MILLER: Don’t know much about history 

The Old Well on the campus of The University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

When Sam Cooke sang “Don’t know much about his-to-ree,” he didn’t blame teachers for his ignorance.  Rather, he blamed himself for being too focused on his lady love to pay attention in class.   

Cooke’s ignorance was self-imposed, and therefore reversible. However, when teachers skew instruction to minimize content knowledge and showcase past injustices, they themselves breed ignorance and worse — they conjure visions of a “just” society that’s ruled by like-minded elites who trace past and present inequality to the “the ravages of capitalism.”  

If students had been taught their fair share of history, they would know that today’s visionaries have taken their cues from Plato, who, in the fourth century BC, resolved that the ideal state would be ruled by an elite class of “guardians” or “philosopher kings” who would keep a tight rein on the hoi polloi.  British economist S. Harcourt-Rivington calls Plato the first central “planner” because he designed the “blueprint for the evolution of what has come to be called the “Welfare State.”  

Properly educated students would also know that such visions still dance in the heads of would-be totalitarians and that when leftists decry “the ravages of capitalism,” they are quoting Fidel Castro’s War, Racism, and Economic Justice: The Global Ravages of Capitalism, which dazzled the far left when it was published in 2002.   

What we have instead are a majority of college students who scorn capitalism and favor a “hyper-redistribution” of wealth, which, of course, is code for socialism lite.  Such were the findings of a 2021 nationwide survey that had North Dakota professors John Bitzan and Clay Routledge conclude: “Higher education is increasingly going in the wrong direction” — when professors breed ignorance about the advantages of a free-market economy. 

Eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher Adam Smith was the first to note that the intelligentsia oppose a free-market economy because “the learned ignore the evidence of their senses to preserve the coherence of the ideas of their imagination.”  Two and a half centuries later, the learned left knows Adam Smith as the source of the idea “greed Is good” because Smith observed that “By pursuing his own interest [an individual] frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it.”   

Professors who mistake Adam Smith’s plea for self-reliance for an endorsement of greed overlook Smith’s contempt for profiteers who tread on the rights of others  And professors who envision a government-controlled citizenry have forgotten that six decades after Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations, French historian Alexis de Tocqueville foretold what would become of Democracy in America if the statists take over:  “Such a power…stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”  

George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” imagines just such a state, but firsthand accounts of citizens suffering under statist control can be found in Victor Surge’s “The Case of Comrade Tulayev” and Nien Cheng’s “Life and Death in Shanghai”.  Soviet dissident Surge likened the Stalinists to a “gang that seeks out power because power is the good old way of taking your neighbor’s work and the fruits of his work” while Cheng notes that Mao’s “state-controlled economy stifled productivity…and killed incentive.”  Even more prescient is Cheng’s observation that Chinese propaganda was “calculated to mislead the ignorant mind of the gullible and the uninformed.” 

The results of our midterm elections will reveal how well that gambit has worked in American universities, but it’s a sure bet that Columbia University’s Anthony Zenkus hasn’t told his students about de Tocqueville’s other prediction: “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”  Students who think that Biden’s plan to spend trillions of the public’s money will reduce inflation are the students most likely to believe Professor Zenkus’s claim that “capitalism causes mental illness” and that “Communists don’t want to take what you have. They just want everyone else to have what you have.”  

Historian David McCullough once said, “We’re raising young people who are, by and large, historically illiterate.”  Had we “deplorables,” we “semi-fascists” been put in charge of history instruction in 1980, college students would know a whole lot about history, and the late, great David McCullough would never have had a reason to make that claim.