Conservatism’s Role in Social Change

By: Thomas E. Brewton

A reader’s comments about the nature of conservatism reveal the largely inaccurate understanding of historical cause and effect that came out of John Dewey’s dismissal of history in progressive education.

A reader wrote the following comment in response to the post entitled John Dewey: Dracula Still Undead in Full Sunlight.

My intent is not to spotlight the particular comment or the commentator, but to view the comment as an illustration of the harm done since the 1920s in the name of progressive education.

Professor John Dewey, the most influential liberal-socialist of the first half of the 20th century, viewed public education as political conditioning of students for life in the socialist society that he assumed would replace our Constitutional form of government.

A big part of Dewey’s progressive education was his view that history is a “dead” subject that deserves no place in the school curriculum. Students were to learn whatever they need to learn through “experiences” of communal life in class projects.

Dewey’s approach in the 1920s was a milder version of the Soviet education system that he and his Columbia University Teachers College colleagues regarded as the ideal model for American education.

Regarding history, Lenin had said to the Commissars of Soviet Education that the aim of socialist education is to teach children to hate their parents and their forebears. The historical slate was to be wiped clean and a fabricated, new “history” taught to students. Political opponents of Lenin and Stalin became non-persons: their photos, names, and all records of their existence were expunged from books and records.

This is the same process employed since the 1970s by American PC educators who teach their students to hate the United States by omitting the truly admirable facts of our founding ear and by selectively presenting only unflattering information.

This arises from the fiction-as-history of the critical studies, deconstructionist, and other theories aimed at besmirching American history. As Jack M. Balkin put it on Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute website, “[Deconstructionists] argued that the structures of social meaning are always unstable, indeterminate, impermanent and historically situated, constantly changing over time and accumulating new connotations,” which is to say that liberal-socialist teachers are entitled to
make of history whatever they want it to mean to suit their purposes.

The reader commented:

“The View has told me what liberalism does to destroy equality, which is pretty flimsy, but it didn’t tell me what conservatives do to protect it. The sense I get is that conservatives deny people from becoming equal. They have in the past with segregation. Their idea of “separate by equal” was pure racism and unequal.

In the view of The View if a person doesn’t believe in God or the same God or worships in the same way, they are not equal. Conservatives here are discriminative and not charitable. Why, if they had their way racism would still be a major problem in America, like it was in the 50s and 60s. Under solid conservative rule woman would still be unequal to men. Under solid conservative rule America would be an apartheid and unequal nation.”

My reply:

Let’s postulate at the outset that Christianity, while not necessarily the same thing as political conservatism, is the opposite of atheistic, materialistic liberal-socialism.

First, I’m more a Christian traditionalist than a conservative, that is, I subscribe to the natural law understandings that Thomas Jefferson said were the basis for the Declaration and which Alexander Hamilton and James Madison said were the basis of the Constitution. Natural law was one of the foundations of Christianity, explicitly so from the time of Thomas Aquinas in the 1260s.

I have never said, nor even implied, that non-Christians are unequal under the Constitution or any other legal doctrine. In fact, in my reply to your first comment (see the post referenced above), I explicitly stated that all humans are equally children of God.

I’m not sure why you say that my points about liberalism being antithetical to individual liberty are flimsy. Certainly Soviet or German National Socialist citizens wouldn’t agree that their government limitations on individual liberty were flimsy.

A few examples: Not until the liberalism of the New Deal did it become a crime for a farmer to decide for himself what crops to grow for his own family, at a time when the majority of American citizens were farmers. Not until the ascendancy of liberal legalisms was it possible for the political state to remove all of a citizen’s property rights without compensating him, as the 5th Amendment requires. Not until the advent of liberal hate-crime legislation did it become a crime to express personal beliefs. Murder or assault have always been crimes, but a person’s presumed thoughts when engaged in such crimes were not grounds for additional punishment; John Stuart Mill, the “On Liberty” icon of liberalism would have been dismayed and astounded. Not until the ascendancy of PC education did it become possible for a student to be deprived of his rights or thrown out of school for expressing views that disagreed with the views of his teachers or fellow students.

As for racism, that is hardly a product of conservatism. It has been a feature of human life from the earliest periods known in history, as was slavery. Like it or not, people bred under one culture, as members of a family or tribe, or inhabitants of a city-state, always look with suspicion, if not resentment, upon outsiders, and no amount of Pavlovian condition-response indoctrination has been able to eliminate that innate and universal human characteristic.

It was Dr. Leonard Jeffries, a black professor at New York’s City College and member of the New York State commission to structure multi-cultural education, who declared that white “ice people” are inherently savage and racist; that black “sun people” never commit crimes against others, but are inherently civilized and kind. I mention this, not to disparage blacks, but to demonstrate that antipathy for other races or cultures is definitely not the exclusive property of conservatives.

Slavery was gradually eliminated in Western Europe under the tutelage of the Roman Catholic Church. In the late Empire, productive farm land in most parts of the Empire was owned by wealthy families as villas (estates) in which all labor was performed by slaves, who outnumbered free citizens. When the fall of the Western Empire left the Church to fill the administrative, as well as religious functions of the old Empire, the Church compelled villa owners to eliminate slavery, with the result that former slaves became feudal tenants with hereditary rights to occupy and farm the land they formerly had tended as slaves.

The first two nations ever to enact laws forbidding slavery were England, which in 1833 banned slavery throughout the Empire, and the United States, which ratified the 13th Amendment in 1865.

In both cases the impetus came from Christian churches. In England the motivator was the middle-class members of the Methodist Church, who were also responsible for pressure on Parliament that produced all of the laws to improve working conditions, treatment of the poor, the sick, and the insane. Prime Minister Gladstone, a devout Christian, was famous for his efforts to provide rehabilitation and care of prostitutes.

There was no English socialist Labour Party in those days, the Liberal Party being an advocate of laissez-faire individualism, not unlike our conservatism of today.

There had been strong opposition to slavery in the Constitutional Convention in 1787, as Madison’s notes attest. Surprisingly, there were about as many slaves in the state of New York as in Virginia. Only the need to gain maximum support for the new Constitution induced delegates to accept the compromise in the Constitution’s Article I, Section 9, that permitted Congress to prohibit importation of slaves after 1808 and, in the meanwhile, to levy taxes on importation of slaves (which Congress promptly did).

In the United States in the late 1700s, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton, both traditionalist founders, were leaders in the Manumission Society and both freed their slaves in the first decades of the United States’ existence, as did George Washington, another devout Christian. The first abolition society was founded in Philadelphia around 1820 by Protestant ministers. The abolition movement fomented by Protestant churches led to the civil war and the Emancipation Proclamation.

None of this came from liberal-socialism, which did not exist in the United States at that time.

It was again pressure from Protestant churches after the Civil War, not liberal-socialism, that enfranchised women. Lucretia Mott, the co-founder of the Women’s rights movement at Seneca Falls, New York, was herself a Quaker minister. Many leaders of the suffrage movement were ministers’ wives, and the movement was actively supported by church ministers. It was their continuous preaching in favor of enfranchising women, as well as the women’s activism, that produced the 19th Amendment.

Finally, the civil rights movement in the 1960s came out of Christian churches (Dr. Martin Luther King was himself a Protestant minister), not out of the liberal organizations of the Democratic Party. Dr. King asked people to live the life that Jesus required of them in the New Testament. Northern traditionalists strongly supported him. The fact that many people opposed the Civil Rights Acts was not a product of conservatism, but merely a reflection of human nature and more than 350 years of Southern history, not the least being resentment against what was perceived to be Yankee hypocrisy.

The inescapable fact is that all of these beneficial changes in society were first viewed as Christian moral issues and could not have been enacted without Christian, traditionalist support.

Thomas E. Brewton is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets. His weblog is THE VIEW FROM 1776 (

About The Author Thomas E. Brewton:
Thomas E. Brewton is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.

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