Jonah Goldberg

But here I get back to my daughter. She is a barbarian, or at least she was when she was born. And I mean this fairly literally. Political theorist Hannah Arendt once said that, every generation, Western civilization is invaded by barbarians - we call them "children." Today's babies aren't meaningfully different from those born 1,000 or 5,000 years ago. A Viking baby magically transported to 21st-century America might grow up to be an accountant or a bus driver. A baby born today and sent back in time might become a Hun, Visigoth or Aztec warrior, whatever his parents expected of him.

Families are civilization factories. They take children and install the necessary software, from what to expect from life to how to treat others. One hears a lot of platitudes about how children are "taught to hate." This is nonsense. Hating comes naturally to humans, and children are perfectly capable of learning to hate on their own. Indeed, everyone hates. The differences between good people and bad resides in what they hate, and why. And although schools and society can teach that, parents imprint it on their kids.

As a conservative, I'm a big believer in the importance of tradition, which writer G.K. Chesterton dubbed "democracy of the dead." But tradition can only be as strong as it is in the people who pass it on. And so, when I read that 23 percent of British teens think Winston Churchill is no more real than Spider-Man, it makes me shudder at the voluntary amnesia of society, the wholesale abdication of parental responsibility that represents.

Civilization, at any given moment, can be boiled down to what its living members know and believe. This makes civilization an amazingly fragile thing, and it makes parents the primary guardians of its posterity. Indeed, someone once told me that those who cannot learn from history are condemned to hear George Santayana quoted to them for the rest of their lives. Of course, that joke's only funny if you've heard of Santayana in the first place.

Now, because even my daughter's minor joys are my greatest ones, I will gladly fork over large sums of money so she can dine with fairy-tale princesses. I will even play along. But she is only 4, and I'll only be pretending.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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