Tuesday, October 13, 2020


It is not, however, my design to dwell upon observations of this nature. I am well aware that it would be disingenuous to resolve indiscriminately the opposition of any set of men (merely because their situations might subject them to suspicion) into interested or ambitious views. Candor will oblige us to admit that even such men may be actuated by upright intentions; and it cannot be doubted that much of the opposition which has made its appearance, or may hereafter make its appearance, will spring from sources, blameless at least, if not respectable—the honest errors of minds led astray by preconceived jealousies and fears. 

So numerous indeed and so powerful are the causes which serve to give a false bias to the judgment, that we, upon many occasions, see wise and good men on the wrong as well as on the right side of questions of the first magnitude to society. This circumstance, if duly attended to, would furnish a lesson of moderation to those who are ever so much persuaded of their being in the right in any controversy. And a further reason for caution, in this respect, might be drawn from the reflection that we are not always sure that those who advocate the truth are influenced by purer principles than their antagonists. 

Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives not more laudable than these, are apt to operate as well upon those who support as those who oppose the right side of a question. Were there not even these inducements to moderation, nothing could be more ill-judged than that intolerant spirit which has, at all times, characterized political parties. For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.

Alexander Hamilton. The Federalist Papers (1). Roma Solodoff. Kindle Edition.

Friday, October 9, 2020


Madison had begun his statements on this question in Federalist LV and LVI, published in mid-February 1788: “As there is a degree of depravity in mankind,” he then wrote, “which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence.” Four months later he elaborated the point in what was for him a remarkable outburst. It was touched off by Mason’s insistence, in the Virginia ratifying convention, that legislators will do everything mischievous they can think of and fail to do anything good. Why is it not as reasonable, Madison replied, to assume that they will as readily do good as evil?—not that one should “place unlimited confidence in them, and expect nothing but the most exalted integrity and sublime virtue.” And then followed this statement of his basic philosophy:

I go on this great republican principle, that the people will have virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom. Is there no virtue among us? If there be not we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks, no form of government, can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical idea.

Other federalists, equally convinced of the power of self-interest, greed, and corruption, said the same. Washington wrote Lafayette that the guarantee that the American government would never degenerate into despotism lay in the ultimate virtue of the American people. John Dickinson asked, “will a virtuous and sensible people choose villains or fools for their officers? Or, if they should choose men of wisdom and integrity, will these lose both or either, by taking their seats? If they should, will not their places be quickly supplied by another choice? Is the like derangement again, and again, and again, to be expected? Can any man believe that such astonishing phenomena are to be looked for?” Similarly, the federalist Reverend Samuel West in the Massachusetts convention demanded to know whether it was likely that people would “choose men to ruin us…May we not rationally conclude that the persons we shall choose to administer [the Constitution] will be, in general, good men?”

Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (369-370). Harvard University Press. [1967, 2017] Kindle Edition.

Friday, October 2, 2020



Academic Fitness

A few years ago I was at a conference of a few hundred History/Social Studies educators, consultants, etc. at the Center for the Study of the Senate in Boston. I was introduced, as The Concord Review and I had recently been the subjects of an op-ed column in The Boston Globe.
After several presentations and some discussion of History/Social Studies in the schools, I asked the question: “Is there then a consensus that high school students are incapable of reading a complete History book?” No one objected to that suggestion.

We have talked for several decades about “Varsity Academics®” and we now have that as a trademark. We have wanted to call attention to the possibility that work on academic expository writing in History could be seen as parallel to the work that goes into preparing a young athlete to be accepted on varsity sports teams in high school. 

We still think that academic writing should start at about the same time as Little League and Pop Warner, giving students years to learn more about and to get better at term papers, especially in History. 

We are now claiming a need for the same long-term preparation for academic reading, so that high school seniors, instead of being judged incapable, in advance, of reading a complete History book, would turn out to be quite capable of doing so, as a result of many years of serious nonfiction reading at growing levels of difficulty, during their school years. 

At present, most of the focus in our schools is on writing that is personal or creative, and that has led to widespread incompetence in academic expository writing. Similarly what students are asked to read is mostly fiction, leading to incompetence in managing actual History books. These disabilities can be remedied by the regular development of academic fitness, in nonfiction reading and writing, especially in History, all through the years in school.

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

Saturday, September 26, 2020


American domestic policy was not completely out of the picture, since the success of the Allied cause was going to depend so heavily upon the productive capacity of the U.S. industrial economy. American industry had struggled for more than a decade to emerge fully from the Great Depression, and its rapid transformation into a true arsenal of democracy would be a heavy lift. 

Could it do it? In fact, it made the lift with surprising speed, exceeding all expectations and spearheading the Allied drive to victory. All the gloom and frustration of the past decade was set aside, as the moral equivalent of war gave way to the moral force of the real thing. Consider some statistics. By the end of the first year of American involvement in the war, American arms production had risen to the same level as that of Germany, Italy, and Japan put together. 

By 1944, it was double that amount. By the end of the war, the United States had turned out two-thirds of all the military equipment used by the Allies combined: a staggering 280,000 warplanes, 100,000 armored cars, 86,000 tanks, 8,800 naval ships, 2.6 million machine guns, 650,000 artillery pieces, millions of tons of ordnance, and 41 billion rounds of ammunition. Accomplishing all this, while putting into uniform 11 million soldiers, 4 million sailors, 700,000 marines, and 240,000 coast guardsmen, meant drawing into the industrial workforce a great many women and minorities, on an even greater scale than occurred in World War I. Depression-era unemployment rates were now a distant memory, as the factories of the nation whirred with activity.

Wilfred M. McClay, Land of Hope (327-328). Encounter Books. Kindle Edition.

Saturday, September 19, 2020


To the People of the State of New York: AFTER an unequivocal experience of the inefficacy of the subsisting federal government, you are called upon to deliberate on a new Constitution for the United States of America. The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the UNION, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world. It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force. If there be any truth in the remark, the crisis at which we are arrived may with propriety be regarded as the era in which that decision is to be made; and a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.

This idea will add the inducements of philanthropy to those of patriotism, to heighten the solicitude which all considerate and good men must feel for the event. Happy will it be if our choice should be directed by a judicious estimate of our true interests, unperplexed and unbiased by considerations not connected with the public good. But this is a thing more ardently to be wished than seriously to be expected. The plan offered to our deliberations affects too many particular interests, innovates upon too many local institutions, not to involve in its discussion a variety of objects foreign to its merits, and of views, passions and prejudices little favorable to the discovery of truth.

Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers,
October 27, 1787, Number One (p. 1). Kindle Edition.

Thursday, September 17, 2020


In light of now well-established scientific consensus, the principle of domain-specific knowledge as central to skills like critical thinking should be accepted by all rational people as truth. It demolishes the claim that our schools are teaching all-purpose skills like critical thinking through ad hoc child-chosen or teacher-chosen content. 

The general-skills myth has endured partly because it has enabled high officials to avoid the criticism and controversy that attends the actual specification of content.

 The persistence of the myth of critical thinking enables them to sidestep responsibility with a good conscience. We need to let them know the emphatic scientific consensus. 

It is essential that the public demand specific grade-by-grade content in our schools, so that one grade can build on another in a systematic way, a kind of schooling that is best for all students and especially beneficial to our least-advantaged students.

E.D. Hirsch, How to Educate a Citizen [2020] (126-127). Harper. Kindle Edition.

Saturday, September 12, 2020


        Along with a concern for my physical safety, there was another, longer-range concern in my family that I heard, especially from Lacy, Birdie, and Ruth. They had never had the opportunities that I would now [1939] have in New York, including the opportunity for a good education, and they wanted me to make the most of those opportunities. All this was a little vague to me at first, but it was a theme I would hear again and again over the years. Even before I arrived in New York, Birdie and Lacy picked out a boy they wanted me to meet—a slightly older, more genteel, and more knowledgeable boy name Eddie Mapp. They obviously wanted me to become more like him and to choose such company, rather than the “roughnecks” Lacy warned me against.

        These ambitions of theirs were only partly fulfilled. I met Eddie Mapp and we saw each other from time to time, but we didn’t have enough in common to become close buddies. He played classical music on the piano, for example, which put him in another world, as far as I was concerned. However, he also introduced me to Chinese checkers and to comic books, and showed me a store where you could trade comic books after you read them. Most important of all, he took me one day to a kind of place where I had never been before and knew nothing about—a public library. Impressed but puzzled as to why we were in a building with so many books, when I had no money to buy books, I found it difficult to understand at first, as Eddie explained to me how a public library worked. Unknown to me at the time, it was a turning point in my life, for I then developed the habit of reading books.

Thomas Sowell, A Personal Odyssey
New York: The Free Press, 2000, p. 17