Editor’s Note: This is a reprint of a brilliant editorial written by former Editor-in-Chief John Carney in May 1997.
Steal away and stay away : Education in a closing world once called free
Coming out is all the rage. Postmodernism, a fancy word for life at the close of the century, might even be defined as the cult of coming out, whether in the philosophy of Nietzsche, in the endless babble of talk television or in the Sappho confessions of sometime comedian Ellen DeGeneres. We hurdle toward the millennium with a warped confessional ideology that dictates we detail our every past romantic encounter to every future romantic en-counter in the name of physiological health, and admit to our inevitable victimization for the sake of psychological health. Who isn’t either abused or an abuser these days? We are consoled by the proposition that all men and women are created dysfunctional. Our guilt dissolves in the widening pool of fellow degenerates. Petty infidelities, white lies, small thefts, and everyday dishonesties disappear when mixed with vices of our neighbors and their neighbors and their neighbors. Our national motto has become: I cheated two friends, and they cheated two friends, and they cheated two friends. None of which is very shocking, confirming the age old saying that there is no honor among thieves.
In another era we might have sensed that the rising tide was becoming a flood. A university priding itself on “inclusion” while driving out all dissent would have been labeled hypocrisy. The ways of sin and error now declared rights by our ruling elite might, at the very least, elicit pro-tests from the more balanced intellectuals. Envy, the desire of the shiftless to gain at the expense of the productive, would not be celebrated as a moral virtue by our leaders. We would recognize the cruelty of a coarsened culture that cares nothing for the voiceless, the powerless, the helpless. I see a bad tide rising at Binghamton University. Trouble is not only on the way, it is here. Liberal education, education into civilization, is all but gone. In its place is multicultural education, education against civilization. Multiculturalism has declared open season on our inherited wisdom, pro-claiming its obvious dedication to anti-American politics as a virtue. In this mixed-up world bias is neutrality, while objective is tyranny. John Gardner once described this as the theory that life it-self was “sin and error.” We should all be trembling at the threat.
We have known the danger of miseducation since Plato, who railed against instructing the young in the ways of the wicked in his Republic. H.L. Mencken wore out his copies of Nietzsche, translating them from German in such a way as to draw out the terrible implications of foolish and kooky education. Albert Jay Nock counseled against one response to this education: a constant preaching to the mob would never prevail. As the flood-tide rises, Noah must board the boat without his neighbors. “We’re always too much out or too much in,” Robert Frost told the graduating class at Columbia some sixty or so years ago. Our education reaches out to the far corners of the world, but somehow misses the work of Confucius or the great Muslim philosophers. Instead we are asked to become internationals, even before we have be-come nationals. The situation mirrors the break-up of the family, which springs from our inability to become interpersonal because we have lost our grip on the personal. When everything is in the state Frost called “cosmical dilation”—which is to say, when we’re all out and loud and proud—well, then, “We’re so much out that the odds are against/ Our ever getting inside again.” We’ve become latchkey kids who have lost the keys to our own lives, our own country, our own civilization. The effort to make good neighbors by tear-ing down the fences has instead created an isolated, alienated, disaffected generation whose connection with its heritage is almost entirely severed.
While Faulkner could write that in the South of the early twentieth century the past was not dead, in fact it wasn’t even past, a honest writer of these times would say that the past has been aborted. My years as a conservative student will come to a close before the month is done. Not a week has passed since I left home that someone has not said that the only choice facing young rightists is to turn away from our love and loyalty to the virtues of faith, hope and charity, in favor of a newer and more popular dogma. Join the debate on its contemporary terms; find relevancy; gain credibility: thus spake Noah’s neighbors as the flood tide rose.
I propose a different course. “We’re too unseparate out among each other,” Frost wrote. “Steal away and stay away.” Those making haste, joining the latest revolution, haste on the latest dissolution. We need not despise them, but we need not join them. I bid you to a revolt against revolt. The magazine is, first and foremost, a place where corrup-tion is not mandatory, where young conservatives can gather and form the sort of friendships that are becoming nearly impossible in the lives of persons and nations pied. It comes down to what W.B. Yeats wrote of Jonathan Swift: our cause is human liberty.