RADICAL DEMOCRACY AND OUR FUTURE:
A Call To Action
by John Taylor Gatto -
The Dialectics of Liberty
 
 
As I said a while ago in a letter to Becky, my editor and conscience, the vital warfare taking place all around us in school and society is independent of the traditional historical dichotomies like Left/Right, rich/poor, Democrat/Republican, conservative/liberal, etc.
A poor, radically leftist, self-styled liberal Democrat who wants to stick his nose in my family's business, pick my pocket with oppressive taxation, further the interests of a global economy and force my children to swallow his notion what an education should be about is exactly the same sort of enemy that a rich, radically rightist self-styled conservative Republican who wants to do the same thing is. I see no important difference between the parties, having not been raised to believe money was the decisive variable in having a good life, but that freedom to make crucial decisions is.
 
What defines the important debate is whether this planet is going to be managed centrally and scientifically, by a trained professional bureaucracy with comprehensive control over licensing and employment, with exclusive police power to manage dissent, and with a dossier on each one of its citizens - or whether the planet's critical management is going to be localized, each miniature community free to develop as its people see fit. Put simply, should families, neighbors and individuals be at the center of things or should scientific government and government-appointed overseers?
 
You will have guessed the side I'm on by now, but all personal bias aside, I'd like you to consider this as a question with immense implications for your own life, not some mere abstraction of the Jacobins. While it looks at present as if the contest has already been decided in favor of the centralizers, I believe the decade just ahead will reveal how powerful local forces, which have been driven to the point of madness by developments of the past century, really are in their determination not to allow any more centralization to take place. In my opinion things like the recent demonstration with ammonium nitrate fertilizer, the nerve gas attack in Japan and the resistance at Waco and Ruby Ridge are stark evidence a crisis is arriving. If we would settle matters lawfully, which is the genius written into the original documents of our system, then we have to be prepared to allow the voices stifled in our anti-democratic century to speak.
 
The question I posed to you by implication, whether you will live as a numbered, assigned citizen in a rational form of global governance, as a holdout for independence and self-reliance is inherently uncompromisable, as difficult a position as that puts most of us in; like abortion, we are compelled to move in one direction or the other; to stand still is to find yourself driven by events: you abort or you give birth - there is no middle ground.
I can't make your mind up for you on this grave question, nor would I do so even if I were able to, but what I can hope to show you is how this moment of democratic crisis came about, at least in part, and in what direction the centralization movement has been headed in since at least 1896. I'll try not to demonize the centralizers as I proceed, but first I have a story to tell you about peaceful, decentralized Vermont.
 
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The town of Benson in western Vermont voted down its current school budget nine times as I write these words, establishing a state record for negativity according to EDUCATION WEEK newspaper (issue of June 14,1995). Assistant Superintendent Charlie Usher, who is made out to be a thoughtful man in the article, was bewildered at the community's irresponsibility. Usher is quoted as saying, "The answer is getting at the root of why people would be willing to let their schools fall apart and think someone else will catch them."
 
In similar vein, Theresa Mulholland, principal at the Benson School (it appears the entire district has only one school), a woman portrayed as a tough-talking realist who regards the town as you and I might look at ornery children, said, "Nobody has an agenda. I think they just want to say 'No'."
 
This piece of journalism in EDUCATION WEEK covered a full two-page tabloid spread, yet nowhere did it indicate any possibility the problem may be citizens of Benson do not regard the Benson school as "their" school, to use Charlie Usher's language. Nor is there a hint the citizens of Benson left off long ago believing what happened in Vermont schools was all that education, an enterprise worth a substantial part of their incomes to assist.
 
I read this amazing newspaper account three times before its fact-content floated up out of the pro-school slant. Let me feed you the facts as EDUCATION WEEK delivered them, except instead of scattering them around over two pages I have grouped them. We will consider this a clinic in how to read.
 
There are exactly 137 children in Benson's brand-new school building (and school district). The new building is a sidebar issue yet worth a look before we turn to the main story. This new school caused property taxes to go up 40% last year, quite a shock to those just hanging onto their homes by their fingernails. Many in town had claimed a new building was not needed, but the State condemned the old structure demanding it either be brought into compliance with the code - at a cost near the estimated price of the new school - or deliver a "yes" vote on the new building plans.
 
As you might expect the new school was voted, albeit narrowly. What then happened will be no surprise to those who understand building contractor estimates and final costs. The building cost much more than voters expected, though perhaps I might be forgiven a little skepticism whether it cost more than the State of Vermont expected, a much different animal.
 
Oddly enough, though I'm from western Pennsylvania, I happen to have some prior experience with the Vermont State Education Department condemning school structures. Give me a minute and you'll see that what I know may have a bearing on Benson. Northeast of the state capitol in Montpelier, about 3S or 40 miles, is the town of Walden where four one-room schoolhouses were condemned two or three years ago. The people of Walden asked me to come and speak at a rally where the "Road Rats" (that's what they called themselves) were trying to mobilize support to vote down the new centralized school.
 
The anti-centralizers had already won once, beating back the project, but now the State had condemned the traditional structures, and all estimates to bring them up to code were in many hundreds of thousands of dollars, close enough to the price of a new school that it looked like the resisters no longer had the heart to fight for the old schools.
When I arrived in Walden I toured the condemned structures. They were handsome, honest little buildings, and seemingly sound as a dollar. Just by chance I happened to have drunk some beer a few years earlier with a Vermont master architect in Provincetown, Massachusetts where he was building an entire Cape Cod home by himself with one local bad boy as assistant to show it could be done for almost nothing. In the parking lot of the Admiral Benbow* Inn he put the house up in six weeks for a cost of $45,000.
 
* Name changed to foil Montpelier thought police.
 
When I phoned he agreed to drive right over and look at the Walden schools and the State estimates. After doing both he pronounced the condemnations/estimates as cynical and fraudulent. Fraudulent because they were three or four times higher than the work could have been done by an independent contractor making a profit, and cynical because my architect friend knows the politically well-connected firms which delivered the bids.
 
"The purpose of this is to kill the one-room schools," he said. When I asked him to submit a competitive bid he said he could not. "I wouldn't get another job in the State of Vermont if I did." So much for moonshine in Vermont.
 
Now let me get back to Benson and its school budget. In what should be a classic illustration of a State feeding as a parasite on its citizens, EDUCATION WEEK instead saw a deep mystery. Let me put a different, more radically democratic spin on things. Here in a jurisdiction serving 137 children, a number which could be managed brilliantly by eight teachers without any supervision other than what the town's willing citizens could provide&emdash;and historically did provide, we are led to believe that a small, poor community must sustain the expense of:
 
l) A non-teaching Superintendent
2) A non-teaching Assistant Superintendent
3) A non-teaching Principal
4) A full-time Nurse
5) A full-time "Guidance" Counselor
6) A full-time librarian
7) Eleven full-time schoolteachers
8) An unknown number of secretaries, part-time "specialists," nutritionist,
custodial help, etc.
9) Fax machines, copy machines, telephones, state of the art computers and
much more.
 
One hundred and thirty-seven children. This is indeed radical pedagogy but the relationship it bears to democracy is mutely witnessed by nine consecutive rejections of the school budget. Does this throw a different light on Charlie Usher's bewilderment?
Eliminating the first six positions, three of the teachers and the accessory personnel - and having them absorbed by the remaining teachers and community volunteers - would not only save $500,000, about 55% of the total budget, but far from over-burdening the eight teachers (and their 17-each student charges) it would give them a genuinely professional, communitarian workplace, much more interesting and useful for educational purposes than the present overstaffed chain-of-command hothouse.
 
One hundred years ago in Benson, the same children would have fit nicely into one-room schoolhouses just like the ones the State tore down in Walden; there they would have enjoyed a challenging and frequently wonderful experience growing up under the direction of the town, their parents and four schoolteachers.
 
But strike that last remark as prejudicial; consider this instead: just who in your judgment has the moral right to decide what size leisure class can be fastened on the backs of the working citizens of Benson? Whose decision should that be? I see from a chart included in the news article that Vermont school bureaucrats extract $6000 for each student who sits in their spanking new schools, $142 a week per kid. How is it, do you suppose, that the private schools of the United States can provide a satisfactory level of service for a national average of only $3000 a kid? Or that parochial schools can do it for $2300? Or home schools for between $500-1000?
 
How is that? Don't answer, allow me. These other named entities don't have to support a vast pyramid of political jobs; they value learning, but don't make the mistake of overvaluing teaching or expertise - and they understand, perhaps instinctively, that transferring responsibility from children, parents and communities to regions of certified expert employees of the state destroys the value base of human life, creating a lifelong mass of dependent, incompletely human raw material.
 
In fact, the infinitely articulated ladder of scientific schoolkeeping - of which you've seen the lower rungs dug down into Benson - lies squarely at the heart of dysfunctional American schooling today. Scientific schooling does not dare allow the citizens of Benson to work out their educational destinies for themselves. They must pay and pay for the privilege of having the state legally commandeer their children and co-rear them as the state sees fit.
 
It would be superficial not to point out that the hiring of all these functionaries in Benson is the propagation of a social philosophy distinctly contrary to the Anglo-American philosophy of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries which gave us a United States in the first place. This social policy, utterly illegitimate in the popular mind, is aimed at centrally providing jobs at the expense of education, family relations and intellectual endeavor - and much more. All values in such a scheme have to be adjusted to the maintenance of a prescribed economic order, by agreement if available, by guile if possible and by force if necessary.
 
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In the last quarter of the nineteenth century a decision gradually was made through consensus at the highest levels of American business, government and private association that Democracy would be unsuitable for the planned economy and society that was coming. In a theological sense it was a shift from the democratic and local forms of Congregationalism, the original New England religion, and perhaps the representative democracy of Presbyterianism, to the aristocratic formal ordering and discipline of Episcopalianism. We have a neat numerical evidence of this shift in a 318% increase in Episcopal church enrollment during this period, an explosion of hereditary societies like The Society of California Pioneers, The Order of the Crown of Charlemagne, Order of the Three Crusades, 1096-1192, The Society of the Founders of Norwich, Connecticut, The Society of the Descendants of the Colonial Clergy and so on, and the opening of a genealogy department at Tiffany's in New York. When the president of Stanford claimed descent from King David of Scotland and J.P.Morgan and William Howard Taft did, too, the decision for a new America with a new no-nonsense kind of state schooling became irrevocable.
 
In its grandest conception this was far from a sinister thing. It represented a decision which would be argued was made for the most rational of motives - the scientific management of economy and society. The best people were tired of the surprises of history; they were determined to have a predictable future that would be best for all, not just for themselves. This thinking followed the academic philosophy of Utilitarianism, aiming to produce the most happiness for the most people, the greatest good for the greatest number.
 
Happiness, as anyone possessed with common sense could see, required that management be surrendered to trained and certified experts, a meritocracy. If most of the meritocratic came from the élite classes, that only proved Darwin's case, and Spencer's,the cream comes to the top - not that there was a class conspiracy to keep others down. This decision to lock in the social/economic ladder through classification-schooling, oddly enough was made in the face of a national success created by ill-lettered, untutored men like Carnegie, Rockefeller, Edison, etc., who would certainly not have been able to accomplish what they did in the face of such a procedure - and even odder, it was largely made by these men themselves, in the forefront of which group was Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and the formidable titan of finance, J.P. Morgan.
 
For those of you too young to remember, it will help if you keep in mind that by 1914, after these men had established the new income tax code and the new federal reserve system, Rockefeller and Carnegie between them were spending more than the government did on what was called "Education". Again, far from being sinister in their planning, these cosmic decisions were made after long periods of intense consultation with university presidents, leading scientists and engineers, famous men of the dominant religions, equally famous public intellectuals like Sidney and Beatrice Webb, H.G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, Margaret Sanger, men of education like John Dewey, from psychology, like G. Stanley Hall, from Sociology, like Emile Durkheim, and there were many more.
 
Universal compulsion schooling was finally going to be enforced; it was going to be scientized; it would become in time the arbiter of jobs, licenses, prestige and rewards. Its practitioners and graduates would be cared for in the new scheme of welfare capitalism which had been ordained, but in exchange the pedagogues would take orders from far away and the graduates must present themselves contented, disciplined, energetic, dependent and dependable. Unlike Cassius, they should not think too much.
 
Don't think of this as a conspiracy against children; it was just the opposite - it was a conspiracy for children against the dark forces of ignorance represented by their parents, their religions and their unfortunate personal histories. What would follow in the next century was an overwhelming cascade of noblesse oblige, through which, perhaps, the millennium could be reached. The experiment was worth a try.
 
And there was another thing. You could not have a scientific society and still have democracy, independence or self-reliance as those words had been customarily defined. That was true then, and it is true today. Of course what I'm describing wasn't as easy as turning a light switch on and off; it had to be done by increments, it had to be justifiable to the better elements in the general public who might cause trouble if they misjudged the effort.
 
Rather than abandon the term "Democracy," which America revered, it was decided to slowly redefine the word. That strategy was in particular the contribution of the Fabians. Never alarm possible opposition, but proceed as you might when boiling a lobster to death&emdash;if begun in cold water the beast doesn't realize it's being killed.
 
Andrew Carnegie, whose brains, money and endowment were at the heart of this thing at the start, even wrote an enormous popular paean to Democracy in l909 called Triumphant Democracy, a masterpiece of indirection. It's not clear even at this historical remove exactly how conscious Carnegie was that he was arranging, through the type of schooling and management he backed, for the voices of little people to be scientifically stifled once and for all - or at least that this was being done using his name - but that he was not quite the benevolent Santa Claus figure his publicists promoted might be recognized as early as 1867 when he became a fixture at the Murray Hill salon of Anne Charlotte Lynch, a gathering place for Emerson, Poe, Margaret Fuller, Julia Ward Howe, the president of Cornell and other stellar names in the world of the most imaginative futurist thinking of the day.
 
Botta was an admirer of the Unitarianism of Channing and the Transcendentalism of Emerson's crowd; she was also Carnegie's conduit into the super-élite "Nineteenth Century Club," a salon-like group of quasi-religious seekers who discussed the leading topics of the day like "systematic schooling."
 
Other evidences of Carnegie's less simple-minded side might be located in the Homestead Steel Massacre, Beatrice Webb's reference to him as a "little reptile" when she declined to see him in London or the curious first request young Harry K. Thaw of Pittsburgh made after being apprehended for the public execution of architect Stanford White at Madison Square Garden in New York . Turning to an associate as the police took him, Thaw said, "Get Carnegie on the phone. Tell him I'm in trouble."
 
I've spent a little time on Carnegie because, surprisingly, not many people are clearly aware how importantly the most powerful - call them also the most philosophical - American industrialists and financiers were in selecting the new architecture of 20th century schooling. J. P. Morgan was another. Indeed, Morgan was the only one of the group who had a bit of formal German education. He had studied the Hegelian dialectic in Prussia, which gave him a magnificent insight into how to overcome opposition to monumental undertakings - such as the radical centralization and hierarchical ordering of society being proposed by himself and his friends. Get your opponents to sponsor the thing!
 
If the opposition, or at least important elements of it, could be made to "demand" the contemplated change, its progress, however bumpy, would be guaranteed by being pushed from both sides of the political spectrum. Put another way, if the movement to foreclose the public voice could be made to come from the liberal wing of society, or from the working public itself instead of from the Whig/industrialist side, then the machinery needed would be easier to pay for and install. We can perhaps see a striking example of this Br'er Rabbit trick ("Don't throw me in the briar patch, please, Br'er Fox!) today in the national education establishment's resistance to school-choice voucher initiatives. Given national testing, a national curriculum and even closer ties between schooling and the economy - all of which are being pushed simultaneously - these "vouchers," whose award and retention will be controlled by the government, will ensure an even tighter centralized control than exists at present. Then why the official resistance? Morgan's insight from Hegel and his German education should remove the mystery.
 
It's what snot-nosed schoolboys used to call "reverse psychology" when I was growing up.
Part of the story of Morgan's amazing perception is told in TRAGEDY AND HOPE (Macmillan, 1966) by Dr.Carroll Quigley of Georgetown, a book anyone interested in the mysteries of why modern schooling is as it is should certainly obtain and read. If you need any further bona fides, Quigley is the only academic ever honored in an acceptance speech for a presidential nomination by a major party, a feat accomplished by President Clinton when he accepted the Democratic nomination and praised Dr.Quigley's wisdom.
 
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I want to show you the track of the anti-democratic social plan through the past 100 years in the words of some of its prominent proponents. Academically, it has a formal name, "The Theory of Democratic Elites," and it arises in modern form first in 1885, in a book by Britain's most prestigious legal mind, that of Sir Henry James Sumner Maine, perhaps the most brilliant classical scholar of all time. The book, Popular Government, attacked popular democracy as sabotage, claiming that civilization could only exist by a forceful thwarting of public will.
 
The actual theory of élites, however, we owe to an Italian intellectual whose book, The Ruling Class, in 1896 revealed the revolutionary secret of political immortality, a destiny which had so far eluded every nation and dynasty in history. It was revolutionary. The élites must selectively feed on the brains and courage of lesser classes, said Mosca, drawing the best of these continuously up into the élites to refresh them, while at the same time robbing the groups they came from of their potential leadership. Mosca hit the élite world like a l0-ton truck, remaining in print for the next 43 years in subsequently refined evolutions of the basic idea that a ruling class, using this mechanism, could perpetuate itself indefinitely!
 
Mosca had developed for political/pedagogical use a fascinating theory of Sir Henry Maine that the great success of the Anglo-Saxons had come about largely because they had no sentimentality at all about children. When they raided an enemy village they always stole the best children and converted them by an institution of mass adoption into Anglo-Saxons. Sometimes whole villages, said Maine, were composed of people with fictitious ancestry! Thus by devouring the children of others for their utility, rather than for any of a host of sentimental or mystical needs blood families have for association, the Anglo-Saxons solved many problems of long-term survival which doomed lesser peoples without the secret - either to extinction or subservience.
 
This is powerful medicine. In the hands of an organized, sophisticated and ambitious élite you might expect such theory, once accepted, to begin to reflect itself in direct, effective shaping of the training of the young, and where modern schooling is the issue you would not be disappointed. Although many vectors merge in the last part of the nineteenth century to explain the new template suddenly forced upon government schooling, and most private schooling as well, though more gently, the theory of democratic élites provides an important map into very poorly understood terrain.
 
Mosca asserted, sometimes boldly, sometimes subtly depending on which edition of The Ruling Class you pick up, that through what Skinner would later call "positive" and "negative" reinforcements, status rewards, material incentives and punishments, ultimate loyalty would be transferred to the dominant élite, while a shell of apparently representative democracy would remain. After all, the member of the elevated minority would be said to have been rewarded for his merit (which would be true), and to be representing the interests of his tribe of origin in his new life (which would almost never be true).
 
There was a logic to justify a precise form of schooling which might eliminate the instability of every past society, and in the immortal promotional line for Ray Milland's camp classic "The Frogs", raise the possibility, "Today the millpond, tomorrow the world," a byword across the newly Germanized university spectrum of America, in salons and foundation boardrooms. His implied recommendations for schooling:
 
1 ) It should be a field for constant surveillance of the children of the masses.
2) It should become a behavioral training ground; intellectual training was counter-productive.
3) The common-school idea should be abandoned, replaced with intricately articulated hierarchies in the student class and the pedagogical class both. Precise control would be made easier this way on the divide and conquer principle.
4) External rewards and punishments should be stressed as the reason to study; public honors, rewards and disgraces would be taught as superior to private alternatives.
 
By 1909 the theme of democratic élitism had become quite familiar; even standardized in business, government and the academic arenas. In that year it received an important improvement from the founder of The New Republic magazine, Herbert Croly, who toned down its rawer side and gave it a character bright and optimistic. The book, The Promise, was a triumph of paternalism: America would have a bright future of "opportunity, fulfillment and prosperity" if local authority was turned over to an activist central government which, through expert prescriptions, would set the direction of American life, harnessing resources - including "human resources" like children - regulating the economy, defining the common good, securing the general welfare.
 
The Promise of American Life profound]y influenced Teddy Roosevelt's Progressive Party platform in 1912, and Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs of 1932-1945, which, behind a high-spirited pseudo-democratic facade embodied the essence of the theory of democratic élites, a government so intrusive this country's founders would have pronounced it dictatorial.
 
The next step on our journey will inspect another phenomenally influential book, this time Walter Lippman's Public Opinion, published in 1922. In it, Lippman called openly for "severe restrictions on public debate". He called debate "a defect of democracy," which will give you some idea how strange this new perspective really was. The public, said Lipmann, does not know what its best interests are. The old ideal of active, participatory citizenship had to be quickly ended, according to Lippman, and important decisions reserved for "invisible experts acting through government officials."
 
One way to accomplish this was to sharply curtail public voting. The 8O-90% turnouts of the nineteenth century would be subtly discouraged in a variety of ways understood best by students of public opinion.
 
By l928, Slgmund Freud's own nephew, Edward L. Bernays, one of the two men referred to as "founders" of the new public opinion science called "public relations," claimed in a sensational book called Crystallizing Public Opinion that "invisible power" was already in control of every aspect of American life. This invisible power manufactured public opinion on both sides of any public question.
 
Bernays was not writing in protest against this - far from it; indirectly he was suggesting that by procuring his services this wizardry would be at a client's disposal. The most interesting thing about this book, and another, Propaganda, which he published in the same year, was the easy candor in both about the invisible control of all sides of an argument in modern society.
 
In the Mosca/Croly/Lippman/Bernays' redefinition of Democracy, people do not govern themselves. They do not make decisions. They do not expect their private opinion to be reflected regularly in the outcome of policy questions. And they do not intervene too heavily in the lives of their own children except in the role of affectionate overseers - the child-rearing privilege belongs to the State because only in that way can the State be secure about their loyalty. This is precisely Plato's case in The Republic.
 
However in exchange for the surrender of family and personal sovereignties, the State promised to deliver a higher level of comfort and security than individuals could provide for themselves. If you are to understand twentieth century schooling you need to understand that behind its seeming irresponsibility grading, at times, into what looks like madness is an ice-cold logic aimed at the maximum social comfort and social security. Strange as it seems, School loves its clientèle in the abstract.
 
In 1935 another magnificently intellectual book reinforcing Mosca's theory was published and distributed in wholesale quantities to key officials and bureau chiefs in Washington. The Mind and Society was the title, Vilfredo Pareto, again an Italian social thinker, its author. 1935, the year of my own birth, was a year full of triumph for Mussolini's fascist state in Italy, a political entity deeply committed to Mosca's theory of ruling class health.
 
The Mind and Society put the finishing touches to the notion of democratic élites. Its scathing remarks on majority rule, human equality and the like are milestones of the depression era, a wonder to read today for their stark honesty and in such contrast to our own veiled, coded speech in an era of political correctness. Pareto stated flatly that the masses had to be intimidated, bewildered, kept off balance - as indeed they were in those years by an abnormally prolonged depression followed by a long, high-tech global war.
By 1944 the Mosca/Croly/Lippman/Bernays/Pareto theme was understood and largely accepted in every academic corner of American life, though this was still a great secret to the general public and to those doing the dying in Europe. The British welfare state was just around the corner, too. In that year, a great humanist scholar, Karl Polyani, published a magnificent study of the economic origins of our times, The Great Transformation, a book still in print over a half century later.
 
On the last page of this book its author, speaking as if for a consensus position among humanists, addresses the need to destroy common liberty for the greater end of "saving the planet." Even as early as 1944, then, we were beginning to hear the voice of Official Environmentalism, speaking to the need to end local national sovereignties (and personal sovereignty), and to centralize things under a Great Director of the planetary environment. It is nothing short of amazing that once Polyani had sounded the trumpet, from every corner of the globe came answering trumpets, and all backed by some official sanction or private organization of élites. This was, in the similarity of the language and concerns, apparently an effort long-planned and coordinated. Whatever your own position on the merits of the case, what interests me for the moment is how illustrative it is of Bernays' 1928 case that invisible élites were already behind events, on both sides of every happening.
 
When I hear from every corner of the educational world today, simultaneously, in the identical language, about an apocryphal African village in which every member raises every child - even though the coordinates of this strange utopia are never given - I'm reminded of Bernays.
 
But in l944, Karl Polyani said on the last page of his book in a conclusion no one who reads the book seems to remember:
 
"We must be resigned to the reality of the end of our liberty. This is a necessary evil."
 
But, having learned his lessons well from one or another of his predecessors, Polyani enters a twilight zone of Newspeak at the very close of what is, to that point, a very high level intellectual excursion. He muses that if we redefine the word "liberty" to mean something "collective", the loss of it will not hurt so much.
 
By l949, the swiftness of the movement transferring control from towns and villages and little people to remote bureaucracies had reached a point that even friends and fellow travelers of the welfare state ideal were beginning to have second thoughts. Listen to what Bertrand Russell, no friend of rampant individualism, said in that year in his book, Authority and the Individual :
 
The present tendencies toward centralization may well prove too strong to be resisted until they have led to disaster. Perhaps the whole system must break down, with all the inevitable results of anarchy and poverty, before human beings can again acquire that degree of personal freedom without which life loses its savor. I hope this is not the case, but it certainly will be the case unless the danger is realized and unless vigorous measures are taken to combat it.
 
In l962, the new world order logic had surfaced in a presidential inaugural speech where president John Kennedy told an audience too far de-historicized by modern schooling to recognize Hobbes and Hegel when their words came out of a Boston Irishman's mouth:
 
"Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."
 
By 1975 the theme crystallized itself and made its debut as a public emergency in a book entitled The Crisis of Democracy, sponsored by the Trilateral Commission. The crisis, of course, wasn't that we had too little democracy, but too much. Earth was suffering from a serious disease hinted as for the entire century, now it was upon us, a disease called "Hyperdemocracy" caused by too much political participation by common people.
 
International order was threatened, the book suggested, because common citizens were resisting the globalization of business on the planet, resisting further surrender of their national identities and local allegiances; they were sticking their noses into important business.
 
It was like Kraken surfacing in Norse mythology. Now the outline of the whole monster could be seen clearly. Why did it take until 1975 to flush it up to thee surface? You might well ask. Just a few years earlier an unprecedented populist uprising, of a magnitude not seen since the Panic of 1893, had brought an important war in southeast Asia to a screeching halt. Common citizens had done this. After nearly a century of forced schooling they were still able to hold a serious thought in opposition to the State long enough to sabotage a piece of global social engineering they knew nothing about.
 
The Vietnam riots were virulent hyperdemocracy at its most frightening.
 
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The Trilateral antidote consisted of two pointed recommendations, both of which you have heard before from Pareto and company. First was "a narrowing of the meaning of Democracy" (Professor Polyani must have smiled in Heaven to hear it). To understand just how far that meaning can be narrowed, if necessary, you should consult with George Orwell, who associated all the time in real life with people who thought and talked this way.
 
The second recommendation was, if nothing else worked, "a forceful assertion of élite controls". That bears some reflection. What would forceful assertion look like in real life? A long depression? A major global war? Or could force be scaled down in an era of mass television which had the capacity to render even economical demonstration sufficiently forceful?
 
Fortunately, recent history is rich in such illustration. We might think of the publicly televised extermination of Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas as one such. Or the execution of an unarmed woman and her 14-year old son by an FBI sniper at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, as another.
 
My own personal favorite, however, is an event so wildly bizarre, so outside any normal response in its forcefulness, that since it happened some years back I have never encountered a single person who had seen it on television who was willing or able to discuss it. I refer to the spectacular immolation of 100,000 or more retreating Iraqi peasants - it would debase language to call them soldiers - in one blinding fireball lit by the ignition of a gasoline-drenched sky above their heads.
 
Here was an event seen by hundreds of millions of people, worldwide, on television, the very model of a forceful display. Can you, offhand, think of any other compelling reason why this mass execution was ordered? What troubles me most about it now, and this is probably an index of my own insensitivity after 30 classroom years as a schoolteacher, is that the death technology revealed and demonstrated is so cheap, so primitive, so effective, that to my mind it obsoleted nuclear weaponry in that instant. Surely the democratic masses would be able to duplicate such a forceful display themselves, on a miniature scale, of course, with a crop-dusting plane, or a modified snow blower, etc. and a few gallons of inexpensive unleaded. I think that forceful demonstration might backfire in time; personally I'd hang the bastards who let the genie out of the bottle.
Sorry.
 
In 1991, a prominent member of the national education establishment spoke out on Democracy in a book entitled We Must Take Charge. Checker Finn is surely no stranger to anyone who earns a dollar from the school business, a leading light in the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a founder of the Educational Excellence Network, a founding partner of Whittle School, when they were flying highest. In We Must Take Charge, Finn extended the notion of dangerous hyperdemocracy to its limit of absurdity.
Finn said, for example: "Why should Connecticut's educational objectives be different :from Oregon's?" He wanted to know if there was "any sound rationale" for "big differences" from one place to another; after all "everybody eats the same big Macs, buys the same national newspapers, and lines up for the same movies and rock concerts."
 
Here is a suggestion of the damage democracy causes to Unitarian thinking that could have come out of the outlaw seventeenth century religious sect, the Levelers. It is also a masked demand, elsewhere in the book made more openly for a universal outcomes-based system, one in which the individual student loses his or her final safeguard of personal integrity, the power of refusal.
 
That, of course, is what's wrong with all outcomes-based systems imposed by strangers, wrong morally, that is. In a universe of state compulsion schooling, by dictating output (instead of input), and arranging an aspect of punitive (or therapeutic, if you like) remediation if the assigned outcomes are not met, an instrument to achieve mass, universal behavior control is handed over to people who may have no sympathy at all with what you believe in.
 
My final illustration of the vast net of anti-democratic, and I believe coordinated, propaganda we live in and school our children in comes from the cover story of a January, l995 Time magazine. Ostensibly this story protests the unwarranted power the magazine claims radio talk show hosts have gained over public opinion, but under its banal surface rhetoric a powerful subtext plays throughout the piece. Like a subliminal message to buy popcorn, this one tells you not to buy democracy. "Too much democracy is in the worst interests of national goals; the modern world is too complex to allow the man and woman in the street to interfere with its management."
 
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OK. You have the data, now let's try to interpret it. Democracy as a philosophy of management contradicts the experience of big government, big business and big institutional life. Democracy doesn't mix with any of the above.
 
Nor can Democracy conform with the positivistic principles of big science, big social science, or any other fiscally attractive higher academic pursuit. Scientific government cannot live with the idea of Liberty;. if you'd sit still long enough and reflect, you would see that assertion is irrefutable except by radically redefining common language.
 
When you think about it, what kind of world view would you have to hold before you could allow a mass of ignorant people to decide important issues they knew very little about? So far I'll bet you think that's a rhetorical question, but it's not. I want an answer. Which I'll supply myself; It would have to be under a world view that disputes the existence of such a reality as "mass man", under a world view that says no two people are alike and every individual has a sacred and private destiny.
 
You'd have to believe that nothing much that really matters is beyond the reflective power of each of us, that where value is concerned every man and woman's voice is worth exactly as much as the president of Harvard's is.
 
You'd have to believe that each of us has the right to try to live the way he or she wants to, even if the way we choose is wrongheaded or Evil. I know it's a paradox, as much now as it was for St. Augustine, but if you can't make a freewill choice for Evil, that means you can't make a freewill choice for Good, either. There is no joy struggling to be better if the temptation to surrender and become worse isn't there, too. Society is entitled to normal safeguards, of course, but leveling people into a safe, predictable mass - which seems to eliminate the possibility for Evil, is itself the most colossal evil anyone ever conceived so far.
 
The idea of mass-man is a manufactured illusion of the manufacturing mind, or you might think of it as a systematic illusion of the systems-theory mind. Take your pick. Thinking this way destroys the basis of social morality; that's not an abstraction, that's what's happened to us in this best-schooled and worst-lived of all centuries in the human record.
 
A skillfully orchestrated, generously financed campaign is now underway to reconstruct: the school institution by quietly nationalizing it. Fortunately the people who are doing this talk to each other, so occasionally on a moonless night when the sun-spots allow it we can hear them talking through the fillings in our teeth. In 1989, Shirley McCune, Director of the Mid-Continent Regional Educational Library could be overheard haranguing the National Governors' conference in Wichita. This is part of what she said:
 
What we're into is the total restructuring of society. That is happening in America today and what is happening in Kansas and the Great Plains is not simply a chance situation. . . it amounts to a total transformation of society ....you can't get away....
 
If you're old-fashioned like I am you might wonder what Shirley knows that you don't know, and where on earth a government functionary got the chutzpah to talk like an insider. I mean, who licensed this performance? School people, as you know, never speak ex tempore.
 
It is possible that a scheme of vouchers and charter schools and de-bureaucratized public schools will be employed on the road just
 
ahead to deceive the people into thinking they are finally being given their children back. Terms commonly heard in association with these projects are "national goals and standards," "national testing," "national curricula," "national teaching licenses," "valued outcomes," "multiculturalism" - and, naturally, tales of a deeply humane African village for which no coordinates are given, like Shangri-la, that we should look to for inspiration and leadership.
 
I smell the hands of the Carnegie, Ford and Rockefeller endowments in all this, but whatever the compound geneses, if this campaign succeeds, then definitions of a number of critical concepts like Liberty and Family are going to once again be redefined more narrowly in the Fabian version of The Death of a Thousand Cuts.
 
National pedagogy fully articulated will signal an official end to the popular democratic experiment of the United States, an experiment that actually ended de facto in the last years of the nineteenth century. That's what those words I brought you from Mosca, Croly, Lippman, Bernays, Pareto, Polyani, Russell, Kennedy, the Trilateral Commission, Checker Finn and Time magazine really mean.
 
The period 1890-1920 ushered in a comprehensive epoch of scientific management whose ultimate goal was a regulated, safe, uniform, predictable social order, one which levels all significant human differences except among the controlling élites - and those are only left open because of a fear the society will fatally stagnate without some conflict. Now you know the secret, too.
 
In all the bureaucratic pyramids, whether of government, association, or business, all the hired hands, from entry level right up to the top, are absolutely, utterly interchangeable - not really people at all but functions. Very shortly after they die, are fired, transferred or promoted, it is genuinely difficult to remember who was once your friend at the next machine, the next desk or even sat next to you on a sales date at the Waldorf. When a court officer died suddenly during the O.J. Simpson trial, the judge in memorializing him briefly said, "We referred to him affectionately as G-12." That's the religion that has hold of our schools and our other institutions as well.
 
This aspect of a nationalized society, one which allows human interaction to be described algebraically, isn't often brought into conscious discussion, but here we need to do just that because nothing is more important to the kind of future we're about to get. Moving a society into total national regulation demands great control over minds, the minds of children especially. Shirley isn't going to get her "total transformation," the ultimate Puritan dream, if too many little fish swim out of the net. Netting children means breaking down any other loyalty which might compete in their minds with loyalty to authority, authorized loyalty.
 
Well-schooled children, even well-schooled "alternative school" children must surrender the right to surprise the government, either individually or in groups. This is why most alternative schools subject their charges to standardized testing; just being ranked puts a strict limit on individual enterprise. You can run, but you can't run far if you've been branded.
 
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As I write all these things I'm aware that from a libertarian perspective all my implied praise of democracy has a dark side. To libertarians, mob rule is seen to be a great danger to liberty just as State oppression is. Much in that point of view resonates with me.
But from where I stand government is far and away the most compelling threat because its incursions are written into statutes, protocols, licensing, taxes, police powers and permanent bureaucracies like schools which grow and grow. Mob passion is always a transient phenomenon, and mobs are sometimes ashamed of themselves afterwards, but governments never. How could they be? Shame is a human emotion and governments are abstractions run amok.
 
Way back in 1908, in a book called New Worlds for Old, the Fabian Socialist philosopher Wells - who had no use for popular democracy, like the rest of the Fabians - wrote that broad support was quite unnecessary to drive democracy from the field. All that would be needed to wreck the career of democracy would be a slow, imperceptible transfer of power from elected officials to government bureaucrats, themselves unelected, whose power could be kept free from effective oversight by tenure and complicated judicial procedures. Now you know how another of the tricks has been managed.
 
The American congress has surrendered its money-issuing power to a group of private banks whose deliberations allow no public view: the war-making power has been surrendered to the Executive Office; much of the legislative power has been preempted by unelected courts through the grotesque provision of judicial review, hardly exercised before this half of the century, which denies people power over the laws they want until the court approves those laws.
 
The brilliant dialectical balance struck between two very dangerous forces, mob and management, by our constitution was to allow popular will free expression as a check on government, and conversely to allow government power to check popular interference with individual rights or property. In the push/pull dialectic of democracy versus State, space is opened for personal, family and small group liberties.
 
A vigorous democracy then is our best guarantee of liberty, but liberty as I said before is not compatible with scientific management. The contradiction between the two is enormous, but it has gone unexamined because powerful interests wish it that way. Liberty means the right to follow your own star, raise your own children as you choose, whether the scientific managers of society or economy like it or not.
 
Scientific management is a way to freeze power relationships and stabilize society in other ways as well. The synthetic present it ordains only changes upon the decisions of élite managerial cadres. Scientific management is a way to end history unlike liberty, which is the ultimate principle of social evolution. It goes without saying that with millions of people making private decisions the direction of the entire society and its economy will be, over time, partially or wholly unpredictable. That's the price we pay for being fully alive. I don't look at it as a price at all but a blessing.
 
This constant confrontation, this unwinnable war, between two flawed collectivizing principles, one that of abstract government, the other of raw public opinion given power by real democratic institutions produces liberty for those who want it. In the stalemate of dangerous forces, liberty escapes. Any serious attempt to sabotage democracy by the final nationalization of American schooling must be opposed, even by force if necessary, before it destroys the dialectic which produces liberty.
 
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We don't need to guess what a harvest of nationally socialized children would look like because this fate has happened to plenty of kids all through this most unnatural of centuries. Let me wrap this up by talking about the great societies of our time which would not have been possible without a fully rationalized national schooling scheme.
 
Let me begin with the Japanese empire which overran Asia. Japan modeled its system of schooling directly after Prussia's in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. It swallowed the Prussian system lock, stock and barrel along with the Prussian constitution. The extra measure of homogeneity and discipline provided gave Japan's élite military leadership just the edge it needed to go into a war mode against a much larger, but more disorganized neighbor, China.
 
Is it any wonder then that China learned a lesson from Japan, and after the war and the communist revolution which followed, made forced schooling a number one priority. Sauce for Japanese goose could be sauce for the Chinese gander. And so the Prussian mental battalions invaded and conquered China as they had Japan, the United States, France and the British empire before it.
 
The best public school students were subsequently trained to be change-agents - that expression, "change-agent" - is something you want to keep in mind when you seek to track the invisible movement of this thing. Scratch a change-agent deeply enough and the battleship-grey blood of a Prussian zealot will spring out at you. In China these public school student change-agents were trained to spy on their parents' deviance in thought, word or deed.
 
Chairman Mao reversed customary authority relationships between old and young, using students to spearhead state-generated social change among Chinese adults during the "Red Guard" period of the 1960's.
 
And only a short time after Mao made use of children as change agents, we find the practice imitated in the United States when American courts - not American legislatures - authorize child access to birth-control devices and abortion without knowledge or prior consent of parents. Here was a subtler way to out-Mao Mao, to bypass the stumbling block of family, to place the baton of social leadership into youthful hands. Nominally, at least, because in actuality children who disobeyed the State were not treated gently.
 
All this was done in the name of rational common-sense and a strangely perverted idea of scientific "liberty" - as if the trade of your mother for condoms could ever work out to your ultimate advantage.
 
So much for Asia. In 1922 a schoolteacher came to power in Italy, a man who had studied and respected Gaetano Mosca, a man who read John Dewey and believed with Dewey that schoolteachers "were high priests of the true God." Benito Mussolini's ideas received rave reviews in the American press for well over a decade, but his popular acclaim was as nothing to the adulation Il Duce was showered with from American academic heights. College professors and social thinkers/leaders loved the man!
 
For many years it was Italian fascism that American policy-makers, including the entire apparatus of American progressive schooling, sought to emulate - that historical phenomenon partially explains the prominence of Mosca and Pareto in the best circles, even today. And now I'm going to say something strange: it's too bad we still don't think that way because Fascism, being inherently pragmatic, not religious, "only" sought to command the behavior of its followers, not their inner consciousness.
 
This was its fatal flaw. Let a private consciousness develop and it will always find a way to sabotage and overthrow oppression. As early as 1949 George Orwell, the level-headed critic of all national socializations, saw that Fascism was insufficient to impose lasting order on a State: some stronger medicine was needed to control hyperdemocracy. some more efficient principle of domination than force and physical intimidation.
 
Thus it was that after the Vietnamese debacle of the early 1970's, American schooling turned more and more to a much more profound type of behavioral control, a brand first explored in Bismarck's Prussia derived from the work of Wilhelm Wundt, Hermann Ebbinghaus, Emil Kraepelin, Oswald Külpe, Axel Oehrn and Hugo Munsterberg.
 
This Prussian incorporation of psychological speculations and experimentation into the early training of the young was intensified in the National Socialist Germany of the Third Reich and the Soviet empire of Joseph Stalin in the twentieth century.
 
Both employed elaborate psychological strategies of student indoctrination which aimed at total ideological transformation. Germany and Russia stressed ladders of absolute authority and utter Subservience to a group standard. Alfred Rosenberg, the Nazi party philosopher, wrote that the task of the 20th century was "to create a new type of man out of a new myth of life."
 
During these formative Nazi/Soviet years, on the American side of the Atlantic, John Dewey and his associates were saying almost the same thing, in almost the same words. It was uncanny. Almost like that mythical African proverb about raising children which seems everywhere at once these days.
 
Jane Addams, a close personal friend of Dewey, and in her own right a very wealthy, socially prominent woman whose experimental Chicago settlement house was enjoying international attention at the time put the case for national schooling this way in a letter to Dewey in 1935:
 
The individual must be subordinated to the larger social group. The individual has little importance. The nation is moving from an era of individualism to one of collective associations. The concept of social control through mass psychology is a necessity. The goal is the construction of a universal village that will obtain an organic control over all life. The play impulse in children, carefully regulated and channeled, will breed a group mind and prove an important substitute for police action.
 
Whoa! Did you hear what I hear in those sentences? Jane Addams and Vilfredo Pareto were buzz words of the New Deal in 1935,
 
but the public was ill equipped to understand just how new this deal was supposed to be. "Police action"? "breed a group mind"? "control over all life"? "construction of a universal village"? "control through mass psychology"?
 
What does this sound like to you? Did Alfred Rosenberg write this to Hitler or Jane Addams to John Dewey? I think you might begin to understand why some liberty-loving folks were so upset when public schools began to desensitize children to historical thinking and comparisons. You might even begin to suspect the motives for doing this were what used to be called "Machiavellian" when people still knew how to read. And what to read. And why to read it.
 
In German national schooling, requirements were substantially weakened for the masses, just as they had been in the heyday of Bismarck's Prussia. Psychological material was infused throughout the curriculum to replace intellectual material. Great stress was placed on schooling as a preparation for work, not a training of the mind. This had constituted the original Prussian logic of mass schooling; it had given Prussian industry world-class power. Now Nazi Germany was returning to the primal design. As pragmatism waxed - for what else is habit/attitude training than collectivized pragmatism - critical thinking waned.
In Germany, the Chancellor was practicing exactly what Jane Addams was preaching in America. Nor did the German executive have to go very far to find out what that was. His mentor, Ernst "Putzi" Hanfstaengel was half-American, a Harvard graduate, an excellent young man who had been, oddly enough, a house guest of Franklin Roosevelt in Hyde Park, and also a houseguest of Teddy Roosevelt in Oyster Bay on successive weekends. Did you know that? It's a strange world, is it not?
 
Herr Hanfstaengel followed interesting developments in the states faithfully, like our covert medical sterilization program against mental defectives, and reported them to Hitler. Over Hitler's desk hung a full-length portrait of Henry Ford, the world's most famous anti-Semite, and on a table under the Ford painting both books by Edward L. Bernays on thought control stood. Henry Ford, author of The International Jew: World's Foremost Problem, but known more generally as an automobile manufacturer, had become a personal hero of the Chancellor during the 1920's by distributing at his own expense a copy of Protocol of the Elders of Zion to every library and school in the United States.
 
From German national schooling the ultimate masterpiece of national education - until we learned of the Gulag - was painted. Among the most heavily schooled population in the history of the world, millions of Jews and gypsies were systematically slaughtered without any wasted emotion - exactly as if they had been "epiphenomena," which is what German psychologist Wilhelm Wundt had called human individuality.
 
It was a mass cleansing reminiscent of religious spectacles, like that of the Iraqi troops in retreat across the desert who were turned into cinders only yesterday. But what is most important to remember - so those Jews and gypsies will not have died in vain - is that the population who murdered them could also show genuine delight in fine poetry and music, could add and subtract, and could take orders from their government to beat the band. Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said the second world war was the inevitable result of high quality universal national schooling: not an unfortunate result, an inevitable result. Do you have some reason to disagree? Would you have handled that kind of power more humanely? Forgive me if I call you a liar.
 
Our final specimen of national schooling to be examined here, although in doing so there are many ripe examples we have to overlook like Indonesian national schooling and the blessings it conferred on East Timor, or French national schooling and its enlightening effect on Algeria, is that of the Soviet Union. This was a state once lavishly praised by John Dewey in the 1920's, by the managing élite of Fabian Socialism in the 1930's, and the NEA high command and the professoriate like George Counts of Columbia as late as the 1940's - 1948, to be specific - when Professor Counts published his immortal, I Want To Be Like Stalin. Hey, George, don't we all?
 
The recent collapse of the Soviet State lets us see exactly what Soviet schooling accomplished for its society. Nothing in Russia worked except the weaponry. Standing in breadlines occupied 40 full working days a year, even though Russia was the world's largest grain producer. Who would waste human time this way except the desperate who figured better this way than in conceiving a revolution?
 
Wake up. Why would any political state be bothered to keep its population happy when discontent can be punished through the apparatus of the Gulag? Wake up. Is your experience with any élite class, including university professors, any different than this?
Dissidents in Russia were held in check by state of the art surveillance technology, formidable control technologies, and the nation had not had any religious or ethical sanctions by 1993 for at least 70 years. Who could resist by some magical internal code? No one. That's what rational logic dictated.
 
The Soviet national mass could be controlled entirely by scientific pragmatism using psychological sanctions. That's what the best thinking, and the most generously endowed research, had asserted was true since 1779. Two hundred years of the finest rational problem solving that human history could afford.
 
Then, the whole thing came apart in five years like our own Vietnam War. How could so many intelligent men have been wrong?
 
What could this horrifying refutation of rational life mean in relation to Democracy or the greater value, Liberty? Who should the rich be hiring to lecture them now?
 
If I were rich, and hoped to remain so, I would not be a friend of the leviathan forces seeking to centralize our school enterprise outside of public oversight. What could it possibly foreshadow that an unelected élite could drive North ;America in radical new directions without public approval? Or even simple awareness? If I were rich I would be much more worried about my friends than I was my enemies.
 
I think all that I have said means this: whether we are rich or poor, we have had our children taken away from us by ideologues. We are going to have to take them back.
Whatever that takes.

This essay was originally given as a keynote speech at the Pitkin conference, Goddard College, Plainfield, VT, on July l5, l995.