The CLT, Classical Ed, and the Future of American Education

Continuing the Discussion on the Direction of CCE.

The first half of 2023 has witnessed an intense debate within the classical education subculture on the Right. Eight years ago, fed up with subpar curriculum and the obvious bias by the College Board in running standardized tests, Jeremy Tate created the Classical Learning Test. The CLT is an alternative standardized test for classical education that boasts an impressive author list that taps into the Western and American Great Books tradition. By all accounts, the CLT has been a smashing success—it has brought the beauty of education to students throttled by the utilitarian drab of the modern industrial university, exposed the next generation to some of the most challenging and moving works ever penned by human hand, and partnered with over two hundred colleges and universities who accept CLT scores. 

However, this spring, in a number of articles at The American Conservative, Matthew Freeman (probably a pseudonym) criticized Tate and the CLT. Freeman argued that due to the influence of certain internal members, such as Jessica Hooten-Wilson and Anika Prather, the CLT author list is being transformed by woke ideologies to include representative authors from women and people of color. Freeman’s complaint, however, is not just that the CLT is going “woke” by emphasizing diversity, inclusion, and proportional representation, but that classical education has already been corrupted by democratic liberalism’s promises of equality, liberation, and the destruction of all hierarchies. The current mission drift of the CLT is merely the inevitable outworking of late-stage liberalism and the failure of the Enlightenment project of human progress and liberation. For Freeman, classical education is an aristocratic education in hero-worship. Classical education should be directed toward producing a counter-elite who will lead the masses well, not seek to liberate the masses with appeals to “virtue” and “critical thinking.”

Freeman’s essays produced a firestorm in response, including Tate’s rejoinder to Freeman at The American Conservative. A particularly important development in this debate was a Twitter Spaces conversation between Tate and Colin Redemer on June 19. Redemer had written two articles at American Reformer engaging with Freeman and Tate and had offered to host a Twitter debate between Tate and himself in lieu of Freeman (whose real identity remains unknown). The discussion between Tate and Redemer revolved around two major issues. The first was the current state of the CLT and whether or not the influence of Hooten Wilson, Prather, and Angel Adams Parham meant that the author bank has been corrupted with anti-classical standards. Redemer argued that mission drift with the CLT is a genuine threat that Tate has not taken seriously. Tate defended Wilson, Prather, and Parham, claiming that the worst motives are being assumed about them and that they have contributed nobly to CLT’s work. In addition, Tate argued that adding Benjamin Merkle (President of New Saint Andrews College) to the CLT Board proves that he is taking the possibility of compromise seriously. The CLT has rejected diversity quotas and Tate is determined that it not be captured by a hostile ideology. Instead, the CLT’s purpose is to reconnect knowledge and virtue through meaningful assessments.

The second issue revolved around the nature of education, the classical tradition, and what principles and means educators should employ in their vocation. The answer to these questions is essential to determining if the CLT has been compromised by woke philosophies. Tate argued that the CLT is fundamentally concerned about an education in what it means to be human (channeling Cornell West). This requires the ability to be able to read and engage with persons with whom you disagree without overreacting, which in turn necessitates an educational approach that privileges “viewpoint diversity.” Human excellence is the standard for classical education, and Tate averred that in the pursuit of excellence you cannot help but become inclusive and diverse in who you read and what you learn. Redemer emphasized Freeman’s complaint about the liberal standards that have crept into classical education: talk of student “dialogue,” diversity as an end, and the equality of educating as many citizens in a classical way as possible is indicative of a problem. 

In addition, for Redemer, viewpoint diversity is both dangerous and evidences a misunderstanding of the nature of education. It is dangerous because it mixes truth and error together indiscriminately; instead, in education, truth should be taught as truth and error should be brought in as error. In fact, Redemer argued that children simply shouldn’t read some classical authors because their thought is complex and dangerous if misunderstood (e.g., Plato). Viewpoint diversity misunderstands education because education is not about sorting through a diversity of opinions, but being trained in first principles and natural causes that underlie reality and that eventually lead back to God. For Redemer, the only role diversity plays is accidental: classical education necessarily means reading the Greeks, who were substantially different than modern man and society.

 The debate between Tate and Redemer, as well as the criticisms of Freeman, prompts further reflection and consideration of classical education in the twenty-first century. Below is my contribution.

Education and Classical

Since Matthew Freeman’s two pieces in The American Conservative are what sparked this whole debate, we should return to his objections. Collectively, Freeman argues three main things. First, he associates wokeness with liberalism, in effect claiming that the former is the inevitable byproduct of the latter, and thus that any classical education that portends to be liberal education is already doomed. Second, Freeman challenges Tate and the CLT’s assumption to even know what classical education truly is. Third, as mentioned above, he privileges hierarchy, aristocracy, and hero-worship as the essence of classical education. By definition, this means classical education is not liberal education, since the latter is education suited to liberal democracy, not an aristocratic society. Freeman, of course, argues that all societies have aristocratic elites—even democracies—and thus he throws cold water on the promise of liberal democracy to undo and replace the ancien régime. We should recognize that at the core of Freeman’s philippic is not merely a challenge to modern notions of classical education, but opposition to the very foundations of early modern political thought post-Machiavelli.

Others have written more eloquently on the nature of “classical” and “education.” Clifford Humphrey especially has spelled out the issues well: the classical tradition can mean the excellence achieved by the best human beings, or the potential for excellence in all men; education revolves around whether the received tradition is revered as trustworthy or is in need of updating—in which case, the mind of modern students must be freed from the ignorance and bias of previous generations. This choice is really a choice between classical and civic education versus progressive and global education.

Knowledge and Experience

A major disagreement between Tate and Redemer revolved around whether life experience (i.e., ‘lived experience’) is a quality worth elevating in choosing which authors to read. Tate argued that someone like Frederick Douglass should be on the CLT author list not merely because he wrote on slavery, but because as a slave he relayed personal reflections that teach more than what can be known about slavery in the abstract. Redemer argued that knowledge is in principle sharable, and thus secondary characteristics or unique experiences are not necessary for insight, understanding, and knowledge.

This distinction between Tate and Redemer is the difference between propositional knowledge and knowledge by acquaintance or competence knowledge.1 The argument is not just that genuine knowledge of the same thing can come through two (or three) different modes, each of which provides something the other does not. The argument often is much deeper than that, taking a decidedly Nietzschean angle. Nietzsche, in his excoriation of the European philosophers—especially Descartes and Kant—argued that life and its vitality are prior to reason and impossible for reason to ever truly grasp or express.2 In other words, bookish or propositional knowledge can never fully articulate the richness and depth of human experience. For Nietzsche, to know is to experience the fullness of the human condition in all of its strengths, disappointments, and absurdities. This vital knowledge cannot be communicated to others through the written or spoken word. The moment that is attempted, true understanding of life is obscured and philosophers begin to run wild with theories about how such-and-such “faculty” can explain human existence. The result of Nietzsche’s critique is that experiential knowledge is not only elevated and reason demoted, but knowledge itself becomes uneducable and non-transferable. Accordingly, true knowledge of oneself—the highest form of knowledge per the Delphic Oracle’s most famous injunction, γνῶθι σεαυτόν (gnōthi seautón: “know thyself”)—is accessible only to the subjective individual and lays beyond critique by outsiders armed with objective standards.

While the CLT has not gone this far, by elevating certain authors based upon their experiential knowledge of certain events or life conditions, it is not a far leap to a Nietzschean analysis that could soon land you in feminist standpoint epistemology (a common characteristic of “wokeism”). The way through this thicket is to prioritize certain authors not because they had an experience we label as valuable (i.e., Frederick Douglass was a slave!), but because Douglass’s writing, insights, and rhetoric meet a standard of excellence students can learn from and aspire to achieve. This is the case even if Nietzsche is right and Douglass’s experiences as a slave can never be perfectly communicated to the outside world. The best education is always analogical, not univocal, invoking the imagination through figurative analysis, literary symbols, and vivid imagery. No one else can be Frederick Douglass; yet we can learn about and from him, nonetheless.

Thus the question remains: what is the standard of excellence for classical education that will guide us in choosing authors, works, and topics to teach to our children?

Viewpoint Diversity

Tate emphasized the need for the CLT to include viewpoint diversity in order to counter the exclusive ideology of the College Board. The hope is that with a plurality of opinions, the truth will be found among them. Led by a wise and competent teacher, students can be guided to genuine knowledge by considering a variety of perspectives on any topic. The turn to human opinion and the use of a querying dialectic to expose false opinions and move closer to the truth originated with Socrates after his second sailing. Yet the problem with viewpoint diversity is that it almost never rises to such a dialectic. Instead, it begins and ends with a mere presentation of a bewildering array of opinions that students can pick from as they create their Choose-Your-Own-Adventure life.

In the abstract, a method of viewpoint diversity could be applied responsibly when under the tutorage of an experienced teacher. Yet “viewpoint diversity” can just as easily function as a Trojan Horse because the phrase itself is vacuous, waiting to be injected with leftist ideology. Diversity is not a virtue; it is merely a description of a heterogeneous state of affairs. From the perspective of politics and education, diversity is a problem to overcome, not a thing to celebrate. The diverse viewpoints under consideration could all be damaging or false, leading to ignorance or despair. While Socrates contended that every opinion contained some kernel of truth to be discovered, this does not justify indiscriminately opening the floodgates to the world’s literature. For education to be successful, viewpoint diversity must be overcome so that knowledge of ourselves, God, and this world—and the practical responsibilities and duties that follow—may be discovered and converge in a single and unifying understanding. Discerning which authors and books should be taught to whom and when requires wisdom and self-restraint. The education of our children is a noble undertaking, but also a sober responsibility; carelessness or foolish adherence to trendy liberal cliches is a recipe not only for miseducation, but worse, it endangers our children’s souls.

Education vs. Indoctrination

Classical education’s embrace of viewpoint diversity reflects the belief that education is not indoctrination. The distinction between these is usually summed up in the jingle that “we want to teach our children not what to think, but how to think,” with the former being indoctrination (what to think) while the latter—which also goes under the slippery term “critical thinking”—is considered true education (how to think). By presenting children with a range of ideas and perspectives and teaching them how to critically read and evaluate the arguments they find, the belief is that classical education can equip the child with the principles and analytical skills to not only be a lifelong learner but also to evaluate the myriad opinions they are sure to encounter. Since no one knows the future or what kind of noxious and tempting ideologies will be pushed upon unsuspecting citizens, preparing the next generation with the skills to spot falsehoods and love the truth is an essential educational task of the present.

Critics retort that the distinction between education and indoctrination is spurious, and students absolutely must be taught what to think and know. Children need instruction in what is true and noble, not made into “critical thinking” factories. Otherwise, the foibles of human passion and sentiment, the pressures of fashion and high society, and the social contagion of mindless groupthink will surely make mincemeat of our children’s minds. In the volatile, shifting, and dangerous cultural environment of present-day America where ideological vultures prey upon the unsuspecting minds of minors, parents are more than justified in exerting control over the substance, and not just the form, of what their children are taught.

In this vein, Redemer is right that children must primarily be taught truth and that error ought to be introduced as error, not as potential truth for the child to determine its veracity. On the other hand, Leo Strauss is right when he claims that (liberal) education is not indoctrination. When Aristotle opened the Metaphysics by claiming that “all men by nature stretch out to know,” he was not merely describing the nature of man but also man’s rational télos.3 Aristotle’s invocation of man’s nature describes an internal characteristic of movement or rest, and the “stretching out” is not merely a desire but a gradual unfolding that requires cultivation, habit, and (finally) an active or virtuous condition of man in a steady, mature, and perfect state.4

Infants and small children manifest a curious inclination to explore, discover and know; yet at such a young age, they must be told what is true and false, good and bad, right and wrong, wise and foolish. Before they have developed rationally and emotionally to control their passions and to marry sentiment to reason, they are unstable and incapable of measured deliberation over divergent opinions in pursuit of the truth. They must be told what to think and believe. At this point, their education mirrors indoctrination in external form only. Yet the sagacious parent or teacher is not actually engaged in indoctrination, since their intention is to move the child through this stage of learning and onto rational maturity. That maturity eventually involves something like “critical thinking,” or perhaps better termed “mature deliberation”—the ability to separate one’s self-consciousness and identity from the ideas or the opinions of others, to weigh those ideas and opinions according to hoary and tested standards of rationality and a moral hierarchy of goods, and to judge the likely impact such ideas and opinions will have upon one’s family, neighbors, and fellow citizens. To reach this level of human excellence, however, is rare; young children or teenagers will have not yet accomplished this—although a well-educated teenager should have moved beyond the “indoctrination” stage of education to begin to be tutored in self-knowledge and mature deliberation.5

Man’s “stretching out” to know is in his nature, but it is not automatic, spontaneous, or guaranteed. It requires education—good, patient, and wise education—to help a curious child to become a learning youth to become a rationally-mature and critically-thinking adult.6 A good classical education will be structured in this manner, but this requires spurning rigid and dogmatic appeals to “viewpoint diversity” and “critical thinking” without any deeper understanding of the pitfalls and potentials of these educational tools.

Elite vs. Vulgar Education

Freeman believes that classical education is aristocratic, and that by educating a new elite this will trickle down to the masses and indirectly educate them as well. This is true, but what he misses is that the reason the Left has been so successful in America today is because they gained control of the educational structure of the country at all levels—from K-12 education to all private and public colleges and universities. Having created an educational revolution from within, the Left has been able to effortlessly conscript the masses to its principles, norms, and goals. Witness the willingness of over half the country to mindlessly don face diapers, be locked in their houses, lose their jobs, stop their children’s education, and take an experimental and dangerous vaccine all because our bio-medical overlords told us to: when Fauci yelled “jump” the Liberal American Denizen jumped. Had the Left not gained control of the educational high ground in America in previous decades, and had they not been successful in churning out multiple generations indoctrinated with leftist ideology, the COVID crisis would have died with a whimper here.

The point is that only educating an elite and disseminating their ideas through law and rhetoric, while vital, is not sufficient to transform entire civilizations. The masses, too, must be directly educated in some manner. While Freeman’s approach of forming a new elite would have been sufficient in previous eras where the masses were poor, illiterate, and uneducated, times have changed. The American citizen will receive a formal education. The only question will be: who will control the schools and colleges, and develop the curriculum and teach the students, in the American education of the future? Conservatives would do well to mimic the Left’s tactics in the arena, seeking to take back or create parallel educational opportunities for a reformation of the masses. If this is the role Freeman envisions his newly educated aristocratic elite will fill, then he does well, and we should encourage such a development. Yet ignoring the education of the vulgar entirely is a mistake and will only cede such an opportunity to our enemies.

American Educational Excellence

Freeman’s focus on a classical, aristocratic education and against a modern, liberal education of the masses implies that America must be done away with. America as originally conceived was a Christian republic, and all republics where sovereignty is lodged in the people require a virtuous populace to succeed. How do you acquire and then preserve virtue among the people? Religion and education—or ideally a religious and virtuous education. A virtuous education could aspire to be a philosophic or Enlightenment education; yet in America it primarily took the form of religious education in classical and Christian morality (both the cardinal and manly virtues of courage, moderation, justice, wisdom, industry, and frugality, but also the Christian virtues of faith, hope, love, and charity—among others). The founding generation was deeply concerned about properly educating the people, both in terms of substance but also in building the material institutions and cultural habits necessary to sustain that education.

Benjamin Rush, in his 1786 treatise A plan for the establishment of public schools and the diffusion of knowledge in Pennsylvania and Thoughts upon the mode of education proper in a republic, outlined the structure of American religious education. In the former, Rush opens with a few sentences about the “influences and advantages of learning upon mankind,” and the kind of American education that must be “favourable to liberty.” Note especially where Rush argues that “where learning is confined to a few people, we always find monarchy, aristocracy, and slavery.” Obviously, Rush’s implication is that America is not any of these and thus an education appropriate to our republic must be an education that reaches the common people. If Freeman is right that classical education is essentially aristocratic, then Rush would retort that a classical education is un-American. Freeman might argue in response that the condition of the American people today is so dilapidated as to be incapable of a religious and republican education in virtue, and therefore the only practical and prudential way forward is to raise up a new elite to lead the country out of the self-destructive morass we are in. This may be true, but if so, we ought to say it out loud and be clear about what it means—namely, the (temporary? permanent?) abandonment of the American republic established by the Declaration and Constitution.7

At the same, Tate’s CLT is also in many ways un-American. When perusing the CLT author list, there are surprisingly few Americans from the founding era present: Jonathan Edwards (if even), Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. To be blunt, if these are the only thinkers students read on America, then they will not understand the founding of the country and our purposes as a nation. While probably unintentional, the CLT is geared toward producing Citizens of the World, not patriotic and Christian citizens of America. This is a problem, as diverse thinkers like Rush (pp. 21-22) and Rousseau both clearly understood, since global “citizens” have no love or affinity for their own people, customs, and traditions, and so they easily rationalize neglect for their literal neighbor in their rush to “love” the poor and starving child halfway around the world. Fake probity like this is self-serving, producing a veneer of virtue and sacrifice without achieving any actual good.8 Thus, similarly to Freeman, if classical education as envisioned by the CLT is merely an education in philosophy and letters designed for man qua man and not for the purpose of raising up and properly educating the next generation of American patriots, then it, too, is un-American.

My own view is that classical education need not be either aristocratic or global; it can be properly molded to teach the common man who is already a member or citizen of a particular land, religion, and constitution. The founding generation of Americans were deeply patriotic, and they not only fought, bled, and died for independence, but they dedicated their lives to understanding the nature of free, self-government. All one must do is pick up John Adams’ three-volume A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States to realize that these men were richly educated in classical, medieval, and modern thought—more so than us. In other words, a truly American and patriotic education will be classical and Christian and will expose students to the best of the Western tradition even while avoiding the excesses of elite hubris or global cosmopolitan fashion. 

To conclude, I return to the question I posed above but did not answer: what should be the standard of excellence for an American classical education? I’ve claimed that America in her essence combines the best of the classical republican (i.e., Greek) and Christian political experiences, with the latter improving upon the former. Excellence in education hinges entirely upon one’s concept of human excellence. In the Greek mind, humans could be divided into three types from lowest to highest: an ἄνθρωπος (anthrōpos: human being), who is similar to an animal in that he is driven by pleasurable desires for food, drink, sleep, and sex; an ἀνήρ (anēr: real man), who strives for what is honorable and good; and the ἐσθλός/ἐσλός (esthlós/eslós: noble or excellent man), who is good, worthy, and brave—the highest form a human can achieve.9 This last type of human encapsulates the very concept of being itself: an ἐσθλός is a man who exudes the essence of Being, a person who has reached the pinnacle of human existence, and who approaches the divine in his excellence.10 

Yet these kinds of men are rare. While we might look up to and even venerate them, what hope is there for most men? Thus, the Greeks tended to revere a more achievable archetype that they called the καλοκἀγαθός (kalokagathós). This combines the word for “beautiful” or “noble” (καλός; kalós) with the word for “good” (ἀγαθός; agathós) to create the “beautiful and good man,” also known in classical literature as the “gentleman.”11 The gentleman was the Spartan ideal of an educated, productive, and male warrior class that formed the backbone of Spartan society. In the Republic, Plato called his warrior guardian class “fine and good” gentlemen, who by their natures would be “philosophic, spirited, swift, and strong.”12 The gentleman was thus a combination of nature and education (nurture)—those capable of becoming beautiful and good citizens of a high social class.

While inclusion in the class of gentlemen was partly due to the advantages of birth, wealth, and natural ability, education played a major role. Xenophon, speaking of Socrates, explained his behavior as one who was

always conversing about human things—examining what is pious, what is impious, what is noble, what is shameful, what is just, what is unjust, what is moderation, what is madness, what is courage, what is cowardice, what is a city, what is a statesman, what is rule over human beings, what is a skilled ruler over human beings, as well as about the other things, knowledge of which he believed makes one a gentleman (noble and good), while those who are ignorant of them would justly be called slavish.13

For the Greeks, the relationship between the governing element (políteuma) of a city (pólis) and the education (paideía) of the citizens in the city formed a seamless symbiosis that determined the type of regime (politeía) of the city—including a constitution, citizenship, and a common way of life. Those who ruled politically had the power to construct an education that would shape the character of citizens to be conducive toward a shared life with common norms and ends. In turn, a citizen education would shape the lives of future leaders who were drawn from the citizen body. Education was not a private, non-political affair, but necessarily public and essential to the political community. Without a noble education, gentlemen would be rare, and the community would have to rely entirely upon commercial interests and slavish natures.

The Greek understanding of the close relationship between political rule, education, regime type, and the character of an excellent man carried over into medieval and early modern Europe—although not without changes. In his Law & Liberty article reflecting on the classical education debate, Josh Herring responded to Freeman’s emphasis upon hero-worship by claiming that “Christ redeems the classical masculinity of the Greek hero alongside all other parts of creation, and is himself the greatest picture of a human.” The belief that Christianity did not repudiate the Greeks, but improved upon them has been widespread in Western and Church history.14 Herring’s observation is right, and Freeman’s argument that classical education must be a return to the pure Greek ideal misses this point. It makes all the difference, too. For while the education of a Spartan gentleman was an aristocratic achievement reserved only for the best, Christ made it possible for even the lowliest commoner and slave to be recreated in his image (Rom. 8:29)—the image of the Son of God himself, who, by his nature and exaltation is higher than the highest man.15

This means that after the Christian advent, those who profess faith in Christ and become his disciples will not only become beautiful and good (i.e., the gentlemen) like the God they worship, but they will even surpass the supreme esthlós ideal. If Christ in his nature is the very essence of God (Col. 1:15; 19; Heb. 1:3), and God is the Source of all Being; and if by faith we are united to Christ and transformed into his image—the image of the New Adam—then Christians participate in the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:3). Eastern Christianity has long had the tradition of théosis, or deification, in which the soul ascends toward God, partially in this life and fully in the next. Such “deification” (as represented in the works of Irenaeus and Cyril of Alexandria) takes the form of immortality, incorruption, and adoption as God’s children and heirs. This is not “essential deification” in which humans actually become gods, but “attributive deification” in which we share in God’s communicable attributes.16 Furthermore, the possibility and promise of théosis is not aristocratic but democratic: it is available to all who will receive and believe the gospel—even tax collectors, prostitutes, the poor, and sinners.

Therefore, a nation that founds itself upon the Christian religion and that gives governmental and institutional support to Christianity in the form of privileging the work of the Church and establishing Christian schools throughout the land, will play a vital role in reshaping classical education. Christian classical education is no longer aristocratic, but a thing of the people (the res publica); it still worships heroes, but mostly the greatest hero of all—Jesus Christ; it elevates the common citizen to the level of the beautiful and good gentlemen by improving and adding to the cardinal virtues; and it accomplishes what the Greeks could only futilely strive for—the perfection of man through the deification of an incorruptible eternal life as adopted sons and daughters of God.

None of this means that republics won’t have elites or an aristocratic class that is heavily involved in governance, whether through official legislative, executive, judicial, and administrative channels or unofficially by promoting a morality via honor and shame. This is, in many respects, inevitable—and the founding generation of Americans knew it.17 Yet the presence of an aristocratic class does not mean that classical education must only be aristocratic. Classical education can (and should) be geared toward the common man; then, from among the people, a class of natural aristoi should be encouraged to rise through the political ranks in order that the best statesmen from among the people might lead the people.18

Nor does a Christian classical education necessarily guarantee that common citizens educated in this way will all become excellent in every respect. Achievement of personal or societal excellence always occurs along a spectrum, since a myriad of other factors beyond formal education determine success or failure. Yet the education of the city should not pick winners and losers by appealing only to elites while excluding everyone else.

A people and nation that embrace such a Christian classical paideía will necessarily be a Christian Nation, as the pólis (city) and políteuma (ruling element) will have been intimately shaped and formed by that religious paideía. Such was the case in America for over two centuries. The only question that remains is whether an American education of the future will return to the Christian classical education of its past or continue down the dual dead ends of postmodern identity politics or the Homeric esthlós ideal. Jeremy Tate and the Classical Learning Test could be the vanguard for a renewal of Christian classical education in America, but they must get their house in order first.

Image Credit: Unsplash

Show 18 footnotes
  1. These are probably three distinct modes of knowing, although the first is purely through cognitive analysis and abstract thinking, while the second two are grouped under experiential knowledge. The difference between knowledge by acquaintance and competence knowledge is that the former is merely a personal encounter with something (e.g., going to the symphony), while the latter is a skill learned through practice and habit (e.g., playing the violin in the symphony). For more, see Louis Pojman, What Can We Know? An Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge, 2nd ed. (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2001), 2-3.
  2. See Frederick Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1966), §§16-17 (pp. 23-24).
  3. The translator of the Loeb edition (Hugh Tredennick) renders the opening clause “all men naturally desire knowledge,” but the word translated “desire” (ὀρέγω, orégō) actually means “to reach, stretch, or stretch out.”
  4. This can be deduced from the syntax and grammar of the clause—πάντες ἄνθρωποι τοῦ εἰδέναι ὀρέγονται φύσει—in which the present tense of ὀρέγονται indicates internal, unfolding action while the middle voice indicates the subject’s own participation in the action of the verb: the “stretching out” to know is an internal development of the person that cannot happen without their own participation and growth.
  5. A good example of this kind of education and learning is Euthydemus in his encounter with Socrates and their ensuing conversion about education, wisdom, justice, knowledge, ignorance, and happiness (see Xenophon, Memorabilia IV.2). Xenophon nicely sums up the student’s relationship to his tutor when he concludes, “But Euthydemus supposed that he would become in no other way a man worthy of mention than if he were to be in Socrates’ company as much as possible. And he no longer left him unless there was some compulsion, and even imitated some of his pursuits. And, for his part…he (Socrates) disturbed him (Euthydemus) as little as possible and explained in the most simple and clear manner what he held he should know and what he held best for him to pursue” (Xenophon, Memorabilia IV.2.40, trans. Amy L. Bonnette (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994), 124).
  6. The etymology of the English “to educate” reflects these realities: the Latin ēducāre (“to bring up, rear, educate”) is related to ēdūcere, which means “to bring out, lead forth” (from ex- (“out”) + dūcere (“to lead”)). In other words, education is not so much about an external imposition upon the child or youth (e.g., imparting knowledge to them) as it is leading them to become the kind of a being that can know by using their own rational powers.
  7. I understand well that American government in 2023 does not operate according to its original design as articulated in our founding documents. Still, it is the current standard and ideal to which conservatives continue to appeal. Abandoning this ideal temporarily in order to defeat our public enemies and re-establish the country may indeed by the only option left to us—that is, unless, we think the founding was in error and America must now chart a new plan of government, such as monarchy, aristocracy, or (worse) post-constitutional Caesarism. From the latter there is probably no return.
  8. An example of the kind of sick worldly citizen that classical education can produce is Rod Dreher, who has abandoned his wife and children and country to go gallivanting around Eastern Europe as he LARPs previous generations’ resistance behind the Iron Curtain.
  9. On the tendency of anthrōpoi to be like cattle and pursue pleasure, see Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics I.5 (1095b20); on the distinction between the anthrōpos and the anēr, see Xenophon, Hiero VII.3-4.
  10. The fifth-century BC lyrical poets Pindar and Theognis used esthlós frequently in their verse to describe nobility and aristocracy of the highest kind. Nietzsche drew upon Theognis in On the Genealogy of Morals to describe the esthlós character of his preferred aristocracy as “one who is, who possesses reality, who is actual, who is true” (see “First Essay: ‘Good and Evil,’ ‘Good and Bad,’” in On the Genealogy of Morals, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale (New York: Vintage Books, 1967), §5, p. 29).
  11. See Plato, Republic 376c, 396b, 402a, 409a, 425d, 489e, 505b, 569a; Aristotle, Ethics 1124a1-4, 1179b4-11; Politics 1259b35; Xenophon, Memorabilia, I.1.16, I.2.7, I.2.18, I.2.29, I.6.13-14, II.3.16, II.6.16, III.5.15, III.5.19, IV.2.23, IV.7.1, IV.8.11; Cyropaedia, I.3.1, I.4.27, I.5.11, I.6.7, II.1.15, II.1.17, II.2.23, II.3.5, III.1.38, III.3.6, IV.3.23, IV.6.3, V.1.6, V.1.14, V.3.29, V.5.6, V.5.19, VII.1.49, VII.2.17, VII.5.84, VII.5.85-86, VIII.1.12, VIII.1.21, VIII.2.26. “Gentleman” could apply equally to anthrōpos as to anēr (see Leo Strauss’s comments on this in “Restatement on Xenophon’s Hiero,” in On Tyranny, eds. Victor Gourevitch and Micahel S. Roth (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 190). For further reflections on the kalokagathós see K. J. Dover, Greek Popular Morality in the Time of Plato and Aristotle (Bristol: Oxford, 1974), 41-45. The Latin equivalent of the “gentlemen” were the optimates.
  12. Republic 376c (trans. Allan Bloom (New York: Basic Books, 1968), 53).
  13. Xenophon, Memorabilia I.1.16 (pp. 4-5 in the edition translated by Amy L. Bonnette). Italics added.
  14. Augustine borrowed heavily from Plato, and Italian Renaissance philosophers (e.g., Pico della Mirandola) borrowed from Neo-Platonists like Plotinus; Marsilius of Padua, Aquinas, Hooker, and Althusius all borrowed from Aristotle; of the ancient Romans, Plutarch and Cicero were cited most often by intellectual leaders during the founding period (1760-1805). This list could be expanded endlessly.
  15. This is, of course, the very “slave morality” that Nietzsche complained so bitterly about and so harshly condemned (for his most complete meditation upon master and slave morality, see Beyond Good and Evil, §260)
  16. For an exploration of théosis, see Ben C. Blackwell, Christosis: Engaging Paul’s Soteriology with His Patristic Interpreters (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2016).
  17. One of the reasons John Adams insisted that Congress be a bicameral legislature at the Constitutional Convention was his conviction that all societies eventually develop an aristocratic class, and that the upper chamber of Congress ought to be reserved for such individuals. This had the effect of not only giving aristocrats a prestigious office to aspire towards, but ideally it would channel their ambitions toward the good or republican self-government (see Edmond S. Morgan, The Birth of the Republic, 1763-89, 4th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 92-93).
  18. One of the reasons John Adams insisted that Congress be a bicameral legislature at the Constitutional Convention was his conviction that all societies eventually develop an aristocratic class, and that the upper chamber of Congress ought to be reserved for such individuals. This had the effect of not only giving aristocrats a prestigious office to aspire towards, but ideally it would channel their ambitions toward the good or republican self-government (see Edmond S. Morgan, The Birth of the Republic, 1763-89, 4th ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013), 92-93).

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Ben R. Crenshaw

Ben R. Crenshaw is a Ph.D. candidate in Politics at the Van Andel Graduate School of Statesmanship at Hillsdale College. You can follow him on Twitter at @benrcrenshaw.

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