Traditional values, whether manifested in public policy or contemporary culture, are besieged in today’s America but can still be found in the right places, says Victor Davis Hanson.
Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution. His focus is on classics and military history. Last year, Hanson won the 2018 Edmund Burke Award, which honors people who have made major contributions to the defense of Western civilization. He is the author of the forthcoming book The Case for Trump, and most recently The Second World Wars.
Hanson was recently interviewed on the subject of traditional culture, public policy, and American culture, which he also wrote about in a National Review essay.
Where in today’s American society can parents look to find traditional culture—art, literature, the humanities—for their children?
The progressive agenda has largely captured popular culture, the media, entertainment, sports, and the university, so one must look to traditional atolls and castles—formally, colleges like Hillsdale, for institutional support the Bradley Foundation, cultural and political journals such as The New Criterion or American Greatness, as well as networks of traditional regions, communities, families, and organizations. Home schooling, traditional religion, and charter schools offer refuges—again, we are talking about salvaging a hallowed Western culture that is either rejected, ignored, or defamed by the majority today.
What effects will the progressive monopoly on higher education have on the futures of college students?
We’ve already seen the wages of a watered-down but politicized curriculum in students that are both arrogant and ignorant—convinced of their superior virtue but without the knowledge or logic and a method of induction to defend their own deductive views. Quite sad to see a generation $1.5 trillion in debt, with few skills, often with inane majors, and who would likely do more poorly on an SAT test upon graduation than years earlier upon application for admittance.
What can people do to support a uniquely American national culture?
Be careful to whom or to what you give; be an activist alumni donor. In our own daily lives, each according to our station, try to honor the past and the legacies we inherited; vow not to vilify or smear political opponents. Seek to read as much as we use our smartphones, and focus on older rather than contemporary books and essays. Adopt a worldview more tragic than therapeutic: the US is an oasis and need not be perfect to be far better than the alternatives. Don’t judge the past on the current orthodoxies of the present without making the necessary allowances in material culture and the slow progress of morality and enlightened knowledge. Realize that history is circular, not linear, and at times we can regress and revert to our own natural savage states.
Where is today’s American culture headed if more traditional elements do not reform it?
A dystopian cross between Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and George Orwell’s 1984—a sophisticated, technologically determined, but amoral society, governed by a mandated but impoverished equality of result; a huge administrative state grown at the expense of personal liberty, autonomy, and individuality; and a boring, all-encompassing, and dreary propagandistic worldview and largely socialistic groupthink that enforces correct ideas and behaviors as established by an anointed progressive elite not subject to the ramifications of its own ideology. Something like the arrogant trajectory of the European Union, but with the coercion of an authoritarian China. A world here as seen in glimpses in the “Pajama Boy” ad and the government’s “Life of Julia” propaganda.
Victor Davis Hanson is also the chairman of the Role of Military History in Contemporary Conflict Working Group at the Hoover Institution.
Clifton B. Parker, Hoover Institution: (650) 498-5204, cbparker [at] stanford.edu