Should Pedigree Matter?
Ideas have pedigrees. That is, someone, somewhere, came up with them in the first place. Someone, somewhere, wrote them down for the first time. Someone, somewhere, put them to use before anyone else. Should it matter to us today who first thought of, proposed, or implemented a specific idea?
The question is a nagging one because, upon scrutiny, a growing number of recent practices reveal their antecedents in less than desirable quarters.
Take for instance the well-orchestrated attack on the "right wing," making it responsible for all the president's troubles. That kind of campaign was first proposed in Mein Kampf. The author, Adolf Hitler, instructs us that we ought "not to divide the attention of the people, but to concentrate that attention on a single enemy. A great number of basically different enemies must always be described as belonging to the same group, so that as far as the mass of your followers is concerned, the battle is being waged against a single enemy. This strengthens the belief in the rightness of your cause."
Or take "School-to-Work," the grandiose program enacted by the Clinton Administration. In the Communist Manifesto, written in 1848 by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, we encounter ten essential steps of which the last prescribes "Public and gratis education of all children. Elimination of child labor in its present form. Combining education with industrial production."
On the subject of education, we seem to take our cue more and more from Anton Semionovich Makarenko, Lenin's hand-picked expert, who admonished parents about the ways their children should grow up. "It is not a matter of indifference to society what kind of people they will be. In handing over to you a certain measure of social authority, the Soviet state demands from you correct upbringing of future citizens."
Are we to believe that ordinary Americans in large numbers consciously and purposely avail themselves of such sources? No, chances are, these sources are quite unknown to them. Is it likely that various ordinary Americans accidentally come up with the same ideas as these infamous predecessors? Hardly.
Somehow, these ideas make their way through many transmissions, until the original source disappears in the mists of time. Does it ennoble an ignoble idea that it is now separated from its inventor? Hardly.
Does it ennoble an ignoble idea that it now appeals to persons who are not monsters? Hardly.
In any event, Hitler and Lenin were monsters, but Makarenko was not. He just happened to sign on to a monstrous ideology.
Is it possible that some ideas which saw the light of day as part of a monstrous ideology are in and of themselves good?
That being the case, perhaps we should call upon present-day Americans to check out the ideas they advocate and employ. They owe it to us. In this day of library exchange and the Internet, the job is easy indeed.
Society needs to pay attention to all so-called new ideas. Generally speaking, they do not exists. New ideas have always been rare, by now they are almost non-existent. Every time we hear of one, the odds are that it has been around the block more than once.
If so, it will have a track record. If so, investigating where it has been gives us a good indication of where it might take us. We can then decide if we want to be taken there. We can then decide if the person advocating them is the appropriate travel guide for us.
A fringe benefit accrues to the advocate as well. People who like to advocate because they are good at it might become more discriminating in the ideas they adopt.
Many among those in public life need to be. Many of them would want to be. Nothing is further from my mind than to intimate that the president's defenders read Mein Kampf. In fact, I am convinced that they would be the first to recoil from their own tactics if they knew where those tactics originated.
Let us tell them.