"The welfare of humanity is always the alibi of tyrants" - Albert Camus

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Freedom: The Real Significance of Civics Education

Civics, to most people, is one of those subjects they barely remember from their secondary education.   Perhaps because I am an immigrant, I am appalled when the average American tells me what good is it to remember what they apparently regard as being irrelevant to their lives now.  Unfortunately, these are largely the same 'citizens' who can easily recite what transpired in the latest episode of their favorite T.V. show, but scratch their heads in wonderment why America is no longer the country that was envisioned by our founding fathers, or for that matter, even the country they themselves knew just a few precious decades ago.  Indeed the trajectory of our nation is troubling, and unless this course is righted in a hurry, it is one that is likely to place this greatest of all nations in the dustbin of history alongside that other once great civilization the world knew as the Great Roman Empire for uncannily similar reasons.

So, what is civics and why does it matter?  Perhaps a quote might best summarize the critical purpose of civics education:

Si nescis unde venias, nescis quo adeas” (English translation from Latin: If you don’t know where you come from, you don’t know where you are going).

Civics is the study of citizenship in all its aspects: rights as well as responsibilities, both towards each other as in civil society, and to the governing body within the confines of our Constitution.  Its thorough comprehension, however, requires a much deeper look at related subject matters that give it the proper context; these being history as well as philosophy, and its inseparable accompaniments logic and ethics – unfortunately all subject matters that are barely paid lip service in academia, if taught at all.  It is all about knowing where we came from and understanding our philosophical moorings.

The intellectually feeble among us might wonder why all the extra work when they can simply read what these rights and responsibilities are.  In order for anyone to gain a thorough understanding of any concept or issue, they must first make sense of what they are dealing with.  That process requires taking a series of logical steps, each one clarifying the next.  Just as learning algebra before learning calculus or trigonometry is essential for forming a sound foundation in math, one must know where we come from and why we are who we are in order to be truly responsible citizens.  This knowledge includes the chain of historical events that led to our founding starting with advent of private property rights which gave birth to reason based political philosophy of Socratic era, which in turn spawned natural rights theory, classical republicanism as touted by Cicero et al, Age of Enlightenment, and eventually the birth of classical liberalism. 

America is the only nation in history that was founded on a creed, as the great British intellectual G.K. Chesterton once said.  Of course, he was referring to the following immortal passage from our Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Yet, let alone the knowledge of the chain of events mentioned earlier, poll after poll shows that unsettlingly large majorities of Americans do not even know what is meant by unalienable rights – our very essence and raison d’etre.

History is not kind to those who forget what made them great.  We must strive to understand and teach others the essence of America because that comprehension is the only way Americans will realize the precious nature of our liberties, recognize tyranny in the form of progressivism, and reignite the passions of the majority to recapture the spirit of American exceptionalism.  Our freedoms rest on our success in this endeavor because the price of freedom is eternal vigilance, and that requires knowing where we came from so that we can appreciate where we are going.


1 comment:

Olly said...

I have a Linkedin group called "Our Civics" for the purpose of improving civics literacy. We have a growing segment of the electorate completely disconnected from good citizenship. Whether they are of the nearly 40% that don’t participate in the electoral process or the statistically ignorant 71% unable to pass a basic civics quiz (http://www.americancivicliteracy.org/2011/summary_summary.html), we have to recognize that we cannot change a culture without finding a way to engage it.

I do believe it all begins with unalienable rights. The entire reason society exists; the only reason the human race ever left the state of nature was the security of Rights. Of course it would be ridiculous to think people originally considered Rights from a Lockean perspective. Understanding natural rights from a philosophical approach takes an effort most people aren't interested in. It’s reasonable and logical though for people to consider things from a functional point of view. They can equate their association with like-minded groups under a social contract as the best means to secure their lives and property. This would be a natural phenomenon and it is precisely at this point where I believe the progressive movement has successfully disconnected our culture from their basic instincts.

Would a campaign to teach people to intellectually reconnect with the Rights they were born with make sense? It’s a sad commentary about the state of our current culture this would even be necessary. but when we no longer see the lives of those we or others create as having value; when we cannot express the importance of individual liberty and private property; when we are willing to abandon self-reliance for the care of the state, then we have effectively enslaved ourselves, again. What else could be a more important first step?