Big Government or Small, the Culture Must Be Healthy
It’s unfortunate that Rich Lowry’s article in the January 24 National Review, “What the Whigs Knew,” is inaccessible except to subscribers, but two portions are worth typing out:
[Eva] Moskowitz combines a fiery faith in the ability of all children to learn with a traditional — nay, downright retrograde — means of molding them into successful students. The New York Times describes the educational philosophy of her Harlem Success Academy as “a mix of the liberal Bank Street College of Education approach and the traditional Catholic school model.
“Parents must sign the network’s ‘contract,’ a promise to get children to class on time and in blue-and-orange uniform and guarantee homework, and attend all family events,” New York magazine explains. Children who defy the school’s strict rules must show up for “Saturday Academy” together with their parents. New students get instruction on how to walk appropriately in the school’s “zero noise” hallways and how to engage in active listening — “legs crossed, hands folded, eyes tracking the speaker.”
Of course, such an approach won’t work for all students, and some parents won’t care enough about their children to keep the rules, themselves, but there’s something intuitive about the approach and something undeniable about the importance of the objectives that Moskowitz’s policies seek to achieve, mainly parental involvement and a respect for structure.
The second portion:
America has become a less mobile society because so many people have lost touch with the Whiggish virtues, and even more basic ones. Society’s most important cvharacter-forming and -reinforcing institution, marriage, is in retreat among everyone outside college graduates. This retreat is why we have a semi-permanent underclass, and it contributes to the struggles of the working class. The dependence on government of able-bodied adults is almost entirely a cultural phenomenon; the economic stagnation of the working class is partly one.
The Left has no interest in hearing this. It champions what can be thought of as a libertine statism — an expansive government that is neutral or hostile toward traditional values. It offers dependence on the state to those whose disorderly lives run counter to these virtues and makes it difficult to succeed in a capitalist society. It tends to create a society whose dysfunction is a constant call on government.
That pretty well sums up the conservative view of statism: The freedom offered is the freedom to be sufficiently self-destructive to have to rely on the government. Traditional values — that is, Western, particularly American traditional values — served mainly to strengthen the individual and the family. There’s very little room for social engineering and bureaucracy in such small, localized groups.