Old School Progressive Hubris

Vox Day provides a good example of this in the 1918 preface to volume 1 of the Collier Junior Classics.

The right selection of reading matter for children is obviously of high importance. Some of the mythologies, Old Testament stories, fairy tales, and historical romances, on which earlier generations were accustomed to feed the childish mind, contain a great deal that is barbarous, perverse, or cruel; and to this infiltration into children’s minds, generation after generation, of immoral, cruel, or foolish ideas is probably to be attributed in part the slow ethical progress of the race. The commonest justification of this thoughtless practice is that children do not apprehend the evil in the bad mental pictures with which we foolishly supply them; but what should we think of a mother who gave her children dirty milk or porridge, on the theory that the children would not assimilate the dirt? Should we be less careful about mental and moral food materials? The Junior Classics have been selected with this principle in mind, without losing sight of the fact that every developing human being needs to have a vision of the rough and thorny road over which the human race has been slowly advancing during thousands of years.

Whoever has committed to memory in childhood such Bible extracts as Genesis i, the Ten Commandments, Psalm xxiii, Matthew v, 8-12, The Lord’s Prayer, and I Corinthians xiii, such English prose as Lincoln’s Gettysburg speech, Bacon’s “Essay on Truth,” and such poems as Bryant’s “Waterfowl,” Addison’s “Divine Ode,” Milton’s Sonnet on his Blindness, Wotton’s “How happy is he born or taught,” Emerson’s “Rhodora,” Holmes’s “Chambered Nautilus,” and Gray’s Elegy, and has stamped them on his brain by frequent repetition, will have set up in his mind high standards of noble thought and feeling, true patriotism, and pure religion. He will also have laid in an invaluable store of good English.

The professor makes a good point that we should avoid pouring garbage into the minds of children, but his perspective completely lacks humility. He assumes that he knows more about the human experience than any writer that came before him.

Yes, the world full of the kind of violence and sex that a puritan would disapprove of, but that is a key element of human life. He replaced every genuine medieval and christian tradition with a carefully curated selection of bible verses and a few vapid works of the enlightenment era. Progressives like him accomplished great things in building our modern world, but their ideology doesn’t account for any of that tragedy in the human experience.

All he has to display as the summit of human knowledge is vagueness and moral hubris. Those post-enlightenment English authors have been free of the need to fight or suffer, and their works bear the marks of that kind of sentimentality. The professor has accepted their world view, and as a result he has deified his own values and has no sense of moral humility. Many of those works were less than 100 years old when he wrote his preface, and yet he felt confident in declaring those works to be the pinnacle of all human knowledge. Like all progressives, he follows a kind of dualism where anything that feels bad to him must be inherently immoral, and can only be stamped out. He lacks the humility to look at the past as a foreign country, and to learn from that nation as any true cosmopolitan would.

See also: Germanics Don’t Understand Christianity

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