Less Organized Freedom

In the latest Claremont Review of Books (sub req’d), Wilfred M. McClay discusses President Obama’s resume, Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln, the Tea Party and Turner’s Frontier thesis as a preamble for his proposition that the path to national renewal lay in a less organized America.

There is a danger of overorganization in American life, of an over-emphasis upon credentialism and specialization, forces that taken in excess can cripple our sense of human possibility, and along with it the health of our communities, and our liberty. President Obama wants everyone to go to college, and he sees this, not unjustifiably, as the federal government’s lending a generous helping hand of opportunity. But perhaps it is less generous than it seems. Perhaps we already have too much schooling in our culture, too much hegemony of the schooled, too much licensing, too much regulation of experience, too little space to move around and find our own way, to experiment and make mistakes, to exercise the power of personal initiative without the supervision of experts, nannies, busybodies, and others who should spend more time minding their own business.
Perhaps we have become too concerned with pedigree, with the right schools, the right career path, and so on….Indeed, there was a time well within the memory of many living Americans when one’s advancement in life was not so heavily determined by the credential of where, or even whether, one attended college….One of the greatest of America’s 20th-century presidents—and one of the most literate and historically informed since the time of the founders—was Harry S. Truman, who did not have a college education at all, but instead began working for the Santa Fe Railroad when he graduated from high school….
We need to restore and preserve a less regimented, less status-stratified, less school-sorted, more open-ended America. We need an economy and legal structures that are as open as possible to enterprise and innovation. An educational system that is open to all, and geared not to the manufacturing of credentials (or artificial and dysfunctional rites of passage) but to the empowering of individuals. A society that concerns itself with the knowledge and skills a person can acquire, not where or how he acquired them….
[We need to celebrate] the enduring frontier spirit in America, which far from being deplored, ought to be celebrated and nurtured. In doing so, we will be celebrating the ability of this country to give unprecedented scope to the amazing and unpredictable depths of the human person, depths that cannot be produced factory-like by the right schools or the right social arrangements, but emerge from the unpredictable and often surprising potential in the minds and hearts and spirits of ordinary people when they are left free to pursue their ambitions. The examples of Lincoln and Alaska exemplify qualities of character and spirit that are at the heart of what this country is at its best, and that we should want to foster and preserve in the years ahead.

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