Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Daily Texan Recognizes the French Enlightenment

Philosopher David Williams takes the Texas State Board of Education at its word (h/t Chris Bertram). The Board, which recently expressed its displeasure with the teaching of evolution ("only a theory") and slavery (more than a theory, alas, but henceforth to be taught in a "fair and balanced" way as part of  "the Atlantic triangular trade"), nevertheless continues to promote dangerous French radicals:

On May 22, the State Board of Education voted 9-5 to reform its secondary-school social studies curriculum, emphasizing that the content of these guidelines serves to enable students to “appreciate the basic democratic values of our state and nation.” While these reforms have been broadly condemned by liberals across the country, it is important that both liberals and conservatives together become more broadly familiar with the texts now firmly in the curriculum. Specifically, we should take a closer look at Charles de Montesquieu, Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Aquinas. The board has requested that students now be able to “explain the impact” of their work on contemporary government. Their lessons are perhaps more apt for our times than the board has acknowledged.
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Then there is Voltaire (1694-1778). The board is especially right to emphasize the role of Voltaire, particularly in Texas, as Sam Houston himself was known to be an admirer and had access to a 41-volume set of his work. Although more a friend of enlightened despotism than democracy, Voltaire might find great supporters among those seeking to inject more Christianity into the curriculum. “Either Christianity should be renounced completely, or observed,” he wrote in his “Rights of Man” (1768). Of course, observing Christianity, as Voltaire understood it, was to recognize that it was a religion founded “entirely on poverty, on equality, on a hatred of riches and of the rich.” So without a strict equality, there can be no Christianity. There is no place for extreme wealth in a Christian republic, Voltaire concludes.
Finally, we have Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778), perhaps the most famous and influential of all those philosophers the board cites as crucial for the development of “democratic-republican government.” Rousseau is surely someone the board can celebrate as a precursor to contemporary Texan ideologies. He speaks of property rights as “the true foundation of civil society” and writes, “work is always necessary and never useless.” At the same time, however, he recognizes the ancient wisdom of Thomas Aquinas and Plato, in arguing on behalf of a “moral and legitimate equality,” by which he means the following: “Under bad governments ... equality is only apparent and illusory. It serves merely to maintain the poor man in his misery and the rich man is his usurpation. In actuality, laws are always useful to those who have possessions and harmful to those who have nothing. Whence it follows that the social state is advantageous to men only insofar as they all have something and none of them have too much.” In other words, it is not enough to proclaim all is equal; the government must strive to make that equality real in its deeds, which means evening out the distribution of wealth.

3 comments:

Cartesian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cartesian said...

Anyway he was not for a total equality of wealth (cf. Du contrat social, book 2, chapter 11), because equality is more about having the same laws, so as for liberty against slavery.

Anonymous said...

please. he states that no one is to be so rich that they can afford to but others and none so poor they have to sell themselves. in book iii, he claima that the word finance is a slave's word. williams is correct.