A fundamental method of social progress…
For anyone wanting a thorough overview of how the Western world has progressed in the last few centuries I recommend the Substack writing of NS Lyons, The Upheaval.
The following paragraphs are excerpted from Lyons’ recent longish piece, The China Convergence, in which the socio-political structures of the Western world are compared to those of China. There is little mention of religious or spiritual perspectives, but his framing of the ‘managerial party-state’ both in the West and China provides a sobering picture of the direction we are headed. The Cornerstone Forum continues to pursue avenues in which we can bring our work with Catholic theology and the mimetic theory of René Girard to the benefit of the current classical Catholic liberal education renewal project.
John Dewey believed public education was “the fundamental method of social progress and reform” precisely because it was, he wrote, “the only sure method of social reconstruction.” Social reconstruction meant reengineering society. Frank Lester Ward, Dewey’s teacher and mentor (and the first president of the American Sociological Association) was even less bashful: the purpose of formal education, he said, was now to be “a systemic process for the manufacture of correct opinions” in the public mind. (It should, he added, therefore be brought under the exclusive control of government, since “the result desired by the state is a wholly different one from that desired by parents, guardians, and pupils.”)
Remaking society along scientific lines would necessitate reshaping men to fit their new machine. A reconstructed society would have to be built on the back of a reconstructed individual: a New Man, freed from the all the crude superstitions of his past and the messy irrationalities of his former nature. This anthropological project was the real purpose of Dewey and his Progressive Education movement: they were Conditioners. Elevated to peak influence by the presidency of Woodrow Wilson (who expressed his own desire “to make the young gentlemen of the rising generation as unlike their fathers as possible”), Dewey and his colleagues had the opportunity to begin this quest by first revolutionizing the education system so that they could make future generations more pliable by systematically disembedding them from their past and their traditional loyalties and deconstructing the whole way in which they saw the world.