Larry P. Arnn
President, Hillsdale College
The following is adapted from a speech delivered at a Hillsdale College reception in Rogers, Arkansas, on November 17, 2020.
On September 17, Constitution Day, I chaired a panel organized by the White House. It was an extraordinary thing. The panel’s purpose was to identify what has gone wrong in the teaching of American history and to lay forth a plan for recovering the truth. It took place in the National Archives—we were sitting in front of the originals of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution—a very beautiful place. When we were done, President Trump came and gave a speech about the beauty of the American Founding and the importance of teaching American history to the preservation of freedom.
This remarkable event reminded me of an essay by a teacher of mine, Harry Jaffa, called “On the Necessity of a Scholarship of the Politics of Freedom.” Its point was that a certain kind of scholarship is needed to support the principles of a nation such as ours. America is the most deliberate nation in history—it was built for reasons that are stated in the legal documents that form its founding. The reasons are given in abstract and universal terms, and without good scholarship they can be turned astray. I was reminded of that essay because this event was the greatest exhibition in my experience of the combination of the scholarship and the politics of freedom.
My thoughts on President Arnn’s article:
I think it is a very good article. Included is part of Ronald Reagan’s Farewell Address as president in January 1989. In his life, Reagan had seen enough of a change in American society to make this comment:
“Younger parents aren’t sure that an ambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children.”
Then, Mr. Reagan issued a warning. (You’ll have to click on the link to the article above to see it.)
President Arnn goes on to discuss a few unknown facts about Thomas Jefferson. Before his well written short conclusion, he writes:
“To present young people with a full and honest account of our nation’s history is to invest them with the spirit of freedom. It is to teach them something more than why our country deserves their love, although that is a good in itself. It is to teach them that the people in the past, even the great ones, were human and had to struggle. And by teaching them that, we prepare them to struggle with the problems and evils in and around them. Teaching them instead that the past was simply wicked and that now they are able to see so perfectly the right, we do them a disservice and fit them to be slavish, incapable of developing sympathy for others or undergoing trials on their own.”
Having read some of what our forefather’s wrote, I cannot help but think of how much better prepared they seemed to be to handle what lay ahead. Like Mr. Reagan, I think we have gone backwards in many ways. In spite of technological, medical, and other amazing advances, Americans seem more divided and less content than ever. The rough, unkind, and unwise rhetoric that spills from many different sources fuels a fire that seems like it will be long lived.
Anyone who has read much of this blog at any length knows that I believe our problems lay in our disobedience to the authority of God’s Holy Word, the Bible. It is the greatest history book, one of the most owned and least read. One cannot read it and not see the importance of adhering to the protections God gave us in the Ten Commandments alone. The results of ignoring such valuable protections have proved devastating to many peoples of the past. Americans today are no more special in the eyes of God than those who have come before us. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. To think otherwise is to put too much faith in human strength and ability.
The Words of Jesus put life in prospective:
“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” John 15:5