Reverse-Gentrification of the Literary World

Akashic Books

||| |||

Catalog » Browse by Title: J » John Adams’s A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America » Excerpt from the Introduction by Neal Pollack

John Adams’s A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America

By: and

Acclaimed novelist and satirist Neal Pollack analyzes and dissects selected early writings by Founding Father John Adams.

$9.95 $7.46

Excerpt from the Introduction by Neal Pollack

Upon John Quincy Adams’s commencement of studies where all future Presidents get their start—at the University of Leyden, in Holland—his father, John Adams, gave him some advice. According to David McCullough’s Adams biography, your one-stop shopping source for all things John Adams, it was a paternal imperative that John Quincy attend all lectures possible in law, medicine, chemistry, and philosophy. As a starter kit, Adams the elder sent his son several volumes of Alexander Pope and an edition of Terence, his favorite Roman author, in both Latin and French, saying that Terence is “remarkable, for good morals, good taste, and good Latin . . . His language has simplicity and elegance that make him proper to be accurately studied as a model.”

For those parents among us who think they’re educating their children well, I offer the relationship of John Adams and John Quincy Adams as comparison. We should all hide our Montessori blocks, after-school French lessons, and Boy’s State scholarship applications in shame. And multiply by ten everything you’ve read, since many 18th-century universities presented their lectures exclusively in Latin. John Quincy Adams went to college, in a foreign country, at age thirteen.

Imagine John Adams’s rage, then, when horror of horrors, he discovered that his son’s course of study didn’t include Cicero and Demosthenes. He insisted that John Quincy begin an independent course of study at once, while also encouraging him to learn the “fine arts” of ice-skating, riding, fencing, and dancing. “Everything in life should be done with reflection,” said the wise father. And he had some more practical New England advice:

Read somewhat in the English poets every day. You will find them elegant, entertaining, and constructive companions through your whole life . . . You will never be alone with a poet in your pocket. You will never have an idle hour.

Given the hygiene and general manners of my poetic acquaintances, I find the idea of a poet in my pocket quite unappealing. But Adams’s sentiment is eternal and untouchable. What possible equivalent, in today’s educationally diminished age of standardized testing, forged term papers, and ideologically charged culture wars, could there possibly be? “Son, the sum total of a man is his performance on the AP Geography exam.” “You should major in something useful, like Economics or Business.” “The literary canon is the product of centuries of white male patriarchy. Read Maxine Hong Kingston and Alice Walker instead.” The gravitas just isn’t there.

“You will ever remember,” said John Adams in a letter to his young son, “that all the end of study is to make you a good man and a useful citizen.” I hope someone can immediately produce forensic evidence to prove me wrong, but it seems unlikely that letters like that get written anymore.

John Adams (elder) was born the son of a commonplace New England farmer, to a family of values so straightforward and simple that, as an Adams family member wrote, “A hat would descend from father to son, and for fifty years make its regular appearance at a meeting.” Yet stinky hat notwithstanding, Adams rose to the heights of history, and he did so in large part because of his education.

Forgive my potted history of the Enlightenment here, but I shall do my best. The second half of the 1700s was a golden time when most intellectuals shared the belief that the power of reason could lead to human perfectibility. Observation and experience became the building blocks for moral values, scientific inquiry, and the construction of nation-states. The Bible and Greek philosophy were to be studied, but not followed as dogma, and the religious trend of the day was Deism, a belief in an all-seeing God. Theology was anathema, and the “Church,” in all its forms, the root of evil, since it corrupted the free exercise of reason.

Those were the days of Voltaire and Franklin, Jefferson and Diderot, Locke and Hume, and a wild all-night club scene. The Enlightenment was cosmopolitan and antinationalistic. The publication of books and newspapers, combined with changes in technology, exploded under Enlightenment influence. It became fashionable, and, I’m sure, hilarious, for the upper classes to perform scientific experiments of their own at home. While the era waned, for good reason, after Marie Antoinette’s head hit the ground in the Bastille, its influence paved the way for modern political and economic liberalism, humanitarian reform, and a belief in the necessity of progress. Then there was a little thing called the American Revolution.

I’m not the first, or even the 8,000th person to say that our Founding Fathers forged the Revolution through Enlightenment ideals and established the nation while adhering to those ideals with remarkable consistency. America as they conceived it would be the ultimate laboratory of human perfectibility, with reasoned knowledge the key to citizenship in this glowing country on the hill. At this point, I’m sure you see that this essay can’t possibly reach a happy conclusion. But allow me to talk about John Adams a little more before we get to the depressing bits.

Throughout his public career, Adams was dogged by the accusation that he was, in his heart, a secret monarchist. There’s much empirical evidence, some of it from the practical New England workhorse’s mouth, to show this as the truth. Adams, while on a seemingly endless diplomatic mission to France, found himself entranced by Paris under the Sun King, and he expressed little but revulsion at the Jacobins who overthrew him. He believed that Americans had the right to self-govern, but could never bring himself to hate George III, or even blame the excesses of colonial rule on him. He also, it should be remembered, defended the British soldiers who perpetrated the Boston Massacre, not only because he felt they had a right to fair trial, but also because he believed the mob was equally at fault. John Adams was no friend of the mythical common man.

Thus we arrive at John Adams’s A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, several vital excerpts of which are included in this volume. Adams’s 1787 Defence was a rebuttal to French economist Turgot’s critique of the direction of the budding American government. Penned just as the American experiment began to take physical form, Adams here makes his most important contribution to our system of government. He proposes a bicameral legislature, and does so, I might add, at considerable cost to his personal and political reputation. His “defence” concedes, as few politicians then could or now can, that society, by its very nature, creates class differences:

Wherever we have seen a territory somewhat larger, arts and sciences more cultivated, commerce flourishing, or even agriculture improved to any great degree, an aristocracy has risen up in a course of time, consisting of a few rich and honourable families, who have united with each other against both the people and the first magistrate; who have wrested from the former, by art and by force, all their participation in the government; and have even inspired them with so mean an esteem of themselves, and so deep a veneration and strong attachment to their rulers, as to believe and confess them a superior order of beings.

Adams thought that a philosopher king and his philosopher court, a council of wise persons, as it were, should be the true rulers of a free country. It’s important to note, too, that he places “art,” “science,” and “force” in equal stature. Guns alone cannot rule a country, and only knowledge will liberate us from our earthly chains.

But just when you think that Adams is public snob number one, he throws a slider: “Shall we conclude, from these melancholy observations, that human nature is incapable of liberty, that no honest equality can be preserved in society, and that such forcible causes are always at work as must reduce all men to a submission to despotism, monarchy, oligarchy, or aristocracy? By no means.”

Adams realized that a land ruled only by the elite would necessarily be shaped to meet the needs of that elite alone. America would be made great not because of its leaders, but because the leaders had established a social framework where citizens were free to own property, where trial by jury was a God-given right, and where a totally free press operated without fear of government reprisal. Still, and here’s where Adams could be complicated and exasperating, the aristocracy was better, intrinsically, than the mass. We must be honest, he said:

What are we to understand here by equality? Are the citizens to be all of the same age, sex, size, strength, stature, activity, courage, hardiness, industry, patience, ingenuity, wealth, knowledge, fame, wit, temperance, constancy, and wisdom? Was there, or will there ever be, a nation, whose individuals were all equal, in natural and acquired qualities, in virtues, talents, and riches? The answer of all mankind must be in the negative.—It must then be acknowledged, that in every state, in the Massachusetts, for example, there are inequalities which God and nature have planted there, and which no human legislator ever can eradicate.

If a politician, or even pundit, were to say that in today’s America, they’d be rhetorically tarred and feathered. Why, this is America, the land of opportunity, where all men are created equal. We don’t like our politicians to be rich, even though most of them are. So we’d rather have them pretend to be “one of us.”

Bosh, Adams said:

There is an inequality of wealth; some individuals, whether by descent from their ancestors, or from greater skill, industry, and success in business, have estates both in lands and goods of great value; others have no property at all; and of all the rest of society, much the greater number are possessed of wealth, in all the variety of degrees between these extremes; it will easily be conceived that all the rich men will have many of the poor, in the various trades, manufactures, and other occupations in life, dependent upon them for their daily bread: many of smaller fortunes will be in their debt, and in many ways under obligations to them: others, in better circumstances, neither dependent nor in debt, men of letters, men of the learned professions, and others, from acquaintance, conversation, and civilities, will be connected with them and attached to them.

In other words, four semicolons later, some people are rich, some people are poor, and that’s the way of the world. Even more scabrously, Adams dared postulate that not all people are born equal. “The children of illustrious families,” he wrote,

have generally greater advantages of education, and earlier opportunities to be acquainted with public characters, and informed of public affairs, than those of meaner ones, or even than those in middle life; and what is more than all, an habitual national veneration for their names, and the characters of their ancestors described in history, or coming down by tradition, removes them farther from vulgar jealousy and popular envy, and secures them in some degree the favor, the affection, and respect of the public.

Well, I guess that explains Gore Vidal, but what about those of us who are born a son of a simple farmer, or, say, a mid-level insurance executive, or a failed minor-league baseball player? The answer, as Adams so often wrote, lies in education. “We cannot presume,” he says,

that a man is good or bad, merely because his father was one or the other; and we should always inform ourselves first, whether the virtues and talents are inherited, before we yield our confidence. Wise men beget fools, and honest men knaves; but these instances, although they may be frequent, are not general. If there is often a likeness in feature and figure, there is generally more in mind and heart, because education contributes to the formation of these as well as nature.

The idea of equal access to education, to the great intellectual advancements of the Enlightenment, to reasoned inquiry, is at the core of all Adams’s writing, and indeed was the intellectual core of this country’s founding. Without it, the specter of tyranny begins to cast its shadow. I quote at length here, for almost the last time:

We have seen, both by reasoning and in experience, what kind of equality is to be found or expected in the simplest people in the world. There is not a city nor a village, any more than a kingdom or a commonwealth, in Europe or America; not a horde, clan, or tribe, among the negroes of Africa, or the savages of North or South America; nor a private club in the world, in which inequalities are not more or less visible . . . But, as long as human nature shall have passions and imagination, there is too much reason to fear that these advantages, in many instances, will have more influence than reason and equity can justify.

Because of John Adams’s reasoned inquiry into the nature of humankind and the nature of human government, we have the separation of the executive branch of government from the legislative, and the separation of the House of Representatives from the Senate. In one chamber, you have the council of wise elders. In the other, officials truly elected from among the people. Through the electoral mechanisms of the House, more people are allowed to join the governing elite. To Adams’s mind, though, the diversification of political power is equal, if not secondary, to the fact that new segments of society get to know the pleasures of learning.

The most striking thing about the Defence, and about Adams’s writing in general, is his extreme sensitivity to moral duty. The state is morally obligated to its citizens, and vice versa. Children are morally obligated to their parents. In fact, Adams even writes that if the Ten Commandments themselves were law, nations would have a “civil right” to repeal them. The one exception to that is the Fifth Commandment. Honoring your father and mother, to Adams, transcends law.

All parents love their children, he says. The “sentiments and affections” of family life “naturally arise.” Yet being from a “good” family doesn’t necessarily make one a good person. He quotes an “orator” as saying, “I cannot know whether a child of five years old will be a son of liberty or a tyrant.”

A high upbringing was important to Adams. In many ways, he was indeed a snob. Almost to a fault, he preferred the company of people of “taste.” But he also saw that an aristocracy rots from within. Under a government ruled by noblesse oblige, it could be a quick slide from an Octavius to a Caligula. God would bless the leaders of the nation, but the people would choose them. To quote:

. . . it has pleased the Author of Nature to mingle, from time to time, among the societies of men a few, and but a few of those on whom he has been graciously pleased to confer a larger proportion of the ethereal spirit, than in the ordinary course of his providence he bestows on the sons of men. These are they who engross almost the whole reason of the species. Born to direct, to guide, and to preserve, if they retire from the world their splendor accompanies them, and enlightens even the darkness of their retreat.

If America was to be a special country, these men (Adams could not have forseen Hillary Clinton or . . . I’m trying to think of a powerful Republican woman. It’ll come to me. OK. Christine Todd Whitman) would have to be able to come from anywhere. Even Arkansas. Even Plains, Georgia. And I’ll throw the other team another bone here: even a small town in Illinois. In Adams’s ideal America, greatness would rise from unsuspected places.

Adams also wrote the state Constitution of Massachusetts, and in it included a section, which, as David McCullough writes, “was like no other declaration to be found in any constitution ever written until then, or since.” It’s called “The Encouragement Of Literature, Etc.,” and I ask permission to quote one final time, because I believe no more profound words have ever been written about what America, in its ideal state, should be.

“Wisdom and knowledge,” Adams wrote,

as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties; and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in various parts of the country, and among the different orders of the people, it shall be the duty of legislators and magistrates in all future periods of this commonwealth to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them, especially the university at Cambridge, public schools, and grammar schools in the towns; to encourage private societies and public institutions, rewards and immunities, for the promotion of agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufactures, and a natural history of the country; to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in their dealings, sincerity, good humor, and all social affections, and generous sentiments among the people.

I fear that today the man who wrote those words is turning uncomfortably in his unmarked grave.

An outrageous statement: Americans are currently living through the beginning of the age of De-Enlightenment. For those of us who are ostensibly enlightened, this might be difficult to see. History doesn’t always move like a rocket. Intellectual changes aren’t as easily charted as geopolitical ones. Yet science and reason are beating a retreat into tighter and tighter corners of an increasingly anti-intellectual republic, and are gradually being supplanted by superstition and paranoia masquerading as patriotism. It’s gradual, but it’s happening. One could even argue, with sufficient evidence, that our current government is waging a quiet war on science and history. If the De-Enlightenment was merely about political corruption in the Bush Administration, it could and will be easily corrected. But the Administration is merely a powerful offshoot of larger forces. Bush will be gone eventually. It won’t be so easy to stop the deterioration of the American mind.

I run the danger here of sounding like a paranoid lefty version of Allan Bloom, whose book, The Closing of the American Mind, was quite influential in its day nearly twenty years ago, but now seems like a quaint document of a bygone culture war. Bloom’s book was largely a conservative ploy to keep African-history seminars out of college curriculums and to stop professors from telling their students that E.M. Forster was gay. If John Adams were alive today, I believe he’d casually ignore gender studies and media studies and four-month courses on the semiotics of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and subtly encourage adding the speeches of Nelson Mandela to various reading lists. He’d howl in eternal protest, however, at the roaring tide of fundamentalist religious education that threatens to forever wipe sanity off our national register.

According to an ABC News poll from February 2004, sixty percent of Americans believe that stories in the Bible are literally true, meaning, “It happened that way word for word.” Sixty-four percent literally believe that Moses parted the Red Sea. Sixty percent believe that Noah literally loaded an ark with two of every kind of animal in existence before a great flood enveloped the Earth. Most frighteningly, sixty-one percent of Americans believe that God literally created the world in seven days.

How did we get to this place? How did America become a country where more than three out of every five people you sit next to on the bus don’t believe in evolution? How did American eighth-graders, in a comprehensive international 1999 study of scientific aptitude, finish nineteenth among all the world’s nations, behind such giants of wealth and progress as Slovenia, Bulgaria, and the Russian Federation? Admittedly, we beat Italy, Romania, and Iran, among many others, but that’s not exactly a point of pride. Hungary finished third, for heaven’s sake! This poll was taken five years ago. It’s almost certain that the numbers have declined since then. In May 2004, the National Science Foundation reported that twenty-four nations in 2000 awarded a higher percentage of science and engineering degrees to students than the United States. The United States awarded 5.7 science degrees per 100 twenty-four-year-olds, compared with a ratio of 13.2 to 100 in Finland, which awarded the highest proportion. Science and reason lose more territory in America every day.

We continue in Cobb County, Georgia, where in September 2002, the school board voted to allow the teaching of “alternative views” about the origin of species in their classrooms. The most prominent “alternative view” is something called “intelligent design,” a theory promoted by the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based nonprofit think tank. On its website, the Institute states that its theories have no basis in creationism or biblical text. But that’s fudging the matter a bit. Intelligent designers claim that natural change is the product of a “universal organizing intelligence,” rather than, as traditional Darwinists hold, the product of random chance and natural mechanical laws.

All this would add up to an interesting intellectual debate if America wasn’t plagued with media-savvy fundamentalists who are willing to use any excuse to insert their doctrine into public discourse. Rather than decry the Cobb County vote, the first sortie in an Anschluss of ignorance, the state of Georgia tried to expand the program. In January 2004, the state science commission announced new science teaching guidelines that would omit the word “evolution” entirely. It would now be called “biological changes over time,” an unspecific euphemism that could also refer to puberty, or composting. After months of furious debate and protests from Republican and Democratic state legislators alike, the evolutionists carried the day. Georgia adopted a revised science core curriculum that removed all references to “intelligent design” and “alternative” theories of evolution from classroom materials. In addition, five parents have sued the state, demanding that warning stickers about evolution be removed from science textbooks. The warning reads: “Evolution is a theory, not a fact, regarding the origin of living things. This material should be approached with an open mind, studied carefully and critically considered.” Let’s hope they get a sympathetic judge.

But that’s just a bunch of ignorant hicks in Georgia, right? Well, in 2004, Ohio’s state board of education approved a lesson plan called, “A Critical Analysis of Evolution.” In April 2004, the school board in Darby, Montana, voted to require science teachers to assess evidence “for and against” evolution. The Alabama House of Representatives recently expanded its “Academic Freedom Act” to include teachers who wish to cover “scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views concerning biological or physical origins.” Against the wishes of parents, the school board in Roseville, California, under pressure from a local creationism activist, now allows its libraries to carry anti-evolution books.

This trend reached its highest temperature so far in December 2003, when the Missouri House of Representatives introduced a bill that said, “If scientific theory concerning biological origin is taught, biological evolution and biological intelligent design shall be taught and given equal treatment.” It also stipulated that new textbooks abide by requirements of the law, that every classroom in the state must post a copy of the law on the wall, and that “willful neglect of any elementary or secondary school superintendent, principal, or teacher to observe and carry out the requirements of this section shall be cause for termination of his or her contract.” In other words, if you teach evolution, you’re fired. The bill hasn’t passed as of this writing, but someday, somewhere in this country, a bill like it will.

This trend has found its way into national policy. A basically unreported aspect of President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” law is that it specifically encourages schools, through an amendment introduced by Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, to present “a full range of scientific views” on various science topics, “such as biological evolution.” To repeat: That language exists in a major federal law in this country, which was founded on the bedrock principle of separation of church and state and on an unshakable belief in science and reason.

Our public schools have been failing for decades, and some very strange ideas are being used to prop them up. The No Child Left Behind Act has specific provisions calling for “faith-based” education, which is one of the bulwarks of the Bush Presidency. “We’ve created these offices,” Bush said in a July 2003 speech, “whose sole function it is to, one, recognize the power of faith and, two, recognize there are fantastic programs all throughout the country on a variety of subjects, all based upon faith, all changing lives, all making American life better, and therefore, folks would be enlisted in making sure the American dream extends throughout our society.”

Warnings about obliterating the separation of church and state aside, few people would be worried if faith-based education merely brought about some after-school math tutoring at neighborhood churches. But there are definitely other agendas at work. In an April 2003 interview with the Baptist Press wire service, which I’m sure he now regrets, Secretary of Education Rod Paige said he believes that children fare better in schools with a “strong appreciation for the values of the Christian community, where a child is taught to have strong faith.” He went on to say that “in a religious environment the value system is set. That’s not the case in a public school, where there are so many different kids with different kinds of values.”

If Rod Paige wants to educate his children in a Christian school with Christian values, that’s his right. If he wants to say that Christian schools teach good values, there are many people of all religious backgrounds who’d agree with him. But that’s not what he’s saying. Our leading public-education official advocates a “set” “value system” that exists in opposition to “public school,” which promotes “different kinds of values.” This is not a rhetorical slip. This is increasingly the dominant educational doctrine of our time.

The full effect of this trend might not manifest itself for some time. But you can see its “values” starting to seep into all manner of curriculum. Evolution is currently being flogged. We also have federal “abstinence” education, which, among other things, offers cash bonuses to schools that teach “a monogamous relationship within the context of marriage” as the standard of human sexuality and prohibit teaching about contraception.

It gets even more sinister. A high school teacher in Presque Isle, Maine, was recently placed on administrative leave because he protested a new history curriculum that mandated he place emphasis on the evolution of “Christian civilization.” The curriculum specifically stated that he wasn’t allowed to talk about the influence of Jewish, Islamic, and Asian cultures and religions on the development of European culture. He was also banned from teaching about ancient Greece, which wasn’t a “Christian” civilization. Such nonsense has long been de rigeur in fundamentalist Christian schools, whose textbooks, according to a study by the group Americans for Religious Liberty, include choice statements like, “The Indian culture typified heathen civilization, lost in darkness without light of the gospel,” and, “The Bible does not specifically condemn slavery.”

Vile as those sentiments may be, they’ve typically been applied in private academies, and deserve protection under the U.S. Constitution. Many Christian educational critics argue that our public schools have become mushy with multiculturalism, excessive concern with students’ self-esteem, and an unwillingness to teach toward any goal but increasing standardized test scores. They have a point. A John Adams of today would still be appalled that students aren’t reading Cicero and Demosthenes. But he’d also be horrified by a textbook called Biology for Christian Schools, which instructs: “If the conclusions [of the scientific community] contradict the Word of God, the conclusions are wrong no matter how many scientific facts may appear to back them.”

The De-Enlightenment is occurring in our country. We’re being de-enlightened by design, and with little concern for anything other than radical interpretation of biblical prophecy. The anti-evolution Discovery Institute, the home of “intelligent design” theory, is largely funded by Howard Ahmanson, an Orange Country, California, businessman with ties to Christian Reconstruction, an extreme faction of the religious right that seeks to replace American democracy with a harsh fundamentalist theocracy. Christian Reconstructionists regard the teaching of evolution as part of a “war against Genesis.” Their version of “biblical law” would sentence to death “adulterers, homosexuals, witches, incorrigible children and those who spread ‘false’ religions.”

Of course, these people are fringe lunatics. The odds that they’ll achieve their ideal society is small, to say the least. But the Discovery Institute is making creepy inroads all over the country. Their education plan is called the “Wedge strategy,” whose mission statement starts off with relative sanity by stating: “The proposition that human beings are created in the image of God is one of the bedrock principles on which Western civilization was built.”

This is a vaguely questionable claim, but hardly out of the bounds of legitimate public discourse. The curriculum goes on to denounce “materialist” intellectuals such as Freud, Marx, and Darwin, who “infected” culture with their ideas that “denied the existence of objective moral standards.” These materialist standards, goes the Wedge theory, have created a culture where “everyone is a victim and no one can be held accountable for his or her actions,” where a “a virulent strain of utopianism” has created “coercive government programs that falsely promised to create heaven on earth.”

The proposal goes from religious conservatism to complete bigoted lunacy in four short paragraphs. The people who drew up this Wedge plan aren’t just concerned with broadening our discussion of evolutionary theory. That’s just their first block in a master plan to overthrow many aspects of modern society. They’ve already achieved their “five-year goals” of bringing “design theory” into the public debate. Their “twenty-year goals” are as follows:

—To see intelligent design theory as the dominant perspective in science.

—To see design theory application in specific fields, including molecular biology, biochemistry, paleontology, physics, and cosmology in the natural sciences; psychology, ethics, politics, theology, and philosophy in the humanities; to see its influence in the fine arts.

—To see design theory permeate our religious, cultural, moral, and political life.

That couldn’t happen, you say. Not in America. Not in a country where more than sixty percent of the citizens believe the world was created in seven days. Not in a country where the President says he thinks he’s in office because God wants him to be. Not in a country where the President has publicly stated that the Bible is a good “rule book” for public policy. No. That could never happen here.

What, I wonder, would John Adams make of all this? If the Defence is any guide, I don’t think he would blame the people who’ve come to believe such “unreasonable” ideas. I don’t even think he’d blame the people who directly propagate them. Our democracy’s skids have always been greased with snake oil. Such are the perils of a free society. The real fault, if I may speak for our second President, lies with the elite. They’ve grown too comfortable with “natural advantage.” There’s no real respect for the citizens, no feeling of moral duty. Unchecked inequality festers a society from within. It encourages, even requires, despotism. Only education, true education, can correct the course of tyranny.

Two thousand words ago, I quoted John Adams as saying, “Wisdom and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people” are “necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties.” The goal of such wisdom, he wrote, was “to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in their dealings, sincerity, good humor, and all social affections, and generous sentiments among the people.”

Such were the educational philosophies of the Enlightenment. It would serve us well to remember them and teach them to our children, because the odds are increasingly against them learning such principles in school. We no longer live in John Adams’s America.

Neal Pollack
Austin, Texas
July 2004