One of the things that I really appreciate about the folks who blog here is their devotion to detail and the way that supporting information is always cited when an opinion or position is stated. I know that I always try to provide information to allow the reader to understand the context of my statements. As others here also do, I do quite a bit of reading to support my writing. I read everything that I can get my hands on because I want to understand both sides of the issue.
That’s because I want to understand and have a command over my points – and those of my opposition. This is a basic debate skill that I learned in high school…and yes, I was on the debate team (and the football and basketball teams). I want to be able to make a full-bodied and complete argument. To defeat your opponent, you not only need to understand your argument, you need to have command of his, too.
A few days ago, I noticed an article by Peter Berkowitz in the Wall Street Journal that may well explain why our government officials, politicians and pundits simply do not understand the Constitution or those of us who make traditionalist, originalist or federalist arguments in defense of it. The fact that so many in the Beltway/”progressive” intelligentsia were shocked!, shocked!, I tell you, that Obamacare could possibly be found unconstitutional seems to rest more on an absence of knowledge than salable points…maybe it also explains why Obama’s Solicitor General, Donald Verrilli, had such a hard time defending the indefensible in front of the Supreme Court.
It turns out that they might have been shocked because they have never read, much less understood the basis upon which Obamacare could be axed. If they had, perhaps the legislation would have been crafted in a different manner, one more, you know – constitutional. There isn’t even a severability clause in it (although the lack of such a clause is a recognition by the bill’s authors that it only works as a total, albeit Marxist, package – cut off a finger, it all dies. So they went for it on fourth and inches, they went for the big win, the whole enchilada.)
Shocking as it may be, Berkowitz notes that many top tier political science schools do not teach the Federalist Papers – or if they do, they merely give lip service to them.
It would be difficult to overstate the significance of The Federalist for understanding the principles of American government and the challenges that liberal democracies confront early in the second decade of the 21st century. Yet despite the lip service they pay to liberal education, our leading universities can’t be bothered to require students to study The Federalist—or, worse, they oppose such requirements on moral, political or pedagogical grounds. Small wonder it took so long for progressives to realize that arguments about the constitutionality of ObamaCare are indeed serious.
At Harvard, at least, all undergraduate political-science majors will receive perfunctory exposure to a few Federalist essays in a mandatory course their sophomore year. But at Yale, Princeton, Stanford and Berkeley, political-science majors can receive their degrees without encountering the single surest analysis of the problems that the Constitution was intended to solve and the manner in which it was intended to operate.
Most astonishing and most revealing is the neglect of The Federalist by graduate schools and law schools. The political science departments at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford and Berkeley—which set the tone for higher education throughout the nation and train many of the next generation’s professors—do not require candidates for the Ph.D. to study The Federalist. And these universities’ law schools (Princeton has no law school), which produce many of the nation’s leading members of the bar and bench, do not require their students to read, let alone master, The Federalist’s major ideas and main lines of thought.
Why is this important? Berkowitz continues:
The Federalist deals with the reasons for preserving the union, the inefficacy of the existing federal government under the Articles of Confederation, and the conformity of the new constitution to the principles of liberty and consent. It covers war and peace, foreign affairs, commerce, taxation, federalism and the separation of powers. It provides a detailed examination of the chief features of the legislative, executive and judicial branches. It advances its case by restatement and refutation of the leading criticisms of the new constitution. It displays a level of learning, political acumen and public-spiritedness to which contemporary scholars, journalists and politicians can but aspire. And to this day it stands as an unsurpassed source of insight into the Constitution’s text, structure and purposes.
Given that a majority of our elected officials are political science grads and/or lawyers, it does explain a lot. We have a ruling class that, like our friend Rezwan Haq in Panama City (friends from Panama City will know what I mean), only have a “google search” level understanding of these issues. Their knowledge is superficial at best, limited to sound bites of information, most often taken out of context. I think that it is because we now see a constant diet of these little appetizer sized morsels of knowledge being offered up and the public at large has become conditioned to consume information in these bite size portions. As a result, we are losing the ability to absorb and digest larger slices of information.
Think of it this way – you have a goldfish in a bowl and you go and buy food for it. Why is the food in tiny flake form? Probably because the mouth of the fish is so small and a goldfish can’t eat food that is larger than its mouth. It can’t take it in to be digested. Try putting a large, solid brick of food in the tank and the fish will starve to death. Brains are that way, too. Years of conditioning to accept small bits of that dapper dandy, good old Shep Smith on Fox, Kim Kardashian and Jon Stewart’s Daily Show prevents the brain from being able to consume the hard stuff, the large bricks of information that are represented by many of our issues.
Today, if you want to understand issues beyond a superficial level, you have to go get your knowledge on – you have to put in the intellectual sweat equity. You won’t get it from Fox, CNN, MSNBC, HLN or any of the “alphabet” broadcast networks because all of these “news” outlets are more concerned with entertainment and ratings than information. You also aren’t going to get it from our government schools or public colleges because these institutions have sadly become more about indoctrination in a specific leftist ideology than a free thinking education – as was indelibly illustrated this week when the academic publication, Chronicle of Higher Education, fired Naomi Schaefer Riley for her blog post identifying “black studies” programs as filled with useless “leftist claptrap” instead of true scholarship. I have to wonder how many people who subsequently vilified Riley as a racist even took the time to find out that she is married to a member of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, Jason Riley – who is a black man. They are probably the knowledge equivalents of goldfish – a three second memory.
It is hard. it is an investment in time and effort because you have to THINK to understand the concepts – but my belief is that you simply cannot understand the Constitution without reading the Federalist papers and you can’t understand our founding principles without reading the works of people like Frédéric Bastiat, John Locke, Charles Montesquieu, Alexis de Tocqueville, Plato, Hobbes and Sir Thomas More. You can’t understand Marxism without reading Marx and Engels, you can’t understand American “progressivism” without reading about Woodrow Wilson and FDR (and a lot in their own words)…in short, you have to study. Chances are, if you are arguing with a Marxist, it is likely that he has never read Locke – if you are arguing with an Occupy protester, he may not even know how to read. The point is that the need for learning doesn’t stop when you get a diploma.
I would feel perfectly comfortable to state that I, as well as our co-bloggers and many of our readers, understand these issues far better than most in government…and we didn’t even stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night (well, at least I didn’t).