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The Conservative Curmudgeon
August 13, 2012

Can a Free Society Endure if the Values Needed to Sustain it Are Not Transmitted?
by Allan C. Brownfeld

ALEXANDRIA, VA —The history of the world indicates that freedom is not natural to man; it must be carefully cultivated and taught. Through most of history, man’s natural state has been to live under one form of tyranny or another. If freedom is to endure, it must be learned and carefully transmitted from one generation to another.

Americas Best Colleges

Our contemporary society makes little effort to transmit the history, our culture, and the values upon which a free society is built. In an important new book, America's Best Colleges! Really? (Crossbooks, 6/13/12), John Howard, at 90, continues his strenuous efforts as an educator to reverse recent trends.

John Howard has lived an extraordinary life. During World War II, he served in the 745th Tank Battalion, First Infantry Division, and he received two Silver Stars and two Purple Hearts. From 1960-77, he was the president of Rockford College. He then served as president of the Rockford Institute; at the present time, he is a senior fellow at the Howard Center for Family, Religion and Society.

He believes that our institutions of higher learning have let us down in carrying out their responsibility to introduce our history, culture, and values to the new generation of Americans. He quotes Aristotle: “Of all the things I have mentioned, that which contributes most of the permanence of constitutions is the adaptation of education to the form of government.”

Montesquieu, in The Spirit of the Laws, analyzed various forms of government. He stated that each one had a unique relationship with the people; if the relationship changed, that form of government would perish. In despotism or tyranny, he argued, the government could last as long as the people did what they were told to do for fear of severe penalties. A monarchy could last as long as the people were loyal to the crown.

“But a democracy,” writes Howard, “or other self-governing regime, depended upon a virtuous populace, which voluntarily abided by the laws and other settled standards of behavior. This free society was the best form of government, and the hardest to achieve and sustain. America’s free society was destined for success because the colonists who came to New England and left England for the sole purpose of finding a land where they could practice their Christian faith... were already deeply committed to a virtuous life, wholly suited for the government of a free society.”

John Howard believes that the Founding Fathers fully understood and supported this cardinal principle: proclaimed by Aristotle: “On July 17, 1787, the Continental Congress enacted the Northwest Ordinance. It set forth the plan for the government of the residents of the Northwest Territory and the basis on which a region might qualify for statehood. Article III begins, ‘Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind…’ Here is an acknowledgment that our self-government is dependent on religion, morality, and education, in that order of importance. That document and the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were so intelligently conceived that they reflect a breadth of knowledge and wisdom often said to be superior to the products of any other deliberative body in world history. Certainly, there have been no comparable accomplishments in recent times.”

John Howard

The stress on religion and morality was echoed in the main body of George Washington’s inaugural address. American education’s attention to the development of character among students was summarized in a 1979 report published by the Hastings Center. The author was Columbia Professor Douglas Sloan, who wrote: “Throughout the 19th century, the most important course in the college curriculum was moral philosophy, taught usually by the college president and required of all senior students.... The full significance and centrality of moral philosophy in the 19th century curriculum can only be understood in the light of the assumption held by American leaders and most ordinary citizens that no nation could survive, let alone prosper, without some common moral and social values.... However, moral philosophy did not carry the whole burden of forming the students’ character and guiding their conduct; the entire college experience was meant above all to be an experience in character development and the moral life.”

The wise political philosopher Edmund Burke declared that political liberty cannot exist unless it is sustained by moral behavior. This truth was embraced by our Founding Fathers. President John Adams’ second inaugural address was the first one given in the new Capitol Building. He urged: “May this residence of virtue and happiness... here and throughout our country, may simple manners, pure morals, and true religion flourish forever.”

President James Madison wrote, “We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government: upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

Alexis de Tocqueville visited America in the 1830s. His book Democracy in America is a classic description of the government and people of America: “By their practice, Americans show they feel the urgent necessity to instill morality into democracy by means of religion.”

John Howard declares: “Instill morality into democracy by means of religion — De Tocqueville saw this as the only means by which liberty can be perpetuated in all democratic nations.”

John Howard has dedicated his long life to promoting the values upon which a free society depends. In his book, he provides collected speeches and essays, as well as his latest thoughts on how to preserve a free society and extend it into the future. Those who seek to understand how the values upon which such a society depends can endure would do well to ponder John Howard's thoughtful words on this subject.

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The Conservative Curmudgeon is copyright © 2012 by Allan C. Brownfeld and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. Editors may use this column if this copyright information is included.

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Subcommittee.

He is associate editor of The Lincoln Reveiw and a contributing editor to such publications as Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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© 2012 Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation