Chambers: Higher Education & Despair

Book Cover 1What led Whittaker Chambers to become a communist? His university education was one source, not because it taught him communism per se, but because it offered nothing to believe in. Faced with a choice between nihilism and communism, he chose the latter. Here’s an excerpt from my new book that I hope you will find enlightening with respect to the decline of higher education.

Chambers chose to attend Columbia University, close enough to home that he could save money by staying there his freshman year. “When I entered,” he explained, “I was a conservative in my view of life and politics, and I was undergoing a religious experience. By the time I left, entirely by my own choice, I was no longer a conservative and I had no religion.”

It is a statement that begs for more. How did this happen, precisely? What exact role did Columbia play in this dramatic turnabout? Who and what were the influences on Chambers at this time in his life?

He entered Columbia in the fall of 1920. Already damaged from his upbringing, having viewed the less seemly aspects of life in D.C. and New Orleans, and contemplating the social and economic crises that resulted from the recent Great War, now known as World War I, Chambers was soon to be firmly convinced that the world was on the brink of catastrophe.

He referred to it later, when he could explain it better, as a fault line. As with a physical earthquake, so also society was cracking under pressures and stresses that would ultimately lead to a cataclysmic upheaval. The problem was that most people did not understand what was happening; therefore, neither did they have a solution. During his time at Columbia, he sought to figure out the nature of the crisis and to discover the solution. In the end, the university did not provide the answer.

In effect, I was asking: Please tell me what our civilization means in terms of God and man, for I cannot make head or tail of it.

It was very much as if I had gone to a madhouse and said, cap in hand: Please explain to me the principles of sanity and sane living. Again, this is entirely without any special animadversions upon Columbia University. Exactly the same thing would have been true, in one degree or another, if I had gone to any other of the top secular universities in the country. Nor would the colleges have been at fault. Their failure merely mirrored a much greater disaster which was the failure of Western civilization itself.

Columbia was, he declared, “a citadel of the mind swaying in the vertigo of a civilization changing (without admitting it) the basis of its faith from a two thousand-year-old Christian culture to the new secular and scientific culture.” Whereas the Christian culture “placed God at the center of man’s hope,” the new secular faith, which was “exclusively rational and scientific,” replaced God with Man.

This was not indoctrination into communism, at least not explicitly. “No member of the Columbia faculty ever consciously guided me toward Communism,” he stated. “Columbia did not teach me Communism. It taught me despair.” That despair opened the door for the communist solution.

Searching for meaning in life, Chambers found that his university education provided only despair. Only much later did he finally come to realize that true meaning is found only in God, to Whom he eventually surrendered his will.

The Case Against Barack Obama: Character

Yesterday I examined Obama’s roots and the worldview he received from others. Just as important in an evaluation of the man is the character he has developed over the years. Each of us is exposed to many influences that help in shaping our character, but it’s always important to recognize that they are influences only—our path is not determined; how we respond to those influences is the key. Therefore, we cannot blame anyone else for whom we have become.

I say that because in Obama’s case it would be easy to blame his father, who didn’t stay with the family. Just as easy to blame would be his mother, who pushed him away from Western values, Christianity in particular. And then there were his grandparents who introduced him to his communist mentor, Frank Marshall Davis. Obama’s formative years were filled with what I would call pernicious influences. I’m sorry he had such an upbringing, but he is still accountable for how he responded to all those influences.

Abandoned by his father, raised by a white mother and grandparents, he can be excused perhaps for feeling out of place and in need of an identity. That’s probably why he created a fantasy image of his natural father. So in one sense he had a deep need for affirmation as a person. Yet, simultaneously, he was really quite the child of privilege. He never lacked for anything materially. He went to a private high school in Hawaii, then on to Columbia and Harvard later. Those are hardly the credentials of someone who is a hardship case. He even became editor of the Harvard Law Review despite no real writing accomplishments of his own. Many have raised the question of just who paid for all this education, but he has not been forthcoming with that information, and his college records have remained sealed.

By his own admission, he was an active drug user in his youth. There’s also no indication he ever had to work hard at any job to help pay for his expenses. All the privileges he received, along with an active imagination about a heroic father, compensated for his loss of identity. He determined to be part of black America even though he lived primarily in a white family and society. This apparently gave his life meaning.

As I noted yesterday, he became a convinced Marxist by the time he went to college, and also latched on to his father’s anti-colonialism, which made him anti-establishment, anti-Western civilization, and even anti-American since it was part of that civilization.

Because everything seemed to be handed to him on the proverbial silver platter, he became self-righteous and arrogant, traits that made it easy for him to slide into the role of political messiah in 2008. He never really discouraged his adoring followers to consider him as simply another flawed human being. After all, as he stated, his election would be the starting point for the lowering of the oceans and the healing of the planet. No lack of self-confidence there. He also proclaimed that we [kind of a royal “we”] were the ones “we” had been waiting for. As if all of history revolved around the coming of the new messiah. The media should have showcased this arrogance, but instead has become his chief enabler, ignoring the fact that the emperor has no clothes and inventing “scandals” for anyone who dares offer a critique of the One.

Since he has been in office, other traits have come to the surface. Even those around him comment that he is aloof. He doesn’t form relationships with anyone outside his own little circle of confidants, all of whom seem to bow to his every whim. He doesn’t even develop solid relationships with congressional Democrats. It’s almost as if they are beneath him and not worth the time. And as for Republicans . . . well, that’s a non-starter. He will talk about compromise, but never do it, and then blame the Republicans for being obstructionists.

Many have commented on his thin skin; he bristles at any hint of disrespect. Often, he is petty, and lets it show publicly. Two examples. First, when he was making overtures to Republicans about budget compromises, he decided to make a speech and invite Paul Ryan to be there. So there was Ryan, sitting in the front row, I believe, and Obama then turned his rhetorical guns on the Ryan plan for getting the nation out of our deficit mess. Ryan, to his credit, took the verbal assault calmly.

But the more famous example was during one of his State of the Union addresses, when he criticized a recent Supreme Court decision as the justices were sitting right in front of him. It was an attempt to humiliate them in the national spotlight. No president has ever used this important address to berate the court while they were honoring him with their presence. The term “mean-spirited” is not too strong for his actions in both of these cases.

I firmly believe Obama is a classic narcissist. He lives to please himself and won’t take any responsibility for anything that goes wrong. The economy? Nearly four years after George Bush has left the office, Obama continues to blame him for the current problems. And his penchant for not paying sufficient attention to his day job—president of the most powerful nation on earth—is becoming painful to watch. He spends an inordinate amount of time playing golf, attending fundraisers, and partying with celebrities. But he seems to get away with it since we are a nation apparently hooked on the celebrity culture. It seems to be hard to get his attention lately:

The most baffling aspect of all this, to me, is that polls show people find him likeable. Reagan was likeable, as even his detractors admitted; Obama is not. He’s the epitome of the anti-Reagan. His arrogance, aloofness, and narcissism are deadly in a leader. And where is he leading us? That will be the subject of the next two posts.

Educational History (cont.)

While my mind is on education, let me continue with a little more of the history of education in America. In previous posts, I mentioned John Dewey and his baneful influence. Known as the Father of Progressive Education, Dewey introduced a number of new ideas: no eternal truths; let the child decide what he wants to learn; minimize booklearning and magnify experiences [which can often be divorced from substance]; socialization of children to fit into his vision of a socialist society.

Grand new ideas, weren’t they?

I’ve also mentioned a couple of his disciples; another one I would like to note today is William Heard Kilpatrick. A colleague of Dewey’s at Columbia University’s Teachers College, Kilpatrick also served as president of the John Dewey Society. It has been estimated that he taught as many as 35,000 students during his tenure at Columbia, many of whom became leaders in this new approach to education throughout the country.

Kilpatrick believed that man only existed in society, meaning that the collective was more significant than the individual. He disliked any diversity in education: there should be only one school system for the nation, he declared. To have more than one will lead to disunity. So much for private education.

The function of a school, according to Kilpatrick, was to teach methods of investigating truth, but not truth itself. He said we should teach children how to think, not what to think. If you read that last sentence and said, “yes, I agree with that,” you may not really understand the implications.

How can one learn how to “investigate” truth if no concept of truth exists? Teaching someone how to think sounds good, but that is merely a process. The substance of what we think is essential. There is truth and falsehood, but progressive education, the banner under which Kilpatrick stood, did not believe in any concept of right and wrong from God. Man was to figure it all out on his own.

I believe that real education begins with premises drawn from Biblical principles. Without firm foundations, the edifice collapses. Learning how to think is important, but you must start with some idea of right and wrong, truth and falsehood. Otherwise, you are trying to think in the midst of an intellectual and moral vacuum.

I make no apology for telling students that some things are right and others wrong, and that eternal truth does exist. They are then free, of course, to think through what I have said and determine if I am off-base in any way. I don’t have a problem with students asking questions if they are genuinely seeking to know and understand truth. But that desire must have a foundation first from which to question.

I realize that sets me apart from mainstream education. That’s fine. My first allegiance is to God and His truths. I firmly believe that students who are grounded in those truths have the potential to be the best thinkers.