“How Do I Convince A Student That His Ideas Are Wrong?” (Podcast)

A reader who is a teacher is troubled by the fact that one of his teenage students firmly believes in fascist government. The teacher seeks advice on how to deal with this situation. He relates this situation to similar experiences he had as a soldier in Afghanistan when he was speaking with local villagers.

The comment discussed in the podcast can be found here.


Bought to you courtesy of Fortress of the Mind.  This podcast is available in a variety of formats, including iTunes, Soundcloud, YouTube, and Google Play.

7 thoughts on ““How Do I Convince A Student That His Ideas Are Wrong?” (Podcast)

  1. I happen to know (by which I mean I occasionally see them pop on twitter) quite a few of these teenage fascist types. It’s really taking off, to the point where it’s something of a mini-phenomenon: disaffected whites in their late teens and early 20s calling themselves fascists. They’re typically highly intelligent and articulate, and far better plugged into the news than their peers. While you’re correct that there is a huge dearth of quality education today, they are typically bizarrely well read and seem to get off on knowing more esoteric history and ideology than other people. I don’t know your questioner’s background, but it’s entirely possible that his teenage fascist knows more of the history of fascism and World War 2 than the questioner himself.

    It would be wonderful if we could just write these guys off as goofy teenagers doing goofy teen things (I personally went through a spot in my teens where I was into Wicca, which makes me shudder every time I think about it.) But I’m afraid it’s not easy to dismiss them. These guys seem to be turning to fascism because American representative democracy has failed them on every level imaginable. It’s no longer functioning for them in any meaningful sense of the word, to the point where to their minds, throwing their lot in with Hitler and Mussolini seems like a good bargain in comparison. At least with Hitler you get a cool-looking uniform.

    What are the advantages of a Representative democracy like ours? You listed a few in your podcast: freedom of thought, freedom of religion, freedom of economic opportunity. To this we could add a couple more: the ability to have a say in the government, and the ability to act as a check on bad rulers.

    Most of these guys seem to be lower middle-class high-IQ sorts, of the kind that until a few years ago, western society was very good at finding and funneling into places where they contribute to the health of the nation. How do the advantages of representative democracy apply to them? Do they have freedom of thought? Perhaps in the Gedanken sind frei sense, where they’re free to think whatever they like, provided they don’t dare say it aloud. But voicing the wrong opinions about race, feminism, politics, or any other issue that’s important to them can see them expelled (and remember expulsion means no entry into a good college, which is their one fleeting shot at economic prosperity) blackballed, or in some cases literally physically beaten by fellow students while the teacher’s turn a blind eye.

    Do they have freedom of religion? Perhaps, but they’ve got nowhere to practice it. Religion in the United States is an empty, hollow shell. The churches around them are going to be preaching the same left-wing rhetoric they’re getting at school, about how all people are equal except white men, who are subhuman creatures who need to suffer for their sins.

    As for economic opportunity, your podcast on the Plutocratic Insurgency, which I listened to last night and it was excellent, makes the point that economic opportunity for the lower middle class has been utterly destroyed far better than I could. A generation ago, these guys would’ve been doing important work: building dams, doing life-saving research, and making their communities better places. Now they’re likely doomed to a life of useless part-time work, with those who manage to get a full time job living in constant fear of outsourcing and automation.

    On top of that, the “votes” that living in a democracy gives them are essentially worthless. Congressional districts are so large now that the vast majority of people can’t even name their own Representative, and will go their whole lives without ever meeting him. The people’s satisfaction with congress is nearing the single digit range, if it hasn’t hit it already, and yet the percentage of incumbents who win election is in the 90s. Is this because people are satisfied with their own congressman, and just hate all the others? No, it’s because they simply have no alternative. Their vote is essentially meaningless.

    So for someone in this situation it’s easy to understand why a fascist ideology is so attractive: the democratic system is failing them on every level. If they got their fascist revolution, of course, they’d likely that it wasn’t to their liking; for every major political revolution that ends in a successful, stable state, like the Roman transition from a Republic to an empire, there are a dozen places like Veneuzuela where they run out of toilet paper. Say what you will about the current system, and you and I have more to say than most, but at least nobody’s starving to death, and that’s worth a lot. And of course, in a fascist system teens who like to agitate and think a lot are likely to be first up against the wall.

    That said, our culture has something of a hangup with Nazis and fascists because they’re viewed as the literal embodiment of evil. This means kids like this being into fascism is going to be viewed similarly to kids going through a Satanism phase where they wear black lipstick and get “666” tattooed on their knuckles. It seems kind of goofy, and it’s hard to take seriously. But I think that’s a mistake.

    These kids are a sign that the United States’ democratic culture is undergoing a complete collapse, much like any country where the institutions break down so much that people call for a “strong leader” just to get anything done. They’re a serious warning sign, and they should be a real cause for considerations in us adults.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great comment Sam. I agree completely. The system is failing on a lot of levels. The warning signs are everywhere, but the sad truth is that reform rarely happens unless visionary leadership makes it happen. There is no visionary leadership right now. Absolutely none.


  2. Thank you for your thorough response, thorough to the extent of anticipating follow-up questions. I must admit my tendency is to overanalyze, thus making my sincerity a point of vulnerability, especially among teenagers.

    Though, to one of your comments, I don’t find his ideology unnerving because it has a certain validity. As you alluded to, Cinncinatus was a legendary Roman hero not only for his immediate victory, but also for his relinquishing of dictatorial power as soon as his task was complete. My only wish is for my students to recognize the wisdom of George Washington, to whom they should feel much more akin, in doing the same.

    When I provide such examples to him, I see no recognition, not even rebuttal. He only nods in silence, as if allowing me my turn to air an opinion. As C.S. Lewis said, “the task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts.” I can’t say that this student is my sole reason for asking you my question. It stems from, as you say, this whole disconnected, disinterested generation, which is really a much bigger question. It resides in the decline of the Humanities, in the penchant of a vast number of people to deny that two and two make four, in the lack of a sense of urgency, and in chasing after the ephemeral to the degradation of the eternal. Well, that’s my jeremiad.

    It’s getting harder to deny that, in this milieu, my profession, I say without pedancy, is to cast pearls before swine. Again, I thank you for your time and patience. Ex animo.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, J.
      But please let me make clear, I wasn’t saying that your student was correct; I was just saying that he had a point. And the point is that there has been a lot of social decay and civic irresponsibility going on for a long time. People are getting frustrated and fearful, and it is only natural that more radical “solutions” come to people’s minds. I’m not saying those are good solutions.
      Do not despair. You are not casting your “pearls before swine.” There is now a need more than ever to remind people of the good things, of the best things. Amid the general vulgarization of the culture, you must continue to fly the banner of quality and value. People do notice, and they recognize it. So don’t stop.


  3. Hey QC
    Well, I kind of relate to the pro-fascist guy. Not that I want it to happen, but you’re right in that we may need a ‘strong hand’ to bring things back into order. In fact, I think that fascism may well be inevitable in the West as a response to the weakness and dissoluteness brought about by excessive liberalism.

    But I’m surprised you didn’t bring up the decline on Christianity in the West in your podcast. You talked about the tyranny of fascism, but really, all that fascism would be, in my mind, is the transition of the tyranny of a benevolent God to that of a government. Democracy is nothing special. All forms of government are equally weak, and it is foolish to think that, in democracy, we have discovered some kind of magical recipe that beats all the other systems. The reason why democracy succeeded in the West was due to the deeper ties of Christianity: a form of behavioural self-regulation and adherence to the spirit of the law and the rule of law that pure, secular democracy would never obtain. Now that Christianity is gone, the flaws of democracy are coming to light; they were always there.

    Liked by 1 person

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