03 November 2008

Fear the government which fears your mind, as well as your guns

“This probably has more to do with our economic future than anything. We’ve got to get our education system right.” -- Barak Obama
There used to be a bumper sticker which said something like, “Fear the government which fears your guns.” (Perhaps it’s still out there somewhere, but I’ve not seen it in a long, long time.) To some, the sentiment expressed by the bumper sticker is extreme, as if the only reason a government would want a disarmed citizenry is to perpetrate some evil which is possible only if the citizens are unarmed and incapable of protecting themselves. Naturally, the people who disapprove of this sentiment are smarter than everyone else, meaning that the people displaying these bumper stickers on the cars are uneducated, stupid rednecks. We don’t need an armed citizenry because, unlike the nation at its founding, we have a standing army. (As if the presence of a standing army isn’t enough of a reason for an armed citizenry!)

Actually, those uneducated rednecks have managed to grasp something that one of the characters in Plato’s dialog, Laws, recognized. At a point in the dialog, discussion turns to the need for a state to be always prepared for its defense. On the The Athenian's view, every citizen must be armed and trained for battle, competent to fight. He identifies two reasons why many states do not truly satisfy this need (except perhaps for the Spartans, with whom, however, he finds other faults). The first reason is simply that too many people in too many states desire a life of personal peace and affluence, not conflict and the perpetual training and preparation for it. The life of perpetual training for combat is not very luxurious, to say the least!

There is a second cause, and that is the nature of the polities involved. They are polities in which the governing class have a vested interest in not having the entire citizenry armed and trained for war. Indeed, such a citizenry is the last thing the governing class truly want.

There lies a cause...in...democracy, oligarchy, and tyranny. For none of these is a [true] polity, but the truest name for them all would be “faction-State”; for none of them is a form of voluntary rule over willing subjects, but a voluntary rule over unwilling subjects accompanied always by some kind of force; and the ruler, through fear of the subject, will never voluntarily allow him to become noble or wealthy or strong or brave or in any way warlike. – (Laws, 832b – d)
Take special note of that last phrase: “…or in any way warlike.” An alternative translation of the Greek could be – and perhaps should be: “…or able to fight.” Take note also of the three polities which The Athenian considers non-polities: democracy, oligarchy, and tyranny. He faults these systems because they result in two classes with respect to governing power: those with it, and those without it. And those with it have a tendency to subject those without to various deprivations. These "non-polities" do not involve a real consent of the governed, leaving open the possibility of armed rebellion against the governing class, or, if not armed rebellion, at the very least a successful intellectual resistance to its claims.

Cutting to the chase, the simple fact of the matter is this: you have only those things – rights, property, whatever – which you can successfully defend by force. Those non-polities The Athenian speaks of want freedom to take whatever actions they desire without opposition. The Few rule over The Many. Being numerically out-numbered, The Few understand that The Many must be disarmed and, in every other way, unable to fight against their rulers.

But I’m not interested in arms alone. Those who have studied the martial arts know that the supreme weapon is not the hand or the foot, the knife or the sword. The supreme weapon is the mind. It’s one thing to have hands and feet, knives and swords (or fire arms); it’s another thing to know how to use them in a disciplined and efficient manner. Every engagement is a battle of wits.

It’s a well known fact that this nation’s public education system stinks. Each campaign season candidates of the two major parties make promises to fix the education crisis. Every fix, of course, still involves leaving the not-so-federal government in de facto charge of every school district in the states. If, however, The Athenian is correct and the governing class doesn’t want people to be capable of fighting, then that class, in addition to keeping the citizenry incapable of fighting must disarm them totally. It is not enough only that they have no arms; they must also be deprived of that supreme weapon: a mind equal to the task of intellectual resistance, ignorant of certain truths, but knowledgable of certain other "truths." Clearly, this means the (benevolent!) rulers must see to the educational needs of the people. Of course, by "educational needs" they always mean the sort of education one needs not in order to be free, but in order to be employable. In other words, education in the public schools is about nothing more than being able to have a good job someday. It's an education, in other -- and blunt -- terms, more fitting for slaves than for free men, rather than the other way around.


One who follows education and politics begins to wonder: Perhaps, despite promises of help to fix our broken (public) education system, the system works exactly the way (Big Government) liberals (to a greater extent) and (Big Government) conservatives (to a lesser extent) really want it to work. Certainly it's a possibility. (I'm trying to re-locate an article I read years ago in which, if I recall correctly, Gloria Steinem, commenting on education, said something very much like, "Johnny may not be able to read when he graduates, but neither will he still believe in God.")

I'm often reminded, when thinking about the size and scope of the national government, of something my professor of ancient history said, commenting on the fall of the Roman republic: One cannot rule an empire with a republican form of government.

Indeed. And an empire dare not permit its citizenry a "republican" education, any more than it can permit those citizens to be armed and trained to resist encroachments upon their liberties. Too bloody dangerous. Leave the fighting to the Big Government's standing (national) army, and the thinking to its bureaucrats.

Reminds me of something Thomas Hobbes said (in Leviathan, I think): He didn't think young people should receive a classical education because it might give them strange ideas about liberty. Modern educrats have extended that thinking exponentially: no one is to receive such an education (which is as much as to say, no one shall be truly educated) lest they all get strange ideas about liberty. As a recipient of such an education (at my own dear mother's feet) I can attest: neither Big Government liberals nor Big Government conservatives really want you to have the sort of strange notions of liberty and government power that you'd get from such an education.

One more thing: The South was right.

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James Frank Solís
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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