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Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Classical Christian Insurgency

The progressive championing of “education” was actually the process of removing the Western Christian Paideia.

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(jambmoreira/Shutterstock)

Battle for the American Mind: Uprooting a Century of Miseducation, by Pete Hegseth with David Goodwin, (Broadside Books: June 2022), 288 pages.

As we look at all the various forms of societal incompetence and unrest that currently afflict us, whether feckless politicians or lawless rioters, we soon find that they all have one thing in common. The people who voted for Bernie, or threw a brick through an Abercrombie & Fitch window, or spewed their venomous trolleries on Twitter, or who viciously canceled any responsible attempts at dissent, are all at the tail end of that huge, slow-moving conveyor belt that we call public education.

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Who educated these people? Not only that, but who educated the people who are standing by and tolerating what the tantrum mobs are currently doing? Who educated the arsonists, and who educated the firemen who are just standing next to their trucks, watching it all burn?

In this marvelous book, The Battle for the American Mind, Pete Hegseth and David Goodwin answer that question, and they come at their basic answer in about 100 different ways. The government school system really is a conveyor belt, one that takes up 16,000 hours of a student’s life. Naturally those hours have some impact on a student’s outlook and worldview. The central target in this book is, rightly, the “entire pipeline of American education.”

When this book was first released, it spent four weeks at number one on the New York Times bestseller list for non-fiction. That position was well-earned, if for no other reason than because it very ably highlights a peculiarly American form of intellectual schizophrenia. If Nancy Pelosi proposed the formation of a 24-hour government-sponsored cable news network, everybody would lose their minds. If Joe Biden proposed the establishment of a government newspaper, the same thing would happen. And why? Because we don’t want the government to control the flow of information, that’s why. You know, Pravda?

Except for the flow of the most important information, in overwhelming amounts, to almost all of our children.

Over the course of 16,000 hours in the government school system, the flow of information is no small thing. We are talking about control of texts, control of teacher training, control of accreditation, not to mention a long, dismal line of all the other forms of educational control. “Let that sink in: the manner in which we study politics, history, and economics in American schools—public and private—today is the product of Marxists,” Hegseth and Goodwin write. “That was always the plan, and it worked.” We are talking about a river of cultural Marxism.

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The centerpiece of this book is the ancient idea of paideia, which is best understood as a total process of enculturation. The ancients understood it, the medievals understood it, and those who founded our nation understood it. Not only so, the progressives themselves understood it far better than naive conservatives did. It is the authors’ contention that the progressive championing of “education” was actually the process of removing the Western Christian Paideia, what the authors call WCP, and replacing it with an American Progressive Paideia. 

“The WCP, then, is a particular type of paideia that was intentionally created for a self-governing people. It is unique to the West, and America was founded based upon it.” That is what the progressives had to get rid of, and did. That is what Christian conservatives should have defended, and didn’t.

Hegseth and Goodwin are to be commended for three major reasons, and the first is foundational to all the rest. They are unabashedly Christian and not embarrassed to outline the profound debt that the West owes to the Christian faith. But it is not that they are in any way jingoistic; their priorities are sound—they know which is the root, and which is the tree. “Christianity will survive without America, but America cannot survive without Christianity.” They know that our “politics is a lagging indicator.” Culture is upstream from politics, but our spiritual condition before God is upstream from everything.

The second reason is that they diagnose the problem rightly—these men are not doctors who are content to attack mere symptoms. They are not among those who would heal the wound of the people lightly (Jer. 6:11, 14). They say a number of times that we need a solution as big as the problem, and they do not in any way minimize the magnitude of the problem. The government school system has been a progressivist bad idea from the beginning, and while progressives are particularly good at bad ideas, this one has to rank up there with the worst. “So why . . . do we outsource nearly all of the most important job we have to secular, progressive, and anti-American government schools?”

The third reason is that they conclude with some very practical things that the convinced reader can go out and do. Unlike many hair-on-fire conservative screeds, they do not leave the reader with the sole option of just getting angrier at the way our ostensible leaders debate how best to circle the drain. There is a movement to participate in, an insurgency to join. There are schools to start, other schools to support, kids to enroll, teachers to train, and classes to teach.

“Our own option is insurgency,” they write. “We are the new radicals, the new revolutionaries. We must choose insurgency, since all other options are a path to certain defeat.... If you have to switch jobs, switch. If you need to pass up a promotion, pass it up. If you need a longer commute, drive it.” The stakes are indeed high. We need to act instead of burning any more daylight.