The battle for civilization requires knowledge of what is at its roots. Our digital culture is good for providing access, though of a precarious kind, to such knowledge. The battle also requires, however, habits of reading, listening, watching, thinking, and reflecting that are cultivated best in a non-digital environment.

We are in a cold civil war. The nature of the battle is, in the narrow view, whether we will live under our American constitutional arrangement. In many ways, particularly since the rise of the fourth, unelected branch of government known as the Administrative State—those agencies that are nominally attached to the executive branch but really are accountable to nobody—those favoring constitutional government have lost. The Swamp has not been drained, even if some presidents from Reagan to Trump have siphoned off a bit here and there.

But our cold civil war is not just about a form of government. It is about a broader question of the American project and more broadly Western civilization. Culture warriors on the left are keen to tar not only our Constitution and founding era with racism and white supremacy but also all of the sources of the American project—from “the glory that was Greece and the grandeur that was Rome” to the Jewish and Christian thinkers who both built upon and showed deeper foundations for the philosophical insights and public administration accomplishments of old pagans. This is why the claim that the removal of statues of Confederate generals—even though in many cases morally justified when done in a proper fashion—was never going to be the end of the matter. Many people mocked President Trump when he predicted that the riotous toppling of Rebel statues would lead to the attempts to topple the Founding Fathers.

He was right and his critics wrong. But the Founding Fathers were not all. Statues of Lincoln and the abolitionists have been toppled and those of Columbus and Junipero Serra—in fact, statues of all kinds. So too statues of Mary and Jesus, crosses and crucifixes, and churches have been attacked. The civilizational battle is over our entire history. Woke culture warriors do not want justice but a revolution that overturns our understanding of justice under God and the law. They do not want a more nuanced view of history but a completely new view of history. That is why they have to get rid of the old history entirely.

Aided by the education schools at most universities and the educational bureaucracies in most states, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Some were shocked when State Representative LaShawn Ford (D) called for the abolition of history classes in Illinois, backed by what a news report called “leaders in education, politics, and other areas” who were calling for the same.[1] Instead, Representative Ford wants the “Civil Rights movement” to be taught. (Of course, the Civil Rights movement is part of history and really cannot be understood apart from the Christianity and the philosophy that gave it its power.) But people should not be shocked. Many teachers stopped teaching history long ago in favor of vague “social studies” that were sometimes bland but sometimes simply thin coverings of progressive schemes. In The Federalist, Paulina Enck recently reported on her conversations with an anonymous Midwestern fourth-grade teacher about how, in the name of an “integrated curriculum,” history instruction had already been largely rubbished. Gone were the teachers’ lessons about the Civil War, slavery, and the resolutions of these issues. Gone too were her fifth-grade colleagues’ units on the American Revolution.[2] The integration of the curriculum really means an evisceration of it.

When you have no idea about this country’s or the West’s history more broadly, you will be a sucker for the charlatanism of the 1619 Project and the postmodernist approaches being taught in the name of “Anti-Racism” that have abandoned objective conceptions of reason and simply evaluate all subjects in a culturally Marxist assessment of who has power and who gets to be designated as the oppressor or oppressed in any situation.

What can we do about this cold civil war at the civilizational level? Various friends tell me for whom to vote and which kind of guns to buy. They are not wrong. Others tell me that children should not be sent to public schools. Though I was a K-12 public school student and got a fairly good education, complete with studying our Constitution in the eighth grade—Mr. Cox even made us memorize the Preamble—I agree that public schools are no longer fit vehicles for education anymore. Homeschooling and private schooling are really the only two options left in the U.S. in almost every place. And private schools need to be evaluated since many of them (especially Catholic parochial schools) have simply followed the public schools down the road to “integrated” perdition.

We need to educate ourselves and our children. While the ideologues who are waging war on history are closed to argument, it is not clear that most Americans are. They need to be taught and indeed introduced to the history and ideas that made our civilization thrive—and the movements that are seeking to choke off our roots. Today I think one of the most important tasks that might help us is to invest in physical books and movies in some sort of hard format like DVDs.

I know the arguments from friends. Books and movies are all so much easier to keep when you have them in online formats! Look how much space you’d have if you just replaced those books with an E-reader and got a smart TV with access to the web.

No doubt they are right about the miracles of the web. For anyone who grew up before the age of the ubiquitous internet, it is a wonder to be able to pull up at a moment’s notice a movie that you used to have to find in a movie store or order to be delivered to your house. It is a miracle to have access to a text in e-book fashion when one used to be required to order it from a library or some expensive book dealer. All of these things are wonders and miracles to those who remember older, more difficult ways of obtaining knowledge.

The problem with such arguments about simply “switching” to digital is actually two-fold. First is the problem of safety. E-books do not really belong to you nor do the movies that you watch on streaming services. You merely have a license to access them and when access is taken away, they are no longer available. In an age of Big Tech and corporate censorship of points of view that do not coincide with current orthodoxy, access to such sources is perilous. The teacher in Ms. Enck’s article noted that she and other teachers were instructed to get rid of their textbooks and do everything from online sources. This is not only a problem for teaching history as part of a larger story. It is a problem for access to historical accounts that are subject to revision.

If you want to think even more apocalyptically, an electromagnetic pulse or other attack on the internet would leave you without access to the most important sources for understanding history and being able to explain it.

The second reason to buy books and movies is perhaps even more important. Print books and hard copies of other digital material need to be preserved, but they also need to be taken in. Personally, I do not think that online viewing habits are conducive to real reading or even real watching and listening. Everyone who knows the world pre-internet recalls being lost in books or even long-form journalism. We also know how much more difficult it is to do such reading. We all skip from thing to thing, rarely reading anything in depth. While that is sometimes useful—you can’t read everything after all—it builds a habit of inattention that is hard to break. Reading off-line is simply a different experience.

The same goes for movies or other video material. While a movie used to be something to be savored, it is not anymore. One of my children who is now, alas, exposed to the internet confessed to me that his attention span is such that he is no longer able to concentrate on watching movies or even television shows despite having access to them. We have been engaged in a therapy involving watching an episode of the old Rumpole of the Bailey each night (along with discussion of why Rumpole’s ideals are not entirely wholesome—and the ones that are do not have a firm grounding). I have also been trying to get him to read more books and magazines in print each day along with listening to a reading from Scripture before we pray the Rosary each night.

The battle for civilization requires knowledge of what is at its roots. Our digital culture is good for providing access, though of a precarious kind, to such knowledge. The battle also requires, however, habits of reading, listening, watching, thinking, and reflecting that are cultivated best in a non-digital environment.

The counterculture of the 60s was famous for Timothy Leary’s adage to “Turn on, tune in, and drop out.” I would suggest that for those of us waging war on behalf of civilization, we would be advised to turn on to what’s going on today by tuning in to ancient and contemporary wisdom. To truly do that, it will be necessary to drop out of the buzz of our internet connections and tune in to stories, arguments, and information that demand our full attention. To do that, we need to remember that the medium will determine whether we have access to or, more importantly, can concentrate on, understand, and assimilate the message.

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Notes:

[1] “Chicago-Area Leaders Call for Illinois to Eliminate History Classes” (August 2020).

[2] Paulina Enck, “Fourth Grade Teacher Details How Schools Push Ban History And Leftist Agendas,” The Federalist (August 2020).

The featured image is courtesy of Pixabay and has been brightened slightly for clarity.

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