British Foreign Policy Demands Classical Education?

Thanks to the Young Republicans of Ventura County, who included me in their Reagan Library invitation list (though I am a wee tad past the Young stage), I had the distinct pleasure of hearing British Foreign Secretary William Hague as he outlined five principles that should direct British (and American) foreign policy in the coming decades.  His principles begin and end with great confidence in the universal appeal of the blessings of liberty, a liberty grounded in a commitment to justice, flowering in great achievements arising from individual initiative.

We must never water down our convictions in the face of a more complicated global landscape.  Far from it, we must strive at all times to live up to them ourselves so that we retain and strengthen our moral authority – an indispensable component of future influence and security.

…We must work over the long term to persuade other nations to share our values and develop the willingness to act to defend and promote them….

We will not change [their negligence in protecting and defending human rights] by lecturing them, or forgetting to develop our understanding of their cultures and societies. We will change it by inspiring them and their citizens to join us over time.

This requires not the exercise of tough lectures and hard power but allowing our soft power – those rivers of ideas, diversity, ingenuity and knowledge – to flow freely in their direction.

I had hardly heard of Mr. Hague before tonight.  I do not know the extent to which I agree with a more detailed account of his understanding freedom.  But his words sounded very good to my heart.  I heartily agree that Anglo-American political liberty grounded in law and wisdom (and, I would insist, religious respect for the Creator) should ultimately prove appealing to rest of the world if we can live it at home and abroad with confidence, adding a profound respect for the dignity of others.

I had hoped to ask him how we can have such confidence in our values if our schools are gutting literature and history programs of the great works and stories of our past in favor of narrowly understood business and technological formation.  The Common Core initiative in the United States threatens to accelerate such changes.  I was particularly interested in his thoughts.  He is an Oxford graduate with honors in philosophy, politics and economics, and the author of biographies of William Pitt, Jr., and William Wilberforce.

I cannot imagine he would approve.  He mentioned with pride that he has brought “historians to the centre of the work of the Foreign Office, and [I] am opening a new language school this summer, and we are investing much more in geographic knowledge, cutting-edge diplomatic skills and economic understanding.”  This article indicates that British education reform is indeed moving in a much healthier direction than American, if the administration can survive the academic outcry.

Hague even believes the English language offers our ideas tremendous advantages:

So we need to open the sluice gates of our language and values and let them flow across the networked world, drawing on all our immense assets and the advantages of the English language, to spread the best of our ideas across the world, and to bring talented young people into our countries.

As Hague seems to realize, his vision of foreign policy demands an excellent education along Oxbridge lines, that will form confident, well-trained, well-spoken, historically-grounded, freedom-loving, freedom-living leaders – who must also be life-long learners:  And in return we should be open to their own good ideas, understanding that we have no monopoly of wisdom, and indeed it is our greatest strength that we start from that assumption.

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About Andrew Seeley

Executive Director, Institute for Catholic Liberal Education Tutor, Thomas Aquinas College
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