Monday, January 12, 2009

Montesquieu on the Culture War

In Book IV of The Spirit of Laws Montesquieu discusses how the laws of education ought to animate the principles of the chief political systems, republics, monarchies and tyrannies. He emphasizes virtue as the chief principle on which education in a republic needs to focus. He describes virtue as follows:

"This virtue may be defined as the love of the laws and of our country. As such love requires a constant preference of public to private interest, is is the source of all private virtues; for they are nothing more than this very preference itself.

"This love is peculiar to democracies. In these alone the government is intrusted to private citizens. Now, a government is like every thing else; to preserve it we must love it.

"Has it ever been known that kings were not fond of monarchy, or tht despotic princes hated arbitrary power?

"Everything, therefore, depends on establishing this love in a republic; and to inspire it ought to be the principal business of education: but the surest way of instilling it into children is for parents to set them an example...

"It is not the young people that are degenerate; they are not spoiled till those of maturer age are already sunk into corruption."

Montesquieu emphasizes the importance of familial inculcation of belief in democracy, republicanism and patriotism. Yet, the American higher education system advocates academic freedom and in turn uses the academic freedom to present a curriculum that is primarily "critical".

Would Montesquieu have believed that the benefits of today's universities are worth their costs? I think not. Universities exist in order to make the nation wealthier and more successful. But there is no evidence that what occurs in universities contributes to technological knowlege in excess of universities' costs. It is likely that the subsidization of those who have contempt for freedom and republicanism harms the nation in a variety of ways--politically as well as economically.

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