The US Founders had a Liberal Arts Education steeped in classical logic. They applied this classical education to the question of liberty and came up with a constitutionally limited federal government. I like to call this view "classical liberalism."
In this light, I believe that the most devastating action of the progressive era came in the 1900s with the removal of logic from the curriculum in the early 1900s.
Quite frankly, I fear that classical logic is so fundamental to this nation that it may not be possible to restore the American experiment in self rule.
This post looks at creation of modern logic and the removal of the study of classical logic from the curriculum.
Classical liberal arts education was based on the Trivium. The three legs of The Trivium are grammar, logic and rhetoric. Grammar is the study of the structure of language. Logic is the study of the structure of ideas and rhetoric is the art of communication.
The goal of classical logic was to teach people the structure of language and ideas and how to communicate with others.
The US Founders came from extremely diverse backgrounds and had radically different ideas. They were able to communicate, rise against the British and created their experiment in self rule because they were able to understand each others' arguments and communicate.
I, just like everyone else today, was weened on modern logic. With modern logic, we've lost the ability communicate. All people seem to be able to do is toss barbs passed each other in a shrill form of non-communication.
Fox News, the Conservative Station, is probably the best example of modern dialectics in action. Fox seeks to dominate the ratings by presenting news as conflict. Each story is present as a left/right conflict with the commentators shouting past each other.
The removal of logic didn't just affect the left. The removal of logic from the curriculum affected everyone. The new material dialectics has impeded the ability of people on the right to engage in communication just as it has impeded people on the left.
If we have the goal of restoring the American Experiment in Self Rule, we simply must look at the removal of logic from the curriculum.
This story starts with the conflict between the founders and the monarchy. The US Founders had a liberal arts education steeped in classical logic. They applied this education to the question of liberty and created a federation of states with a constitutionally limited federal government. They ended much of the government meddling in business which laid the foundation for a free market.
A central feature of classical logic is a distaste of paradoxes and absolutes. Logicians have known about paradoxes since antiquity. The bulk of thinkers in the Aristotelian tradition sought to avoid paradox. The best known paradox is the reflexive paradox. The reflexive paradox includes a self reference and a negation. The prime example is:
"This sentence is false."
The statement "This sentence is true" is also paradoxical.
Most absolutes lead to paradoxes. Bringing an idea to an absolute tends to create a self reference and a paradox. Classical thinkers tended to favor moderation to absolutes.
Classical thinkers realized that virtues pushed too far became vices. This view is clearly seen in the Aristotelian view of the tragedy. In an Aristotelian tragedy the tragic hero is brought down by a virtue pushed too far. The tragic flaw is a misplaced virtue.
Both the Republican form of government (democracy) and freedom are subject to well know paradoxes.
A Republic can vote in a tyrant; thus ending the democracy.
Those seeking freedom eventually face the question: Does my freedom give me the right to take others as slavers, or to sell myself into slavery.
Because Freedom and Republican forms of government lead directly to paradoxes, most classical conservatives dismissed the ideals of classical liberals as naive.
Classical liberals, in turn, realized that in order to create an enduring Republic, the republic would need to limit the scope of governance while including stringent safeguards for the rights of those in the minority. As for freedom, classical liberals realized that individual freedom must stop at the doorstep of others.
The Founders were not able to resolve the scourge of their day, slavery, but the creation of a constitutionally limited federal government flows directly from classical liberal thought.
Classical conservatives saw the founders as naive. The conservatives of 1776 stood shoulder to shoulder with the British during the Revolution and leveled their musket fire at the founders.
Because the founders were committed to their classical liberal ideals, the did not seek retribution from the Conservatives of 1776 who they let back into society, though at a diminished social status.
Meanwhile, back in Europe, the monarchy did fade silently into the night.
To understand this reaction, you need to realize that the Hanoverian Kings of England were from Hanover Germany. The Kings of England funded the German University. The monarchy tasked the German University system with reframing the monarchy as progressive.
The produce of this thought is typified by the works of Hegel.
Advocates for the monarchy (the classical conservative) was losing arguments to classical liberals.
When the powerful are losing they simply change the rules. Rather than engaging in open. Hegel created a new modern logic that denied the laws of classical reasoning.
Hegel created a bizarre form of argumentation that held paradox at the foundations and conflict on the surface. This type of thought could be called modern logic, modern dialectics, or new think.
Hegel created a philosophy of history in which nation states were collectives vying for dominance on the world stage.
Above all, Hegel, who came to adore Napoleon, played on the paradoxes of freedom and democracy with eyes on revitalizing the centralized state. Hegel presented numerous proofs in which he showed freedom to be slavery and slavery freedom. He called the transition of a word into its opposite "sublation."
Modern logic was a huge hit in both Europe and the Americas where slave owners were eager to defend their position and classical conservatives were eager to establish a class society in the Americas.
The Left/Right split that dominates modern politics came from the parliaments of Europe. The radical left sought radical social change and was drunk on this new modern logic. The reactionary right loved the paradoxical views of the modern liberal because it allowed them to put down both the modern and classical liberal.
Of course, classical logic was still taught in the schools and classical liberalism was still the prominent world view in The United States until the early 1900s.
Again, I need to emphasize, people with a classical liberal arts education who apply their education to questions of liberty and governance will appreciate the American Experiment in Self Rule.
The enemies of freedom realized that the first step to destroying this experiment was to remove classical logic from the school.
There was a huge effort to do this led by the likes of John Dewey (1859 - 1952).
My progressive teachers adored John Dewey. I mean the creator of the Dewey Decimal System must be a learned man and clear thinker..
NOTE: The Dewey Decimal System was created by Melvil Dewey (1851–1931). The idea of classifying books by metadata is very much in keeping with classical logic.
John Dewey was little more than a Hegelian thug.
Keeping with Hegel's idea that nations are a spirits acting on the world stage, Dewey advanced a collectivist view with people just being cogs in a collective ruled by a democratic process with educators and public philosophers leading people about by their nose rings.
Dewey and cohorts saw individuals trained in classical logic and engaged in independent thinking as a great threat to his idealized collectivist democracy. Dewey's generation of public educators worked tirelessly to remove classical logic from the schools. This transition was largely completed by the 1940s.
It is hard to completely transform a nation in a single generation. The ideals of the classical liberal held on as a common sense conservatism for a few decades.
But it has been almost a full century since logic was pulled from the curriculum and it is absurd that a common sense conservatism devoid of replenishing thought can maintain the ideals of classical liberalism.
There have been some incredibly strong voices in the Classical Liberal Tradition such Hayek and Von Mises.
During the years of FDR and after WWII, classical liberals, common sense conservatives and a new breed of brash modern conservative intellectual formed an alliance against modern liberalism.
Since we are almost a full century from the removal of logic from the classroom, the common sense conservative has faded and the GOP is left with an uneasy alliance between those still holding the ideals of classical liberals and modern conservatives.
Seventy years into this alliance one finds that there has been a steady decline in the American Experiment in Self Rule largely at the hands of the modern conservatives.
I've reluctantly concluded that the only way to restore the American Experiment in Self Rule (classical liberalism) is to recognize the Left/Right split as a false dichotomy and believe that we must challenge both modern liberals and modern conservatives. Both of these modern ideologies appear to be based on the same modern dialectics.
The fact that logic was eliminated from the curriculum is a challenge. However, programming languages and classical science preserve some aspects of classical logic, so there is hope.