The American Education System: Part Three: The Imperial Cruise (A Speculative Essay)
Historian Nell Irvin Painter would have us know that a guy called Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840) received his PhD. in 1775, with a fifteen---that's 15---page dissertation, which became the book, On the Natural Variety of Mankind (1).
The title of the book speaks for itself, does it not? I don't have to say what it was about, do I? Anyway, Blumenbach is a name you probably never heard of, but he was a big deal as a major contributor to what is known as scientific race theory, in his day.
Dr. Painter also informs us, in a footnote of her book, that a man whose name we're all more familiar with, Linnaeus, the inventor of the Western system of taxonomy, was awarded his PhD., after a week, for a 13-page dissertation. He got it from the Dutch university of Harderwijk. One historian of science called it a mail order institution. That judgment may have been too harsh, but the school was known for selling degrees (2).
Well we certainly expect a lot more than 15- and 13-page papers for doctoral theses.
1. Were Blumenbach and Linnaeus a pair of mutant super geniuses?
2. Are we looking at an institutional imperative of universities in Western Europe, in the eighteenth century, to churn out---which is to say, graduate---experts in a field of study, in order to serve a market, hungry to hear what they have to say?
I'm going to take Door #2.
Question: Who were this market and what were they so eager to hear?
Short Answer: We know that many of these scholars made their way to the lecture halls of the lyceums of America. As for what vast sections of the American public were so eager to hear, maybe it was this...
I'd like to turn, now, to a book by James Bradley called The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War. It was put out by the good folks at Little, Brown, and Company in the Year of Our Lord 2009.
It seems that a long, long, long, long time ago, into the farthest reaches of human history, an 'Aryan' race sprang up in the Caucasus mountains, north of what is now Iran. The word 'Iran' derives from the word 'Aryan.' The Aryan was a beautiful human specimen: white-skinned, big-boned, sturdily built, blue-eyed, and, naturally, unusually intelligent. He was a can-do guy par excellence, a wanderer, and an all around superior man with superior instincts; and above all, a natural civilizer (3).
The Aryan migrated north, south, east, and west. The great civilizations of China, India, and Egypt were all a product of his unique genius. During this time white civilization gave enlightenment to the world, as well as prosperity. But, it seems that overtime, many of these groups committed the fatal error of miscegenation with the nonwhite Chinese, Indian, and Egyptian women; and it all went downhill from there (4).
But all was not lost. One group of Aryans followed the sun westward, from the Caucasus to the area of Northern Europe and Germany. This Aryan tribe did not make the mistake their brethren did. Instead of mating with the lesser breeds, these Aryans killed them, thus preserving the purity of their blood. In the German forests, through the centuries, the Aryan evolved into an even higher being: the Teuton. The Teuton displayed a unique genius for political organization---democratic political organization; such a man had no time for kings or emperors (5).
The Teuton spread out from the German forests. Some went south, invigorating Greece, Italy, and Spain. But, sadly, once again, these tribes made the mistake of mixing their blood with that of the darker natives. "Thus the history of the Mediterranean countries is one of dissolution and nondemocratic impulses" (6).
The Teutons that helped Aryan civilization grow, were the ones who continued to follow the sun westward, heading for Europe's western coast. They sailed across the English Channel and landed in the British Isles. Lesser races were already there. If the Mighty Teuton had bred with these lesser peoples, their pure blood would have been sullied and the great flow of civilization would have ground to a halt. In 1906, President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt wrote: 'The world would have halted had it not been for the Teutonic conquests in alien lands' (7).
As the Germanic tribes spread northward and westward, they became known as Anglo-Saxons (a compound of two Germanic tribal names). This Anglo-Saxon worship seems to have been operative in the 1500s, when the English king Henry VIII broke with the Roman Catholic pope, to create the Church of England. Royal propagandists said that the new Church of England was not a break with tradition, but rather a return to a better time, a reconnection with a purer Anglo-Saxon tradition that had existed before the Norman conquests of 1066 (8).
The problem the Teuton faced in trying to settle Africa, India, and China was that there was just too many dark-skinned natives to completely annihilate, in the hopes of creating superior civilizations. James Bradley: "The best that could be hoped for was an archipelago of white settlement and the exploitation of local primitives in order to produce greater European riches"(9).
James Bradley: "Given such constraints, civilization and democracy could only reach the next level of evolution only if the Anglo-Saxon moved westward" (10).
The Teuton sailed westward across the Atlantic, and made his way onto the North American continent. The rest, as they say, is history. We know that Thomas Jefferson persuaded the trustees of the University of Virginia to offer the nation's first course in the Anglo-Saxon language; and that he invoked this Anglo-Saxon worship to demand a freer hand from England, in his 1774 A Summary View of the Rights of British America. He mentioned 'God' twice, but England's 'Saxon ancestors' six times (11).
Author James Bradley: "Many Americans concluded that if the course of empire was westward and the United States the westernmost home of the Aryan, they were a chosen people with a continental, hemispheric, and global racial destiny. Even when the United States was a young country hugging the Atlantic, many envisioned the day the American Aryan would arrive on the Pacific coast. From there he would leap across the Pacific and fight his way through Asia, until he reached the original home of his Aryan parents in the Caucasus and a white band of civilization would bring peace to the world" (12).
Mr. Bradley quoted an early-nineteenth-century U.S. Senator called Thomas Hart Benton. The senator served on the body's Military and Foreign Affairs Committees. Senator Thomas Hart Benton: 'All obey the same impulse---that of going to the west, which, from the beginning of time has been the course of heavenly bodies, of the human race, and of science, civilization, and national power following in their train. In a few years the Rocky Mountains will be passed, and the children of Adam will have completed the circumambulation of the globe, by marching to the west until they arrive at the Pacific Ocean, in sight of the eastern shore of Asia in which their first parents were originally planted' (13).
Here's where we begin to get some sense of educational relevance.
James Bradley: "Most scholarly American intellectuals of this time followed the sun. The 1800s saw the emergence of 'social sciences' in America. Not surprisingly, they validated Aryan Supremacy. One after another, white Christian males in America's finest universities 'discovered' that the Aryan was God's highest creation, that the Negro was designed for servitude, and that the Indian was doomed to extinction" (14).
And Total Saturation: "[T]he myth was embedded in children's books, tomes of science and literature, sermons from the pulpit, speeches in the halls of Congress, and in every day conversations at the kitchen table" (15).
We have a lot more to do in this series, but I want to close part three with this. I said, before, that the American Civil War of the 1860s is not very well understood, and its not. Another thing that is not well understood is the history of racial antagonism in the United States.
Here's something that needs to be understood about the original settlers: The ones from the elite class were doing just fine in socioeconomic terms; that's why there were the elite. They were raking it in, both in cash and land. They did not need any other basis to feel good about themselves. But the lower socioeconomic orders, to a greater or lesser degree, did, because they were not the elite---far from it. They were not raking it in; in fact, oftentimes the exact opposite was true. An alternative way of self-identifying became ever-more useful in the face of continued frustration, to say the least, in getting a better deal for themselves. For the elite, race became a useful strategy to deploy, in order to keep the lower orders off their backs about inequality. That is considered to be the basic understanding about Bacon's Rebellion of 1676 and its aftermath, in terms of how the powers-that-be responded to it (16).
I have been saying, in response to a question-lament posed by Susan Jacoby (The Age of American Unreason) that between 1820-1980, the white American proletariat and middle layers---"middlebrow" culture---were getting something out of their engagement with intellectual and artistic culture. When they stopped getting it, around 1980 or so, the white American "middlebrows" turned away from intellectual and artistic culture, by and large, and double-downed on their enthusiasm for sports.
The situation of the elites, or "highbrows," as Susan Jacoby calls them, was and is different. Apparently they have not lost their engagement with what's called intellectual and artistic culture, if the mass aspirational popularity of the whole private school-Ivy League educational apparatus is any indication.
Let me say this part again:
The Euro-American elite have never needed race to feel good about themselves, for the reason I mentioned. They have always been more than happy, however, to use race as a means of controlling their own social lower orders.
But for the elite, elite education continues to provide what it has always provided them: ego gratification based on class (17). I may very well be oversimplifying, but the white supremacy stuff, for them, was just, sort of, a bonus.
What am I saying?
Am I saying: ["Show me a white American who doesn't read much (but can) and I'll show you a racist."]?
Its like smoking cigarettes. People who used to smoke thought that the sensation just felt so good. With tobacco company executives lying to Congress for decades and the affirmative advertising that used to proliferate on television, radio, and billboards, smokers did not know that they were doing something that was bad for them.
What I'm saying is that white supremacist ego gratification was an insidious presence within the intellectual culture, engaged in by masses of white Americans between 1820-1980. Its like an addiction to McDonald's French Fries. You can't stop eating them and you don't know why. Then one day you come in and find that the fries taste "different." They're being made in a slightly different way; and suddenly you're no longer addicted to McDonald's French Fries. And you're not likely to recover your addiction unless and until McDonald's returns to the original recipe. You don't even know what it is, necessarily; you just know that something's "different," something's "off."
Its like the Invasion of the Body Snatchers. At first the pod-people seem perfectly fine and normal. They look, sound, and act just the same way. They have all the memories they should have. But something you just can't put your finger on is "off" about Uncle Henry. You try to talk yourself out of it. You tell yourself, you're just imagining things. Its just because you've been away so long, or something like that. But that nagging feeling will not leave you. The spark becomes a flame, and suddenly you know that Uncle Henry is not Uncle Henry.
Thank you for reading.
References and Notes
1. Painter, Nell Irvin. The History of White People. W.W. Norton & Company, 2010 (paperback). 72
2. ibid, 73
3. Bradley, James. Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War. Little, Brown, and Company, 2009. 23-24
4. ibid, 24
6. ibid, 25
8. ibid, 26
10. ibid, 26-27
11. ibid, 27-28
12. ibid, 29
13. ibid, 30
14. ibid, 31
16. Zinn, Howard. A People's History Of The United States. HarperPerennial Modern Classics, 2003 (paperback). 39-42, 45, 54, 55, 59
17. Foster, J. (2011, July-August). Education and the Structural Crisis of Capital: The US Case. Retrieved February 23, 2015. paragraph 7
There is a school of thought in the literature of education theory, that sees American education, by and large, a system of behavior modification based on class. Let's let John Bellamy Foster "speak" for himself:
His article relies heavily on a book published in the 1970s called "Schooling in Capitalist America" by Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis. Having taken their analysis on-board and unifying their thesis with his own views, John Bellamy Foster gives us his insights:
"In this view, the forms of consciousness and behavior fostered by capitalist schooling are designed to reproduce existing classes and groupings, and thus are meant to reinforce and legitimize the social relations of production of capitalist society as a whole. Working-class students and those destined for working-class occupations are taught rule-following behavior, while those arising from the upper middle class and/or destined for the professional-managerial stratum are taught to internalize the values of the society. (Those between these two groups are mainly trained to be reliable, in addition to following rules)."