The Sentence That Knocked Down the Berlin Wall (But Almost Didn’t)

This post is a reprint of the November 5 ,2014 article from the Intercollegiate Review.

 

Twenty-five years ago last week, the Berlin Wall fell. 

Twenty-five years ago last week, the Berlin Wall fell.

In retrospect, what event fails to suggest a certain inevitability about itself, conveying the sense that because it happened it had to have happened?

Twenty-five years ago this week, the Berlin Wall finally fell.

Of course it did.

How could it have remained in place a day longer? For that matter, how could the Soviet Union itself have failed to fall?

How could the Cold War have ended any other way than in a victory for the West?

History preserves only the events that took place, permitting the alternatives—the contingencies and near misses—to fade, disappearing completely in the end.

Yet if you’d like proof that history isn’t predetermined—that history contains within itself a multitude of alternative realities, of near misses and might-have-beens—consider the address that President Ronald Reagan delivered at the Brandenburg Gate twenty-nine months before the Berlin Wall came down.

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” Those words were very nearly dropped from the president’s text.

How do I know? I wrote the address.

The Angry Hausfrau

Über_den_Dächern_von_BerlinIn April 1987 the celebrations for the 750th anniversary of the founding of Berlin were under way.

Queen Elizabeth had already visited the city. Mikhail Gorbachev was due in a matter of days.

Although President Reagan hadn’t been planning to visit Berlin himself, he was going to be in Europe in early June, first visiting Rome, then spending several days in Venice for an economic summit.

At the request of the West German government his schedule was adjusted to permit him to stop in Berlin for a few hours on his way back to the United States from Italy.

I was then serving as a speechwriter to the president and was assigned to write the Berlin address. I was told only that the president would be speaking at the Berlin Wall, that he was likely to draw an audience of about ten thousand, and that, given the setting, he probably ought to talk about foreign policy.

In late April I spent a day and a half in Berlin with the White House advance team, the logistical experts, Secret Service agents, and press officials who went to the site of every presidential visit to make arrangements. All I had to do in Berlin was find material. When I met the ranking American diplomat in Berlin, I assumed he would give me some.

A stocky man with thick glasses, the diplomat projected an anxious, distracted air throughout our conversation, as if the very prospect of a visit from Ronald Reagan made him nervous. The diplomat gave me quite specific instructions. Almost all of it was in the negative. He was full of ideas about what the president shouldn’t say.

The most left-leaning of all West Germans, the diplomat informed me, West Berliners were intellectually and politically sophisticated. The president would therefore have to watch himself. No chest thumping. No Soviet bashing. And no inflammatory statements about the Berlin Wall. West Berliners, the diplomat explained, had long ago gotten used to the structure that encircled them.

After I left the diplomat, several members of the advance team and I were given a flight over the city in a U.S. Air Force helicopter. Although all that remains of the wall these days are paving stones that show where it stood, in 1987 the structure dominated Berlin. From the air, the wall seemed less to cut one city in two than to separate two different modes of existence.

On one side lay movement, color, modern architecture, crowded sidewalks, traffic. On the other lay a kind of void. Buildings still exhibited pockmarks from shelling during the war. Cars appeared few and decrepit, pedestrians badly dressed.

The wall itself, which from West Berlin had seemed a simple concrete structure, was revealed from the air as an intricate complex, the East Berlin side lined with guard posts, dog runs, and row upon row of barbed wire. The pilot drew our attention to pits of raked gravel. If an East German guard ever let anybody slip past him to escape to West Berlin, the pilot told us, the guard would find himself forced to explain the footprints to his commanding officer.

That evening, I broke away from the advance team to join a dozen Berliners for dinner. Our hosts were Dieter and Ingeborg Elz. Germans themselves, the Elzes had retired to Berlin after Dieter completed his career at the World Bank in Washington. Although we had never met, we had friends in common, and the Elzes offered to put on this dinner party to give me a feel for their city. They had invited Berliners of different walks of life and political outlooks—businessmen, academics, students, homemakers.

BerlinermauerWe chatted for a while about the weather, German wine, and the cost of housing in Berlin.

Then I related what the diplomat told me, explaining that after my flight over the city I found it difficult to believe.

“Is it true?” I asked. “Have you gotten used to the wall?”

The Elzes and their guests glanced at one another uneasily.

I thought I had proven myself just the sort of brash, tactless American the diplomat was afraid the president might seem.

Then one man raised an arm and pointed. “My sister lives twenty miles in that direction,” he said. “I haven’t seen her in more than two decades. Do you think I can get used to that?”

Another man spoke. Each morning on his way to work, he explained, he walked past a guard tower. Each morning, the same soldier gazed down at him through binoculars. “That soldier and I speak the same language. We share the same history. But one of us is a zookeeper and the other is an animal, and I am never certain which is which.”

Our hostess broke in. A gracious woman, she had suddenly grown angry. Her face was red. She made a fist with one hand and pounded it into the palm of the other. “If this man Gorbachev is serious with his talk ofglasnost and perestroika,” she said, “he can prove it. He can get rid of this wall.”

“That’s What I’d Like to Say”

Back at the White House I told Tony Dolan, then director of presidential speechwriting, that I intended to adapt Ingeborg Elz’s comment, making a call to tear down the Berlin Wall the central passage in the speech. Tony took me across the street from the Old Executive Office Building to the West Wing to sell the idea to the director of communications, Tom Griscom.

“The two of you thought you’d have to work real hard to keep me from saying no,” Griscom now says. “But when you told me about the trip, particularly this point of learning from some Germans just how much they hated the wall, I thought to myself, ‘You know, calling for the wall to be torn down—it might just work.’ ”

The following week I produced an acceptable draft. It needed work, but it set out the main elements of the address, including the challenge to tear down the wall. On Friday, May 15, the speeches for the president’s trip to Rome, Venice, and Berlin, including my draft, were forwarded to the president, and on Monday, May 18, the speechwriters joined him in the Oval Office. My speech was the last we discussed. Tom Griscom asked the president for his comments on my draft. The president replied simply that he liked it.

Now, you might suppose that after hearing the president say he liked his draft, a speechwriter would feel so delighted he’d leave it at that. Somehow, it didn’t work that way. As a speechwriter you spent your working life watching Reagan, talking about Reagan, reading about Reagan, attempting to inhabit the very mind of Reagan. When you joined him in the Oval Office, you didn’t want to hear him say simply that he liked your work. You wanted to get him talking, revealing himself. So you’d go into each meeting with a question or two you hoped would intrigue him.

at-desk“Mr. President,” I said, “I learned on the advance trip that your speech will be heard not only in West Berlin but throughout East Germany.”

Depending on weather conditions, I explained, radios would be able to pick up the speech as far east as Moscow itself.

“Is there anything you’d like to say to people on the other side of the Berlin Wall?”

The president cocked his head and thought. “Well,” he replied, “there’s that passage about tearing down the wall. That wall has to come down. That’s what I’d like to say to them.”

Squelchfest

With three weeks to go before it was delivered, the speech was circulated to the State Department and the National Security Council (NSC). Both attempted to squelch it. The assistant secretary of state for Eastern European affairs challenged the speech by telephone.

A senior member of the NSC staff protested the speech in memoranda. The ranking American diplomat in Berlin objected to the speech by cable. The draft was naive. It would raise false hopes. It was clumsy. It was needlessly provocative. State and the NSC submitted their own alternate drafts—my journal records that there were no fewer than seven, including one written by the diplomat in Berlin. In each, the call to tear down the wall was missing.

Now, in principle, State and the NSC had no objection to a call for the destruction of the wall. The draft the diplomat in Berlin submitted, for example, contained the line, “One day, this ugly wall will disappear.” If the diplomat’s line was acceptable, I wondered at first, what was wrong with mine?

Then I looked at the diplomat’s line once again. “One day”? One day the lion would lie with the lamb, too, but you wouldn’t want to hold your breath. “This ugly wall will disappear”? What did that mean? That the wall would just get up and slink off of its own accord? The wall would disappear only when the Soviets knocked it down or let somebody else knock it down for them, but “this ugly wall will disappear” ignored the question of human agency altogether.

What State and the NSC were saying, in effect, was that the president could go right ahead and issue a call for the destruction of the wall—but only if he employed language so vague and euphemistic that everybody could see right away he didn’t mean it.

The week the president left for Europe, Tom Griscom began summoning me to his office each time State or the NSC submitted a new objection. Each time, Griscom had me tell him why I believed State and the NSC were wrong and the speech, as I’d written it, was right. When I reached Griscom’s office on one occasion, I found Colin Powell, then deputy national security adviser, waiting for me. I was a thirty-year-old who had never held a full-time job outside speechwriting.

Powell was a decorated general. After listening to Powell recite all the arguments against the speech in his accustomed forceful manner, however, I heard myself reciting all the arguments in favor of the speech in an equally forceful manner. I could scarcely believe my own tone of voice. Powell looked a little taken aback himself.

President Reagan at the Brandenburg Gate June 12, 1987

President Reagan at the Brandenburg Gate June 12, 1987

A few days before the president was to leave for Europe, Tom Griscom received a call from the White House chief of staff, Howard Baker, asking Griscom to step down the hall to his office.

“I walked in and it was Senator Baker [Baker had served in the Senate before becoming chief of staff] and the secretary of state—just the two of them.”

Secretary of State George Shultz now objected to the speech.

“He said, ‘I really think that line about tearing down the wall is going to be an affront to Mr. Gorbachev,’ ” Griscom recalls.

“I told him the speech would put a marker out there. ‘Mr. Secretary,’ I said, ‘the president has commented on this particular line and he’s comfortable with it. And I can promise you that this line will reverberate.’ The secretary of state clearly was not happy, but he accepted it. I think that closed the subject.”

It didn’t.

When the traveling party reached Italy (I remained in Washington), the secretary of state objected to the speech once again, this time to deputy chief of staff Kenneth Duberstein. “Shultz thought the line was too tough on Gorbachev,” Duberstein says.

On June 5, Duberstein sat the president down in the garden of the estate in which he was staying, briefed him on the objections to the speech, then handed him a copy of the speech, asking him to reread the central passage.

Reagan asked Duberstein’s advice. Duberstein replied that he thought the line about tearing down the wall sounded good. “But I told him, ‘You’re president, so you get to decide.’ And then,” Duberstein recalls, “he got that wonderful, knowing smile on his face, and he said, ‘Let’s leave it in.’ ”

The day the president arrived in Berlin, State and the NSC submitted yet another alternate draft. “They were still at it on the very morning of the speech,” says Tony Dolan. “I’ll never forget it.” Yet in the limousine on the way to the Berlin Wall, the president told Duberstein he was determined to deliver the controversial line. Reagan smiled. “The boys at State are going to kill me,” he said, “but it’s the right thing to do.”

The Lessons of History

No matter how it may seem in retrospect, there was nothing inevitable about the event that took place twenty-five years ago this week. The fall of the Berlin Wall took place because certain men and women—people including Pope John Paul II, Margaret Thatcher, Lech Walesa, and Ronald Reagan—took certain specific actions, demonstrating their capacity for reason and courage. And that, really, is why we study history: to remind ourselves that if those who went before us could do the right thing, then we can do no less ourselves.

 

Peter Robinson is editor in chief of Ricochet.com, research fellow at the Hoover Institution, and host of the interview program Uncommon Knowledge. He is the author of several books, including How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life, from which parts of this essay are adapted.

The Failing American Dream: There Is A Cure

abc_stossel_090910_mainIn April of this year, John Stossel wrote a thought provoking article about the ability of never quitting as being the reason America has been successful.

I quote him here:

In the USA, it’s OK to fail and fail and try again. In most of Europe and much of the world, the attitude is: You had your shot, you failed, and now you should just go work for someone else.

 

But this limits the possibilities. And some of America’s biggest successes came from people who failed often.

 

We know that Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, but few people know that Edison filed 1,000 patents for ideas that went nowhere. He was fired by the telegraph office. He lost money investing in a cement company and an iron business.

 

Henry Ford’s first company failed completely.

 

Dr. Seuss’s first book was rejected by 27 publishers.

 

Oprah was fired from her first job as a reporter. A TV station called her “unfit for TV.”

 

But they all kept striving — and succeeded. They were lucky to live in America, where investors and your neighbors encourage you to try and try again. We are lucky to benefit from their persistence.

 

But those happy experiments are less likely to happen today. Now there are many more rules, and regulators add hundreds of pages of new ones every week.

 

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban left school with no money and no job prospects. He managed to become a billionaire by creating several businesses from scratch. I asked him if he could do it again today, and he said, “No … now there’s so much paperwork and regulation, so many things that you have to sign up for that you have a better chance of getting in trouble than you do of being successful.”

 

That’s tragic.

 

It’s not just big corporations that get hassled by regulators, the way progressives might like to imagine.

lemonade-stand

Kids’ lemonade stands — and one I tried to open in New York City — are sometimes shut down for not having proper business licenses.

 

When Chloe Stirling was 11-years-old, health officials shut down her home cupcake-making business.

 

The more government “protects” us, the more it puts obstacles in the way of trying new things. It does that every time it taxes, regulates and standardizes the way things are done. Simultaneously, government offers “compassion” — welfare and unemployment benefits.

 

Faced with the choice of collecting unemployment or putting your own money at risk and hiring an army of lawyers to deal with business regulations, I understand why people don’t bother trying. When that attitude is pervasive, the American dream dies.

 

On my TV show this week, economist David Goldman says, “The U.S. government has done everything possible to make it hard for people to take a new idea from inception to startup to expansion.” He says that when he told a former CEO that he was going to be on my show, the ex-CEO said: “Just tell them to shut Washington down. That’s all they need to do!”

 

Washington won’t shut down. But couldn’t regulators just chill out for a while?

 

Big government doesn’t send us the message that we can make it on our own and that great things may happen if we dare to try. Government mostly hinders us, and then brags that it is waiting to take charge when we fail.

I believe that the American Dream can still become the American REALITY!

But it requires a singular mindset. We have to be willing to work hard and do things that we are not used to. It demands personal responsibility for our own outcomes and doing some double duty (working at more than one thing at a time). And we will have to spend less time watching “American Idol” and more time developing our ideas and taking educated risks.

170 years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville stated that, “[Americans] are constantly excited by two conflicting passions: they want to be led, and they wish to remain free. . . “

Tocqueville was very clear, it is impossible to reach our potential without taking complete responsibility for  our actions and owning our current conditions.

I have spent the entirety of 2014 to this point, speaking anywhere people would listen regarding this very issue and then offering solutions that the average American could engage to turn the situation around.

My main message has been that there is no political liberty without financial liberty and to engage in financial liberty or FREE ENTERPRISE, there must exist a certain level of political liberty.

cleon-skousen-speakingOne of my mentors, Cleon Skousen, always taught that the magic of America was that the citizens, free from government intervention, had the right to try, buy, sell and fail. And if you tried enough times, you would most likely succeed.

Today that philosophy has been replaced with that of avoiding risk at all cost and being safe and working for the government or a big multi-national corporation.

This sounds more like a personal wealth death sentence.

To have the kind of financial health that will allow a citizen to engage in liberty of all kinds requires enough residual income to meet all day-to-day living expenses plus 30% to provide citizenship activity flexibility (donations to or promotion of liberty causes or time spent at the state or federal legislature or local political service or speaking and writing, etc)

[Residual income, is income that continues to be generated after the initial effort or cost has been expended. Royalties or rent income for example, are types of residual income.]

For example, if your living expenses are $4,000 per month, you will need a minimum of $6,300 of monthly residual income or $76,000 per year (approximately 20% for taxation and $1,200 for liberty flexibility) to be economically independent and able to engage in liberty.

There is no longer any question, America faces a multiple front crisis; a serious retirement crisis along with a potentially disastrous national and personal debt crisis.

Most Americans recall the devastation caused by the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. We sat in utter horror and even screamed at our computer screens as we helplessly watched people being swept away by the unrelenting waters.

The financial crisis we face today is no less menacing. The current financial tsunami is acting very much like the event of 2004. As the economic tide recedes, we watch not in horror but in curiosity or even total oblivion. The entire nation appears to be suffering from Normalcy Bias,* denying or ignoring that a crisis exists at all. All the while, the water has reversed and is now up around our ankles.

What needs to happen is that real men and women need to face their fears, be responsible and be willing to determinedly taking control of their own destinies.

If we yearn for our children and grandchildren to enjoy the freedoms that we do today, developing this level of Financial Freedom Health is a moral and familial imperative.

Take the Financial Freedom Health/Education Assessment and see how prepared you are to perpetuate financial and political freedom.

Financial Freedom Health/Education Assessment

  1. Do you have an adequate retirement plan? (Based on the $76,000 residual annual income discussed above, this means a $1,750,000 nest egg with a 4% annual dividend. Using the accumulation method at 7.9% earned interest annually, this will require retirement plan installment payments of $1,215 each month for 30 years. A business or a properly acquired real estate portfolio can accomplish the same residual income in a much shorter time and in a safer manner).
  1. If your current retirement plan is not adequate, do you have the skills and resources to correct it?
  1. Have you done sufficient research to really know if your retirement plan is crisis proof? 
  1. Do you review your retirement plan semi-annually? Are staying up-to-date on all law and policy changes that could impact your retirement plan and investments?
  1. Do you have enough knowledge to trust your retirement providers or are you “blindly”trusting them?
  1. Do you have a will or living will or a revocable trust in place? Why? Have you explored all options?
  1. Do you have your investments protected as much as law will allow? Are you sure?

If any of these questions are troubling to you, click here to begin a free course on financial freedom.

Col Sanders

In the USA, it used to be OK to fail and fail and try again.

Before Harland Sanders became world-famous Colonel Sanders, he was a sixth-grade dropout, a farmhand, an army mule-tender, a locomotive fireman, a railroad worker, an aspiring lawyer, an insurance salesman, a ferryboat entrepreneur, a tire salesman, an amateur obstetrician, an (unsuccessful) political candidate, a gas station operator, a motel operator and finally, a restaurateur.

At the age of 65, a new interstate highway snatched the traffic away from his Corbin, Ky., restaurant and Sanders was left with nothing but a Social Security check and a secret recipe for fried chicken.

As it turned out, that was all he needed.

If you, like Colonel Sanders, refuse to give up on the American Dream, click here to start your American Dream education.

 

* Normalcy bias refers to a mental state people enter when facing a disaster. It causes people to underestimate both the possibility of a disaster occurring and its possible effects. This may result in situations where people fail to adequately prepare for a disaster, and on a larger scale, the failure of governments to include the populace in its disaster preparations.

Funding Monticello College: A 21st Century Approach

Historically, most American institutions of higher education struggled to fund themselves. Non-profit institutions did not generally have mechanisms for generating revenue. Thus they relied on tuition, donations, and an endowment.

downloadHarvard, America’s first school, suffered this same fate. In 1636, without any endowment (the gift from John Harvard, the school’s name sake was quickly squandered) the college opened it doors but due to lack of finances, it wasn’t long before they closed those doors, reopening later and repeating the process several times in its early history.

increase_matherIn 1642 Harvard’s president, thirty year-old Henry Dunster, went on a fund raising tour and secured enough “in-kind” subscriptions  called “colledge corne,” from local county residents to stabilize the finances.

But those subscriptions petered out in less than a decade.

Citizen subscriptions, sparce local taxes, donations, tuition, and endowments are how higher education was funded from 1636 until the early 1900’s.

By the end of WWII, the G.I. Bill became the popular means of funding higher education.

In 1965, the Johnson administration implemented the HEA (Higher Education Act), which served to help the poor and significantly increased the college population, but it also started the trend that we all now face– sky-rocketing tuition rates. By 1972 Pell Grants and ever popular student loans were added to the funding options provided to low and middle income students.

Since federal funded tuition was swelling the ranks of higher education, the government determined that it now had to regulate that which it was funding.

Accreditation morphed from a system of academic equivalence to the gate keeper of all higher academia, whether your students were receiving federal funds or not. (See the Monticello College white paper to determine if all of this money has improved the quality of higher education today.)

At Monticello College, we take a firm stand in not accepting a single dollar of federal money. We neither desire federal assistance nor do we ask for its oversight. But after 5 decades of Americans on the educational dole, the average family does not have the funds to pay for tuition out of pocket. We have lost the concept of pay-our-own-way.

As a result, Monticello College must find creative ways to fund our operations and build our endowment.

Enter Strongbrook.maxresdefault

Strongbrook is a real estate investment company with a unique 21st century approach to building client investment portfolio’s.

Probably the best explanation I have every heard comes from a 22-year-old college student video.

In an effort to funding the school, Monticello College has entered into a loose association with Strongbrook introducing the benefits offered by this exceptional company to our friends and supporters.

Not only can Strongbrook assist families in securing a strong and vibrant economic future, it helps to create the means to provide funds for student tuition.  Monticello College is also investing into a Strongbrook financial Game Plan with the intention of securing enough investment property to fully fund our endowment.

Click Here to watch a short video to learn more.

Click Here for a Free PDF book or audio book. (Passcode is….FREE)

Since launching in 2007, Strongbrook has helped more than 2,500 investors across 47 states invest profitably in real estate — during the worst recession we’ll see in our lifetimes.

In fact, their investors averaged a 19.8 percent return last year, despite the continued recession.

Meet real Strongbrook investors and hear their stories by watching this video:

P.S. I appreciate that this funding approach may seem unusual or even uncomfortable to some of you. All change is uncomfortable. And higher education is changing before our very eyes. Technology is having as much impact on higher education as it has had on everything else.

In a Fourth Turning world nothing remains the same.

Give us a fair chance to show you some things you may not know. Take the time to watch the videos or read the MC white paper or free books offered or click here to get an awesome education in financial freedom called Financial Freedom 2.0. At the very least, you will learn some things you didn’t know. In the best case scenario, this could change your entire financial future.

What The H— Is Wrong With America? – Part One

I’ve been angry for a while now.

Shanon Headshot Edited SepiaWhen I turned 50, I took pause and reflected on my life, presuming that I was at the halfway point (yes, I intend to live to see 100).

I thought about my childhood in the 60’s and early 70’s.

I reminisced my high school years and realized that my topsy-turvy life to that point had pretty well mirrored the turbulence of the era.

I remembered my fear of possibly being drafted into the Vietnam Conflict (I missed it by several years, but the possibility still seemed very real at the age of 15) and my full participation in the Cold War aboard a nuclear submarine shadowing Soviet ships of war.

Shortly after my military discharge, I became painfully aware of the poor state of my country and just how much had been lost, and I dedicated the balance of my life to the restoration of the America given us by her founders.

But then came 9/11 and the torrent of bad choices made by the American citizenry and its political leaders following that tragedy. The Patriot Act, the continuation of wars that we could never hope to win with the adopted management policies—that were and still are being used—the gargantuan unjustified economic bailouts and the rapid decline of the US dollar by the alarming leadership of the Federal Reserve, and the unabashed implementation of socialized medicine by all three branches of the federal government destroying any hope of restoring liberty  and personal responsibility.

So by the beginning of 2011, I was disgusted with our “stage four” situation and began contemplating what could be done about it. Obviously, there was no political party to look to, and political activism by concerned citizens was having no more real impact than it had during the previous two decades.

By 2013, the pain I was feeling in my heart about the decline of my country began to turn to indignation towards those responsible for leading my country down this slippery slope. Short of building our college and impacting a few hundred students a year, for which I still feel very determined, I felt powerless regarding the country at large until fate brought a few outstanding individuals into my life that sparked some real creativity, turing my indignation into a steady slow fury, and leading to my current process of thinking.  What follows is that process.

mans_search_for_meaningConsidered one of the ten most influential books in the United States, Man’s Search for Meaning, has sold over 10 million copies and has been translated into 24 languages.

In this pivotal volume, Viktor Frankl chronicles his experiences as an Auschwitz concentration camp inmate during World War II.

At one point he states that freedom is a dangerous and destructive force unless it is tempered or harnessed by personal responsibility.

Think of it—without an active, personal sense of responsibility, the almost proprietary concept of American freedom could actually be a destructive force that does harm and diminishes human dignity.

The message of this series of posts is—freedom—political, economic, religious, gender, and racial.

My goal is to give you a lot to think about, and to motivate you to make some changes in your current approach to financial and political autonomy.

toleranceThis is not another rant about politics, political parties, or Washington discord; as much as those topics might warrant another hearing.

I respect and honor all actively involved citizens regardless their political leanings because the greatest act of citizenship and the strongest check on abusive government is the actively involved citizen.

I do not see others with different political views from mine as the problem.  The problem—are those who do nothing.

This post is about the attack on the American family and the millions who allow it to happen by default. I am choosing the word “attack” because whether is it intentional or not, the end result of American politics today is the serious assault on small business owners and the American family. And the majority of the country is watching it happen without lifting a finger. Few would disagree when I  say that the fault is our adulterated political system and its political parties.

Speaking of political parties—which party is safeguarding the sanctity and financial stability of the family? Which party?

Neither. Unless you see more and more government subsidy as the right solution.

Political-PartiesWhich party puts the interests of our children ahead of their own power struggles?

Neither. In fact, both republicans and democrats are heavily promoting an educational system that seems more interested in mining student and family data than preparing our children for successful, secure, and happy futures.

Both parties continue to pass mountains of law that make it harder and harder to provide an honest family living. As true as this is, it could not be happening if the majority of Americans took a stand against it.

So why are most Americans standing idly by watching the destruction of our once most beloved nation? That is the question that I want to take a few posts to explore.

America is sick. The test results are back and they confirm that our beloved nation is suffering from a potentially fatal illness called Enervation. Enervation is the lack of desire or the inability to do those things that must be done to protect ourselves and our families from corporate and/or governmental abuse.

To give you an example, let’s talk about the adoption of  Universal Health Care! Or Obamacare! Or The Affordable Healthcare Act! Whatever you want to call it.

There are two clear opinions.  You either love it or you hate it.

But that’s not the problem.

The problem is that in a democratic society like ours, these kinds of things should be part of the daily discourse. Something this divisive should stimulate tons of adult dialogue, sit-ins, shaved heads, local political debates, protests…And on both sides of the aisle.

Where is the heated and loyal support in favor of such a social remedy? Where are the avid public supporters of Universal Health Care? On the other hand, where is the public outrage against such a measure?  Where are the protests? Those against this law should not rest until it has been abolished.  Those in favor should stay vigilant against it being over turned.

The illness of Enervation from which America suffers is a lack of political will. Political will or political autonomy is a by-product of personal responsibility. When we cease to be personally responsible for our surroundings and our communities—our reality, we lose power to maintain or change it.

But how do we lose our sense of personal responsibility?  The loss of personal responsibility occurs when we lose our financial autonomy. How does this happen? How do the citizens of a nation with the greatest system of government and the most freedoms of any nation on earth, become so apathetic?

To answer this I want to share some predictions from Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy In America. In the 1830’s during his first American tour, Tocqueville, a French aristocrat and jurist said that if Americans did not vigilantly guard their freedoms through personal responsibility, they would lose them 

Democracy in America Image[Americans] are constantly excited by two conflicting passions: they want to be led, and they wish to remain free.

As they cannot destroy either the one or the other of these contrary propensities, they strive to satisfy them both at once.

They devise a sole, tutelary [guardian], and all-powerful form of government, but elected by the people.

They combine the principle of centralization and that of popular sovereignty; this gives them a respite: they console themselves for being in tutelage [guardianship] by the reflection that they have chosen their own guardians. 

In other words, because Americans wanted to avoid personal responsibility, Tocqueville predicted that they would create governmental institutions that would protect them from cradle to grave.  But because they wished to remain free, they would naively believe that by retaining the power of suffrage they could control the very individuals who would keep them in this enervative state.

Tocqueville uses the term “guardian” several times, so I looked it up to get a better perspective:

Guardian

A person lawfully invested with the power, and charged with the duty, of taking care of a person and managing the property and rights of another person, who for defect of age, understanding, or self-control, is considered incapable of administering his own affairs. – Black’s law Dictionary, 6th edition

According to Tocqueville over 170 years ago, government dependence leads to the eventual need for 100% federal guardianship including health care to housing to food to personal finances. When Financial Autonomy is gone, our sense of personal responsibility weakens and shrivels. Shrinking personal responsibility will always lead to a lack of political will.

Since 87% of all American hate their jobs and the vast majority are experts at living Clason’s law (living above one’s income), the average American finds themselves in financial “survival mode” and feels little hope of securing the American Dream of Financial Autonomy. As they cannot succeed at providing properly for themselves, they cannot even conceive of how to help others or the nation at large.

Watch for part 2

Why Is Monticello College A Functional Farm?

This post is one that will separate our readers into two groups.  You will either read it and say, “wow, that makes so much sense, I see why Monticello College has a farm and teaches the manual arts,” or you will read a part of it, become bored, and drift toward leaving the site.

Either way, I strongly encourage you to stay the course and read this post to the end.

folks-this-aint-normal_coverart_300pxJoe Salatin, in his book, Folks, This Ain’t Normal, writes a very compelling argument (for the first group) supporting the return to common sense and being grounded.

He starts on page 36:

One of my messages in this book is to try to awaken a thirst and hunger for some basic food and farming knowledge before our appetite for cerebral and academic techno-subjects crowds out all of this historically normal knowledge.

Wouldn’t it be as valuable to go process your Thanksgiving turkey, or at least spend some time with it in the field, as it is to face-paint your five-year-old and stick colored feather shaped construction paper in her hair?

Farms and food production should be, I submit, at least as important as who pierced their navel in Hollywood this week.
60328989.1584Please tell me I’m not the only one who believes this. Please.

As a culture, we think we’re well educated, but I’m not sure that what we’ve learned necessarily helps us survive.

I’m talking about the skills and knowledge contained, for example, in the Foxfire books. The back-to-the-land books of the hippie era are still some of the best living manuals out there.

Country craft and farmsteading enjoy an interest revival every time things look bleak. To me, it seems prudent to acquaint ourselves with some of this information before a meltdown occurs.

A rudimentary, basic knowledge of things won’t crowd out celebrity information or keep us from knowing how to use a cell phone. Trust me, it won’t.

I love people, and I love learning. And it seems to me that an educated person should know a few basic things about farm ecology. Not much, just a little. I offer the next examples in the spirit of explanation.

apostle-david-paul-rodgers-compares-gay-marriage-to-rooster-and-hens“You don’t have roosters with your laying hens? How do they lay eggs?” Dear folks, chickens don’t need roosters to lay eggs.

They need roosters to hatch eggs, but not to lay them. Just like women don’t need men to lay eggs; they just need a man to hatch one.

A mere century ago, not one in a hundred would have been ignorant of this common agrarian knowledge.

The next common one: “oh, there’s the bull, ‘cause he has horns.” Dear hearts, horns do not make a bull. It ain’t what’s on top of the head that counts. It’s what’s between the legs. I don’t know if horns have anything to do with horniness, but they sure don’t have anything to do with masculinity.

imagesA farmer friend of mine told me recently about a bus load of middle school children who came to his farm for a tour.

The first two boys off the bus asked, “Where is the salsa tree?” They thought they could go pick salsa, like apple and peaches.

Oh my. What do they put on SAT tests to measure this? Does anybody care?

How little can a person know about food and still make educated decisions about it? Is this knowledge going to change before they enter the voting booth? Now that’s a scary thought.

Do you know the difference between hay and straw? Straw is the stalk and leaves of a small grain plant. Stover is the leftovers of a corn plant. Hay is solar-dried forage. In order to get hay equally dried, it is windrowed to let the air blow through it and get the underneath leaves turned up to the drying sun.

downloadA windrow is a long tube of hay. A baler picks up the windrow and forms the hay into packages; round bales, little square bales, little round bales, or large square bales. Each of these has a different machine and different reason for use.

How do you herd cows? Cows have a flight zone. Since their eyes are on the sides of their head, they have far more peripheral vision than people.

They can see about 300 degrees around themselves. If we could do that, it would be equivalent to having eyes in the back of our heads.

Depending on our approach to the cow, she either wants to go past us, turn around and stand off at us, or turn tail and run away. All these responses are a result of how we approach her flight zone.

Trees grow out, not up. They only grow up right at their buds. That is why you can put a rope on a tree and it stays at the same height. Once bark forms, the height does not change.

1-130Z31HA20-LThe cambium grows the tree horizontally, in diameter, but not vertically.

Otherwise, that hammock we stretched between those two trees this year would be a foot higher next year and a foot higher a year after that. Wouldn’t that be funny?

Farmers speak in precise language. A cow is a female who has had two calves. A first-calf heifer is a female who has had only one calf. A heifer is a female who has not calved. A bred heifer is a female who is pregnant but has not yet calved. A bull calf is a young uncastrated male.

A bull is an uncastrated male old enough to bred—and that is far from full-grown, believe me. A calf is an unweaned bovine of either sex. A heifer calf is a female calf; a bull calf is a male calf. A stocker is a weaned calf prior to finishing. A finisher is a calf almost big enough to slaughter—it’s being finished.

An open cow is one that is not pregnant. A dry cow is nonlactating. A fresh cow is one that has very recently calved, and a freshening cow is one that is just about to calve. A bull can cover (bred) about thirty to fifty cows.

Folks, that just cows. And believe it or not, virtually every American knew all this lingo a scant century ago. Every species has this same level of nomenclature.

Not long ago, common knowledge included the difference between a wether  (castrated male sheep) and a ram (breeding age male sheep). A ram lamb and ewe lamb.

[Blogger’s Note: Several of these words show up in spell check as misspellings, have we strayed that far?]

images (1)A shoat (castrated male pig) and a gilt (unbred female pig). Sow and boar.

And then you have the whole grouping thing: herd, flock, gaggle (geese).

And if that’s not enough, the birthing takes on distinctives: cows calve, sheep lamb, rabbits kindle, hogs farrow, horses foal.

Can you name four vegetables that grow underground? Potatoes, carrots, beets, salsify, parsnips, turnips. How about four that grow above ground? Corn, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kohlrabi, green beans, lettuce, peas, melons, squash, cucumber. Tomatoes are a fruit.

download (1)Which vegetables can handle frost? Which ones have to be planted after frost? Which ones are legumes? Which ones grow tall? Which ones need trellises? Which ones are perennials? Asparagus, rhubarb.

Everywhere children and gardening mix, the enthusiasm for learning this heritage agrarian knowledge is insatiable. To interact with nature and food in this visceral functional way is foundational to developing common sense.

When people lose touch with these cornerstones of existence, their thinking gets all screwy. Staying grounded, very literally, and staying anchored in sensibleness require relationships with food production.

 

Along with our academic and leadership goals, Monticello College has the goal of instilling common sense into each and every student by helping them develop a solid relationship with nature and food production.

What Would Socrates Do?

This post is a tribute to Earl Shorris, one of my favorite writers on education who passed away in 2012. I am reprinting  the April 16, 2013 Wall Street Journal Book Review of his latest book, The Art of Freedom.  This piece was written by Naomi Schaefer Riley.

 

dog-SHORRIS--obit-articleInlineIn The Art of Freedom, Earl Shorris describes his efforts to establish a set of courses that would teach the core texts of Western civilization to people living in poverty, whose school experience had scanted the canon or skipped it entirely.

Almost two decades ago, Earl Shorris, a novelist and journalist, told the editor at his publishing house that he wanted to write a book about poverty in America.

The editor, to his credit, said that he didn’t want just another book describing the problem. He wanted a solution.

So Shorris, who had attended the University of Chicago on a scholarship many years before and who was greatly influenced by its Great Books curriculum, hit upon the idea of teaching the core texts of Western civilization to people living in poverty, whose school experience had scanted the canon or skipped it entirely.

His Eureka moment came when he was visiting a prison and conducting interviews for another book he was planning to write.

bh1He asked one of the women at New York’s Bedford Hills maximum­ security prison why she thought the poor were poor.

“Because they don’t have the moral life of downtown,” shereplied. “What do you mean by the moral life?” Shorris asked.

“You got to begin with the children . . . ,” she said. “You’ve got to teach the moral life of downtown to the children.

And the way you do that, Earl, is by taking them downtown to plays, museums, concerts, lectures.”

He asked whether she meant the humanities. Looking at him as if he were, as he puts it, “the stupidest man on earth,” she replied: “Yes, Earl, the humanities.”

Poverty, Shorris concluded, was a condition that required more than jobs or money to put right. So he set out to offer the “moral life” as well. Beginning with a class of 25 or so students found through a social ­service agency in New York, Shorris—along with a few professors he had recruited—taught literature, art history and philosophy. The first classes included readings in Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides and Sophocles.

imagesThus was born the Clemente Course in the Humanities, which is now the recipient of broad philanthropic support.

It is offered to the poor in more than 20 cities around the United States, as well as in other countries, from South Korea to Canada.

“The Art of Freedom” is a narrative of the program’s founding experience as well as a meditation on the Western classics and their effects on readers.

The book, sadly, appears posthumously. Shorris died last year at the age of 75.

The idea of the Clemente Course—named for Roberto Clemente, the baseball player who gave his name to the Manhattan community center where the course debuted—was to “educate a self­-selected group of adults living in poverty,” in classes taught by professors from nearby colleges and universities.

The spirit of the Great Books program was a key part of the idea: There would be no chasing after trendy reading lists or narrow relevance. When Shorris went to recruit students in the South Bronx, in New York City, a white social worker asked him if he were going to teach African history. “No,” he said. “We will teach American history. Of course the history of black people is very important in the development of the United States.”

downloadOver time, Shorris began to add texts from the various cultures where the course was being offered—Native American myths, South Korean novels.

But his focus on the Western classics was refreshingly relentless. He was accused of “cultural imperialism,” but the charge didn’t seem to faze him.

The Clemente Course now taught in Darfur, in the Sudan, teaches John Stuart Mill’s “On Liberty.”

Shorris had no patience for mediocrity in his project and insisted on only the best professors to teach Clemente’s classes. When he had to find staff to teach in Chicago, he writes, “neither Chicago State nor the nearby community college . . . were up to the standards of the Clemente Course.”

In the classes he taught, he addressed his students with “Mr.” or “Ms.” He believed that a proper form of address conveys dignity and avoids the kind of casual relationship that most universities want their students and professors to have.

images (1)The Clemente Course differs from life at universities in other ways—for instance, by taking the Western classics seriously. How many college graduates have read Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides and Mill?

It also differs in its sense of what the texts can do.

Much of the liberal ­arts curriculum in universities today is devoted to learning about oppression of one sort or another, but Shorris argued that the study of the humanities is a fundamentally optimistic endeavor.

Not that Clemente texts are routinely cheery or anodyne.

Shorris himself taught Dostoevsky, “the brilliant archeologist who dared to make us look deep into our dark sides.” But Shorris did feel that, by reading and discussing classic texts, life was better or richer in some fundamental sense: more valued, more hopeful, more free.

download (1)One way that the humanities can help the poor in particular, according to Shorris, is by making them more “political.

” But, he writes, “I don’t mean ‘political’ in the sense of voting in an election, but in the way Pericles used the word: to mean activity with other people at every level, from the family to the neighborhood to the broader community to the city-­state.”

The humanities, he tells his first class, “are a foundation for getting along in the world, for thinking, for learning to reflect on the world instead of just reacting to whatever force is turned against you.”

Shorris recounts the story of a young man in his first class—a 24­-year-­old with a history of violent behavior—who called him describing how a woman at work had provoked him. “She made me so mad, I wanted to smack her up against the wall.

I tried to talk to some friends to calm myself down a little, but nobody was around.” Shorris asked him what he did, “fearing this was his one telephone call from the city jail.” Instead, he told Shorris, “I asked myself, ‘What would Socrates do?’ ”

 

This article once again makes the point of how simple and deep education should be.  Our efforts at Monticello College are inspired by the work of people such as Earl Shorris, Louise Cowan (a great educator and founding fellow of the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture), Viniece Walker (the insightful Bedford prison inmate) and the hundreds of other Liberal Arts advocates who understand the vital necessity of the classics to our culture and our civilization.