Modernism's war against the past: Freud, James, Dewey, and the conservative reaction in the early 20th century
A brief history of conservatism: Part 9
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Fred Hutchison, RenewAmerica analyst
October 17, 2013

Originally published January 14, 2008

In 1920, Edith Wharton wrote The Age of Innocence, which was about the high society of Old New York in the 1870's. She borrowed from the wisdom of the past to understand and critique the follies of her own generation. Victorian conservatism of the 1870's was partly the result of a spiritual revival during the Civil War era and partly due to a conservative reaction to the upsurge of modernism and bohemian romanticism earlier in the century.

In contrast to the way Wharton looked to the past for wisdom, archmodernists Sigmund Freud, William James, and John Dewey argued that we should dismiss the cultural past and replace it whole with the new enlightenment of modernity.

The call to intellectually dismiss the past was first made by 17th century philosophers Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes. They conceived of an odd protomodernism in the midst of the essentially conservative Baroque civilization.

The misguided French Enlightenment in the 18th century was hostile to the Catholic High Middle Ages, and the French philosophes falsely labeled this blossoming civilization a continuation of the Dark Ages. Although this outrageous canard has been thoroughly debunked by historians, the myth continues to be propagated by modernist narrators of the History Channel on TV.

Modernists of the nineteenth century were increasingly hostile to the West's cultural heritage. This trend culminated in the shocking radicalism of John Dewey, the most influential voice in the education establishment during the twentieth century.

The great cultural disillusionment after World War I lent credibility to many anti-Western modernist fads. Freud, James, and Dewey were among the modernist writers who wanted to dismiss the Western cultural and intellectual heritage.

From the start, modernists have had no interest in sharing the stage with the proponents of traditional wisdom. The modernists wanted to have the stage all to themselves, so they could program our future as our new masters. This was just as true of Francis Bacon (17th century) as it was of John Dewey (20th century).

The conservative reaction

The encouraging part of this story is that the follies of modernism breed traditionalist conservatism. Modernists deceptions about human nature have provoked a conservative reaction. Men such as Edmund Burke, G. K. Chesterton, Richard Weaver, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and Russell Kirk became traditionalist conservatives partly in reaction to modernism and partly from the influence of Christianity.

However, not all of the reactionary conservatives were Christians. Edith Wharton, who was at best a nominal Christian, became a traditionalist conservative. In her youth, she attempted to live according to modernist notions of personal "liberation" and found them unlivable. Wharton wrote in French Ways and their Meaning (1919), "There is nothing like a revolution for making people conservative."

Wharton was not interested in political theory like Russell Kirk, but was interested in the complex interplay of men and women in society. She was a trenchant observer of the attitudes, ideals, illusions, denials, and frustrations of individual people as they groped their way through the labyrinth of life.

Wharton was critical of the "childish and self-deceiving" ways that modernists try to "refuse to themselves pain." She debunked the modernist delusion that human nature can be remade to serve society's purposes. One of her fictional characters believed that denying evil prevents it from coming into being. That character threw herself into all the foolish self-help fads and ersatz spiritual cults of the 1920's.

Interestingly, Wharton was a mischievous closet traditionalist. She amused her reader as she laughed at traditional society, all the while setting the stage for defending the best elements of the old traditions and exposing the folly of modernism.

From rebel to reactionary

Edith Wharton was born into a respectable family of old money named Jones. The family was so prominent in New York society that social climbers spoke of "keeping up with the Joneses," an expression that survived the fall of the Jones family into obscurity. As the style setter, the young Edith attempted to become the best dressed young woman in New York as her mother had been.

After surveying the artistic grandeur, brilliant conversation, and bohemian ways of Paris, the famous Jones girl stopped trying to keep up with the Joneses. She rebelled against the traditional convention-bound New York high society and ridiculed the social system in print. As a writer, Wharton tried to follow the example of Dickens and Thackeray in her satires and caricatures of society.

Gradually, she began to see through the follies of modernism and to discover that the social mores and traditions of old New York embodied a lot of wisdom about human nature. She advanced from rebel to reactionary.

The human tragedy

Wharton embraced the two classical masks of comedy and tragedy. Her novels are full of wit, levity, and sarcastic teasing, but in the end, her stories convey a tragic view of life. She observed the modernists flinging themselves into disaster while the traditionists lived decent and dignified lives of quiet tragedy. The traditionalist stoically endured his personal tragedy and the confining limitations of his society because he enjoyed the consolations of virtue, family, and society, and the agreeable amenities of a civilized and cultured life. The French of the old regime had these sweet consolations in mind when they spoke of "the sweetness of life."

Wharton did not formally subscribe to the Christian doctrine of original sin and the fall of man. However, she had an instinctive understanding that there is no escape from the self-defeating tangles of human perversity and the iron decrees of nature. Therefore, she recognized the futility of the modernist hope of finding a way out of the traps of human depravity and the cruelty of nature.

No escape to a world of dreams

Newland Archer, the dreamy and inarticulate protagonist of Wharton's book The Age of Innocence fell in love with the exotic and articulate Madame Olenska. Olenska was born into a prominent New York family, but lived for years at the summit of the rich and elegant society of Paris. Wharton does not give her many lines to speak, but puts all of the most memorable words of the book into her mouth.

Newland, as a personification of his culture at its best, embodied a goodness and innocence of which Olenska was more aware than he was. He unwittingly convinced her that they can never be together. She said, "...you had felt the world outside tugging at one with all its golden hands – and yet you hated the things it asks of one; you hated happiness bought by cruelty and indifference. That was what I'd never known before – and it's better than anything I've known...and don't let us undo what you have done!", she cried. "I can't go back now to that other way of thinking. I can't love you unless I give you up."

At another time, she continued her explanation to Newland, "...it was you who made me understand that under the dullness [of conventional society] there are things so fine and sensitive and delicate that even those [things] I most cared for in my other life look cheap by comparison...but it seems as if I'd never before understood with how much that is hard and shabby and base the most exquisite pleasures may be paid for." (In other words, to allow the sordid things of bohemian society to trample upon the fine things of conventional society is too heavy a price to pay, even for the seemingly exquisite pleasures of romantic dalliance and aesthetic refinement.)

As a new convert to the old ways, Madame Olenska had a deeper understanding of and a stronger commitment to the good things she had learned from Newland than Newland did himself. He was shaken from his dutiful and upright resolve by his overwhelming love for Madame Olenska and his dreamy longing to run away with her.

"And you'll sit beside me, and we'll look not at visions but reality," she said. "I don't know what you mean by realities," he responded. "The only reality I know is this." Olenska startled him out of his dreamy trance by asking, "It is your idea, then, that I should live with you as your mistress – since I can't be your wife?" As a man of delicate manners, he was shocked by the crude word "mistress." "I want – I want somehow to get away with you into a world where words like that – categories like that – won't exist. Where we are simply two people who love each other, who are the whole of life to each other; and nothing else shall matter."

She drew a deep sigh that ended with a laugh. "Oh my dear – where is that country? Have you ever been there?... I know so many who have tried to find it; and believe me, they all got out at the wrong stations ... and it wasn't at all different from the world they left, only rather smaller and dingier and more promiscuous."

America's tragic loss

Wharton, as a writer who lived in Paris, observed the tragic lives of those who had fled from New York to Paris in order to be "modern." She concluded that they would have been better off to stay in New York. Many of them were emotionally dislocated and alienated from one another. Ernest Hemingway referred to the American expatriates in Paris in the twenties as une generation perdue or "a lost generation."

Life within the old social boundaries was comfortable and safe, but frustrating, as Wharton well knew. The inability to find satisfaction in such a regime emanates from the deep disorders of human nature. A change of regime will not eliminate these disorders. The quest to find freedom from restraint and "free love" in Paris often led to the seduction and debauching of naive Americans, leaving them jaded at best and depraved and suicidal at worst.

In contrast, Wharton discovered that many of the customs and traditions of old New York embodied a deep wisdom about human nature. She grieved that a lost generation of post-WWI moderns were dismantling the old social system, and that something good about America was being lost forever.

(The first part of this essay was inspired by the book The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton and The Genius of Old New York, a book review by Cheryl Miller of the biography Edith Wharton by Hermoine Lee, Claremont Review of Books. Fall 2007.)

Building a brave new world

The writings of Sigmund Freud, William James, and John Dewey have helped to dismantle traditional society. Each man offered a substitute for the cultural heritage and the wisdom of the past. Freud's substitute was the human subconscious. James' substitute was the quick payoff of practical action. Dewey's substitute was pragmatic techniques for adapting to a contemporary society in flux. Each man in his own way was trying to build a brave new world on the ashes of the old.

I recall a newspaper cartoon of Mao's cultural revolution of 1968. Chinese youth were reading Mao's "little red book" and turning their backs on a great mountain of books labeled "3,000 years of tradition." When I think of Freud, James, and Dewey, the old cartoon sometimes comes to mind. Like Mao, these three cultural usurpers would replace an immense treasury of wisdom with the peculiar speculations of their cramped minds.

Aldous Huxley wrote a book about utopia called Brave New World (1932). In that world, war and poverty has been abolished. The people were stimulated and tranquilized through promiscuous sex and drugs. One particular drug imparted escape from pain and bad memories and offered pleasant hallucinations. Complacent escape from responsibility became the norm, while the government abolished the family, culture, art, literature, science, religion, and philosophy. In short, civilization, culture, virtue, faith, friendship, love, and all that is noble about man was replaced by the indulgence of contented human cattle by the pandering and controlling government.

When I was in college, I asked a number of students if they would take a drug that would make them gloriously happy at the cost of turning them into a vegetable. Many of them were ambivalent, not wanting to be a vegetable, but also not wanting to miss the happiness drug. They wanted instant happiness without consequences.

Huxley's book Brave New World was prescient about the direction that modernism was heading. The long series of modernist thinkers such as Hegel, Darwin, Marx, Freud, James, and Dewey culminated in the gathering of human cattle at Woodstock (1969).

The zombies at Woodstock were stoned on drugs, brought to sensual oblivion through open sexuality, and pounded into insensibility through loud drums and electric guitars. The sedated zombies made inarticulate grunts that war, poverty, family, and religion should be abolished and that all people should be united through promiscuous sexual embrace and a drugged euphoria.

Huxley saw all this coming, but probably did not expect the debauchery to be so ugly and degrading, or the political slogans to be so mindless. George Orwell's book Animal Farm (1945) warned us about the slogans. Madame Oleska's words, "smaller, dingier, and more promiscuous," were on the right track, but fell short of the hideousness of Woodstock.

A mad man's myth about human nature

Prior to Freud, most people acquired an understanding of human nature through relationships, experience, family, society, the Bible, church, and the literary classics. Freud wracked his fevered brow, brought forth dark speculations, and built a new model of man that radically contradicted all older concepts.

Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) was the founder of psychoanalysis. Science has been unable to validate the effectiveness of traditional (Freudian-style) psychoanalysis, and it has largely passed out of use among younger psychologists. It is now known that Freud had no solid clinical evidence for some of his more controversial theories, but speculated upon his clinical observations to establish his theories.

Freud's personal mental pathologies suggest that he was a driven man – not driven to follow the evidence, but driven by his own neurotic agendas. He was subject to depression, phobias, exaggerated fears of dying, and psychosomatic illnesses. Cocaine was his drug of choice – which he rationalized as a therapeutic anti-depressant.

Freud did a great deal of psychoanalysis on himself – which a self-absorbed drug-addled psychologist was bound to do. During his obsessive journeys into his inner darkness, he discovered perversions that he used as the basis for his theory of infantile desires for incest as the source of neurosis. He also theorized that religious joy was a delusional relapse to an infantile state during which one freshly experiences the remembered joy he had in his mother's arms. Incredibly, such drivel was popular for a couple of generations.

Modernists have foolishly entrusted themselves to the guidance of this drug-addicted madman in their quest to find out who they are. Unfortunately, Freud's baleful influence lingers on in literature, films, and philosophy, and in Marxist and feminist theory. His self-sedation with drugs and his preoccupation with the most primitive impulses of his psyche were reenacted at Woodstock. Freud created a mythology of human nature that has been adopted as part of the modernist program. Freudian science is dead, but the Freudian cult is alive and well.

Freud and modernism

How does Freud fit in with the agenda of modernism? To start with, he was an atheist and materialist like Darwin and Marx. He saw man as a dynamic biological system. As a biological determinist, he thought our perceptions of free will are delusions. He asserted that the conscious mind plays a minimal role in our actual behavior. We are thereby reduced to the status of mere automatons running on the fuel of primeval impulses. Freud's primeval man accords well with Darwin's classification of man as an animal descended from the apes. One cannot negate God without negating man as well.

If man has no freedom of choice and is not guided by the conscious mind, he is free from moral accountability. Freud treated "guilt-feelings" as a psychological disorder that can be treated with therapy. He rejected as a religious myth the premise that an objective moral guilt can exist. Beginning with Freud, the psychological profession has struggled mightily to take the moral stigma out of crime and to rationalize criminality and sexual immorality. Psychologists' encouragement of liberation from sexual "repression," an idea of Freud, gradually led the profession to formal acceptance of homosexuality and sexual perversion.

Modernists have consistently followed Jean Jacques Rousseau (the founder of liberal modernism and a co-founder of the Romantic movement) in denying the existence of innate evil in man and in arguing against the moral responsibility of the individual. Modernism and the Freudian model of man have been popular because they fit the modernist agenda, and because many men are rascals and wish to escape moral responsibility. A being that rejects moral responsibility is unfitted for freedom, but must be supervised by an authoritarian socialist government – which is one of the objectives of the modernist program. Encourage moral depravity and then call upon big government to clean up the mess. If this is not evil, nothing is.

Fresh rationalizations

In her novel, Wharton's spoke of the desire of moderns to break free from the restraints of traditional society. Freud offered fresh rationalizations for breaking free from restraint. He theorized that the subconscious mind represses primeval desires and urges. The result of this repression, he said, is neurosis. The objective of Freudian psychoanalysis was to bring the repressed desires up from the ocean depths of the unconscious to the surface, where the consciousness mind can observe it for purposes of therapy. Notice that after minimizing the role of the conscious mind, Freud attributes therapeutic powers to the conscious observing mind. Freudianism is self-contradictory.

Freud did not advise his patients to give way to the primitive impulse, but just to liberate it from repression and observe it for therapeutic effect. Whether the mere exposure and observation of the repressed desire has value for therapy is a matter of controversy. A psychologist of my acquaintance told me that playing with buried complexes of identity is unwholesome because it stirs those dark entities up and gives them power. Tampering with the secret complexes can make one more neurotic – just as Freud became more neurotic after his own self-analysis.

Freud and the social sciences

Tragically, as Freudian thought moved into the social sciences, the emphasis shifted from therapeutic observation to acting out the impulse. The Freudian voyeur became a libertine experimenter. The social scientists recommended that after one was freed from repression, he should actualize the thing that had been repressed. Freud opened Pandora's box, and the social sciences encouraged the demons to fly out of their cages. Freud rationalized the monstrosities, and the social sciences introduced them to society.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead (1901-1978) brought sexual Freudianism into the social sciences. She wrote about the "sexual liberation" of Polynesian girls in Coming of Age in Samoa (1928). Mead favorably contrasted the sexual promiscuity of Samoan adolescents with the "sexual repression" of American girls. However, it is now known that the Polynesian girls soon caught on to Mead's sexual agenda and invented lurid sexual stories to titillate her morbid preoccupation with sex – and laughed at her behind her back.

Freud and the arts

As Freud's pernicious influence has spread throughout Western culture, his effect upon the visual arts was particularly striking and shocking. Performance art, the acting out of one's primeval impulses, is merely the exhibitionism of the narcissist who is pretending to be an artist. A second aspect of Freudian art was art as therapy, which was most obvious in abstract impressionist art.

Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), the inventor of abstract impressionism, tossed together atrocious pictures that appear to be paint randomly splashed upon canvas. The effect might not be so hideous if purely random methods were used. Pollock obeyed primeval urges as he splashed, dripped, and smeared the paint. The depressing, haunted, and demented quality of modern art is no accident. It is the depraved art of Freudian madmen.

Pollack, who was a frequent psychiatric patient, used his paint drippings for self-therapy, much as he had used Rorschach inkblot tests. Just as he had seen his demons in the ink blots, he conjured up his demons as he splashed his paint. His psychoanalysis had freed him of the inhibitions that had kept the monsters of his haunted forest in the forest. Pollock brought the monsters out of the forest so they could haunt his "art." The manic "authenticity" of his arm movements as he followed his demented impulses was more important to him than what the mess looked like on canvas.

The hideous ugliness Pollock created bespeaks of an insane man in hell. This is what the brave new world must be in the end. The utopia turns into a hellish haunted house. Pollack turned to alcohol to escape his tormented madness. When that did not work, he killed himself by crashing his automobile and took a young party girl with him. If C.S. Lewis had included Pollock in his book The Great Divorce, he would have said that Pollock was in hell before he died and continued in hell after he died. His paintings are a record of his descent into hell.

The subversive nature of modern art

Modern art involves a radical renunciation of the Western aesthetic tradition. Traditional art exalts beauty, but modern art wallows in ugliness and rejects beauty. Traditional art seeks order, harmony, and proportion, while modern art revels in chaos. Traditional art is committed to form and reason. Modern art shatters form and seeks disordered experiences that undermine reason.

Saint Augustine defined evil as that which undermines and subverts the good. By this definition, modern art is evil. Since the modernist agenda lays aside the Western cultural tradition, resulting in the loss of much that is good, it can be argued that the modernist program is in large part an evil agenda.

Jackson Pollock was evil, not just through his perversion of art, but in his personal abuse of everyone who tried to help him. His murderous hatred of life was expressed in his suicide and his murder of the party girl.

William James and pragmatism

William James (1842-1910) wrote Pragmatism (1907), a book that was popular in America. He applied the empiricism of Bacon, Locke, and Hume to religious and literary ideas. He tested the validity of a religious idea by whether it works in practice. His standard for judging the value of an idea drawn from philosophy and literature was whether it had a short-term practical payoff.

How does one measure the payoff? If one acts upon the idea and the outcome is pleasing, then the action has a payoff, or in James words, it has "cash value." Truth equals pragmatic cash value.

Machiavelli, who was famous for his political pragmatism, would have been embarrassed by a pragmatism that stoops to calculations so sordid that they negate all thinking beyond the most elemental level. Machiavelli was a master of Greek and Roman philosophy. Such an achievement would be impossible for a disciple of William James.

Cash-value pragmatism as a judge of the worth of an idea is not only vile – it does not really work in practice. A program based upon valid ideas might fail due to circumstances outside one's control. Failure might come from a timing problem, or from incorrect methods of application. On the other hand, a bad idea might have temporary success. Many powerful fads are based upon bad ideas.

Many Americans practice cash-value pragmatism in their workaday lives. They bring it to church and try to serve God pragmatically. Even in churches that embrace orthodox doctrine, one often hears the catch-phrase "don't learn any more until you are practically applying what you have learned." But this is not a Christian idea. It is a modernist and secular idea, and it happens to be false. Pragmatism is not only antithetical to Christianity, it simply does not work.

First of all, one cannot judge the validity of a religious idea by its immediate applicability, or by the immediate outcome when you put it into practice. Some concepts have depth and cannot be boiled down to simple cookbook directions for instant action. Some spiritual concepts sink deep into the heart and change one's outlook on life – and slowly bubble up into attitudes and actions. An adult might suddenly understand the application of something he learned as a child. Some things that are true will drive the crowds away because they inform people of what they need to hear, and not what they want to hear. According to William James, such ideas are not valid because they have no cash value.

Looking for an instant application will at best render the shallowest possible construction of a concept, and at worst will miss the point. Finally, following the teachings of Christ will tend to make one unpopular – which can be construed pragmatically as a negative outcome. Unfortunately, pragmatic methods for bringing the crowds are now popular in many Evangelical churches. However, there is no such thing as a cool, crowd-pleasing Christ. This imaginary person is the fantasy of a shallow pragmatic mind. The crucified Christ is offensive to the individualistic, self-sufficient American who is complacent because he has inordinate high self-esteem.

William James' version of pragmatism was particularly vicious. He said that the measure of the cash value of an outcome is determined by subjective feelings. If it feels good, do it. Unalloyed pragmatism amounts to a narcissistic self-indulgence that is deceiving and corrupting.

Feeling good about an outcome is a very unreliable basis for judging the validity of an idea upon which an action is based. A greedy man might feel bad about an outcome if it does not make him richer. A cruel man might feel good about an outcome that hurts someone. One might feel bad about a positive outcome if one is in a bad mood or if one hoped for a different outcome.

It is impossible to apply William James' program without becoming self-seeking and calculating. Such a person is destined for the misery of a shallow and grasping life.

Pragmatism and intellectual shallowness

Pragmatism makes one intellectually and morally shallow. The pragmatist is impatient with ideas unless he can readily conceive of an application. As a rule, it is the shallow ideas that offer the easiest applications. Pragmatists are innocent of deep intellectual reflection and are therefore doomed to be the followers of stupid fads and cults. They tend to oversimplify the world.

Does James' pragmatism cut us off from the cultural, literary, and intellectual past? In an indirect way, it does just that. Literary classics are immortal because they sink down into the human heart and impart deep wisdom about life and human nature. James' approach to literature negates this effect. If one reads literature while searching high and low for snippets that are of immediate practical use, one will come away with little of lasting value. The harvest of wisdom from great literature is arrived at through sympathetic immersion in the lives of the characters of the stories, reflection about the life stories of those persons, and being stirred by the drama of their lives.

The universities are full of scholars who have read the classics, yet come off as illiterates. The methods they are taught to use to interpret the classics ensures that they learn little of enduring value from them. It is no accident that those with doctorates in English are less likely to be successful as writers than those from almost any other field.

Pragmatism and learning

The connection of pragmatism with learning brings us to the topic of education. As such, it introduces us to John Dewey, whose influential educational theories were deeply influenced by William James.

Both James and Dewey were deceived about the way men learn. Any child can memorize a list of rules for practical action. But this does not mean that the child has learned anything.

Learning is a slow process of meditation, digestion, and assimilation. Some of the deepest lessons might take years to assimilate. It might take more time to learn to discern the right settings, contexts, and opportunities to apply a truth. The understanding of human motivations, attitudes, and reactions to life events is often necessary before a truth can be properly applied.

How can a mere pragmatist hope to understand human nobility and human depravity? How can he correctly apply a concept when he knows nothing about the hopes, dreams, fears, and follies of mankind? The mere pragmatist is of all men most pitiable.

A bias against learning

One can't learn when he is impatient for action. The pragmatic student is annoyed when he is assigned to read great literature, because he is intellectually lazy and does want to dig for wisdom. He despises profound truths that have no instant applications. He wants easily accessible cookbook rules to guide his actions.

Pragmatism is anti-metaphysical. James valued only ideas with a quick payoff. The meaning of life, the nature of being, and the question of what man can know and how he knows it are issues with a very slow payoff. The historical hostility of pragmatists to metaphysics reveals their anti-intellectual bias.

Metaphysics pertains to the true nature of reality. If pragmatists paddle on the surface, metaphysics probes the ocean depths. The mind that is unfamiliar with metaphysics can never be fully developed in its powers. Pragmatism is intellectually superficial, and the pragmatist must remain second-rate in his intellectual powers.

Dewey's hand-holds

John Dewey (1859-1952) is famous for "instrumentalism," which is a fancy word for practical hand-holds. For example, if Dewey wanted a student to learn to work in groups, he would teach him practical techniques for doing so. Dewey developed these techniques through experimentation. His empirical methods of experiment had a scientific patina that gave Dewey academic respectability.

The student under Dewey develops a cookbook of instrumental techniques. But what has the student been trained to do? He is trained to look in a menu for a canned technique as a substitute for thinking. In the professional world, these folks are hard to teach.

In my former work with auditors involving both teaching and quality review, I found that those who used a canned (cookbook) approach never matured professionally. They could never explain the reason they were doing what they were doing. They could not tailor an audit based upon the special problems and unique structure of an auditee. They lacked the intellectual powers to correctly interpret the results of their tests. They could not even explain how they came to their conclusions.

Partners in CPA firms who had come up the ranks in a firm that insists upon a canned approach were ignorant of basic auditing concepts that they should have learned during their first year in the profession. The canned approach makes progressive stages of learning impossible.

Dewey's instrumental methods involve a cookbook of canned techniques. But it is impossible to learn this way. Christ's rebuke to lawyers in Luke 11:52 – that they have taken away the key of knowledge – puts me in mind of Dewey. By substituting canned techniques for serious analysis, he has taken away the key to deep learning necessary for the progressive stages of growth to intellectual maturity. Just as ten years of canned auditing leaves one a beginner in the conceptual understanding of auditing, Dewey's methods produce college professors who are beginners in literary criticism. Dewey's instrumental techniques lead to intellectual paralysis. Boys and girls, that is why the public schools have been dumbed down. Dewey has turned bright kids into slow learners.

The mad skipper of the educational ship

Dewey believed that human culture is in continuous flux. Being a strict pragmatist, he believed that the only learning that is relevant equips the student with techniques that will have a short-term payoff in the world that exists at this moment in time. Dewey asserted that the tricks that worked a generation ago are irrelevant to the present generation because society has changed and people have changed. This is now a very popular idea in America – but it happens to be absurd and destructive.

Dewey believed in an extreme historicism. Hegel, the father of historicism, would have been shocked at how far Dewey carried it. For example, Dewey dismissed traditional ideas of good and evil. Because man has changed, old ideas of good and evil are now irrelevant, or so we are told. The normative ethics of the society that exists right now are all the student should be concerned about. "...But all the other kids are doing it!"

The idea that human nature is in constant flux is preposterous. To think that man changes as quickly as the fluctuating fads on the street is madness – the unique madness of John Dewey. He was a madman who sat at the tiller of the educational ship. In spite of generations of failure in the application of his methods, he is still held in high esteem by the educational establishment. Having been intellectually debilitated by Dewey's guidance, the educational leaders lack the mental capacity to learn from Dewey's mistakes.

Dewey's radical historicism involves rejection of the lessons of history and a contempt for the past. The present multiculturalism of the educational establishment involves a suppression of the Western cultural heritage. This subversion of education would not have been possible without John Dewey.

Flowers breaking through the concrete

As modernism destroys Western culture, one might despair amidst the dismal gloom. However, Edith Wharton reacted to the madness of modernism by learning deep truths about traditional society. When a culture becomes inhuman, human nature rebels against it. The contemporary conservative movement came into existence partly in reaction to the inhumanity of modernism and the shocking moral depths to which the decadent culture has fallen. In a brave new world paved over with concrete, flowers are growing through the cracks.


A message from Stephen Stone, President, RenewAmerica

I first became acquainted with Fred Hutchison in December 2003, when he contacted me about an article he was interested in writing for RenewAmerica about Alan Keyes. From that auspicious moment until God took him a little more than six years later, we published over 200 of Fred's incomparable essays — usually on some vital aspect of the modern "culture war," written with wit and disarming logic from Fred's brilliant perspective of history, philosophy, science, and scripture.

It was obvious to me from the beginning that Fred was in a class by himself among American conservative writers, and I was honored to feature his insights at RA.

I greatly miss Fred, who died of a brain tumor on August 10, 2010. What a gentle — yet profoundly powerful — voice of reason and godly truth! I'm delighted to see his remarkable essays on the history of conservatism brought together in a masterfully-edited volume by Julie Klusty. Restoring History is a wonderful tribute to a truly great man.

The book is available at Amazon.com.

© Fred Hutchison

 

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They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. —Isaiah 40:31