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The Failure of the Republican “Revolution,” Part 5


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It would be difficult to find a better example of socialist central planning than public schooling. The system is run by a board of government officials, whether at the local, state, or national level. Funding is through taxation — everyone, even those who don’t have children, are forced, on pain of fine and imprisonment, to finance the system.

Attendance is mandatory (even home-schoolers must secure government approval of their study program). If a parent fails to send his child to a government-approved institution (i.e., public schools), state officials will arrest him, imprison him, and take his child from him. If he resists punishment, the state officials will kill him, as the late John Singer discovered many years ago in Utah.

The school curriculum and the textbooks are set forth by government officials. Schoolteachers must be government approved, as well. While a teacher might deviate slightly from the approved texts and curricula, he does so at his own risk. For if he regularly teaches his students a nonapproved doctrine, he is subject to being summoned to the principal’s office to justify his behavior. For example, without doing an extensive study on the issue, we can rest assured that there is not one single public school in America teaching a course on libertarianism.

For the greater part of the 20th century, public schooling has been the hallmark of societies in the former Soviet Union, Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, communist China . . . and, of course, the United States. It always shocks Americans who attended public schools to learn that public schooling was one of the ten planks of Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto.

It is virtually impossible to find anyone — even the most ardent supporters of public schooling — who argue that the system has been a success. The best evidence of failure — at least insofar as education is concerned — is reflected by the increasing number of government officials, including public-school teachers, who send their children to private schools.

But has public schooling truly been a failure? Actually, no. In fact, it has been one of the most successful socialistic experiments in history. Why? Because since the inception, the primary purpose of public schooling has never been to instill a love of education in the student. Instead, as Sheldon Richman documents so well in his book Separating School & State , the main goal of public schooling has been to mold the minds of people, especially in their most formative years, so that they become “good little citizens” of the state.

It is not a coincidence that the overwhelming number of Americans support America’s welfare state and regulated economy. And it also not a coincidence that they view this way of life as “freedom.” From the first grade and continuously thereafter, students are taught that life in America is “free enterprise” and that such programs and interventions as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and economic regulations (all of which originated with the German socialists and Italian fascists) saved America’s free-enterprise system.

The fact that most Americans honestly believe that public schooling has always existed in the U.S. is itself a testament to the success of public schooling. Americans have no idea that our American ancestors rejected public schooling for over 125 years. In fact, even though American public schooling originated in Massachusetts in the 1850s, it did not become firmly entrenched as a system in the U.S. until the early 1900s. Education was left to the free market, because our ancestors, unlike present-day Americans, truly believed in the free market. And they didn’t trust the state — not even when state officials were democratically elected. Throughout the 19th century, families assumed responsibility for the education of their children, and the market provided the educational vehicles that the parents, as consumers, demanded.

The result was the most educated and literate people in history. While it is difficult to compare and measure the education of different people (since education is so subjective), there is no doubt that the average American of the 19th century was much more educated and literate than the average present-day American. As an example, recall the series on the Civil War that was presented on PBS a few years ago. Do you remember the remarkable prose in the letters sent home by the average soldier? Try finding that degree of literacy in the average American today.

The advent of public schooling was one of the most revolutionary events in American history. It is impossible to understate its significance. This nation was founded on the idea that the individual in society was sovereign and supreme. Children belonged to their families, who assumed responsibility for their upbringing and education.

With public schooling, the relationship was dramatically changed. State officials assumed the power to order parents to deliver their children to a state-approved institution to have their minds molded by government-approved teachers using government-approved textbooks.

In the ultimate analysis, children no longer belong to the family; they belong to the state, which permits the children to spend evenings and summers with their parents. Final power and control lie with government officials, not with parents or families.

The success of this revolutionary aspect of 20th-century American life helps to explain the reasons for the failure of the Republican “revolution.” Republicans and conservatives are the very model of the public-school success story. For one can look long and hard, but he will never find a better example of the good little citizen than in Republicans and conservatives.

In a free society, conservatives perform a valuable function — they help to conserve liberty. But when the society is unfree, conservatives become an integral part of the problem. Evidencing a terrifying fear of change, even toward freedom, they fight to conserve the status quo. And they do so as good little citizens who believe in “America’s free-enterprise system.”

Attend any Republican gathering. The first thing they do is stand and recite the Pledge of Allegiance, just like they joyfully did every day for twelve long years in their public schools. Never mind that the Pledge of Allegiance was written by a socialist in the 20th century. Never mind that our ancestors rejected loyalty oaths to the state. This is what good little citizens of the state are supposed to do — pledge allegiance. And Republicans do it with happiness, pride, and glee.

You will then hear all kinds of libertarian platitudes. “We believe in individual freedom — free enterprise — private property — free markets — limited government,” the Republicans proudly proclaim. “We believe in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.”

Yes, the general rhetoric always sounds great. But then come the specifics. And that’s why many conservatives and Republicans dislike libertarians. We expose their life of the lie by turning to the specifics.

The libertarian : “If you believe that an individual should be free to live his life the way he wants as long as he doesn’t inflict violence on another, then do you now favor drug legalization?”

The conservative : “Oh, no! We have to have drug laws to keep people from doing bad things to themselves.”

The libertarian : “Do you favor the end of socialism in education — a return of education to families and the free market?”

The conservative : “Oh, no! Parents cannot be trusted with the educational decisions of their children. And, anyway, where would the poor get their education?”

The libertarian : “Do you favor the end of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid?”

The conservative : “Oh, no! People would starve to death and die of disease if the state did not force people to participate in these systems.”

The libertarian : “Do you favor the end of all welfare programs, including those to the rich and the middle class?”

The conservative : “Oh, no! Americans would never help out their neighbor on a voluntary basis. We need the IRS, HUD, HHS, and other state agencies to ensure that needy people are assisted.”

If you want to see a Republican or conservative gnash his teeth and angrily glare at you, ask him this: “You suggest that if drugs were legalized, Americans would immediately go out and get on drugs. If public schooling were repealed, Americans wouldn’t educate their children. If welfare-state programs were abolished, Americans wouldn’t help their neighbor. But why? After all, didn’t all these irresponsible, selfish, uncaring Americans attend public schools? And if that’s the type of people public schools produce, why do we want to do it again with another generation?”

Conservatives and Republicans hate libertarians because they know that libertarians are fighting to restore freedom, while the former are fighting to protect the status quo under the guise of freedom. The difference between a conservative gathering and a libertarian gathering can be summed up quite easily as follows: Conservatives proclaim, “We need to keep America free”; libertarians proclaim, “We need to make America free.”

Another evidence of the good little citizen that marks conservatives and Republicans is their abhorrence to the idea of civil disobedience. The conservative has the mind-set of obedience. “The law is the law. If you don’t like it, work within the system to get it changed. But to knowingly disobey the law is bad. Rules are rules.” Thus, the good little citizen, in the eyes of the conservative, is the one who willingly obeys the orders, even if he might grumble about them. The bad citizen is the one who disobeys the law, even out of conscience.

Recall the Vietnam War. There were those who opposed the draft or the war and, yet, still obeyed conscription orders. To this day, those individuals are viewed by conservatives as heroes — good little citizens who obeyed the law, even though they believed it to be wrong. And what about those who burned their draft cards because they believed, as Daniel Webster and our American ancestors, that conscription was evil and immoral and violated the most fundamental principles of liberty? In the eyes of conservatives, they were bad citizens — traitors — for not going along with the orders.

It is this allegiance to existing rules and regulations — to the preservation of the status quo — that has made conservatives throughout history one of the major allies of tyrannical governments. In Russia today, it is the conservatives who are pledged to maintaining the socialist welfare-state edifice, even though, like American conservatives, they now call for “reform.” In Nazi Germany, it was the conservatives who said: “You may disagree with the laws regulating the conduct of the Jews. But the law is the law. And it must be obeyed until it’s changed.”

It is this ardent devotion to “order,” to the preservation of the status quo, to the love of control under the name of freedom, to the life of the lie — all of which public schooling helped to produce — that underlies the failure of the Republican “revolution.”

Public schooling was a monumental event in American history. It set the groundwork and formulated the mind-set that explains the acceptance of the enormous revolution that took place in the 1930s — the advent of the American welfare state — the Roosevelt revolution that brought the final break with America’s heritage of economic liberty.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9

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    Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.