Tell Tchaikovsky the News

October 24, 2008

When a great, powerful, wealthy nation invites the entire world to become part of its family, there is no area of life that is not affected. You may have thought about Hispanic, Muslim, and Indian immigration and how it changes the texture of our lives. But have you thought, for example, about the influx of Chinese piano students?

If there is truth in the stereotypes, the high I.Q.s and nimble fingers many East Asians are blessed with would seem to favor them in classical music performance. And if Americans are going to abandon their Western musical heritage in favor of hip-hop and Third World music, then let the Asians have classical. Let those who are willing to pay the price enjoy the fruits it brings.

But should American music conservatories be paying the tab for the musical training of foreigners?

According to this article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, 16 percent of all new students in the full-scholarship Curtis Institute of Music come from mainland China (not our old friend Taiwan). But reading the article more carefully, it appears that at least a third, if not half, of the new students are East Asian, including people from Korea as well as East Asians who grew up in the United States.

Who can resist a full scholarship and the green card and citizenship that will eventually be granted? I wonder if Americans can comprehend the motivation people from countries like China have to work, work, work so they can make it in America by obtaining a position like this.

I recently met a young American who also considers himself a musician. His concept of being a musician, though, is not to practice the works of the masters for years with the slim hope of making a living teaching and performing. Rather, he works lousy day jobs, shares an apartment with several friends, and in his spare time creates rambling collages of sound with angry, incomprehensible lyrics. Performances of the music go together with indulgence in controlled substances. Now, this young man, too, is high-I.Q. and nimble-fingered. But to me, he looks like a lost soul. His parents worry about him, but have no control over what he does. And, really, from his point of view, why should he go the conventional route and get an M.B.A. or a computer degree? Why would he want to join the military and be sent to Iraq? He is a sensitive soul. What future is offered to someone like him in America today?

Of course the Curtis Institute, as a contemporary liberal American institution, is falling over itself to bring in Chinese students – eager to lure them from the other institutions that are doing exactly the same thing –  without the slightest notion that its identity as an American institution might warrant some restraint in international recruiting efforts. In China itself, classical music is now seen as a necessary trapping of modernity, and seems to have a strong emotional draw on young people. Daniel Pipes has argued that “You Need Beethoven to Modernize.” It is interesting that this seems to be true even when the West itself is losing interest in classical music.

This Herald Tribune article expresses more clearly the “outsourcing” mentality – the idea that a country like China could “save” classical music from the neglect it suffers in Western countries. “Jobs Americans won’t do,” you see. The question that is not addressed is, why won’t we do them, and can and should we do something to change the situation?

I have nothing but respect for brilliant musicians, regardless of nationality. But what does it say about people of European descent when we are unable, or unwilling, to maintain by ourselves the tradition the classical music represents? Are we to import our workforce for even this?

Of course, I may be “barking up the wrong tree” in regretting the lack of American sovereignty in the area of classical music. Though we have had our Leonard Bernsteins and Aaron Copelands, classical music has always been a Europe-centered genre, though important to the bourgeois sector of American society. Today, the classical world strives to be transnational, as demonstrated in the musician biographies on concert programs, which oddly list the highlights in the individual’s music career but never state the performer’s nationality. Also, America has mixed feelings about classical music. “Middle Americans” have tended to hold it at arm’s length. My mother, I understand, learned about classical music through a college course. Excited with the discovery, she brought several classical records home to her parents when she came home for break. To her dismay, they made fun of her “high-class” aspirations, and the records remained unopened in their shrink-wraps until years later, when my grandmother had to move out of her home.

The same kind of people who are good at classical music tend to be good at mathematics and science. In the United States, many fields in science, technology, and mathematics are also becoming dominated by Indians and East Asians. It took me a 30-second Google search to find an example: take a look at the graduate students in the University of Michigan’s Department of Statistics. Five Wangs, five Zhangs, three Zhous, three Guos, one Brown, and one Smith.

Do white Americans really think that when the ethnic takeover of these fields is complete that these fields will still be open to them? Do they think that those Indians and Asians who have already become professors and administrators do not grant preference in admission to students from their own countries?

But then, we are living in a United States that is poised to elect Barack Hussein Obama as its next President. Obama is almost a non-entity in himself; until he began to rise in the Democrat primaries, there was no particular reason to see him as a likely candidate. But now that he has arrived, we can see that something like this was inevitable. He offers a solution for the confused American spirit which wants to prove itself liberal enough to elect a non-white President. And for the first time in history, all of the institutions of the society are backing one candidate, including the opposition party, who for the first time have been unable to convince themselves, let alone voters, that they deserve the presidency. And the abdication by the Republicans of the duty to wholeheartedly oppose the Democrats and their leftism is the real reason it is now seeming almost certain Obama will be elected.

Nicholas Kristof, in his most recent column, illustrates the delusional thinking underlying the support of many whites for Obama. It is wrong, says Kristoff, to vote for a candidate on the basis of his color, but it will still be good to have a president of a particular color.

Kristoff shows his naivite in depicting a conversation with a Chinese friend about Obama:

She: Obama? But he’s the black man, isn’t he?

Me: Yes, exactly.

She: But surely a black man couldn’t become president of the United States?

Me: It looks as if he’ll be elected.

She: But president? That’s such an important job! In America, I thought blacks were janitors and laborers.

Me: No, blacks have all kinds of jobs.

She: What do white people think about that, about getting a black president? Are they upset? Are they angry?

Me: No, of course not! If Obama is elected, it’ll be because white people voted for him.

[Long pause.]

She: Really? Unbelievable! What an amazing country!

Have Americans always wanted to be liked this much? Everywhere I look I see the almost gluttonous pleasure Americans take in helping refugees, minorities, immigrants, by inviting them into our society and paying the bill (or, more often, letting others pay the bill). The Obama phenomenon, though completely different, is in accord with this. So many are convinced that proving we’re not “racist” by electing a black (mixed-race?) president will gain us the goodwill of the world. It doesn’t seem to occur to Kristof that his Chinese friend’s comment that America is “amazing” may not express an entirely positive meaning. The Chinese would never dream of handing their society over to non-Chinese. On the other hand, if America is going to do so, they’re going to make sure they get as much as possible.

Where do we go from here?  We have to separate ourselves from the madness, first. Later, we may need to actually physically separate ourselves from the liberal society. To paraphrase the group Show of Hands, one place to start is by learning our stories and our songs (classical or not). You’ll be hearing more of and about those at this site.


Union Soldiers Return Home

October 16, 2008

Various commitments this week make it difficult to produce the usual Heritage American essay. I will return to full-length postings next week. Meanwhile, I offer my readers a selection from a short story by Hamlin Garland, “The Return of a Private” (1891), also available on Google Books, which I enjoyed recently. 

Garland was famous as a “local color” author, and uses a stylized “Wisconsin dialect” in this story. Most Midwesterners probably feel that their speech lacks local flavor, but the fact is that well into the 20th century every part of America had a regional dialect, although the upper classes seem to have cultivated a standardized form with “r’s” dropped as in British English (observable in movies made before 1950 or so). 

Pronunciation differences remain, though they have been considerably ironed out. Here is a map of dialect areas of the United States. I grew up in the Midland region, which, amazingly, stretches all the way from Pennsylvania to Oklahoma. I noticed a distinct change in vowels when I moved to Michigan. However, the children of immigrants often take on a different accent, which seems influenced by black, Hispanic, and other pronunciations. 

The soldiers in Garland’s story belong to a people whose existence has been condemned to death by our immigration policies. They are ordinary, uneducated American boys who have been through the carnage and tedium of war. Their crude expressions of love for each other, and for their families, touch the heart. They don’t seem interested in the black men whom they have freed from bondage, and they don’t have much to say about their former Southern foes, except to acknowledge their fierce fighting ability. 

They just want to go home. Our struggle now is to save that home, North or South, city or country. 

D’yeh see that peak?” He pointed at a beautiful symmetrical peak, rising like a slightly truncated cone, so high that it seemed the very highest of them all. It was lighted by the morning sun till it glowed like a beacon, and a light scarf of gray morning fog was rolling up its shadowed side.

“My farm’s just beyond that. Now, ef I can only ketch a ride, we’ll be home by dinnertime.”

“I’m talkin’ about breakfast,” said one of the others.

“I guess it’s one more meal o’ hardtack f’r me,” said Smith.

They foraged around, and finally found a restaurant with a sleepy old German behind the counter, and procured some coffee, which they drank to wash down their hardtack.

“Time’ll come,” said Smith, holding up a piece by the corner, ” when this’ll be a curiosity.”

“I hope to God it will! I bet I’ve chawed hardtack enough to shingle every house in the coulee. I’ve chawed it when my lampers was down, and when they wasn’t. I’ve took it dry, soaked, and mashed. I’ve had it wormy, musty, sour, and blue-moldy. I’ve had it in little bits and big bits; ‘fore coffee an’ after coffee. I’m ready f’r a change. I’d like t’ git hol’t jest about now o’ some of the hot biscuits my wife c’n make when she lays herself out f’r company.”

“Well, if you set there gablin’, you’ll never see yer wife.”

“Come on,” said Private Smith. “Wait a moment, boys; less take suthin’. It’s on me.” He led them to the rusty tin dipper which hung on a nail beside the wooden water pail, and they grinned and drank. (Things were primitive in La Crosse then.) Then, shouldering their blankets and muskets, which they were “taking home to the boys,” they struck out on their last march.

“They called that coffee ‘Jayvy,” grumbled one of them, “but it never went by the road where government Jayvy resides. I reckon I know coffee from peas.”

They kept together on the road along the turnpike, and up the winding road by the river, which they followed for some miles. The river was very lovely, curving down along its sandy beds, pausing now and then under broad basswood trees, or running in dark, swift, silent currents under tangles of wild grapevines, and drooping alders, and haw trees. At one of these lovely spots the three vets sat down on the thick green sward to rest, “on Smith’s account.” The leaves of the trees were as fresh and green as in June, the jays called cheery greetings to them, and kingflshers darted to and fro, with swooping, noiseless flight.

“I tell yeh, boys, this knocks the swamps of Loueesiana into kingdom come.”

“You bet. All they c’n raise down there is snakes, niggers, and p’rticler hell.”

“An’ fightin’ men,” put in the older man.

“An’ fightin’ men. If I had a good hook an’ line I’d sneak a pick’rel out o’ that pond. Say, remember that time I shot that alligator–“

“I guess we’d better be crawlin’ along,” interrupted Smith, rising and shouldering his knapsack, with considerable effort, which he tried to hide.

“Say, Smith, lemme give you a lift on that.”

“I guess I c’n manage,” said Smith grimly.

“‘Course. But, yeh see, I may not have a chance right off to pay yeh back for the times ye’ve carried my gun and hull caboodie. Say, now, gimme that gun, anyway.”

“All right, if yeh feel like it, Jim,” Smith replied, and they trudged along doggedly in the sun, which was getting higher and hotter each half mile.

“Ain’t it queer there ain’t no teams cornin’ along.”

“Well, no, seem’s it’s Sunday.”

“By jinks, that’s a fact! It is Sunday. I’ll git home in time fr dinner, sure. She don’t hev dinner usually till-about one on Sundays.” And he fell into a muse, in which he smiled.

“Well, I’ll git home jest about six o’clock, jest about when the boys are milkin’ the cows,” said old Jim Cranby. “I’ll step into the barn an’ then I’ll say, ‘Heah! why ain’t this milkin’ done before this time o’ day? An’ then won’t they yell!” he added, slapping his thigh in great glee.

Smith went on. “I’ll jest go up the path. Old Rover’ll come down the road to meet me. He won’t bark; he’ll know me, an’ he’ll come down waggin’ his tail an’ shonin’ his teeth. That’s his way of laughin’. An’ so I’ll walk up to the kitchen door, an’ I’ll say ‘Dinner f’r a hungry man!’ An’ then she’ll jump up, an’–“

He couldn’t go on. His voice choked at the thought of it. Saunders, the third man, hardly uttered a word. He walked silently behind the others. He had lost his wife the first year he was in the army. She died of pneumonia caught in the autumn rains, while working in the fields in his place.

They plodded along till at last they came to a parting of the ways. To the right the road continued up the main valley; to the left it went over the ridge.

“Well, boys,” began Smith as they grounded their muskets and looked away up the valley, “here’s where we shake hands. We’ve marched together a good many miles, an’ now I s’pose we’re done.”

“Yes, I don’t think we’ll do any more of it f’r a while. I don’t want to, I know.”

“I hope I’ll see yeh once in a while, boys, to taik over old times.”

“Of course,” said Saunders, whose voice trembled a little, too. “It ain’t exactly like dyin’.”

“But we’d ought’r go home with you,” said the younger man. “You never’ll climb that ridge with all them things on yer back.”

“Oh, I’m all right! Don’t worry about me. Every step takes me nearer home, yeh see. Well, goodbye, boys.”

They shook hands. “Goodbye. Good luck!”

“Same to you. Lemme know how you find things at home.”


The Worship of the Dollar

October 11, 2008

This blog, mainly concerned with cultural matters, has had little to say about the current financial crisis. I do feel, though, that it is the responsibility of all of us to learn what we can about investing, so we can protect ourselves and our families as much as possible. I therefore appreciate the efforts made by writers like Rick Darby and Ol’ Remus to grapple with the topic from their traditionalist perspective – not to mention The Economic Nationalist, whose blog has been added to the Links section. 

Mr. Darby has mentioned the book Bad Money by Kevin Phillips (2008) as a decent introduction to the subject. Phillips, a former Republican strategist, has evolved into a left-liberal who thinks the U.S. needs to work harder to be liked by its adversaries and that “radical Christianity” presents a grave danger to our national well-being, opinions which don’t incline me to trust his views about much else. In particular, I can’t take any analysis seriously that doesn’t take mass immigration into the picture. However, Phillips does seem to be one of the earlier people to point out the problem of the “financialization” of our economy. This is a useful concept, because it expresses something ordinary Americans understand but that has been obscured in the mind of “conservatives” for the last few decades: that having a strong “economy” ultimately means producing things of value. Finance is important, but only insofar as it facilitates real, productive activity. 

[The term] Bad Money … is not intended to evoke nineteenth-century robber barons, twentieth-century salad oil swindlers, or twenty-first-century Enron architects. For now, that is too parochial. The reason for applying a negative characterization is historical and institutional, with a deep bow to the inherent vulnerability of human nature exposed to pecuniary temptation, witnessed today on an unprecedented scale. Money is “bad,” in the historical sense, when a leading world economic power passing its zenith – before the United States, think Hapsburg Spain, the maritime Dutch Republic, (when New York was Amsterdam), and imperial Britain just before World War I – lets itself luxuriate in finance at the expense of harvesting, manufacturing, or transporting things. Doing so has marked each nation’s global decline. To institutionalize the dominance of minimally regulated finance at this stage of U.S. history is a bad idea. (p. 20) 

For decades, ordinary Americans in places like Michigan have agonized over the loss of the manufacturing jobs that provided a livelihood to so many families. They did more than that: they delivered quality products made by Americans TO Americans. During these decades, it was more often than not the liberals who called for protection of American jobs, while the “conservatives,” scoffing at this, assured us that our “economy” was fine.

I confess to having bought into this mindset in my libertarian days. Wasn’t American greatness rooted in American capitalism? Well, yes, partially. A system of free enterprise enables men of vision, motivated by profit, to create world-changing technologies. But when profit becomes an end in itself, we are in trouble. 

Consider housing, one of the current trouble spots in our economy. In the last decade I have lived in and shopped for apartments, condos, and houses. But nobody builds nice houses anymore. Apartments are little more than boxes for people to live in. When you move in they all have identical white walls and beige carpets. When you start making more money you can move into a nicer place with some trees or a pond outside; with more closet space; with another bath. Buy a condo and you get wooden floors, nice tiles, an actual garden of your own. And so forth…but there are no nice houses! All you are paying for are features, each feature carefully priced by corporate formulas, including the “intangibles” like the quality of your neighbors. The more you pay, the more features you get. But there is no house. One thing rarely noted in all the discussion of the housing bubble is how ugly all the new houses are. Is this coincidental? Of course not. 

Consider the various ways life has become less convenient in recent years. Food and fuel prices rising. Airports crowded and unpleasant. Banks charging whatever arbitrary fees they can get away with. And we citizens become numb to being gently abused by our government and business, who continue to claim that things are getting better and better. 

The real source of the problem is spiritual. And the gap between business leaders and ordinary people mirrors the gap between our politicians and ordinary people: both pursue abstracted, “rational” goals which are unconnected to any sense of the real people they are supposed to be serving. They are greedy, yes, and they are wicked; but it is not ordinary greed. Rather, in their liberal worldview, they are helping other people.

Just not their own countrymen.

A few weeks ago, one of my readers mentioned Edwin Arlington Robinson as a favorite poet. He has a wonderful poem dealing with the worship of the Dollar. Things have changed profoundly since 1916, when the poem was written (for one thing, the dollar coins he alludes to were made of gold!), but the spiritual emptiness he perceived then was the same as that which afflicts us today. 

                       CASSANDRA

     I HEARD one who said: “Verily,
     What word have I for children here?
     Your Dollar is your only Word,
     The wrath of it your only fear.

     “You build it altars tall enough
     To make you see, but you are blind;
     You cannot leave it long enough
     To look before you or behind.

     “When Reason beckons you to pause,
     You laugh and say that you know best;
     But what it is you know, you keep
     As dark as ingots in a chest.

     “You laugh and answer, ‘We are young;
     O leave us now, and let us grow.’—
     Not asking how much more of this
     Will Time endure or Fate bestow.

     “Because a few complacent years
     Have made your peril of your pride,
     Think you that you are to go on
     Forever pampered and untried?

     “What lost eclipse of history,
     What bivouac of the marching stars,
     Has given the sign for you to see
     Millenniums and last great wars?

     “What unrecorded overthrow
     Of all the world has ever known,
     Or ever been, has made itself
     So plain to you, and you alone?

     “Your Dollar, Dove and Eagle make
     A Trinity that even you
     Rate higher than you rate yourselves;
     It pays, it flatters, and it’s new.

     “And though your very flesh and blood
     Be what your Eagle eats and drinks,
     You’ll praise him for the best of birds,
     Not knowing what the Eagle thinks.

     “The power is yours, but not the sight;
     You see not upon what you tread;
     You have the ages for your guide,
     But not the wisdom to be led.

     “Think you to tread forever down
     The merciless old verities?
     And are you never to have eyes
     To see the world for what it is?

     “Are you to pay for what you have
     With all you are?”— No other word
     We caught, but with a laughing crowd 
     Moved on. None heeded, and few heard.


Walter Scott, and Jim Kalb, on Education

October 4, 2008

Reading and courtship combined

The citizens of Western societies are more educated than they have ever been before, if education can be measured by things like time spent in school and number of higher degrees awarded. But what is the result of all this education? If the goal of higher education is to inculcate in young people the knowledge, mental skills, and virtue of character needed to act as leaders of society, we are being led by what is probably the worst-educated group of people in our entire history. We have experts in finance who are unaware that you can’t spend money that you don’t have; experts on gender who can’t tell the difference between a man and a woman; and experts on religion who don’t understand that Islam is the religion of jihad. And so we stumble along, blind to the dangers looming up ahead, absorbed in the particular tasks of our profession that seem oddly disconnected from the big picture. 

What has gone wrong with education in the West? 

Jim Kalb has written very perceptively on the present-day understanding of higher education as being not about the search for knowledge or the pursuit of virtue, but rather about learning how to be a skillful social administrator in a world devoid of higher truths and a common public interest. Observing a commencement ceremony at a “prestigious Northeastern liberal arts college,” Kalb takes the underlying meaning of the college president’s speech to be the following: 

…what distinguishes every graduate of the institution is that he has the qualities of a supremely skilled and disinterested administrator. In every situation he understands the relevant considerations and the viewpoints of all those involved and correctly sorts them into primary and secondary, so that he is able to come to a superior conclusion readily recognizable as such because it only makes manifest the internal logic of the situation and the goals and needs of those involved. That ability means people need and accept him as a leader and he should never fail to act as such. Such a conclusion will apply even more strongly to next year’s class since next year there will be even more knowledge available for them to apply to problems. 

Regarding the nature of knowledge and the way that educated people should make use of knowledge, the message at the ceremony was: 

The unity of the talks had an obvious ethical and metaphysical basis in a common theory of the world everyone took for granted. In that theory the world is composed of lots and lots of things, each different from all the others. In the ignorant and unjust past order of a sort was achieved through concepts of identity that subordinated one thing to another and so enabled people to say what things are and do something about them. Such concepts are arbitrary, though, since they do not give each separate thing its due and are a matter of popular prejudice or the advantage of the powerful rather than careful investigation. Therefore all inherited concepts of identity must be dissolved and replaced by rationally-designed structures based on human ingenuity and the most general principles and not at all on anything that’s been done before. Naturally, there have to be people to promote the dissolution and to design and enforce the structures, and that’s where the college and its graduates come in.

And indeed this is the gist of what is said in many commencement speeches today. Consider a few excerpts from a speech given at Texas Lutheran University in December 2007: 

…[L]ife is not simple. For as much as we attempt to simplify life’s hard issues into black and white – the reality is life is filled with numerous shades of gray. Every day lawyers argue to me the nuances of words written in a statute or the multiple meanings of certain acts or omissions made by some party. 

…[T]his grey will appear in all walks of your life. Your generation will shape a whole host of business, legal, social and cultural issues. Intellectual property and patent issues await this generation and its ease with technology. The business world awaits your arrival and fresh set of lens with which to view and audit the corporate boardrooms. Your generation will herald a change in the composition of the legal and medical profession – professions that will reflect more women and minority practitioners than ever before.

Your generation will also tackle the issues of immigration, gay rights, school prayer, free speech, gun control, abortion, flag burning, review of petitions for habeas, privacy issues, the war on terrorism and capital punishment. The debate regarding these issues, if you can characterize it as a debate, has hardly been civil. There is always a danger that in defining a clear line to separate black and white and not recognizing the grey, one fosters an exclusive, divisive and potentially cruel orthodoxy.

Well I have focused almost exclusively on imploring you to engage in continuous study so that you appreciate the nuances of gray and understand the ramifications of what color gradation you have selected. 

There you have it. Our leaders in all walks of society have been taught the importance of hairsplitting, nuanced, neutral discourse. They’ve probably had a smidgen of non-Western culture or gender studies thrown in to remind them that their own world view has no particular validity outside of their personal lives. 

They have not learned to see the big picture. They have been taught, indeed that there is no big picture. 

Sir Walter Scott had a different idea of higher education. It was not for the many, but for the few, those blessed both with the background and the natural ability qualifying them to be gentlemen.  In Scott’s novel Waverley (1814), he discusses the education of young Edward Waverley, who is being raised as the likely heir to his uncle’s estate. Edward is extremely gifted, and has what we would consider a phenomenal education in classical and modern foreign languages and in the literature of various countries: 

In English literature he was master of Shakespeare and Milton, of our earlier dramatic authors, of many picturesque and interesting passages from our old historical chronicles, and was particularly well acquainted with Spenser, Drayton, and other poets who have exercised themselves on romantic fiction, of all themes the most fascinating to a youthful imagination, before the passions have roused themselves and demand poetry of a more sentimental description. In this respect his acquaintance with Italian opened him yet a wider range…. In classical literature, Waverley had made the usual progress, and read the usual authors…. The Spanish had contributed to his stock of chivalrous and romantic lore. The earlier literature of the northern nations did not escape the study of one who read rather to awaken the imagination than to benefit the understanding. 

And yet, in Scott’s mind, Waverley’s education is inadequate, and sets the stage for great mishaps in later life. Why is it inadequate? As the passages above indicate, Waverly’s reading inculcates in him fanciful, romantic ideas not appropriate for mature men. But there is also a defect in the character of his education itself. His tutor introduces him to the sciences and to the various languages, but does not instill in his charge the ability to study in a disciplined manner. He therefore reads for pleasure and puts away anything that no longer captures his imagination. 

His powers of apprehension were so uncommonly quick as almost to resemble intuition, and the chief care of his preceptor was to prevent him, as a sportsman would phrase it, from over-running his game ….[T]he instructor had to combat another propensity too often united with brilliancy of fancy and vivacity of talent — that indolence, namely, of disposition, which can only be stirred by some strong motive of gratification, and which renounces study as soon as curiosity is gratified, the pleasure of conquering the first difficulties exhausted, and the novelty of pursuit at an end. Edward would throw himself with spirit upon any classical author of which his preceptor proposed the perusal, make himself master of the style so far as to understand the story, and, if that pleased or interested him, he finished the volume. But it was in vain to attempt fixing his attention on critical distinctions of philology, upon the difference of idiom, the beauty of felicitous expression, or the artificial combinations of syntax. ‘I can read and understand a Latin author,’ said young Edward, with the self-confidence and rash reasoning of fifteen, ‘and Scaliger or Bentley could not do much more.’

Impressive indeed! But Scott does not see it this way: 

Alas! while he was thus permitted to read only for the gratification of his amusement, he foresaw not that he was losing for ever the opportunity of acquiring habits of firm and assiduous application, of gaining the art of controlling, directing, and concentrating the powers of his mind for earnest investigation — an art far more essential than even that intimate acquaintance with classical learning which is the primary object of study.

Scott objects to the idea, apparently current in 1814, that learning necessarily be made pleasurable: 

The history of England is now reduced to a game at cards, the problems of mathematics to puzzles and riddles, and the doctrines of arithmetic may, we are assured, be sufficiently acquired by spending a few hours a week at a new and complicated edition of the Royal Game of the Goose [a board game]. There wants but one step further, and the Creed and Ten Commandments may be taught in the same manner, without the necessity of the grave face, deliberate tone of recital, and devout attention, hitherto exacted from the well-governed childhood of this realm. 

And as a result Edward was unprepared for the challenges he would meet as a young man of position in a period of social turmoil and civil rebellion. 

[Despite] knowing much that is known but to few, Edward Waverley might justly be considered as ignorant, since he knew little of what adds dignity to man, and qualifies him to support and adorn an elevated situation in society.

I think, linking these passages with Kalb’s observations on the educational philosophy currently reigning at our universities (and at every other level), that in Scott’s time education was about developing the character to be a good citizen and leader, and about learning about the history and culture of the West so as to be qualified to be a custodian of one’s society and people. Such education was not for the multitude, but for the privileged few, who were not only privileged but burdened with the responsibility of their position. It included, for men, not only the arts and sciences but also military training, and the fundamentals of one’s education were completed by age 15 or so. Further education was largely a matter of self-study, unless one pursued a profession like medicine or the clergy. 

In our liberal society committees and boards of directors constantly meet to make vital decisions affecting the entire society. In most cases, they meet in rooms filled not with cigar smoke but with the intoxicating vapors of political correctness, meaning that essential realities underlying the pressing issues – war, immigration, education, finance, medicine – are hardly spoken of, often not even perceived. 

I am sure many of my readers have witnessed this. 

While the democratization of our educational system has brought about many good things, Scott’s notion of the education of a gentleman is pertinent today. Our leaders should be able to make fine distinctions, yes, but they should also be able to see the big picture, starting with knowing what nation they belong to, who they represent, and what it is that they are supposed to protect. And they need to be trained in public virtue as well as in knowledge management techniques. Let us be frank: our present society is led mainly by people who are either oblivious to or in denial of where things are heading, and who are focused on their careers rather than the interests of their nation and people. Those of us who see this have much work to do in educating ourselves and informing others. While it is not clear what we can do at this stage, an old-fashioned sense of honor, at least, should compel us to keep trying.