Phi Beta Cons

Everyone Must Be a Guardian

I too appreciated a lot of what Charles Murray wrote in his recent three-part article in Opinion Journal, and he has started a good discussion on important issues that are often seen as too hot to handle. But his ultimate proposal, about specially educating the most gifted and intelligent of our society, struck me as going in the wrong direction, and did indeed chillingly remind me of Plato and his Guardians. I think the genius of America is that it is democratic, in that everyone to some extent or other can share in its culture — its civic culture, political culture, popular culture, literary culture, even some of its high culture. The idea of gaining an appreciation of our culture and a determination to defend it and improve it where needed, of developing a capacity to make good judgments and wise choices, of seeing oneself as part of a great enterprise in human history, of learning the importance of responsibility to others, of ethical behavior, all this is necessary for everyone, and something we at least have to hold out as a standard, even if we can’t succeed in all cases. I certainly agree that not everyone has to go to college, but a democracy depends not on the elites but on the people, in my view.