Jean-Francois Revel
The Flight from Truth

While claiming to offer a representative panorama of Hispanic culture in the twentieth century, the authors managed to put together an anthology in which for Spain neither Ortega y Gasset, nor Azorin, nor Menendez Pelayo, nor Perez Galdos, nor Gomez de la Serna, nor Perez de Ayala, nor Maeztu, nor Salvador de Madariaga figured, any more than among the pre-1936 poets did Gerardo Diego, Pedro Salinas, or Jorge Guillen. The only poets who survived were the 'martyr' Garcia Lorca (assassinated, notwithstanding the legend, for personal rather than political motives) and the communists Rafael Alberti and Pedro Hernandez. Of one of the greatest Spanish-language poets of our time and of all time, the Nicaraguan Ruben Dario, we find one poem cited—the only political poem (and one of the few truly mediocre ones) he ever composed, a poem addressed in 1905 to President Theodore Roosevelt. What makes this poem so priceless, in the eyes of the Duviols brothers, is clearly the fact that it is a diatribe against the Yanquis. What the brothers forget to mention, assuming they even know it, is that here Ruben Dario attacked the United States in order to defend Spanish colonialism after Theodore Roosevelt had intervened in Cuba in order to expel Spain. The poet was clinging to an old-fashioned, antidemocratic, reactionary world for sentimental reasons, out of nostalgia for an effete colonial society. Such is the poem that is here presented as an anticipatory manifesto for the revolutionary Left of the 1960s.

As for capitalist society, to judge by the lucubrations of the French teaching profession, it does not deserve to live any more than the imperialism it secretes. The textbook entitled Initiation economique et sociale, destined for the second grade (the year preceding the baccalaureate), chooses to illustrate its 'dossier' on 'Capital in the Enterprise' with a poster from the film La Banquiere ('The Woman Banker'), which was inspired by the life of Marthe Hanau, one of the stars in the annals of embezzlement between the two world wars. Why not have chosen Stavisky? The opening page of the 'dossier' entitled 'What is an Enterprise?' is illustrated in the same spirit by the reproduction of a poster advertising a film based on Rene-Victor Pilhes's novel L'Imprecateur ('The Curser'), a simpleminded indictment drawn up by an extreme left-wing author who blackened his portrayal of an imaginary multinational corporation. Farther on we come upon another illustration: the four Willot brothers, crooked businessmen who, just when the book was published, had been projected into the limelight by several sensational trials. This is what is known as 'objectivity.' And why not have included Al Capone, while they were at it? Thus, in a work destined to initiate the young in the workings of an economy, the only persons held up and engraved on their memories as models of banking and business—the two institutions which, from the fourteenth to the twentieth century, have created the prosperity of the West—are half a dozen crooks!

Small children too benefit from the anticapitalistic vigilance of the French teaching profession. In L'Eveil a l'Histoire ('Awakening to History'), which is used in elementary school classes and which by 1985 had sold 957,000 copies (Heavens, just imagine the intellectual damage!)—a small book which in a hundred pages takes us from prehistoric times right down to the present—one can read in the fifty-ninth and final lesson, entitled 'Since 1945, Grave Dangers,' this paragraph: 'In cities, above all, life is ceaselessly becoming more painful and more unhealthy. How many apartments there are that are too small, noisy, and lacking in comfort! How many people spend two or three hours of crowded commuting every day to go to their work and to return! The air we breathe is full of dust, smoke, gasoline vapors, exhaust fumes; it is becoming more and more toxic. Silence is more and more difficult to find, even at night. Many illnesses result.

'Food is not as healthy as it used to be. We consume fewer and fewer natural foodstuffs. White bread, long considered a luxury foodstuff, is less healthy and nourishing than the second-rate bread of the past. And what should one say of forcibly grown fruits and vegetables treated many times over with insecticides? Or of the meat of vaccinated animals, fattened with abnormal rapidity? The consumption of alcohol and the use of tobacco cause many illnesses.'

One is left wondering how in such dreadful conditions and thanks to what incomprehensible miracle life expectancy in our century has been able to increase, and in a particularly rapid and spectacular fashion since 1950. Mr. and Mrs. Chaulanges do not explain to the little ones in the elementary schools why and how people who have been poisoned by increasingly unhealthy food, asphyxiated by increasingly toxic air, worn out by slower and slower urban transportation, compressed into ever smaller apartments, undermined by chronic insomnia due to nocturnal din, ravaged by alcoholism and tobacco use, infected by insecticides, and stricken by ever more numerous and more varied illnesses nevertheless succeed in living on average twice as long as their ancestors in the previous century.

The conquest of the schools by the Left—the Marxist, not the liberal Left—has been going on all over Europe. In Italy the 'diversion' of the school from its teaching function in order to place it at the service of political indoctrination developed in two stages. In 1968 a leftist campaign was launched to do away with all textbooks! 'No to the textbook!' one could read in a publication put out by the teachers' union. The textbook, so the argument ran, 'is paid for by the workers, even if the state acquires it. It's a business that brings in billions to the publishing industry. It is imposed by the school of entrepreneurs. It, promotes a form of instruction that does not help the workers. It favors a discredited class culture.'

This reasoning recalls the thesis developed during the 1960s by the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu in La Reproduction, according to which the schoolteacher has never done more than 'reproduce' the ruling class. This is why, the above-mentioned manifesto goes on to declare, 'the didactic-political collective of the Teachers' Union decided at a general assembly meeting to refuse the adoption of textbooks.' This plea for a return to oral teaching unleashed an understandable panic among Italian textbook publishers, who from one day to the next were threatened with bankruptcy. It was then that the Italian Communist party came to the rescue—this being the second phase of the operation. Textbooks could survive, the publishers were informed, provided they placed themselves at the service of the Good and not of the Bad. It was thus that one could read in a study published by one of the Italian Communist Party's publishing companies that 'we need a school in which efforts are made to break down the obstacles to the formation of revolutionary personalities.' The publishers caved in immediately, and from 1976 on they produced textbooks that were aligned with the ideology that had been so heavy-handedly proposed to them. In Italy, as in France, they yielded to commercial blackmail. Since four fifths of the teaching profession were either card-carrying communists or adepts of the 'Marxist Vulgate' (to use Raymond Aron's phrase), the publishers had no choice between obedience and financial ruin.

The result was most edifying. A leading Italian journalist, Lucio Lami, devoted a book to describing what happened. In this book, entitled La Scuola del plagio ('The School of Falsification,' published by Armando Armando, Rome), he surveyed fifty textbooks destined for elementary schools, that is for children under ten years of age, which were adopted by the teaching community as a result of the 'intellectual and moral reform' of 1976. The errors of omission and comission so strikingly resemble those of French textbooks that I won't try the reader's patience with repetitions and a new avalanche of quotations. I shall merely limit myself to one, in which the textbook's author, a 'professor' of history, manages to tell the story of World War II without mentioning the German-Soviet pact of August 1939 and consequently the invasion and annexation of one half of Poland by Stalin while Hitler was invading and annexing the other half. It seems that, while remaining virtuously and peacefully aloof from the conflict, the USSR was then the victim of a dastardly and undeserved attack, just as Belgium had been.

  The World was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide:
They, hand in hand, with wand'ring steps and slow,

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Through Eden took their solitary way.