Great Picture of Dr. Mortimer J. Adler with His Holiness, Pope Paul VI

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Great Books Program Essay by Angelicum 11th Grade Student: Peace and The Prince

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Machiavelli wrote The Prince in early sixteenth century, and since then politics have never been quite the same. In The Prince, which was highly controversial, Machiavelli sets forth a how-to guide for maintaining and acquiring power. One of the first things that must be done to maintain power, he claims, is to separate politics and ethics.  His hypothesis is that “The end justifies the means.” If the ultimate goal of a prince is to maintain power then Machiavelli is saying that one can lie, cheat, and steal as long as the outcome is the preservation of power. But the primary goal of a prince should not be to maintain power. The primary goal of a prince is to promote peace.

Peace cannot be maintained without ethics and morals, which are based on the belief in God, because as Dostoevsky says in his book, The Brothers Karamoz, “If there is no God, than everything is permitted.” Some claim that the United States of America is a good example of how politics can function well without the church. But the statement that laid the foundation for the American government, “All men are created equal,” necessitates the existence of God. Without belief in God what is there to stop a person from murdering another? If all men weren’t made in the image of God, then there would no such things as human rights. We would be little better than animals. And this type of reasoning is clearly seen in the actions of leaders who were influenced by Machiavelli, such as Hitler and Mussolini. Without the belief that good is rewarded and evil punished by a just God what stands in the way of political corruption and state evils? Nothing stands in the way except natural law, which can be easily warped. Every man desires happiness, and if they don’t believe that God is Supreme Happiness, men will eventually take material things as their ultimate good, such as power and wealth. Men will see another person’s death as a good if they think it will bring them happiness, and so without the existence of God nothing is keeping politic leaders from murder, which is the worst violation of human rights, possible. Thus, the separation of politics and religion is the perfect way to encourage undue love of material things in both leaders and subjects, which ultimately leads to the very opposite of human law’s purpose, which is the desecration of human rights. 

To promote peace is the ultimate goal of human government and the primary duty of a ruler, whether the government is a republic or a principality. But there are different types of peace. There is the peace that is the result of strict government imposed by a tyrant; and there is the peace that is the tranquility of true order. This peace requires a government that is suitable to the identity of the people. For some people, a principality is best. For others, a republic is best. The identity of the people, whether they are warlike or peaceful, educated or uncivilized, is the ultimate judge of which type of government is best for those people. But in either case, republic or principality, it is the duty of the rulers to promote the most fitting form of government for that people. But Machiavelli did not believe that the government should be shaped for the people. He believed that a society that was used to freedom should be abolished because the people will never forget their old freedom. Clearly, this is not an example of the government being shaped to fit the needs of the people, but visa versa. Thus, the type of peace that Machiavelli believed that leaders should promote was not true peace, but false peace. True peace brings refinement of the arts, progress in the fields of agriculture, medicine, and science, and in infinite other fields as well. It also encourages progress spiritually and morally. This is the primary duty of a ruler – to support and protect true peace of the betterment of his subjects.

If a prince is faithful to this duty, then naturally his subjects will love him. But Machiavelli believed that it was better to be loved than feared by one’s subjects. There are two types of fear – human fear and fraternal fear. Fraternal fear is the fear of offending the one you love, like a parent, a spouse, or even a beloved ruler. If Machiavelli had been referring to this kind of fear when he said it is better to be feared than loved, his statement would have been superfluous, because love and fraternal fear go together naturally. However, Machiavelli was referring to human fear. Human fear is the fear of punishment. Fraternal fear wishes for punishment if it will appease the loved one offended and if it is just. But human fear fears only the punishment itself, and the anger of the punisher. This fear cannot exist without hate because the fear of punishment drives out love. The people’s hatred is the primary thing for a ruler to avoid. It is even better to be hated by the powerful nobles of one’s country than by the people, as Machiavelli claims. Being unjust and tyrannical inspires human fear. Machiavelli is promoting injustice and tyrannical behavior in princes, rather than faithfulness to their duty as ruler to protect and sustain peace. Thus, Machiavelli was wrong in asserting that is better to be feared than loved because human fear will inspire hatred and loathing, which will the people grounds to revolution and sedition. On the other hand, a dutiful and kind prince will naturally inspire fraternal love.

One famous example of a ruler who inspired human fear is Adolf Hitler. In fact, he inspired such fear in his subjects that they were willing to kill their fellow men and perform all manner of immoral acts in order to escape his punishments. Nobody would claim that he was a beloved ruler, rather the contrary.  An example of a beloved ruler who inspired fraternal fear is the American general and president, George Washington. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington inspired such fraternal fear in his men through his courage, dedication, and kindness that soldiers whose terms where up preferred staying in severe conditions to going home, even though they would not have been punished if they left. Thus, it is better to be loved than feared with human fear, and this is accomplished by being faithful to one’s duty as ruler to promote true peace.

In conclusion, Machiavelli’s idea of a great prince was one who could sustain power. But this is not the best judge of greatness in a ruler. There are many factors to be considered in judging greatness. For the most part, rulers are judged by the greatness of their character. Hitler and Mussolini will never be thought of as great, even though at the time they were very powerful and sustained their power for a considerable period of time, because their characters held deadly flaws. The strength of a ruler’s character should be determined by how much they are willing to sacrifice for the good of the people. A ruler should be the servant of all, not visa versa. Governments, including principalities, are created for the good of the people. Rulers are powerless without the people, because their power is from the people, and no effect is greater than its cause. There are very dangerous consequences when rulers abuse their powers, and make the maintenance and acquisition of power the primary principle of ruling.  Peace becomes only a secondary consideration, and as a consequence everything begins to degenerate, including the arts, agriculture, medicine, science, and almost every other field except the ones connected with war. The worst consequence, though, is the degradation of the human spirit. Sometimes, self defense or some other great injustice makes war necessary, but for the most part wars are commenced out of greed and lust for the goods of another country. When it comes to self-defense, it is necessary to make the maintenance of power a capital objective, but not for the glory of the ruler, but the good of the people. The exchange of power is a huge determent to peace because it overturns the norm, so for the sake of peace it is better to fight to keep the power in the same hands than to have it continuously switching hands. Thus, in cases of self-defense it is acceptable for the ruler to declare war, but only for the sake of peace. Machiavelli was undoubtedly a brilliant scholar, but his ideas contain such major flaws that is hard to make use of any of them. His hypothesis, “The end justifies the means,” is the first major flaw because it makes everything allowable, even murder. And, when it comes to politics, he was wrong in asserting that it is better to be feared than loved and that the primary principle of ruling is the maintenance and acquisition of power, because these two ideas may work for a while, but in the end they will always lead to the corruption of society and government. Thus, the primary duty of a prince is to promote true peace. Peace should always be the primary objective. 

Nails Provide Link to Strong Generation

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Larry Dablemont: Nails Provide Link to Strong Generation

I mentioned that I have a hard time throwing anything away. Much of my basement is filled with old things, like an electric typewriter, old tools, old cameras, old magazines, old clothes, old fishing and hunting gear, and a coffee can filled with old rusty nails. I cannot throw it all into some landfill, perhaps because my memory goes back to the 1950s when I was a boy.

I was born at the end of an era when items of daily life were treasured, taken care of, adapted, modified and reused. My grandfathers told of times when men lived with so little, and struggled so much, and I somehow could always feel the days they spoke of, perhaps because they were so close. Many of us here in the Ozarks descend from such poverty. My grandparents on both sides were poor. They raised families in a place and time where they had almost nothing. Their children wore hand-me down ragged clothes, went without shoes, and scraped up meals from what they could catch or kill, grow or raise.

You worked hard when you were just a child, and grew strong from it. Nothing was easy, little things were treasured. That was only years ago, so close to today’s generation we can still hear their voices and see the products of their lives, modest as they were. My grandpa would be astonished to know that little artifacts he owned, worth so little in his time, would bring so much money today, his handmade paddles, the old brass fishing reel, his knife and razor. His old tools, uniquely his own, made so by little adaptations he made to them, are things of history. He lived by reusing and recycling. Grandpa built a small cabin for his family to live in by using nails he pulled and restraightened from an old fallen-down house and barn.

Today, the modest belongings of our ancestors are treasures sought out in antique stores by a generation which throws away everything else. We have become an extravagant, wasteful, unappreciative generation of people. The things we use in our daily lives are made to be thrown away, or devalued quickly. Six years ago my computer cost so much I had to eat baloney sandwiches for months just to pay for it. Today it is worth nothing.

In 1999, a pickup I bought lost $5,000 in value after one week of use. In 20 years, my grandpa didn’t make that much. But I was one of the generation of which parents so often said, “My kids are going to have better. I want them to have what I could not have!” Our generation was spoiled and pampered, brought into the push-button age, and taught to treasure so little. We have misplaced values. When I became a young man, I shaved with throw-away razors, and watched modern day landfills being made as I still had a strong memory of my grandmother searching through an old city dump looking for canning jars which she might use for her garden produce, and maybe taking home an old dress she came across while doing it.

I watched jet planes soar overhead, and hunted squirrels along an old wooded lane where my dad and uncle had rode to town in a wagon and team of horses. My children cannot comprehend the awe of this. For perhaps a thousand years, and more, one generation lived in the exact footsteps of the one before and the one before and the one before. For an endless procession of time, you dressed and ate and lived and learned as your grandfathers before you. Progress was so slow it came like the growing of the grass.

Today, the change is so rapid, so phenomenal, it can’t be comprehended. We go at the speed of sound. All wild creatures are exactly what their ancestors were one thousand years ago, but a man today is nothing like his predecessors. He is a different creature entirely. In his rapid ascent, modern man sees himself, as becoming close to the God which created him, in terms of intelligence and importance.

But the earthquakes and tsunamis and hurricanes and tornadoes which show how small and insignificant we are surely lie at the feet of He who made the mountains and the oceans. Great natural tragedies expose our weakness, which we fail to recognize. Man can make computers, but he cannot make the air, the water and the land.

Every computer in the world, every machine in the world, every refrigerator and light and auto in the world could stop working and never work again. It comes down to knowing that men can make a gold watch, but men cannot make gold.

We are wasteful of the resources we have been given, but we seem willing to sacrifice those resources and the earth itself merely to sustain what we have created. Because I cannot see the future, I don’t know what is coming, but I have an idea of what is ahead because I can see the past so clearly.

Should man indeed destroy himself, he will not do it by cutting off his own head, he will do it by cutting off the broad, strong limb he sits on, the lifeline of water, air, soil, timber, oil and minerals which this smarter, greater, generation must have to survive. Our ancestors had little, but they never lived on a weak limb.

The limb we live on is long and weak, and it gets longer and weaker. Our descendants will create great computers, but they will not be able to restraighten nails and grow their own food, and today’s landfills have no jars which can be used for canning. I guess someone like me is a little goofy for not being able to throw away his old boots. No joke, I have a can filled with rusty bent nails and a whole shelf full of canning jars. I know that there are people who live very well in crowded city suburbs who laugh at people like me, and wonder why I have been so content to do without so much of what they have.

But out here on this little wooded ridge, I can survive and do just fine if tomorrow I have to live with no electricity, no gasoline, and no money. I like that independence. It links me to my grandpa, and to a stronger, abler generation of people than the world will ever know again.

Are We Raising a Generation of Nincompoops?

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By Beth J. Harpaz, Associated Press Writer | September 27, 2010

NEW YORK –Second-graders who can’t tie shoes or zip jackets. Four-year-olds in Pull-Ups diapers. Five-year-olds in strollers. Teens and preteens befuddled by can openers and ice-cube trays. College kids who’ve never done laundry, taken a bus alone or addressed an envelope.

Are we raising a generation of nincompoops? And do we have only ourselves to blame? Or are some of these things simply the result of kids growing up with push-button technology in an era when mechanical devices are gradually being replaced by electronics?

Susan Maushart, a mother of three, says her teenage daughter “literally does not know how to use a can opener. Most cans come with pull-tops these days. I see her reaching for a can that requires a can opener, and her shoulders slump and she goes for something else.”

Teenagers are so accustomed to either throwing their clothes on the floor or hanging them on hooks that Maushart says her “kids actually struggle with the mechanics of a clothes hanger.”

Many kids never learn to do ordinary household tasks. They have no chores. Take-out and drive-through meals have replaced home cooking. And busy families who can afford it often outsource house-cleaning and lawn care.

“It’s so all laid out for them,” said Maushart, author of the forthcoming book “The Winter of Our Disconnect,” about her efforts to wean her family from its dependence on technology. “Having so much comfort and ease is what has led to this situation — the Velcro sneakers, the Pull-Ups generation.”

The issue hit home for me when a visiting 12-year-old took an ice-cube tray out of my freezer, then stared at it helplessly. Raised in a world where refrigerators have push-button ice-makers, he’d never had to get cubes out of a tray — in the same way that kids growing up with pull-tab cans don’t understand can openers.

But his passivity was what bothered me most. Come on, kid! If your life depended on it, couldn’t you wrestle that ice-cube tray to the ground? It’s not that complicated!

Mark Bauerlein, author of the best-selling book “The Dumbest Generation,” which contends that cyberculture is turning young people into know-nothings, says “the absence of technology” confuses kids faced with simple mechanical tasks.

But Bauerlein says there’s a second factor: “a loss of independence and a loss of initiative.” He says that growing up with cell phones and Google means kids don’t have to figure things out or solve problems any more. They can look up what they need online or call mom or dad for step-by-step instructions. And today’s helicopter parents are more than happy to oblige, whether their kids are 12 or 22.

“It’s the dependence factor, the unimaginability of life without the new technology, that is making kids less entrepreneurial, less initiative-oriented, less independent,” Bauerlein said.

Teachers in kindergarten have always had to show patience with children learning to tie shoes and zip jackets, but thanks to Velcro closures, today’s kids often don’t develop those skills until they are older. Sure, harried parents are grateful for Velcro when they’re trying to get a kid dressed and out the door, and children learn to tie shoes eventually unless they have a real disability. But if they’re capable of learning to tie their shoes before they learn to read, shouldn’t we encourage them?

Some skills, of course, are no longer useful. Kids don’t need to know how to add Roman numerals, write cursive or look things up in a paper-bound thesaurus. But is snail-mail already so outmoded that teenagers don’t need to know how to address an envelope or put the stamp in the right spot? Ask a 15-year-old to prepare an envelope some time; you might be shocked at the result.

Lenore Skenazy, who writes a popular blog called Free-Range Kids, based on her book by the same name, has a different take. Skenazy, whose approach to parenting is decidedly anti-helicopter, agrees that we are partly to blame for our children’s apparent incompetence, starting when they are infants.

“There is an onslaught of stuff being sold to us from the second they come out of the womb trying to convince us that they are nincompoops,” she said. “They need to go to Gymboree or they will never hum and clap! To teach them how to walk, you’re supposed to turn your child into a marionette by strapping this thing on them that holds them up because it helps them balance more naturally than 30,000 years of evolution!”

Despite all this, Skenazy thinks today’s kids are way smarter than we give them credit for: “They know how to change a photo caption on a digital photo and send it to a friend. They can add the smiley face without the colon and parentheses! They never took typing but they can type faster than I can!”

Had I not been there to help that 12-year-old with the ice-cube tray, she added, the kid surely would have “whipped out his iPhone and clicked on his ice cube app to get a little video animated by a 6-year-old that explained how you get ice cubes out of a tray.”

Friends playing devil’s advocate say I’m wrong to indict a whole generation for the decline of skills they don’t need. After all, we no longer have to grow crops, shoot deer, prime a pump or milk a cow to make dinner, but it was just a couple of generations ago that you couldn’t survive in many places without that knowledge.

Others say this is simply the last gasp of the analog era as we move once and for all to the digital age. In 10 years, there won’t be any ice cube trays; every fridge will have push-button ice.

But Bauerlein, a professor at Emory University who has studied culture and American life, defends my right to rail against the ignorance of youth.

“That’s our job as we get old,” he said. “A healthy society is healthy only if it has some degree of tension between older and younger generations. It’s up to us old folks to remind teenagers: ‘The world didn’t begin on your 13th birthday!’ And it’s good for kids to resent that and to argue back. We want to criticize and provoke them. It’s not healthy for the older generation to say, ‘Kids are kids, they’ll grow up.’

“They won’t grow up,” he added, “unless you do your job by knocking down their hubris.”

Reforming Education….Dr. Mortimer J. Adler

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Dr. Mortimer Adler

Dr. Mortimer Adler

For more than 70 years, a controlling insight in my educational philosophy has been the recognition that no one has ever been–no one can ever be–educated in school or college. That would be the case if our schools and colleges were at their very best, which they certainly are not, and even if the students were among the best and the brightest as well as conscientious in the application of their powers. The reason is simply that youth itself–immaturity–is an insuperable obstacle to becoming educated. Schooling is for the young. Education comes later, usually much later.

The very best thing for our schools to do is to prepare the young for continued learning by giving them the skills of learning and the love of it. Our schools and colleges are not doing that now, but that is what they should be doing. To speak of an educated young person, rich in understanding of basic ideas and issues, is as much a contradiction in terms as to speak of a round square. The young can be prepared for education in the years to come, but only mature men and women can become educated, beginning the process in their 40’s and 50’s and reaching some modicum of genuine insight, sound judgment and practical wisdom after the age 60. This is what no high school or college graduate knows or can understand.

As a matter of fact, most of their teachers do not seem to know it. In their obsession with covering ground and in the way in which they test or examine their students, they certainly do not act as if they understood that they were only preparing their students for education in later life rather than trying to complete it within the precincts of their institutions. There is, of course, some truth in the ancient insight that awareness of ignorance is the beginning of wisdom. But, remember, it is just the beginning. From there on one has to do something about it. And to do it intelligently one must know something of its causes and cures–why adults need education and what, if anything, they can do about it.

When young adults realize how little they learned in school, they usually assume there was something wrong with the school they attended or with the way they spent their time there. But the fact is that the best possible graduate of the best possible school needs to continue learning every bit as much as the worst. How should they go about doing this? In a recent book, I tried to answer the question, “How should persons proceed who wish to conduct for themselves the continuation of learning after all schooling has been finished?” The brief and simple answer is: Read and discuss. Never just read, for reading without discussion with others who have read the same book is not nearly as profitable. And as reading without discussion can fail to yield the full measure of understanding that should be sought, so discussion without the substance that good and great books afford is likely to degenerate into little more than an exchange of opinions or personal prejudices.

Those who take this prescription seriously would, of course, be better off if their schooling had given them the intellectual discipline and skill they need to carry it out, and if it had also introduced them to the world of learning with some appreciation of its basic ideas and issues. But even the individual who is fortunate to leave school or college with a mind so disciplined, and with an abiding love of learning, would still have a long road to travel before he or she became an educated person. If our schools and colleges were doing their part and adults were doing theirs, all would be well.

However, our schools and colleges are not doing their part because they are trying to do everything else. And adults are not doing their part because most are under the illusion that they had completed their education when they finished their schooling. Only the person who realizes that mature life is the time to get the education that no young person can ever acquire is at last on the high road to learning. The road is steep and rocky, but it is the high road, open to anyone who has the skill in learning and the ultimate goal of all learning in view–understanding the nature of things and man’s place in the total scheme. An educated person is one who through the travail of his own life has assimilated the ideas that make him representative of his culture, that make him a bearer of its traditions and enable him to contribute to its improvement.