would be bad news for the control freaks of the world. This is why they are committed to cultivating ignorance in youth, and then programming them to vote for the ruling class.
Policies of multiculturalism then brought us the insanity of identity politics, which basically erases a person’s individual identity and replaces it with various sorts of pigeon-holing. Students are only permitted to find self-worth through something called “intersectionality,” which scores them based on how many victim points they can claim.
Political correctness is designed to make sure they never question their miseducation, and instead conform to the elitist program from the fear of being socially isolated and academically punished if they show any tendencies towards independent thought. That’s a miserable way to live, so we shouldn’t be surprised that so many college students are going insane.
In the words of Thomas Jefferson: “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” Of course, this is not the first time in human history that a nation has lost its compass. I’m going to offer a biblical reference, especially because this is exactly the sort of knowledge our ruling elites like to sneer at and deprive us of.
If you actually read the Bible, you can easily conclude that the history of the Jews is, in many ways, a reflection of the history of all humanity: wandering, enslaved, aware of a higher law, triumphant, then losing reverence for their laws, losing their identity, only to end up drifting, and held captive once again. You might even conclude that the Jews were chosen to represent all of us in our love-hate relationship with wisdom and the rule of law. In their sufferings, their setbacks, their triumphs — and their disobedience to God and natural law — they are very much like all the rest of us.
But there is hope. King Josiah of Judah ruled over a seventh-century kingdom that had forgotten its laws and worshiped pagan idols. Its Jewish identity was so lost that they were unaware of the Passover Seder. Then, one day, a priest stumbled upon the long-lost Book of the Law while going through the temple. He announced his discovery to King Josiah, who was deeply moved by the rediscovery of the law and his people’s true heritage. He led a great awakening.
America’s Rubicon Moment
Likewise, our culture has reached a tipping point over the last couple of decades. Author Os Guinness spoke about this source of our divisions with Ben Domenech on the Federalist Radio Hour in a very illuminating interview. Guinness says different visions of freedom divide us — different ideas of what America stands for.
We are now at a tipping point, he said: “America is facing a Rubicon moment. Either there will be a restoration of the founding vision, or it will be replaced, in effect, by different views of the Republic, different views of freedom and what we’ve known of America will soon become increasingly unrecognizable.”
The cultivators of ignorance have aimed not simply to destroy America’s national heritage, but also to destroy America’s very compass: the Judeo-Christian principles that form basis of the rule of law, and, therefore, freedom. Without that compass, Americans are set adrift, increasingly answering only to raw emotions of rage, envy, and grievance.
Too many Americans don’t really know what our rights and freedoms mean. They are groping around in the dark and have been programmed to swallow the lie that America was never great. As a result, we are too often dealing with a dumbed-down electorate unable to understand the basic framework of our republic.
They’re unable to understand what it means to govern ourselves, and they’re unable to understand the meaning of true freedom — that one must be free from government restraints in order to find his purpose and live freely. With the loss of this knowledge, and a culture that leads them astray from that birthright, they predictably become less able to think their own thoughts. Those who have completely lost their compass are more inclined to lose their minds in blind rage. And that is, sadly, where too many Americans are.
Natural law and our natural rights are written on our hearts. They are instinctive, and can be handed down by older generations through a healthy culture and exemplary role models. Still, if we are too far separated from understanding them, if they are flouted in our institutions, we are set adrift. We can recover our rights. But we must recognize and accept this uphill challenge.
No matter the results of an election, our first order of business should be to struggle with all our might to do whatever is necessary to recover our compass and restore in every American heart the true meaning of freedom.