by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Our vulnerability to the Russian campaign, then, testifies not just to the failure of intelligence and law-enforcement systems that should have prevented it but also to the failure of an American education system that increasingly emphasizes technical skills at the expense of thoughtful citizenship. That is different from “critical thinking,” whose purpose is often deconstruction that teaches people not to believe anything. Between criticism and credulity, there is a mean: the capacity for serious reflection, especially on political things.
This capacity for reflection comes not from an overt effort to teach it but rather from engaging with it. That is the essence of liberal education, so there is more than a little irony in the fact that one target of the Russian campaign — then–presidential candidate Marco Rubio — sought votes by disparaging it. Reading the great works of our political, philosophical, and literary canon — from Aristotle to Shakespeare to the Federalist Papers — will do far more to inoculate Americans against manipulation than would teaching them skepticism as its own end.
A revival of liberal learning will not prevent foreign interference, against which it remains the responsibility of American officials to be on guard. But the fact remains that Americans will be exposed to manipulation, whether from home or abroad, and need an education capable of preparing them for that threat. Not every citizen of America, any more than of classical Athens, will spend reflective days immersed in philosophy, nor should such be the goal. The goal is a recovery of learning whose purpose is neither technocracy nor deconstruction but rather reflection and formation.