Monday, October 31, 2011

Love the Ideas of Freedom

I eventually got to the fifth and final segment of the Uncommon Knowledge interview with Larry Arnn, that I referred to on October 24th. Peter Robinson begins the segment with a quote from Arnn, that has stayed with me. 

There is only one way to return to living under the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the institutions of the Constitution: we must come to love these things again.

When asked how we are to come to love them, Arnn said that first we have to know about them. 

This used to be easier. It used to be understood that when students went to school, any public or private school in the US, they would be taught to love the country and the genius of the founders. For the founders themselves, their educations were surprisingly homogeneous and complete. They had all read the classics—mostly in their original languages. They studied the great thinkers: Cicero, John Locke, Adam Smith, and others. They shared their studies and thoughts with one another. George Wythe tutored Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson passed books along to James Madison.  

George Washington Prayer at Valley Forge
painting by Arnold Friberg
But learning about these ideas is not so easy anymore. Back a couple of decades ago I was working as a curriculum writer of special ed textbooks (junior high and high school subject matter with second grade reading level). One of my co-workers had the assignment to write a short novel for that audience about George Washington. I remember being puzzled at his approach (which I don’t think ever got to print), that Washington wasn’t all that admirable. He was rich because of his wife. He had a lot of luck, really, but wasn’t that outstanding. He thought it was his job to disillusion young students, rather than to inform them of Washington’s well-documented outstanding character and benevolence.  

I think that attitude is not atypical. I think there is a misconception that cynicism and disillusionment are signs of open-mindedness and higher intelligence. Not so. Being able to identify and love truth requires both better character and a better mind. The truth is that our founders, and particularly Washington, were great men, drawn from a much smaller pool than we have to draw from today. 

It’s amazing that there would be, in the world’s frontier, a set of learned, decent, thinking men—who loved the ideas so much that they would pledge their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to bring about the United States of America. The odds in the history of the world are so against such an alignment of circumstances that I conclude it was God’s will to make it happen. 

When I study the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, I find beauty. The more I study, the more I love them. The more I learn about the ideas behind these documents, and the men who thought them through, the more I marvel. 

One of the reasons I write here is to help readers come to know a little more about the ideas of freedom, that when combined with righteous living will yield the peace and beauty of civilization.

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