Why I Have Never Taken the Conservative Movement Seriously

Gary North (www.garynorth.com), February 21, 2015

The conservative movement today is vast in comparison to what it was 60 years ago. It is vast in comparison to what it was when I entered high school in 1955.

The libertarian movement did not exist in 1955. It has had its growth spurt since the mid-1960’s. It was part of the counterculture movement. Murray Rothbard was one of the main figures in its development. There was of course the Old Right movement of the 1930’s, but that faded into insignificance on December 7, 1941. So did the conservative movement.

The conservative movement in the postwar period began in 1948. It was part of the anti-Communist movement. It came as a result of Whittaker Chambers’ accusation against Alger Hiss that Hiss had been a communist. Chambers then escalated to say that Hiss had been a traitor — a Soviet spy. Around this accusation the conservative movement coalesced. It was always an “anti” movement. It did not develop a systematic social or political outlook. Until the publication of Russell Kirk’s book, The Conservative Mind (1953), it had no intellectual defense.

The conservative movement was always long on rhetoric and short on footnotes.

When we look at what the conservative movement has done in respect to the training of the next generation of conservatives, the answer is clear: not much. There are various conservative activist movements on college campuses. There is the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which is a wimpy re-naming of the original Intercollegiate Society of Individualists. The ISI was founded in 1953 by William F. Buckley, the conservative Catholic Vic Millione, and the atheist anarchist, Frank Chodorov. The original conception was Chodorov’s. He was an individualist. But the ISI never was libertarian, although it did invite libertarian economists to speak on economic issues and also write for its publications. Millione took it over by 1960. It lost its libertarian elements.

What about high school? The conservative movement has yet to develop a comprehensive curriculum for high schools. It has yet to develop a single textbook in the field of American history. It has yet to develop a textbook at any level of the history of the Constitution.

The John Birch Society has had summer weeklong seminars, beginning in the 1970’s. But there was no attempt by the JBS to develop a high school curriculum.

The alternative high school curriculum materials have been developed by fundamentalists. There are the A Beka curriculum, the Accelerated Christian Education curriculum, and the Bob Jones University curriculum. These are conservative in social outlook, but there is nothing of a systematic nature relating Old Testament and New Testament laws to contemporary practices. These curriculum materials provide a way for parents to get their kids out of the public schools, but not much more. In the early days, they were not geared towards home schools. They were exclusively designed for Christian day schools, which were always a tiny minority in the United States. With the exception of the immigrant churches — Catholics, Dutch Reformed, and German Lutheran — there were very few fundamentalist day schools prior to 1960.

I have never taken the conservative movement seriously. The main reason for this is simple: there was never enough intellectual commitment, financial commitment, and career commitment to develop a high school curriculum. It was mostly talk. It was heap big smoke, but no fire.

I am developing the Ron Paul Curriculum. This can be used by conservatives and libertarians. It can also be used by Christians who want to get their kids out of the public schools, and who also are skeptical about the intellectual quality of the existing fundamentalist curriculum materials. But it took me from 1960 until 2013 to have an opportunity to develop such a curriculum. It is possible only because of the technological breakthroughs offered by the World Wide Web. This has reduced the cost of developing the curriculum to the cost of manpower. It doesn’t take $250,000 to develop a textbook any longer.

Any movement that does not have systematic training at the high school level should not be regarded as a movement. It is simply a lot of noise. It is lots of smoke, but no fire. If the movement does not have the intellectual firepower to develop a high school curriculum, then it is not a movement. If the movement does not have the intellectual firepower to develop a comprehensive college curriculum in the social sciences and humanities, then it is not a serious movement. It is in the shadows of society. It is another fringe movement that raises money to fight the bad guys, but not where the bad guys have almost complete control, namely, state-certified and state-funded education.

If a movement cannot distinguish its fundamental moral, economic, political, and social principles from the principles taught in the public schools, then it is heap big smoke, but no fire. It is heap big smoke, but no firepower. It is entertainment. It is amusement. It is a way to sit on the sidelines of life and watch the parade go by, shaking one’s fist and crying, “Unclean, unclean.”

When parents decide to keep mom home, and mom then adopts a systematically conservative or libertarian or Christian or communist or New Age curriculum, then they are serious about the future. But if they send their children into the public schools, and expect a few platitudes in after-school hours, but before prime time television begins, to shape their children’s lives, then they are operating in a fantasy world. What the kids are getting in school, on television, and in social media will shape what they think. Sunday school won’t work. An occasional talk with the parent won’t work. The parent has surrendered control over the child’s worldview.

Anybody can post a video or an article on Facebook. This doesn’t take much work. This is a form of entertainment. It is educational, but it is educational in a futile way. James the Apostle warned his readers to be doers of the word, and not hearers only. With respect to shaping your children’s lives, being a doer of the word has to do with exposing your children to a systematic, comprehensive, coherent, self-consistent worldview. A parent can add books and materials, especially in summer school programs. But the books and materials that are being presented during school hours had better be consistent with what the parent really wants the children to believe.

I don’t think most parents take this responsibility seriously. I frankly don’t think most of them ever have. That is why the public schools around the world have overwhelming voter support. The state offers free education, which means education funded by somebody else. The voters have gone to it like pigs to slop. It is just what they want to hear. They want education to give their kids an employment advantage over other kids, but they don’t really care what the content of the education is. What they want is the advantage in the post-graduation job markets. This has been true throughout the entire history of Europe and the United States ever since the invention of the university in the 11th century. Parents are paying for one thing: job opportunities. What they want is for other people to pay for their children’s training, so that their children can get the certification edge in the high-income job markets. Parents don’t care about the content of the education. They care about the results of the education: possession of an elitist certificate that the parents did not have to pay for.

The conservative movement, the libertarian movement, and the fundamentalist movement have this in common: they don’t have the firepower to create a comprehensive alternative curriculum, beginning no later than middle school and extending through graduate school. They expect to be free riders in the back of the state’s bus. They expect the state to be neutral. They expect education be neutral. The state’s educrats have pitched this obvious nonsense in order to gain funding, but nothing about state-funded education has ever been neutral.

People who would be outraged by the suggestion that there ought to be federal or state funding of a national church are perfectly willing to have state funding of local schools, especially when the local schools adopt a national curriculum: Common Core. Only a handful of parents understand the threat, and they are trying to get this changed through the PTA. Fat chance.

When mom stays home to supervise the education of the children, and when she adopts a curriculum that is consistent in terms of her worldview, then I will take her seriously. But she is probably operating alone. She is not representative of the people she went to college with, of the people she sits next to in the church pew, and the people she interacts with on Facebook.

The test of a verbal commitment to a worldview is the development of a systematic curriculum that defends and extends this worldview. Until that exists, a movement is heap big smoke, but no fire.