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Foreign Affairs

The Big Crisis is Coming

December 2nd, 2010 // 4:00 am @

Note: If you like this article, you’ll love Oliver’s latest book, FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny, which addresses the future of American and what to do about it.

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By 2020, the U.S. will be spending $1 trillion a year just to pay the interest on the national debt. Sometime between now and then the catastrophe will come. It will come with amazing swiftness.” -David Brooks, New York Times Columnist

A big crisis is coming. From the story of the boy who cried, “Wolf!” to the crime of calling “Fire!” in a crowded theater, our society has a pretty low tolerance for alarmists.

They’re irresponsible, sensational, not to be believed.

One sure way to be ejected from the “Inner Ring” is to promote theories of conspiracy, to predict disaster or to in any other way suggest that our Progressivist trajectory is gravely off-course.

But what about when there is a wolf? Well, sure; the idea that there really is a wolf has agitated the fevered minds of crackpots and fringies since–forever.

And their animated efforts to alert the world to the threats that supposedly imperil us, to “wake us up” (regardless of our disinterest or our criticism) is perhaps the best indication that there’s no merit in their warning–or so says popular opinion.

This makes it all the more curious, awkward and, dare we say, disturbing when a chorus of alarms is heard coming from the established intelligentsia, from the acknowledged “experts” and thought leaders–the most credible voices in The Great Conversation.

And this is exactly what is taking place right now.

History is, of course, full of cranks and doomsayers, and the wise learn to talk in moderated tones and look at the evidence with clinical objectivity.

And yet in our time even many of our most objective, credible, detached, understated, methodical and consistently rational thinkers are predicting significant difficulties ahead–often in dramatic and even sensational terms.

Twenty Quotes Every American Should Read Today

For example, consider the following thoughts from some of our most tempered and prudent authorities. I have arranged these in a Top 20 list of great quotes; all 20 are an important commentary on our modern world and the decade ahead.

1. Peggy Noonan, The Wall Street Journal

I think there is an unspoken subtext in our national political culture right now. In fact I think it’s a subtext to our society. I think that a lot of people are carrying around in their heads, unarticulated and even in some cases unnoticed, a sense that the wheels are coming off the trolley and the trolley off the tracks.”

2. William Strauss & Neil Howe, The Fourth Turning

Wherever we’re headed, America is evolving in ways most of us don’t like or understand. Individually focused yet collectively adrift, we wonder if we’re headed toward a waterfall . . . a decisive era of secular upheaval, when the values regime propels the replacement of the old civic order with a new one.”

3. David Brooks, The New York Times

Elections come and go, but the United States is still careening toward bankruptcy. By 2020, the U.S. will be spending $1 trillion a year just to pay the interest on the national debt. Sometime between now and then the catastrophe will come. It will come with amazing swiftness. The bond markets are with you until the second they are against you. When the psychology shifts and the fiscal crisis happens, the shock will be grievous: national humiliation, diminished power in the world, drastic cuts and spreading pain.”

4. Niall Ferguson, Newsweek

This is how empires decline. It begins with a debt explosion.”

5. Roger C. Altman & Richard N. Haas, Foreign Affairs

The U.S. government is incurring debt at a historically unprecedented and ultimately unsustainable rate… As the world’s biggest borrower and the issuer of the world’s reserve currency, the United States will not be allowed to spend ten years leveraging itself to these unprecedented levels. If U.S. leaders do not act to curb this debt addiction, then the global capital markets will do so for them, forcing a sharp and punitive adjustment in fiscal policy. The result will be an age of American austerity. No category of federal spending will be spared, including entitlements and defense. Taxes on individuals and businesses will be raised. Economic growth, both in the United States and around the world, will suffer. There will be profound consequences, not just for Americans’ standard of living but also for U.S. foreign policy and the coming era of international relations.”

6. Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Foreign Affairs

The Congressional Budget Office calculates that total government debt will reach 100 percent of GDP by 2023…”

7. Roger C. Altman & Richard N. Haas, Foreign Affairs

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) staff paper comes closer to the mark by projecting that federal debt could equal total GDP as soon as 2015. These levels approximate the relative indebtedness of Greece and Italy today. Leaving aside the period during and immediately after World War II, the United States has not been so indebted since recordkeeping began, in 1792… State and local governments also owe huge amounts, on the order of $3 trillion.”

8. Don Peck, The Atlantic

The Great Recession may be over, but this era of high joblessness is probably just beginning. Before it ends, it will likely change the life course and character of a generation of young adults… It could cripple marriage as an institution in many communities… Ultimately, it is likely to warp our politics, our culture and the character of our society for years come…The economy now sits in a hole 10 million jobs deep…[and] we need to produce roughly 1.5 million jobs a year–about 125,000 a month–just to keep from sinking deeper. Even if the economy were to immediately begin producing 600,000 jobs a month–more than double the pace of the mid-to-late 1990s, when job growth was strong–it would take roughly two years to dig ourselves out of the hole we’re in… But the U.S. hasn’t seen that pace of sustained employment growth in more than 30 years…”

9. Ken Wilber, A Theory of Everything

We are awaiting the new global founding Fathers and Mothers who will frame an integral system of governance that will call us to our more encompassing future . . .”

10. Andreas Kluth, The Economist

And yet, who would be California’s ‘Founding Fathers’? Thomas Jefferson, absent from Philadelphia as a minister to France, called the 55 delegates chosen by the states ‘demi-gods’. These were men such as James Madison, deeply versed in Aristotle, Cicero, Locke and Montesquieu, who preferred the word ‘republic’ to ‘democracy’ for fear that the latter might evoke the chaos of ancient Athens… But can lay people be expected to assume the responsibilities of a Madison?”

11. Thomas Friedman, The New York Times

We are in a country in debt and in decline–not terminal, not irreversible, but in decline. Our political systems seem incapable of producing long-range answers to big problems or big opportunities.”

12. Larry King, Larry King Live

A recent CNN Opinion Research Poll [asked]: ‘Do you think the federal government has become so large and powerful that it poses a threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary people?’ Fifty-six percent of Americans said yes.”

13. Joseph S. Nye, Jr., Foreign Affairs

In 2010, a poll by the Pew Research Center found that 61 percent of respondents thought the United States was in decline, and only 19 percent trusted the government to do what is right most of the time. In 1964, by contrast, three-quarters of the American public said they trusted the federal government to do the right thing most of the time.”

14. David Brooks, The New York Times

The essence of America is energy–the vibrancy of the market, the mobility of the people and the disruptive creativity of the entrepreneurs. This vibrancy grew up accidentally, out of a cocktail of religious fervor and material abundance, but it was nurtured by choice. It was nurtured by our founders, who created national capital markets to disrupt the ossifying grip of the agricultural landholders. It was nurtured by 19th-century Republicans to build the railroads and the land-grant colleges to weave free markets across great distances. It was nurtured by Progressives who broke the stultifying grip of the trusts…The task ahead is to save this country from stagnation and fiscal ruin. We know what it will take…The Democratic Party…does not seem to be up to that coming challenge (neither is the Republican Party).”

15. Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek

The world has shifted from anti-Americanism to post-Americanism . . . The distribution of power is shifting, moving away from American dominance.”

16. Philip Bobbitt, The Shield of Achilles

We are entering a period, however, when very small numbers of persons, operating with the enormous power of modern computers, biogenetics, air transport, and even small nuclear weapons, can deal lethal blows to any society. Because the origin of these attacks can be effectively disguised, the fundamental bases of the State will change . . . We are entering a fearful time, a time that will call on all our resources, moral as well as intellectual and material.”

17. Thomas Friedman, The New York Times

I heard a phrase being bandied around here by non-Americans–about the United States–that I can honestly say I’ve never heard before: ‘political instability.’ [This] was a phrase normally reserved for countries like Russia or Iran or Honduras. But now, an American businessman remarked to me, ‘people ask me about political instability in the U.S. We’ve become unpredictable to the world’….We’re making people nervous.”

18. Joe Klein, Time

Many Americans also were confused and frustrated by the constant state of war since the terrorist attacks of 9/11. But for every occasion they raised Afghanistan, they mentioned China 25 times…’The great fear is about American supremacy,’ said Anne Mariucci…’We all believed that if you followed the basic compact, worked hard and played by the rules, that we’d have the highest standard of living in the world. And we were always on the front edge of the next new technology–but we’re not anymore. We seem to be mired in mediocrity while China is steaming ahead.'”

19. Ken Kurson, Esquire

Today’s brutal economy and credit freeze should have most entrepreneurs running for cover, or at last signing up for the 99 weeks of unemployment our Congress has generously provided, courtesy of our kids and grandkids. Instead, many steel-stomached small business people are using this crisis as an opportunity to expand.”

20. Alvin Toffler, The Third Wave

There are powerful reasons for long-rang optimism, even if the transitional years immediately ahead are likely to be stormy and crisis ridden.”

One More Thing: The Rise of China

On the issue of China, Peggy Noonan said in The Wall Street Journal:

People are freshly aware of the real-world implications of a $1.6 trillion deficit, of a $14 trillion debt. It will rob American of its economic power, and eventually even of its ability to defend itself. Militaries cost money. And if other countries own our debt, don’t they in some new way own us? If China holds enough of your paper, does it also own some of your foreign policy? Do we want to find out?”

Also consider these quotes from my book FreedomShift:

Note that China, the second largest economy in the world, has huge savings (unlike the former Soviet Union or the current United States) and is a major buyer of U.S. debt. China has three of the world’s four largest banks, the two largest insurance companies and the second largest stock market. With all this, the Communist Party remains in control; it also remains firmly communistic in philosophy and is, if possible, increasingly totalitarian.”

China has a huge surplus of government and also private savings, and it wants to invest in the United States. Indeed it is our largest creditor now. Other nations may also be persuaded to keep supporting our spending habits. But one has to wonder why our philosophical opponent (communist China) wants to invest so much. Are its motives pure? What if they’re not? Is it a simple profit motive? What if it’s something more?”

And as Thomas Friedman said in the New York Times:

What does it mean when China’s communist business environment is more inviting to U.S. companies, more conducive to their growth, than the United States? When the regulations and taxes in the U.S. make doing business in China attractive? The U.S. now ranks #40 out of forty industrialized nations in appeal to business.”

As noted by Samuel P. Huntington and summarized by Richard K. Betts in Foreign Affairs:

Huntington also presents data showing China as the only major power that has been more violent than Muslim states.”

Columnist for The Atlantic (and 30-year expert living in Asia) James Fallows has argued that America can find ways to work with China so the 21st Century doesn’t become a time of big-power conflict, but few if any experts believe that the U.S. can ultimately keep competing with China unless we make major improvements at home.

It’s Coming

A big crisis is coming, and we need to prepare. I am an optimist, and I am convinced that the best years in America and the world are ahead of us.

I am also an idealist: I believe that we should clarify what we want for the world’s future and get to work creating it–however difficult the task.

As a realist I am convinced that unless certain things change very quickly (and perhaps no matter what we do) we are facing some major challenges ahead. Every generation faces its share of problems and gets to choose whether to be beaten down by them or to turn them into opportunities.

All of this said, my optimism still wins out. Our best is yet to come. And it will almost surely come as we face and overcome the major challenges ahead.

What are these challenges? I have no crystal ball, and my only certainty is that they will surely come–and probably very soon.

Many nations have been at a point with conditions similar to those we now face, and there is a preponderance of historical evidence that certain kinds of problems dominate in such circumstances.

The cycles and patterns of history indicate four major types of challenges for our situation.

Four Possible Catastrophes

Four possible catastrophes are suggested by historical analysis. Of course, any foray into prediction is based on educated guesses, and the one sure bet is that the future will present a number of surprises.

Along with the inevitable shocks that will no doubt disturb all forecasts, one or more of these great challenges is likely to come again soon.

These scenarios are a good indication of what we should expect during the next decade:

1. Major Economic Problems

The Great Recession does not qualify as a major economic collapse, though nearly all the experts are convinced that it came very close to becoming one. An economic depression of considerably greater magnitude may be ahead.

2. Health Pandemic

Modern nations are extremely concerned about this terrifying possibility. It is a telling foreshadow that insurance companies are taking this threat very seriously and preparing accordingly. Historically, the Black Plague was as devastating as any war–more than most; indeed, it reportedly killed a third of the population in many parts of Europe.

3. An Unexpected Major Crisis

Examples might include a major volcanic event, earthquakes, meteors, drastic environmental shifts or other so-called “acts of God.”

Of course, the unexpected can come at any point in the historical cycles, but in times like ours these randomly occurring disasters are especially devastating because coinciding with one or more of the other three challenges is so likely. In the age of WMDs, such catastrophes could be manmade–in all of history, there is no credible example of weapons being created and remaining unused.

4. Major War that Threatens the Homeland

The experts seem to think that few enemies in the world have the potential to challenge America in this way, but even if this is true the reality is that any of the other major crises would most likely be quickly followed by major warfare.

Things can change very quickly, as history has proven. We are at the point in history (following a major boom in the 90s and then 9/11, the longest war in U.S. history and the Great Recession crash) that we are weary of crisis.

We want the challenges to be over, and we are thus particularly vulnerable. It is at such points that the really big problems come–like Pearl Harbor after a roaring twenties boom ended by the stock market crash in 1929 and then twelve long years of crushing depression.

Turning Crisis to Opportunity

We’ve gotten a little soft after several generations of prosperity and entitlement. It’s time for us to cheer up, man up and turn our coming challenges into opportunities.

America’s biggest successes came in times of challenge: the Constitution came out of a time of war and economic downturn, slavery was ended in another era of war and economic depression, and the Greatest Generation stopped Hitler in a period of world war following the Great Depression.

The patterns of history suggest, and the intelligentsia from across the globe concur, that we are headed for another such time period; in fact, we may well be into it already.

The challenges won’t be identical, of course, but they will likely be similar. Realism says our generation will have as many challenges as any other, and optimism says we can turn the coming challenges into remaking America and the world in the best and most important ways.

Whether we succumb to the challenges ahead or turn them into America’s best years depends on the American people.

If we stand back and wait for our leaders to solve our problems, the crises ahead will almost certainly go very badly for America.

If we just pretend everything is fine (or that our leaders will fix everything without our help) until the crisis is fully upon us, we miss valuable preparation time.

If, on the other hand, we resurrect our identity as a nation of grassroots leaders, entrepreneurial thinkers and citizen-statesmen, we will use the coming difficulties to significantly improve the world we pass on to posterity.

Well, Chicken Little–it turns out that the sky is falling. Will we be prepared?

Category : Current Events &Economics &Featured &Foreign Affairs &Government &Leadership

The New America

November 26th, 2010 // 4:00 am @

The Age of Dependence

We have recently changed as a people, and as a nation. I’m not sure exactly when the change occurred, but we are living in the new reality it has created.

On the one hand, we have always been a nation dedicated to positive change. America was founded by breaking from the old world and establishing a new model of society and governance, and the progressive impulse has guided America ever since.

On the other hand, we have usually defined change in the positive sense, and when progress has come it has always been based on a nation of freethinking citizens and courageous leaders.

Today, in contrast, we have become, to a large extent, a nation of followers. For the past three generations, we have been taught to depend upon experts.

This is a stunning break from the founding and pioneering generations who raised their children to depend upon their own wisdom, initiative and grit.

This dependence on experts is as devastating to freedom and as potentially controlling as totalitarian governments, caste and class systems, and the wealthy withholding education from the masses.

It is an applicational flaw in modernism that is persistently leaching freedom from historically open nations around the world.

In addition to unhealthy dependence on experts, we have been conditioned in the West to think like reductionists—only accepting logical, concrete and proven answers.

This invalidates our “gut” feelings about right and wrong and leaves us more dependent on the accepted authority. It puts the “experts” above the citizens in determining America’s future.

But the biggest problem with our reductionism is that we are Dependent Reductionists: we consider something to be logical and proven when the experts say so.

Ironically, this kind of reductionism is actually the opposite of reductionism; it is, in fact, a personal rejection among citizens of our own logic and common sense and instead an ignorant reliance on the leadership of our “betters” in academia, the media, economics and government.

An Age of Epicurus

Add to this a third major characteristic of modern Americans: we are nearly all epicureans, meaning that we want life to feel good.

We expect childhood, youth, education, health, career, finances, romance, family, entertainment and everything else in life to basically go well for us. Always.

And if this ever fails, we angrily blame the government, our employers, our parents or someone else for not doing their job. If everyone did his part, we now believe, pretty much everything would go well for us; and if we’re not content, comfortable and at ease, someone is surely to blame.

So then, most Americans are now Epicurean Dependent Reductionists: We want the experts to make everything good for us, we instinctively believe that they will, and we expect them to use science, logic, research, planning and whatever else is necessary to ensure that all goes well.

After all, they’re the experts. And government officials are expected to do the most, since they are experts with power.

This is the New America.

Of course, there is more to America than these three characteristics, but the new influence of widespread Dependence, Dependent Reductionism and Epicureanism indicates a different kind of future than most Americans seem to want.

Time magazine chronicled Joe Klein’s visit across America in the fall of 2010. Klein talked to hundreds of regular Americans, asking them questions about America and the world and listening closely to their answers, concerns, thoughts and worries. What he discovered is a good overview of modern America.

He found voters to be more eloquent, unpredictable and candid than the candidates. He wrote: “There was a unanimous sense that Washington was broken beyond repair.”

Americans are also upset with big business, especially big finance.

They feel that Washington is out of touch. For example, the citizens mentioned concerns about China 25 times for each time they mentioned Afghanistan.

Liberals are frustrated with Obama; but surprisingly, conservatives are less angry about Obama and more disappointed.

They wanted him to succeed, to help fix the economy. But they don’t feel he has done much.

The growing nanny state drives them crazy. They hate the stimulus and bailouts, and they are confused about the health care bill.

They wonder why the Obama Administration focused on these things instead of jobs. They just don’t understand why the big things — jobs — are being ignored. This infuriates many Americans, both liberals and conservatives.

Klein called the regular Americans he met, on the whole, “rowdy and proud, ignorant and wise.”

The Lost Cartesian Age

Tocqueville said that Americans in the 1830s were nearly all Cartesians, but noted that most of them didn’t know that the word “Cartesian” means a follower of the philosophy promoted by Descartes.

This philosophy was based on not believing any of the experts, but rather thinking about things independently and reaching your own conclusions.

Indeed, a Cartesian considers himself the only real expert on things that are important to him. She listens closely to the thoughts of others and deeply considers all views, and then arrives at her own conclusions.

And for Americans, as Tocqueville witnessed, individual citizens were the highest “experts” on all things related to government.

In Europe, he wrote, the people loved the great artists. In America few idealized the great artists but nearly all youth and adults participated personally in art — paintings, plays, singing, and so on.

The same applied in politics. Instead of following great political icons or parties, the American electorate was deeply and personally involved in the ongoing issues.

The Americans of the 1830s could easily be called Independent Cartesian Innovators.

They expected life to be full of challenges, and they didn’t want their government or anyone else to solve their problems. They wanted to be adults, to meet their own challenges, to solve their own problems.

They believed that the government had its role, but they wanted the freedoms that could only come by keeping the state limited. Again (and this bears constant repeating in our times), they wanted to live life as adults, facing the challenges of the world and overcoming them on their own or with their families and communities.

If problems arose, they didn’t blame others. They were too busy getting to work on solutions.

When they failed, they suffered. Then they claimed that the lessons they had learned through suffering were worth the failure, even as they intently and optimistically went on to new and better projects.

This attitude led them across the oceans, into the wilderness, to freedom from the Monarchy and the old countries, across the plains, and to the moon itself. Along the way, they began the process of conquering the internal frontiers of slavery, chauvinism, bigotry and racism. They made mistakes, but they refused to give up. They kept trying.

A New Age Ahead?

Today, far too often, we just give up. We wait for the experts to do what needs to be done. And, unfortunately, too frequently the experts and officials want us to do nothing.

They believe in the experts as much as everyone else. They too often see citizens as children to be cared for, not adults to be left alone to deal with their own lives as they see fit.

But when a nation becomes a society of followers instead of leaders and adopts a culture of dependency and complaining instead of citizens who are at least trying, flaws and all, to innovatively make the world truly better, freedom is in danger.

We have reached a point in history when this generation must take a stand. If we want to pass on freedom and prosperity to our children and grandchildren, we need to move toward an attitude of innovation, independent thinking, responsibility, resiliency, and taking personal risk to make the world better.

It is time to stop talking so much about what kind of leaders we want, to give less lip service to what Washington or Wall Street or Hollywood should do, and to act a lot more like citizens who actually deserve freedom.

It is time for all of us in America, once again, to change. And this time the change needs to earn the kind of future we truly want.

The first step is a simple change in attitude from dependent on experts to truly thinking for ourselves and seeing regular citizens (not political or economic professionals) as the real experts on American government, freedom and the future.

***********************************

Oliver DeMille is the founderof the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

 

Category : Citizenship &Culture &Current Events &Featured &Foreign Affairs &Government &History &Leadership &Liberty

America’s New Grand Strategy

November 23rd, 2010 // 4:00 am @

The United States is currently experiencing a Grand Strategy Crisis — and the most powerful nation in the world since the Roman Empire better get it right.

Such a crisis typically comes along once a generation, when the nation drops its old grand strategy and selects a new one.

Unfortunately, this significant change, which has happened three times in U.S. history and will likely occur again in the next two decades, is hardly noticed by the large majority of the people.

It affects them in many ways, but most people don’t know about it until it’s too late to change.

For those who lead a nation, the grand strategy is more than a set of guidelines or even a list of goals or objectives.

The grand strategy is a vision of where a nation wants to go, of what it seeks to accomplish in the world — a vision shared by its decision-making elite.

A grand strategy is the guiding principle for foreign policy and nearly all international relations for a nation.

“How” to achieve the grand strategy is a subject of ongoing debate among the elites in any free nation, but “what” the strategy should be is only considered on those rare occasions when a nation decides to drastically shift gears.

In such times, big changes occur. In the United States we have shifted grand strategies three times:

  1. between 1776 and 1796, from the Revolutionary War through the ratification of the Constitution;
  2. between 1856 and 1876, from the rise of Lincoln through the Civil War and into Reconstruction;
  3. and again from 1929 to 1949 during the Great Depression and World War II.

Past Grand Strategies

In each case, once a grand strategy was adopted, national leaders pursued it until world events required significant changes.

The American Founding generation rejected the Royalist grand strategy of increasing the power, wealth and empire of the Crown, and instead adopted a grand strategy of Constitutionalism, also known as Republicanism or Manifest Destiny.

This grand strategy held two major themes: First, the founders expected the United States to expand naturally and spread the new American system of free, limited, representative government from the Atlantic states all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

Secondly, through example, they wanted the nations of the world to see the success of this free model and embrace it.

This grand strategy was not always implemented perfectly, but it guided American policy.

After the Civil War, U.S. leaders adopted a strategy of Nationalism: the focus shifted to increasing American national strength and status in the world.

Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Delano Roosevelt were among those who helped pursue this strategic vision.

“America must take its place as a leader of nations,” became the sometimes spoken but always central focus of the U.S. policy elite.

At the end of two devastating world wars and a bleak depression, U.S. decision makers again adopted a new grand strategy — Internationalism.

The focus of this grand strategy was simple: use international organizations, treaties, international diplomacy, conferences and cooperative arrangements to make the world safe for democracy and capitalism.

The idea was to contain communism, keep it from spreading, and simultaneously support the spread of democracy and capitalism as far and wide as possible.

Hopefully, if the strategy worked, communism would not only stop growing but its support around the world would begin to diminish, to be replaced by democratic-capitalism.

In short, the foreign policy history of the United States might be summed up as Constitutionalism, then Nationalism, and finally Internationalism.

Internationalism became woefully outdated in the early 1990s — and the world found out just how outdated on September 11, 2001.

Proposed Grand Strategies

Amazingly, however, few have engaged the current vital discussion about America’s new 21st Century grand strategy.

This is partly because the grand strategy is considered and chosen by the intelligentsia — the average American doesn’t even know what the phrase means.

Another reason the grand strategy is little discussed now is that the electronic media has made any controversial policy a point of major political, partisan and societal conflict.

Few politicians today want to engage the firestorm of announcing a new grand American direction. Still, more of us need to be involved in the conversations that are occurring.

At least five proposals, some explicit and others more informal, have been made which purport to be new grand strategy proposals, but three of them are more tactical than strategic.

First, though it was informally introduced as a strategy, George Bush may have been outlining a grand strategy change in his “Axis of Evil” speech.

Certainly the full eradication of terror is a change in tactics, but to what end? What is the goal of the ongoing war on terror?

If it is to make the world safe for democracy and the spread of capitalism, it is a new tactic for the old strategy of Internationalism.

Besides, to truly end terrorism would require using U.S. might to restructure and redirect the leading terrorist-funding and supporting states in the world, including possibly Saudi Arabia and nuclear powers China and Russia.

Nothing in the “Axis of Evil” speech or since seems to advocate such a strategy. Just beating up on the smallest terrorist states, as much as they may deserve it, leaves terrorism healthy and growing.

Unless the Axis of Evil includes China, Saudi Arabia, former states of the USSR Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and over 20 other nations, a few attacks on weak opponents hardly amounts to a moving, visionary national grand strategy.

And in any case, the Obama Administration has shown little inclination to continue this overarching policy.

A second proposal was outlined by Ambassador Mark Palmer in his book Breaking the Real Axis of Evil (affiliate link). Ambassador Palmer goes well beyond the Bush Administration and suggests that America adopt as its national purpose the ousting of all dictators in the world by 2025.

He argues that dictatorship is the true evil in the world, and that democratic nations led by the United States and its President should strategize and implement a plan to get rid of all dictators everywhere.

He even lists the dictators by name, and gives a suggested tactical approach to ousting each — some peacefully, others by sanction and pressure, still others by force.

This proposal is not really a new strategy, but simply the tactical application of Cold-War Internationalism to a different enemy — dictators instead of communists.

A third strategy was suggested by former Secretary of State Colin Powell. He called it a “Strategy of Partnerships” and argued that the world should be kept basically the same as it is — the U.S. at the head with its allies, intervening “decisively to prevent regional conflicts,” and embracing Russia, China, and other powers in a world that increasingly adopts American values.

This would be accomplished by partnerships which put “us at odds with terrorists, tyrants, and others who wish us ill” and to whom “we will give no quarter.” At the same time, we will be “partners with all those who cherish freedom, human dignity, and peace.”

Powell’s “Foreign Affairs” article, published in January of 2004, leaves some glaring questions. The whole point of Internationalism was to encourage partnerships with those seeking freedom and peace.

But Powell said nothing about what the partnership would do, what their goals would be, except the same old Internationalism that we’ve been pursuing since 1945.

Powell’s argument, while claiming to explain the Bush strategy, was actually less of a change than Bush’s “Axis of Evil” or Palmer’s proposal to rid the world of dictators.

All three proposals have pros and cons. But none of them really proposed a new grand strategy for the United States—something at the level of change from Royalism to Constitutionalism, Constitutionalism to Nationalism, or Nationalism to Internationalism.

These first three proposals just redirect, rekindle and rehash (respectively) the grand strategy we’ve followed for 50 years — Internationalism.

Problems with Grand “Tactics”

Generals lose when they fail to learn the lessons of past wars; generals also lose when they attempt to fight new wars with old strategies. This adage applies even more to statesmen.

To put this in context, each time a new grand strategy was needed in American history, many of the leading members of the establishment held on to the past strategy, just as the Clinton and Bush Administrations still pursued the status quo — an international world where the U.S. is top dog and capitalism keeps spreading new markets for U.S. companies.

The bad news is that no nation in history has ever maintained the status quo, even though big powers like Egypt, Babylon, Greece, Rome, France, Spain and Britain all tried.

Nations become top powers by seeking either to change or to obtain something — not by trying to keep things the same.

Big powers only stay big powers when they remake themselves, when they adopt a new grand strategy as needed like Rome and later Britain did.

The U.S. has remade its strategy three times, and all of them came from dealing with the big challenges, not the minor nations.

Bush’s “Axis of Evil,” while there is some truth to its argument, doesn’t take nearly as much courage, grit or will as Reagan’s “evil empire,” FDR’s choice to beat Hitler, Wilson’s “world safe for democracy,” Lincoln’s decision to prove out the founder’s experiment with blood, or the Washington generation’s “lives, fortunes and sacred honor.”

In short, statesmen are needed in the next decade to formulate and implement a grand strategy which requires virtue, wisdom, diplomacy and courage at Churchillesque, Ghandi-like and Jeffersonian proportions.

Idealism

Two other proposals are more strategic, offering a truly new view of America’s future. Whether or not you like either of these strategies (and many people don’t) they are certainly a new take on things rather than the mere tactical changes of the first three proposals.

A fourth proposed new grand strategy came with the re-entry of Gary Hart into the elite dialogue. He suggested that the best way for America to impact the world, and to remain both free and prosperous, is for the United States to focus on its most primary foundation: being good and promoting the great ideals.

This argument has a long history among Democratic politicians, including perhaps most notably Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, but it hasn’t led the conversation for Democratic presidential candidates since Carter. And among recent Republican presidential nominees only Reagan pushed this theme.

In some ways, this idea rekindles a thesis pushed by the American founding era. If we are a great example of freedom, prosperity and success at home, other nations will want to learn from our model — history shows that this is so.

As they do, the paradigms of freedom, justice, checks and balances and other constitutional ideals, and a sense of unity and liberty will spread.

Simultaneously, our own nation will — by focusing on the basics that truly work — increase our levels of freedom, prosperity, opportunity and wise leadership. We benefit, and so does the world.

Hart is adamant, and I agree with him, that without a refocus on the intangibles that make freedom work — the great ideals of true liberty and justice for all — America will not continue to lead the world because it won’t really deserve to lead.

This is a grand strategy indeed: Make the hard and vital changes to America that would make it truly the best it has ever been. The rest will naturally occur.

Of course, this is not a simple process, but neither is any grand strategy. Some will agree and disagree, as I do, with certain specifics in Hart’s ideas, but as a grand strategy this one has real merit.

“Atlanticism”

A fifth, albeit informal, possible grand strategy seems to be gaining momentum in the Obama Administration. Such a strategy might be called the Atlantic strategy, because it entails making the United States more like the nations of the European Union.

Unlike NATO, which was built on the idea of American leadership with the U.S. and its allies guiding the world, the Atlantic strategy assumes that the parliamentary social-democracy system of Western Europe, especially France and Germany, is the model the United States and other allies of the EU should adopt.

In this view, our courts should build a common body of precedent with Europe and Canada, the focus should be on human rights rather than inalienable rights, and our constitution and institutions should evolve to be less rigidly separated, checked and balanced and more and more like the nations of Europe.

On economic matters, the government would abandon a free enterprise posture and become much more involved in regulating, running and owning businesses. Washington would adopt and run a nationwide industrial policy with the government in charge.

This would allow, the argument goes, the nations of Europe and North America to become more alike and increasingly cooperative.

Eventually, many elites hope, supra-national organizations might even take away some of the more “troubling” sovereign powers of individual nations.

Understandably, few politicians have come right out and suggested this direction. It would certainly cause a firestorm of political backlash.

Many Americans (myself included) would be strongly against this. But the policy and direction of the Obama Administration is definitely in line with such a course.

President Obama’s position on many issues — from health care and national security, the bailouts and stimulus, to financial and environmental policy — has toed this European line. At times it has seemed almost purposely designed to impress European sensibilities.

And, in terms of popularity, it has worked in Europe and much of the world. Indeed, this move toward Europeanism has been the inclination and open objective of many American elites for quite some time.

Unfortunately, in an economy desperately in need of innovation, initiative, leadership among the citizenry, and a burgeoning entrepreneurial spirit (since these are the things which promote real and lasting freedom and prosperity), this “Atlantic” grand strategy seems destined, if adopted, to cause a significant American decline.

Finally, the great international-legal thinker Philip Bobbitt has suggested that the future of nations will likely de-emphasize national governments and put more focus on smaller, and possibly even virtual, economically-oriented governments that replace the traditional nation state.

If this does occur, it will not likely be a grand strategy for a long time. Bobbitt sees it growing in influence toward the 2050s, and indeed this may compete to be a future grand strategy shift in a later generation.

Conclusion

More immediately, in the years just ahead the United States will adopt a new Grand Strategy.

The old model of Internationalism, with the U.S. fighting to become and then acting as the world’s sole superpower, supported by its group of allies, is past.

Europe has moved on, and the U.S. and Europe have in many ways moved apart. Simultaneously, a number of places have become growing competitors to U.S. economic dominance, including China, the EU, Canada, Brazil, India, Japan, and others. (We should be carefully studying and considering the grand strategy of these places — perhaps especially China.)

To top off the challenges to Internationalism, the American economy is struggling and the individual states and many businesses are barely hanging on.

If the U.S. is to maintain its prosperity, it must adopt a powerful new grand strategy and then pursue it effectively and courageously. And if it is to maintain and even regain its freedoms, it must simultaneously adopt a good grand strategy and the right one.

I am not at all convinced that any of these five options, or anything else I’ve read on the topic, are the entire answer. I do believe that Hart’s strategy must be part of it.

In any case, it is time for statesmen (including the regular citizen-statesmen of our society) to begin to discover, present and promote the pros and cons of proposed and other possible grand strategies for the 21st Century.

If the patterns of history hold, we have less than 20 years to get the right ideas into the debate and influence the huge choice ahead.

***********************************

Oliver DeMille is the founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

 

Category : Constitution &Current Events &Featured &Foreign Affairs &Government &History &Politics &Statesmanship

Something New in the Middle East?

November 22nd, 2010 // 4:00 am @

For decades the Middle East has posed many challenges to American presidents. It seems every U.S. president wants to make history by helping negotiate a lasting peace in this difficult region.

Few people feel a lot of optimism about this, however.

Palestinians argue that they are a people under siege, a nation under occupation. Many in Israel feel the same deep fear — they are a nation under siege by their neighbors, surrounded on all sides by an overwhelming and committed group of enemies.

Both sides feel that their very survival is on the line, and both see negotiations between Israel and Palestine as talks about the very future of the entire Middle East.

The stakes are high and the scenario is, as always, potentially explosive. The result is an almost systemic cynicism and pessimism from both sides and nearly all the spectators.

But there are some significant new factors at play now which could change the entire dialogue. The Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts — whether you generally supported or opposed them — have influenced some major changes in the Middle East.

These could have great impact on the future. And other changes have caused a new situation in at least three major ways.

A New World

First, with the Cold War over, the whole context of Middle East issues has been altered. From the 1950s until the 1990s, almost everything discussed about Middle East peace was done in the context of U.S.-USSR relations.

The world was bipolar, and Middle East diplomacy followed this pattern.

Today, in contrast, there are many additional players. Russia still has interests in the area, but with the development of its own oil reserves these interests could be less strategically vital.

In fact, Russia’s economy has become an oil economy in the past 10 years. Disruption of oil from the Middle East could boost the Russian economy and increase European openness to Russian trade and cooperation.

As usual, Britain, France, Germany and others have a real concern for what happens in the Middle East. It’s no longer a U.S./Soviet-dominated game, and the U.S., Israel and Palestine have to deal with input from many more actors who have a stake in the game.

The Pacific Century

Second, China is on an epic journey of worldwide economic expansion. It is investing massively in Southern Asia and Africa — buying resources, land, businesses, transportation and communication companies and assets, etc.

It is also investing in Latin America, Oceania, Europe, North America and the Near and Middle East. This includes both public and private investment, but top Chinese leaders are unconvinced there is a real difference.

China hasn’t tipped its hand yet on strategy, but with all this ownership it certainly cares about major international talks — including in the Middle East. The U.S., Israel, Islamic states and everybody involved in Middle East diplomacy will have to deal with growing Chinese clout.

This is a reality, a growing one at that — and it will be for a long time to come.

The Joker in the Deck: Iran

Third, the Middle East itself has changed. It’s not your grandfather’s Middle East anymore. With the major shift of power in Iraq and Afghanistan, and also in Pakistan and newly emerging economic power India, the political environment is much altered since the 1990s.

Instead of a Jewish-Muslim divide, the major conflict in the new Middle East may well be the growing division between the Sunnis and Iran.

Indeed, if “the enemy of my enemy is my friend,” a naturally cooperative stance (one hesitates to use the word “alliance”) between Israel and all of Iran’s potential Islamic enemies is probably inevitable. It is already gaining momentum.

The conflicting agendas of Israel and Palestine are still very real, and they are increasingly couched in a region where Israel is sided with the Sunni states against Iran.

The list of those on the same side as Israel in this emerging conflict could bring a number of very interesting questions.

Where will Saudi Arabia stand? Egypt? Jordan? Iraq? Pakistan? Syria? Yes? No? Maybe? What about India? And where will the European Union stand?

For that matter, where will the U.S. position itself in a world where it is increasingly struggling to balance its own budgets and meet its own financial obligations? How long will the American people agree to keep spending money on Middle East issues?

Certainly the U.S. will want to maintain its alliance with Israel. But what else will it be able to afford? And with President Obama and the U.S. in general falling in popularity in the Islamic world, it is unclear what is ahead.

Of course, Iran’s push to be nuclear could impact this — drastically — in either direction. A nuclear Iran could strengthen an Israeli-Sunni alliance, for example. Ironically, an Israeli or American military response to Iran could do the same — or the exact opposite.

In a world so changed, even the experts aren’t convinced they know what’s ahead.

What is Needed from Americans

America became the world’s sole superpower in 1945, and within a decade Israel had been formed as a Jewish state and the USSR had become a second superpower.

The Middle East divide between Israel and its neighbors has been a constant for nearly all of America’s time as world leader.

Today all the constants are shifting. The Middle East arguably ended the superpower roles of both Great Britain and Russia, and the U.S. must consider its actions carefully to avoid being a third casualty of this conflicted region.

Still, America has real and lasting interests in the area, not the least of which are its historical alliance with Israel and, of course, oil.

The old lines in the sand have been blurred in the past 15 years, and many American citizens and leaders are unclear about what this means.

As the debate over the mosque near the site of the 9/11 attacks on the trade towers shows, some Americans feel less than friendly toward Islam. Others are strongly supportive of the traditional American values of religious freedom and tolerance. This debate is argued in strong words and often heated tones.

But this makes it even more challenging for American leaders to know where we stand on Middle East issues.

If an Israeli-Sunni alliance continues to grow, for example, how will most Americans respond? And if the conflict with Iran turns violent in the months ahead, as nearly all experts predict, the stakes will rise again.

American leaders will have a hard time effectively representing American values until American citizens clarify what role and direction they want the U.S. to take in the Middle East. A few things have changed, and many stay the same.

Unfortunately, too often the American people have reacted knee-jerk and with shallow understanding to what goes on abroad. The future of the Middle East is too important for such tepid citizen involvement.

American citizens need to study up on the Middle East so they can decide where they stand — and thereby help guide and support their leaders in principled, wise and effective Middle East policy. This issue will not go away any time soon.

***********************************

Oliver DeMille is the founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

 

Category : Current Events &Foreign Affairs &Politics

The Education Crossroads

November 12th, 2010 // 5:18 am @

Education today is at a crossroads, and the options are fascinating.

Certainly the rise of the Internet has revolutionized most industries, and its impact on education is expected to be significant. But the change in technology isn’t the only major shift which is impacting schooling.

The end of the Cold War ushered in a new era of world politics — and of course, politics always impacts education.

Also, economic struggles have caused nations to put a premium on expenses, with the result that education is being asked to meet higher standards in order to justify its cost.

All of this would seem to indicate the need for broader, more inclusive and expansive education, with a focus on quality teaching and increased excellence.

Instead, these three trends have combined to create a surprising result.

Where increased Internet connections at first promised to bring more understanding, tolerance and cooperation between groups, the opposite has too often occurred.

Though we have the world at our online fingertips and the ability to interact directly with those of differing views, ideas and values, too many people are joining cliques that promote a narrow mindset and exclude and mistrust all others. The defensive posture occasioned by economic challenges and world events seems to increase this tendency.

Where is the Melting Pot?

The 18th and 19th century ideal of a melting pot doesn’t seem to be spreading enough online. In the 1970s it sort of evolved into the salad bowl idea, where differences were welcome as we all mixed together in a single serving.

Now we’re lucky if the clans in society agree to occupy a separate station at the same smorgasbord.

The danger to freedom is significant, maybe even extreme. James Madison taught in Federalist 10 that numerous factions would benefit freedom by keeping any one or two groups from becoming too powerful.

All decent groups would have a say in the world in this model, Madison argued. This benefit still remains in the Internet era.

But Madison also argued that people would come together when great cooperation was needed, that people and groups would put aside differences and collaborate on the important things.

Unfortunately, this powerful cultural model is unraveling in our time.

The reason is simple: As people increase their connections with those who agree with them on most things, they begin to fall into groupthink, a malady where most of those you communicate with agree with you on most things and disagree with you on little. Each member of the group learns how to more effectively argue the clique’s talking points, and nearly everyone stops listening to other points of view.

From Madison’s day until the Internet age, such natural bonding with groups was always tempered by geography. No matter how hard people tried to interact only with like thinkers, no matter how hard they worked to keep their children free from diverse views, neighbors nearly always ruined this utopian scheme.

The debate, the discussion, the conversations amongst diverse peoples all living in a free society — these helped individual citizens become deep thinkers and wise voters, and it helped ensure that negative traditions slowly were replaced with better ones. Without such progress, no free society can retain its freedoms.

But in the virtual age, no such checks or balances are in place. Youth and adults in all educational models and work environments are able to avoid deep conversations about important topics like politics, beliefs and principles with all who disagree with them.

This is facilitating a clique mentality. Social networks, email, cell phones and the other emerging technologies all strengthen this trend away from diverse and connected communities and toward homogenous and exclusive cliques.

The problem is that such cliques are by their very nature arrogant, overly sure of their own correctness on nearly everything, and vocally and even angrily opposed to pretty much everyone outside of their own clique.

Unfortunately, they too often spend a great deal of energy and effort demeaning other people, groups and ideas. Such cliques typically refuse to admit their own weaknesses while they label and vilify “outsiders.”

On the positive side, this is one reason there are now more independents than either Democrats or Republicans: a lot of people just got tired of too much hyper-partisan rhetoric.

But this problem goes far beyond politics, and impacts nearly every segment of our society. It is like adopting Elementary or High School culture among the adults in our world.

Dangerous Cliques

Since education is always an outgrowth of society, this trend is a major concern. The rebirth of tribes in our time, many of them online tribes made up of people who find common ground and like to work together, is the positive side of this same trend.

Indeed, using technology to interact and connect with people you like and learn with is certainly constructive. Leaders are needed to help increase the positive melting pot on line and in social networks.

Hopefully this will continue to grow. But its negative counterfeit is an increasing problem.

A first step in dealing with the growing “High School-ization” of our adult society is to simply identify the difference between the positive New Tribes and the opposing trend of growing cliques:

New Tribes Cliques
Tolerant, Inclusive, Friendly Intolerant, Arrogant, Exclusive
Respectful of Other Views Angry and Overly Critical of Other Views
Market by Helping You Find the Best Fit for You, From Them or Their Competitors Market by Tearing Down Competitors to Build Themselves
Respect Your Ability to Make the Best Choices for You Act As If You Need Their Expertise to Succeed and Will Fail Without Them
Offer to Help You Meet Your Needs Try to Convince or Sell You to Act “Now” in the Way They Want, or You’ll Fail

In short, the positive New Tribes offer you more freedom, empower you, and give you opportunities and options in a respectful and abundant way, while the clique mentality thinks it must “sell” you, convince you, and tear down the competition.

The New Tribes are relaxed, supportive and open, while cliques are closed, scarcity-minded and disrespectful of the competition and all “others.”

Ruining the Game

When my son was young he wanted to join a sports team, so I took him to watch a number of sports in progress. He ended up engaging karate, which became a long-term interest in his life.

During the visits to various sports venues, he witnessed an angry father at a little league baseball game. While most of the parents in attendance probably hoped their child would win, they seemed to find value in the game regardless of wins and losses; they apparently felt that the game was a positive experience for all the kids — for other children as well as their own.

One man took a different approach. He yelled and swore at each umpires’ calls that went against his child. He quite vocally demonized the other team and the other team’s coach. He stood behind the backstop when the other team was pitching and tried in many ways to distract the opposing pitcher.

He went after this 10-year-old pitcher from the other team like he actually wanted to hurt him. The boy’s coach had to go reassure the pitcher several times. I don’t know if the boy was afraid of the angry man, but he looked like it.

Most of the parents in the crowd were upset with this man, but they remained polite. After about 30 minutes of this, my eight-year-old son asked if we could leave. He was uncomfortable with the situation even as a mere spectator.

He never asked to go back to a baseball game, and we didn’t stay long enough to see if anything was done to help this man calm down. From the conversations in the crowd, it was clear that the man did this at every game.

I do believe that this man cared for his son and wanted to help him. He may have had many good intentions, and he certainly had some positive intentions. But he acted in the clique mentality. He did it without respect or proper boundaries.

(A new thought: I’m pretty sure he soured my son to playing baseball, but only now as I write this does it occur to me that maybe he also helped interest my son in karate for his own defense!)

A High-School-ization of Society

If you are this kind of a sports parent (or sports fan in high school, college or professional sports), you know who you are.

But do we not also see these clique behaviors too often in business, work, politics and even education?

Clearly the impact on education is significant. More to the point, the future of education can’t avoid being impacted by the High School-ization of culture.

Cliques are negative in many ways. And: they are just plain mean. They can do lasting damage even among youth; so imagine their potential impact when adopted by a significant and increasing number of adults of our society.

In short: the Cold War is over and we tend to look for enemies within rather than outside of our own nation; economic struggles of the past years have made most people less tolerant and more self-centered and even scared; and the technology of the day has made it easier than ever to connect with and only listen to a few people who tend to agree with us on almost everything.

The result is more frustration, anxiety, and anger with others. More people are thinking in terms of “us versus them,” and most of our society has stopped really listening to others.

Unless these tendencies change, things will only get worse. The future of education is closely connected with these trends, tendencies and perspectives.

In politics, the response to these challenges has been the rise of the independents. In business, it has been a growing rebirth of entrepreneurship.

And in marketing, it has been a focus on Tribes as the new key to sales. But in education, no clear solutions have yet arisen. I propose the principles of Leadership Education as part of the answer.

Modern versus Shakespearean Mindsets

The great classical writer Virgil provides some insight into the challenge ahead for education. In our day we tend to see the world as prose versus poetry. Some might call this same split the left brain versus the right brain, science versus art, or logic versus creativity.

Using this modern view of things, some educational thinkers see the future of education as the continuing split between the test-oriented public and traditional private schools versus the eclectic personalization of charter, the new private and home schooling movements.

Or we may see the intermixing of these two models as traditional schools become more creative and new-fangled education becomes more test-focused.

In an earlier age, the Shakespearean world tended to divide learning into three categories: comedies, tragedies and satires.

Comedies show regular people working in regular circumstances and finding love or happiness in regular life.

Tragedies pit people against drastic challenges that test them beyond their limits and bring major changes to their lives and even the world.

Satires emphasize the futility of our actions and show us the power of fate, destiny and other things we supposedly cannot control.

Applying this mindset, one would expect to see a future of education with all three outcomes. Comedic approaches to education try to make sure everyone gets basic literacy and that all schools meet minimum standards. No child can be left behind in this education for the regular people — and we’re all regular people.

In contrast, some will seek for a truly great education and to make a great difference in the world. If they fail, the tragedy is the loss of their potential greatness to the world. If they succeed, the world will greatly benefit from their leadership, contributions and examples.

All education should be great, this view maintains, and all people have potential greatness within. If I thought the Shakespearean worldview was driving our future, I would be of this view.

A satirical stance would argue that some people will get a poor education and yet do great things in their careers and family. Others, according to this view, will get a superb education and then either fail to accomplish much of anything or do many bad things with their knowledge.

Education has little correlation with life, the satirist maintains. Fund education better, or don’t; increase standards, or not; emphasize learning or just ignore it—none of this matters much in the satirical view. A few will rise, a few will fall, most will stay in the middle, and education will have little to do with any of this.

I disagree with this perspective, and I believe that history is proof of its inaccuracy. There are, of course, a few exceptions to any system, model or rule; but for the most part a quality educational model has a huge impact on the freedom and prosperity of society.

But I do not believe that either the modern or the Shakespearean mindsets will influence our future as much as that from and even earlier age — the era of Virgil.

I am convinced that Virgil’s understanding of freedom eclipses both of these others. Virgil witnessed Rome losing many of its freedoms, and he saw how the educational system had a direct impact on this loss.

In the Virgilian model, education is not modeled on the conflict between left and right brains nor on the battles and interplay between comedy, tragedy and satire.

Instead, he saw learning as the interactions of the epic, the dialectic, the dramatic, and the lyric.

In our post-Cold-War, Internet-Age, financially challenging world, our learning is deeply connected with all four of these.

Epic education means learning from the great(est) stories of humanity in all fields of human history and endeavor, from the arts and sciences to government and history to leadership and entrepreneurship to family and relationships, and on and on.

By seeing how the great men and women of humanity chose, struggled, succeeded and failed, we gain a superb epic education. We learn what really matters.

The epics include all the greats — from the great scriptures of world religions to the great classics of philosophy, history, mathematics, art, music, etc.

Epic education focuses on the great classic works of mankind from all cultures and in all fields of learning.

Dialectic education uses the dialogues of mankind, the greatest and most important conversations of history and modern times. This includes biographies, original writings and documents that have made the most difference in the world. It is also very practical and includes on-the-job style learning.

Again, this tradition of learning pulls from all cultures and all fields of knowledge.

It especially focuses on areas (from wars and negotiations to courts of law and disputing scientists, to arguing preachers and the work of artists, etc.) where debating sides and conflicting opponents gave rise to a newly synthesized outcome and taught humanity more than any one side could have without opposition. Most of the professions use the Dialectic learning method.

Dramatic learning is that which we watch. This includes anything we experience in dramatic form, from cinema and movies to television and YouTube to plays, reality TV programs, etc.

In our day this has many venues—unlike the one or two dramatic forms of learning available in Virgil’s time. There is a great deal to learn from drama in its many classic, modern and post-modern modalities.

Lyric education is that which is accompanied by music, which has a significant impact on the depth and quality of how we learn. It was originally named for the Lyre, a musical instrument that was used for musical accompaniment during a play, or with poetic or prose reading.

Some educational systems still use “classical” (especially Baroque) and other types of music to increase student learning of languages, memorized facts and even science and math.

And, of course, most Dramatic (media) learning is presented with music.

Epic Freedom

With all this as background, I think the future of education is very much in debate. My reasons for addressing this are:

  1. It appears that far too few people are engaged in the current discussion that will determine the future of education.
  2. Even most who are part of the discussion are hung up on things like public versus private schools, funding, testing, left versus right brain, minimum standards for all (comedic) versus the offer of great education for most (to avoid tragedy), teacher training, regulations, policy, elections, etc.
  3. I know of very few people considering the future of education from its deepest (what I’m calling Virgil’s) level.

Specifically, our current technology has changed nearly everything regarding education, meaning that in the Internet Age the cultural impact of the Dramatic and Lyric styles of learning over the other types threaten to undo American freedom.

In short, freedom in any society depends on the education of the citizens, and when the Epic and Dialectic disappear, freedom soon follows.

And make no mistake: The Epic and Dialectic models of learning are everywhere under attack. They are attacked by the political Left as elitist and contrary to social justice; they are attacked by the political Right as useless for one’s career advancement.

They are attacked by the techies as old, outdated and at best quaint. They are attacked by the professions as “worthless general ed. courses,” and by too many educational institutions as “irrelevant to getting a job.”

But most of all (and this is far and away their most lethal enemy) they are supplanted by the simple popularity and glitz of the Dramatic and Lyric.

I do not believe that the Dramatic, Lyric and other parts of the entertainment industry have an explicit agenda to hurt education or freedom—far from it. They bask in a free economy that buys their products and glorifies their presenters.

Nor are Dramatic and Lyric products void of educational content or even excellence. Many movies, television programs, musical offerings and online sites deliver fabulous educational value.

Songs and movies, in fact, teach some of the most important lessons in our society and many teach them with elegance, quality and integrity.

But with all the good the Dramatic and Lyric styles of learning bring to society, the reality is that both free and enslaved societies in history have had Dramatic and Lyric learning.

In contrast, no society where the populace is sparsely educated in the Epics has ever remained free. Period. No exceptions.

And in the freest nations of history (e.g. Golden Age Greece, the Golden Age of the Roman Republic, the height of Ancient Israel, the Saracens, the Swiss vales, the Anglo-Saxon and Frank golden ages, and the first two centuries of the United States, among others), both the Epic and Dialectic styles of learning have been deep and widespread among the citizenship of the nation.

If we want to remain a free society, we must resurrect the use of Epic education in our nation.

Six Futures

Using Virgil’s models of learning as a standard, I am convinced that we are now choosing between six possible futures for our societal education—and freedom. Our choice, at the deepest level of education, is to select one of the six following options (or something very much like them):

I. Epic Only.
Since all societies adopt Dramatic and Lyric methods of learning, this model would make Epic education official in academic institutions and leave the Dramatic and Lyric teaching to the artists. Such a model is highly unlikely in a world where career seriously matters and has only been applied historically in slave cultures with strong upper classes.

(Theoretically, this model might be offered to all citizens in society instead of the more elitist model of history. But without career preparation, some in the lower and middle classes would be lacking in opportunity regardless of the quality of their Epic education.) This model is very bad for prosperity and freedom.

II. Dialectic Only.
Again, such a society would have non-school Dramatic and Lyric offerings and schools would emphasize career training, job preparation, and basic skills for one’s professional path.

Business, leadership and politics would be run by trained experts and citizens would have little say in governance. Like the aristocracies of history, this model is not friendly to freedom — though it can support prosperity for a short time.

III. Dramatic and Lyric Only.
Only tribal societies have adopted such a model, and they were easily conquered by enemies and marauders. This model is not good for prosperity or freedom.

IV. Epic and Dialectic Together.
Again, the Dramatic and Lyric would still be part of the society but not a great part of the schools. Unfortunately, without the Dramatic and Lyric taught together with the Epic and Dialectic, the Epic is greatly weakened.

Societies which have tried this, like modern Europe and North America, have seen the Epic greatly weakened and the Dialectic take over nearly all education. This is bad for freedom and long-term prosperity.

V. All Four Types as Separate Specialties.
In this model, young students would receive only a basic broad education and would focus on a specialty early on. Each type of learning could be very well developed, but each person would only be an expert in one (or, rarely, two).

This was attempted by many nations in Western Europe, and to a lesser extent Canada and the U.S., since World War II. The results were predictable: freedom and prosperity suffered for all but the most wealthy (who got interconnected Epic, Dialectic, Dramatic and Lyric education in private schools).

VI. All Four Types as Interconnected Learning.
This combines great Epic, Dialectic, Dramatic and Lyric learning together—for nearly all students in society.

Moreover, all four options are available to all students in public schools and the laws also allow for numerous private, home and other non-traditional options with parents as the decision makers.

An additional natural effect of this system is that the adult citizens of society are deeply involved in learning throughout their lives — using all four types of learning and applying all knowledge to their roles as citizens and leaders. This model has been the most beneficial to prosperity and freedom throughout history.

The choice between these types of education is being made today. During the Cold War, especially after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, American leaders determined to de-emphasize Epic education and focus on the Dialectic.

Then they further weakened this choice by dumbing down the textbooks and workbooks when they removed much of the actual dialogues which formed the basis of each field of human knowledge.

Later, facing the increasing popularity of career-focused schooling, states and school boards took much of the Dramatic and Lyric out of the schools. Indeed, the last two generations of students were mostly educated in a shallow version of the Dialectic Only.

The consequence to freedom has been consistently negative for at least four decades. It has also widened the gap between “the rich” and “the rest” and reduced general economic opportunity.

Today, we must make the choice to resurrect truly quality education. If we make the right choice, we will see education and freedom flourish. If not, we will witness the decline of both. Indeed, we simply must make the right choice.

We must also realize that this is not a choice for the experts. If the educational or political experts make this choice alone, it will mean that the people as a whole have not chosen to be educated as free citizens.

We must all do better in studying all four styles of learning, and in engaging the technology of our day to learn from diverse views and spread important ideas far and wide — to all groups and people, not just some narrow clique.

It is time for a new type of citizen to arise and earn our freedoms. As Virgil put it long ago:

Now the last age…
Has come and gone, and the majestic roll
Of circling centuries begins anew;
Justice returns…
With a new breed of men sent down from heaven…
Assume thy greatness, for the time draws nigh

***********************************

Oliver DeMille is the founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd.

He is the author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, and The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through leadership education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

 

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