Among the yellowed, mouldering paperbacks I recently fetched up from the storage locker of my past life was a small, especially crumbly edition of a work by Karl Marx.
It is titled The Communist Manifesto, and in my 1954 translation (Gateway edition; Henry Regnery Co.; original price 65 cents) there is an introduction by Stefan T. Possony, of Georgetown University. His own view, both of Communism generally and the text at hand, is conveyed in the title he placed over his introduction: “The Confiscation of Human Liberty.”
Crumbling indeed: my copy had been “previously loved” even when I bought it. This was in the Old Favourites Bookshop, in a cellar along University Avenue in Toronto, anno 1967. I was a student then in Grade IX, and as I vividly recall, already arguing with a (fashionably Marxist) history teacher. He was supposed to be teaching British history that year, according to the curriculum. But I didn’t mind if he devoted the whole course to discussing “Vietnam” instead.
Such teachers are wonderful; and when he was sacked by the local school board (in Georgetown, Ont.) at the end of that year, I had my parents right there at the meeting, fighting for him. This, even he may have found odd, since he had almost flunked me for having the wrong views on Vietnam; for being about the only kid in the entire school who openly espoused the “wrong views.” (Then as now!)
The intervention failed; he went off to Fergus, Ont. In those days—the late ‘60s—when the post-war baby boom was still working its way through our provincial school system, like a goat through the body of an anaconda, a teacher could always find another job. And this teacher, who was by no means stupid in any conventional sense, would be sure to find fresh young minds—either to bore, to corrupt, or to sharpen; depending, really, on the kids themselves. God bless him wherever he is now.
For the man was a blessing: a “devil’s advocate.” A whole department full of teachers like him would be Hell, however.
I’ve been writing these last few Sundays a kind of manifesto, myself, on the Leninist theme, “What is to be done?” This was the title of another tract, from Progress Publishers in Moscow as I recall. (I can no longer find it.) It was the Soviet adjunct to the Communist Manifesto, in which Vladimir Ilyich spelled out, in nasty little words of one figurative syllable, just how the “revolutionary vanguard” should proceed—given the self-evident fact that the workers of the world were not going to unite, let alone establish the dictatorship of the proletariat, on their own initiative. Push would have to come to shove.
In some milder form, this is what “bureaucratic centralism” has always been doing: pushing and shoving in the general direction of Utopia.
As may be evident, I was raised in the Cold War era. My hatred of the confiscators of human liberty will always carry the flavour of that era—of the struggle against a utopian socialism that then as now commands the imagination of most half-baked, atheist intellectuals. Their kingdom is of this world, and while the revolutionary Zeitgeist has abandoned Marxism, and is now abandoning feminism, it has moved on to animate environmentalist and Islamist lunacies.
Behind all, is the same demonic Spirit, with its scent of Manifesto. (Read Genesis for the source of this.) “The good” is defined by Utopian ends; the ends justify the means; truth itself must be sacrificed to achieve the glittering vision of an equality in which there will be no masters any more. Only slaves; only that vast constellation of Gulag.
If I have dwelt first and foremost on the importance of education, in my own thinking about “what is to be done,” it is because I am a radical of the opposite camp—in which Truth has an absolute priority. Long before I ever became a Christian, I was exhilarated by the words: “That you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
Yet I have no program for what is to be taught. And while I do not doubt that reading, writing, and arithmetic are as important as other fundamental skills—the abilities to draw, to dance, to sing, to cook—I would not insist on any “minimum curriculum.” People can figure these things out without the help of centralized planning agencies.
Let us be sure that even if the Communist Manifesto—or its equivalent in the latest intellectual fashions—is being taught in one school to the supine, the evil in it is being taught quite explicitly in another. Let us be sure that the truth can at least be openly sought.
It is for this long-term political objective that I have put the “denationalization” of primary, secondary, and tertiary education at the very head of my list of “things to do.”