America Needs a Renaissance

Progressives have been working for a long time to change the culture from the inside out. No revolution necessary.

Just run for political office on a moderate political platform, then change the very structure and meaning of government once in office. Just make sure children spend ever increasing hours in schools at an ever younger age, then teach them – again and again and again– how to become global citizens. Just use movies and television shows to make conservatives look foolish and mean. Just emphasize the “news” that makes liberal politicians look good. Just create a bureaucratic super-structure that can promote the agenda, even when conservatives are in office. Just marginalize the Western tradition, the founding ideas, and the great books and marginalize professors and teachers who take them seriously. Once you’ve done all this, claim to be the only able representatives of America’s intellectual, artistic, and literary life (Conservatives, by contrast, can then be portrayed as narrow-minded capitalists with little regard for culture.)

There you have it. You’ve not only transformed America; you’ve convinced much of America that you are the only ones sensitive and smart enough to guide it. You are the new elite, and your conservative opponents even do you the favor of calling you such. But the “culture” you created isn’t working out so well. A cursory look at our movies, our television shows, our anxious and overwhelmed children and teenagers, our pathologies, our addictions, our dearth of historical knowledge, our dumbed-down society, our increased willingness to let the end justify the means and to find excuses for irresponsible, violent and abusive behavior, reveals that we are a culture in trouble.

Years ago, I realized the depth of change in our schools and institutions and saw how it was transforming childhood. I kept asking friends, “Shouldn’t we protest when schools subject our children to indoctrination exercises, and routinely send teachers to seminars on how to promote social and political causes? Shouldn’t we question history textbooks that are so thoroughly re-written that the founding principles, the birth of the United States, and the dangers of communism and fascism are all but forgotten? What will happen to our country when these kids reach voting age?” But most parents seemed more concerned about their children’s outward displays of accomplishment than about their children’s actual moral and intellectual advancement. As long as their children were getting good grades, excelling in “activities,” and building good resumes, parents didn’t want to rock the boat.

Thus, American schools choose curriculums with immunity. Captive students are continually reminded of the low points of American history and taught to look at American history “critically.” They receive little, if any, instruction on the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, or the spirit of liberty. American society, they are told, is still dominated by racism, sexism and class distinctions. Classic literature is replaced with ‘edgy’ works that drive home the same negative message. In multicultural festivals and in “cultural studies” textbooks, however, students experience upbeat portrayals of other cultures. Little or nothing is said about the oppression, poverty and restrictions on freedom in many of the far-off lands they celebrate.

Rather than being permitted to appreciate that America, at its best, unleashes human potential and champions human rights, students are asked to identify their “cultural roots,” the implication being that any “roots” worth having are non-American ones. The modern concept of cultural identity thus, ironically, contributes to children’s sense of uprootedness. It takes the ground out from under them by implying that the ground they are standing on is not theirs. It belongs to some “other”  (i.e., the affluent white male). Children are taught to seek their identity as a distinct caste – resisting and even despising the American norm. That this is the teaching of alienation and that it is particularly discouraging to children in our inner cities is rarely addressed. As conservatives reach out to ethnic groups, they must address the problem of an education that denies our common American bond.

Alongside of the program for political change is the program for moral change, and it relies upon similar tactics: Use the media; make anyone who doesn’t agree with the wholesale rejection of tradition look mean and stupid; teach children to question the outmoded ‘values” of their parents.  Toward this end, saturate society with so much crudeness and crassness that we’re finally incapable of being shocked. Mock the idea of virtue. After all, how much change can be achieved if people don’t embrace the idea that each culture defines its own good — and that the current culture’s definition is the best so far?

I was going to title this piece, “It’s Our Turn to Change the Culture.” But change is easy. A renaissance is going to be hard. We must study the best traditions for inspiration, while being open to the best innovations. We must seek and find intellectual, cultural, political, and moral rebirth. It’s time for people who take the lessons of history and the idea of America seriously to step up and speak up –even if it requires questioning those “elite” universities we’d like our children to attend. The answer to the conservative’s current quandary is not to be more current. It is to be more brave.

    

  1. William McClain

    Fantastic, and exactly what conservatism should be thinking about all the time.

    I think a big part of it will begin in a forgotten field, philosophy. The cultural dearth we experience now is as much a spiritual dearth, and the reduction of people’s spiritual lives into mere ideology. At the same time, speech and spiritual expression are reduced to merely ironic literature, open to “literature criticism” – as if my ideas were merely a bit of fiction to be assigned a cover value. These are the most deadening aspects of modern philosophy – the politicization of spirit and the economizing of ideas.

    To effect renaissance, conservative thinkers need to build real and meaningful critiques of these philosophical shortcomings that form the basis of new arts and sciences; the human spirit needs to be re-enlivened as something other than a “Zoon Politikon;” freedom and morality need to be seen as the crucially interdependent rather than seen at odds; language and ideas need to be given a new strength to stand in for the human personality.

    In my opinion, the place to begin is a critique of William James’ Pragmatism and a renewed use of classical literature when we argue and educate.

  2. Stu In Tokyo

    Wonderful piece, thank you from the bottom of my broken heart for this!

  3. Percival

    At work one day, a foreign-born engineer asked a question about a point of American history.  I answered, and while doing so noticed that a few of the younger guys were listening as if they had never heard the whole story of Paul Revere’s ride (Revere was captured by the British. His associate Billy Dawes lost his pursuers, but lost his horse as well, and had to double back.  Dr. Samuel Prescott, a chance encounter on the road who was returning home after “entertaining” a ladyfriend at 1:00 AM, made it to Concord.  Meanwhile, under questioning, Revere warned the officer in command of the patrol that the guns, drums, and bells they could hear meant that their purpose had been discovered and they would be anything but lonely when the sun came up.)  History of the Revolutionary period began and ended with privileged slave-owning white men.

    Teach them history: all of it.  Don’t bowdlerize the bad, but don’t excise the good, either.  It is very hard to subjugate people who know that the blood of heroes courses through their veins.

    Oh, and math too – at least past the 7th grade level.

  4. Devereaux

    Once again, Ms. Pierce – smoking hot presentation. You might consider collecting these pieces you’ve submitted into a collection of essays.

    Elsewhere Rachel Lu has proposed ‘”tinkering” with the educational system when in fact I would approach it with a flame thrower and rebuild it as it once was. You make the same case, albeit in nicer terms. But I’m an old troglodyte, so one doesn’t expect “warm & fuzzy” from me. 

    In a sense, controlling the terms of the debate is at the core of all this, and   to do that you need to define those terms. If I understand your comments correctly, that is what you propose.

    Call it what you will, I would agree the nation needs to again learn what it means to be an American. Dennis Prager has spoken to this before, but that doesn’t make it any less crucil. We win ONLY if we teach people what they are losing.

  5. genferei

    “We must study the best traditions for inspiration, while being open to the best innovations.”

    Burke and Mao. Aquinas and Lenin. The Federalist Papers and Saudi-financed wahhabist madrasas.

  6. Karen

    This is why I love Ricochet. My husband and I were having a very similar discussion just now over dinner. But what does a renaissance look like? Where do we begin? Do we seek out redeeming aspects in our culture and build on those, or do we strive to create something new entirely? Maybe both?

  7. Anne R. Pierce
    C
    genferei: “We must study the best traditions for inspiration, while being open to the best innovations.”

    Burke andMao. Aquinas andLenin. The Federalist Papers andSaudi-financed wahhabist madrasas. · in 1 minute

    I  don’t see Mao, Lenin wahhabists in the light you imply.  The unimaginable horrors and suffering created by Mao and Lenin are part of the missing history that I say in this article we must find – and learn from.  I don’t use the word “best” rhetorically. I mean it in the non-relativist sense.

  8. dittoheadadt

    How about we just figure out how to bypass the so-called mainstream media, and co-opt a couple of major outlets and clean house and make them genuine news outlets (neither right nor left), and take our message directly to the people without first having to be filtered/misrepresented/caricatured by the MSM?  We’re not going to reinvent the schools, we’re not going to take over Hollywood.  But we can bypass the current media with a 4-year multi-pronged approach and put our unfiltered message into the citizens’ hands.  Unless we do that, everything else is just spinning our wheels.  Futile.

  9. Anne R. Pierce
    C
    Karen: This is why I love Ricochet. My husband and I were having a very similar discussion just now over dinner. But what does a renaissance look like? Where do we begin? Do we seek out redeeming aspects in our culture and build on those, or do we strive to create something new entirely? Maybe both? · 2 minutes ago

    I’d like to hear your thoughts on this. What do you and your husband think is the best beginning for our renaissance?

  10. George Savage
    C

    Brilliant thesis, Anne.  What we need seems the very opposite of where we’ve lately been heading:  small ball, targeted messaging to the undecided Independent voter.  Well, we won those voters the other day, lost the election anyway, and even if we’d won we weren’t addressing the issues at the very core of what ails our republic.

    I am most intimately familiar with this passage:  But most parents seemed more concerned about their children’s outward displays of accomplishment than about their children’s actual moral and intellectual advancement. As long as their children were getting good grades, excelling in “activities,” and building good resumes, parents didn’t want to rock the boat.

    This is so true.  The lesson for Silicon Valley teens is that rules don’t really apply so long as they keep an A average and are on track to attend one of the twenty-or-so colleges that everyone on earth yearns to attend, primarily for the branding effect.  

    Our “best and brightest” may be stressed out habitual marijuana smokers, but they will soon have that Yale degree. 

    I spend most of my time as a parent combating this awful trend.

  11. HVTs
    Anne R. Pierce: Pseudodionysius speaks for “the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. ”

    Devereaux says, “Today we seem to be afraid of discussing things with our neighbors. But how else are we to speak to the issues and get people to think.”

    Both speak for community – so important.  The founders realized the regime itself wasn’t enough.  There was the issue of the kind of community in which the regime is bathed, situated.  This seems a good beginning.  Emphasize the community and contribute to it by expressing ideas and sticking to principles.

    The problem is the word “community” has been bastardized. From Clintonian “It takes a village” collectivism to Alinskyite-Obamist “Community Organizer” socialism, the word reeks of Leftist platitude.  Can we save MacIntyre’s idea but lose the language?  Also, as Pseudodionysius himself noted earlier, the Dark Ages is mythological.  So we need to update MacIntyre’s whole construct here, no?

    None of which detracts from your wonderful article, Anne … thanks for on-point sustenance in an otherwise crappy week.

  12. Anne R. Pierce
    C
    Percival: p

    Teach them history:all of it.  Don’t bowdlerize the bad, but don’t excise the good, either.  It is very hard to subjugate people who know that the blood of heroes courses through their veins.

    Oh, and math too – at least past the 7th grade level. · 35 minutes ago

    I couldn’t agree more. Isn’t it telling that Obama always talks about the need to shore up American competitiveness by better teaching math and science. There are better reasons for learning, and there is urgent fundamental reason for teaching history.  One thing that worries me is that, with the lack of diaries, letters etc.  to document history, it’s going to be even easier to re-write history now.

  13. Anne R. Pierce
    C
    George Savage:

    I am most intimately familiar with this passage:  But most parents seemed more concerned about their children’s outward displays of accomplishment than about their children’s actual moral and intellectual advancement. As long as their children were getting good grades, excelling in “activities,” and building good resumes, parents didn’t want to rock the boat.

    This is so true.  The lesson for Silicon Valley teens is that rules don’t really apply so long as they keep an A average and are on track to attend one of the twenty-or-so colleges that everyone on earth yearns to attend, primarily for the branding effect.  

    Our “best and brightest” may be stressed out habitual marijuana smokers, but they will soon have that Yale degree. 

    I spend most of my time as a parent combating this awful trend. · 2 minutes ago

    Thank you.  It was concern for America’s over-scheduled, under-nurtured, mis-taught children that compelled me to deviate from my political/foreign policy roots and write Ships Without a Shore.

  14. Anne R. Pierce
    C
    William McClain: Fantastic, and exactly what conservatism should be thinking aboutall the time.

    I think a big part of it will begin in a forgotten field, philosophy. The cultural dearth we experience now is as much a spiritual dearth, and the reduction of people’s spiritual lives into mere ideology. At the same time, speech and spiritual expression are reduced to merely ironic literature, open to “literature criticism” – as if my ideas were merely a bit of fiction to be assigned a cover value. These are the most deadening aspects of modern philosophy – the politicization of spirit and the economizing of ideas.

    To effect renaissance, conservative thinkers need to build real and meaningful critiques of these philosophical shortcomings that form the basis of new arts and sciences; the human spirit needs to be re-enlivened as something other than a “Zoon Politikon;” freedom and morality need to be seen as the crucially interdependent rather than seen at odds; language and ideas need to be given a new strength to stand in for the human personality.

    With a background in political philosophy as much as American foreign policy, I so agree.  Your post brings to mind Revel’s Totalitarian Temptation.

  15. The Mugwump

    I wish I had your optimism, dear lady.  You will recall, however, that the European renaissance arrived after a thousand years of darkness.  I’m more likely to take a monastic approach by preserving what we have for a future generation far down the road.  But then I’m feeling maudlin today. The feeling may pass.  Or maybe not.  

  16. Anne R. Pierce
    C
    ~Paules: I wish I had your optimism, dear lady.  You will recall, however, that the European renaissance arrived after a thousand years of darkness.  I’m more likely to take a monastic approach by preserving what we have for a future generation far down the road.  But then I’m feeling maudlin today. The feeling may pass.  Or maybe not.   · 2 minutes ago

    Paules,

    I hear you. I’m holding onto my optimism with a thin thread.

  17. Brian Clendinen
    Anne R. Pierce: Both speak for community – so important.  The founders realized the regime itself wasn’t enough.  There was the issue of the kind of community in which the regime is bathed, situated.  This seems a good beginning.  Emphasize the community and contribute to it by expressing ideas and sticking to principles. · 10 hours ago

    Yet as conservatives we do not live as we preach in politics. Yes I understand the federal goverment more than ever has so much impact on our communities yet it seems we ignore local politicls. Conservative Third parties try to become national players and it always seems local influce in politics is always secondary. Even here we talk about national politicls 80 to 90% of the time. It seems like California state politicas get a lot of play because so many of our pundents live their. However, that is only a small parts of state poltiics.

    I find it fustrating because the whole founding of our nation was started from the ground up in local communities. I 100% believe there can-not be real political change unless the radical beliefs starts at the local level first. It seems to always happen with progressive ideas.

  18. Anne R. Pierce
    C
    Devereaux: Once again, Ms. Pierce – smoking hot presentation. You might consider collecting these pieces you’ve submitted into a collection of essays.

    Elsewhere Rachel Lu has proposed ‘”tinkering” with the educational system when in fact I would approach it with a flame thrower and rebuild it as it once was. You make the same case, albeit in nicer terms. But I’m an old troglodyte, so one doesn’t expect “warm & fuzzy” from me. 

    In a sense, controlling the terms of the debate is at the core of all this, and   to do that you need todefine those terms. If I understand your comments correctly, that is what you propose.

    Thanks, Devereaux.  You do set up the challenge: How do we influence terms of the debate and at the same time deal with so much institutionalized, entrenched changing of and re-defining of the culture?

  19. Indaba

    Rather than being permitted to appreciate that America, at its best, unleashes human potential and champions human rights, students are asked to identify their “cultural roots,” the implication being that any “roots” worth having are non-American ones.

    Agreed. As an immigrant myself, the last thing I wanted to do at high school is talk about my homeland. 

    Also, the American businesses in Zambia and Africa were shining lights on how to treat workers, how to do business and how to be part of a community.  

  20. RightinChicago

    I must point out, that we only got a Renaissance after a long period of the Dark and Middle Ages. If the U.S. is analagous to Rome, then first the U.S. must perish and plunge the world into barbarity before we can have a Renaissance. I truly fear that this is the only way. Republics all self-imolate.

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