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Montesquieu was a French social commentator and first-rate political thinker who lived during the Enlightenment. Although he most famous for his influential writings on the benefits of separating political powers up between three branches of government, another important concept that he wrote about was virtue.
Montesquieu thought that the State should be a reflection of the people- “The government most comfortable to nature is that which best agrees with the humour and disposition of the people in whose favour it is established.”
Let’s say that the people of a certain nation desires to all be equally poor and to live in a society where a small group makes all the political and economic decisions for everyone- if that is the case, then this nation would be best served by installing a communist regime. One could argue that the lack of uprisings and opposition in Cuba or China means that the people of these nation want to live under a communist regime, and so they should stay communist. They should learn about equality, subservience to superiors, sharing the burdens with others, and watching others unequally share the rewards. Schools should push communism and state worship on students so that the people can learn what keeps them happy.
Let’s say that the people of a given nation wish to be taken care of from the cradle to the grave by a paternalistic state that treats them like kids, and asks in return that they forgo their individual desires and free choices- in that case, that nation would best be served by a socialist democracy or some sort of enlightened monarchy. Like Sweden or Britain or Belgium, these nations should focus their energies on learning who is best able to play daddy in society, and then learning how to follow daddy’s orders and dictates happily and without question. The nature of the schools in these nations is to learn who is better at making decisions and who is better at following them, so that they can have a nice happy paternalistic socialist democracy government.
Or imagine that a given people of some nation desires to empower one person to make all the choices for them, because of their superior talent or intelligence or connections with some higher power- in that case these people should naturally implement a dictatorship. In Iran or North Korea or Burma or Egypt, for example, these people might just be happiest when they live cowering in fear, learning how to best cower and grovel to their overlords or masters or kings or pharaohs, and would best be served in their education by learning the language and nature of fear.
For the record, I reject the idea above that people desire these sorts of governments- it is my view that man desires in his heart a nation that is built on rule of law and virtue.
If men desire to be treated equally before the law and to live in a nation where the people treat each other virtuously, they need to learn these subjects in school and be taught to embrace and celebrate them. In order for the people to be happiest and to have the government that they desire, it is certain that the government must in its schooling push for these subjects. Students must be taught to love their nation, saying the Pledge of Allegiance daily, learning the national anthem, talking to veterans who have risked their lives to keep our nation free and strong, studying in their classes the history of the republic in a positive light, and discussing with themselves and their teachers the meanings of virtue. They must learn about how to treat other people decently and equally, to put no person higher than another, to give everyone fairness and equality before the law, and to embrace equality of opportunity. For a nation of free and prosperous men to be happy and content, schools should have as their main mission the teaching of the founding documents of the nation, the learning of the basic laws that govern them, and should learn a certain respect for the wisdom found in them. Conversations and lively debates should center on how to be virtuous towards one another- how to best treat one another with respect, with decency, with equality, and without malice. And the government should be one in which its primary object is the protection and promotion of virtue and rule of law.
For the record, I feel that Montesquieu may go a little far here and empower the government to do a little too much, but the general direction is okay. Because if students are not taught to celebrate and desire virtue and rule of law, eventually these ideas will break down, and there will no longer be virtue and rule of law.
“When virtue ceases, ambition enters those hearts that can admit it. Desires change their objects: that which one used to love, one loves no longer. Each citizen is like a slave who has escaped from his master’s house.” Those who have not been raised to celebrate and embrace virtue instead will turn to ambition, desiring something from others- power, wealth, control, something that makes them unequal towards the others. They will view free and virtuous people as pawns to maneuver in a game of power, dividing them, using them, and not truly loving them as equals any more but rather loving the inequality that they can provide to them.
When virtue ceases, “what was a maxim (a rule of thumb or a virtuous way of behaving) is now called severity; what was rule (self-restraint or individual responsibility) is now called constraint; what was vigilance (controlling the border or making sure that communists or fascists aren’t infiltrating and corrupting our society) is now called fear.”
When virtue ceases to be taught in schools and the people no longer want and desire it, then “frugality (will) not (be) the desire to possess, (but rather be considered) avarice. Formerly the goods of individuals made up the public treasury; (but when virtue is lost) the public treasury (will) become the (property) of individuals. (Without virtue,) The republic is a cast-off husk, and its strength is no more than the power of a few citizens and the license of all”- in other words, the economy will sputter and fail and wealth and prosperity will only grow on the backs of great and virtuous citizens but they will be fewer and fewer of these and their efforts will be harnessed and used by the unvirtuous among us.
Much of what Montesquieu predicted of a people who have lost virtue and respect for rule of law is indeed coming to pass, and the responsibility could very much lie with our nations educational system. Virtue is no longer taught as it once was, values are no longer promoted and built, rule of law and equality of opportunity are forgotten, and respect towards fellow man is at an all time low. And so our nation slides away from a republic based on virtue towards something else.
What are we sliding to as a nation?
Students are not taught honor, so we aren’t sliding towards a monarchy. Students are not taught any sort of religion, so we aren’t moving towards a theocracy. And students aren’t really learning about equality and dividing wealth and the means of production equally, so we aren’t really moving towards communism.
Our schools increasingly teach students to fear one another, to fear their teachers, and to fear themselves and their own views. Critical thinking and hard questions and inquiry are discouraged in favor of memorizing the politically correct ‘knowledge’ of the day. The goal of education is to advance through the schools, checking the proper boxes, taking the proper classes, saying the proper things, and moving to the bells and whistles of the state.
Based on what we are teaching our students and based on the direction that our nation is going, it is my fear that the perfect government of the future for our people will be a dictatorship, a despotism, an autocracy, a tyranny. And every day we slide a little closer to accepting it.
Original Post: A Conservative Teacher