Ethics Conundrum: Is Teaching That Communism Is Evil History or Indoctrination?

All of the turmoil over public school indoctrination of students regarding such matters as climate change, systemic racism and LGBTQ normalization naturally raises the question of whether there are legitimate topics for indoctrination in the United States. Should students be taught, for example, that democracy is good? That the Bill of Rights are crucial to the united States’ culture? That capitalism works/

What about teaching students that Communism, at least in its execution, is a dangerous and deadly ideology? Is that a fact?

I was prompted to consider this issue after reading NBC’s “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd’s characteristically inarticulate objections to Gov. DeSantis signing a bill last May designating November 10 to be set aside for teaching Florida students at all grade levels “about the evils of communist regimes throughout history.”

“I don’t know if DeSantis is going to be talking to swing voters, here’s like one of the things he said in Vegas yesterday; take a listen to this,” Todd like said prior to playing like a clip of the Republican touting his program. “You know, …it’s sort of like, look, being a Floridian, I sort of know what he’s trying to play there and all of that. I went to Florida public schools we were taught this: It was called history. It just seems like a weird politicizing—you know he’s going out of his way to politicize something.”

Isn’t it amazing that NBC has employed an individual presiding over an iconic news show who speaks that way on live TV?

But I digress: I majored in Government in college, and my government theory courses taught Marxism and its various mutations as straight political theory. Meanwhile, my world history courses on Russia and Asia taught facts, and those facts showed that the two most prominent Communist leaders in world history, Stalin and Mao, murdered far more innocent people than Hitler in pursuit of a “workers’ paradise.” Then we have the horrible legacies of Castro, Pol Pot, the North Korean dictators, Ceaușescu, and so many more to consider. Schools teach, and should, that slavery was and is irredeemably wrong; that Nazism was evil; that genocide cannot be tolerated or justified. In this country, we treat those positions as absolutes, and do so based on historical reality.

Haven’t we learned enough about Communism, the type of people who wield power in its name, the carnage it wreaks on nations and their societies, and its compete opposition to fundamental American values to justify teaching American students that it is a destructive, deadly ideology to be rejected and opposed at all costs?

The verdict here is that we have.

And that Chuck Todd is a fool.

12 thoughts on “Ethics Conundrum: Is Teaching That Communism Is Evil History or Indoctrination?

  1. There is no excuse for any kind of indoctrination. Existentialist epistemology provides a bright line between education and indoctrination.

    Here is how to teach about communism without indoctrination:

    “Here is what happened in these communist countries: the communications, the policies, the statistics, the conflicts, et cetera. Here is how we obtained this information. Some people say there are alternative inferences we could draw about the past based on the raw data in the present; here are some of the arguments about which inferences are more likely. Write a short essay on how people drew their various conclusions about historical events from the evidence available.

    “As for communism itself, some people say that the principles of communism are inherently dysfunctional for running a society, and here is their reasoning for concluding this, both in the abstract and based on the historical events we discussed earlier. Others say that communism could still work in theory. They draw different conclusions from the historical events, saying that communist principles did not contribute to the downfall of communist countries. Write a short essay on how people drew their various conclusions about the causes of the collapse of communist countries from the evidence available.

    Any proponent of the feasibility of a political ideology is asked answer an indefinitely long series of questions in the form of “how would your society handle X situation?”, because any real such society would have to answer those questions in real life, and before we go through the effort of overhauling everything people like to make sure the new society has plans for how to deal with the situations it creates. The plans the ideology provides must be convincing–they must be solutions whose outcomes people would consider both desirable and probable, otherwise people will dismiss the ideology as incomplete at best and irredeemably flawed at worst. Write a long essay on some situations communism might have to deal with, the results you predict from those situations, and the various opinions people might have about the results. At least one of those situations must involve experts making a mistake, and at least one must involve people breaking rules. ”

    This approach is infinitely more rewarding for society than simply telling people that an idea is good or bad, and that’s just off the top of my head.

    By the way, having spoken with communists, I find that despite providing good descriptions of the problems of capitalism, communism fails to provide any answers beyond “tell everyone about communism and then we’ll all get together and confiscate the property of the rich, and we’ll share it fairly.” I am disappointed that communists don’t seem inclined to remedy this critical lack of foresight.

  2. Scattershot response:

    “Capitalism” is a Marxist slur. Smith never spoke about Capitalism. It was always about economic freedom. People who piss and moan about Capitalism seem to not know what they are talking about.

    One of my favorite examples is the Beatles. Those four guys owned no capital but their own talents and it was economic freedom that allowed them to make tons of money.

    In our age, every person has their own capital; we do not live in 19th Century London anymore.

    Thomas Sowell observed that Marx was not much of an economic thinker. Mind you, that was not to say that Marx was not a thinker, but that his contribution to economics was not that significant compared to others.

    If you take the conservative critique of communism seriously, you should agree that none of the attempts at communism were REAL communism. Conservatives think that true com monism is not practicable. So, they agree with the communist apologists.

    On a related point, Ayn Rand wrote an essay titled “Capitalism: the unknown ideal,” or something to that effect. It seemed that she thought Capitalism had never truly been enacted (she is probably right—truly Laissez-Faire economics is probably rare). Between defective Communism and defective Capitalism, defective Capitalism seems to have the upper hand.

    As for comparing Communism to Nazism or slavery, I am not sure that is a fair comparison. Communism, for all its faults, purports to value equality. Slavery and Nazism value an evil inequality. Communism enjoys the minor virtue of paving the way to Hell with Good intentions

    Perhaps, because of this, the proponents of communism do not recognize that the benevolent system they envision will likely result in authoritarian atrocities.

    Is that a fact? Probably not. That is a prediction based upon the past. Communism probably can work in small, communal settings. Even there, it might be hard. But, when the person who receives in accordance with his needs will also be required to contribute according to his abilities, it could work.

    Full disclosure: I don’t want to acknowledge that these things are “factual,” because I don’t think most (read:all) social sciences are really science. They don’t espouse facts; they interpret facts.


    • As for comparing Communism to Nazism or slavery, I am not sure that is a fair comparison. Communism, for all its faults, purports to value equality. Slavery and Nazism value an evil inequality. Communism enjoys the minor virtue of paving the way to Hell with Good intentions

      I would think that it would be more important, not less, to spotlight the evil that masquerades behind good intentions.

      • DaveL: “ I would think that it would be more important, not less, to spotlight the evil that masquerades behind good intentions.”

        I disagree. I do not ascribe to the belief that the road to hell Is paved with good intentions. It is an innocuous platitude.

        Aristotle observed at the outset of the Nicomachean Ethics that every action is aimed at SOME good. That statement encompasses the enslavement of black people or the extermination of the Jews. Aristotle’s formulation is almost content-free. Even those who will evil things believe they will some good.

        Kant would have maintained that the road to HEAVEN was paved with good intentions. Kant maintained that the only thing we could control was our intentions; we could not control the outcomes. As a result, we would not look to the consequences of our actions to determine their moral worth. We should look only to the intention we had.

        By contrast, Nietzsche maintained that one should control the result of one’s action. unlike Kant, Nietzsche thought that the ability to control the outcome of one’s actions was a characteristic of a superior being. Nietzsche thought the ability to control the future was “signature significance,” without describing it as such. Kant thought that you could not control the outcome of your actions; you could only control your intentions; so, you could not judge the moral worth of an action by the outcome, but only by the intention behind it.


        • All correct. But intentions, good or bad, don’t change the nature of the act itself, and neither do consequences outside of the actor’s control. What’s ethical is to use valid ethical analysis to calculate the action that is likely to have the most ethical result, and do it. No valid ethical analysis justifies communism, because its bullshit, hurts people and societies without sufficient counter-balancing good results, and is fatally flawed by being based on false assumptions. Slavery, fascism and genocide have the advantage of being straightforward: the idea is to use power to dominate and exploit others for the gain of a favored group. Unethical, but not deceptive at all.

          • Jack: . “But intentions, good or bad, don’t change the nature of the act itself, and neither do consequences outside of the actor’s control.”

            Yes, but the issue is that the VERY SAME ACT can spring from different intentions. The act itself was content. Kant’s emphasis was on form—the intent. Because one can’t control the outcome of actions, one should focus on what one could control: one’s intent. And, the same action could be motivated by a variety of intent.

            The very same act can be good or bad based SOLELY ON THE INTENT. Kant recognized that intent was the only thing that the individual could control. To his credit, he understood that that the consequences (the ends) could not justify the actions (the means).

            He essentially believed the the means justified the ends.


            • That’s why I find Kant useful in principle and not very helpful in practice. He essentailly denies the complexity of human psychology. Pure intentions are rare to the vanishing point. If Harry Truman dropped the bomb to save American lives and end the war, which it was a reasonable calculation that it would, does it change the nature of the act that a piece of him, substantial but unmeasurable, also thought, “And it will serve those Jap bastards right!” ?

    • COTD. The “it hasn’t been tried” (I have an actor friend who told me this) is a dodge, a rationalization, and a fantasy. It remind me of the Berrigan brother who said that we couldn’t say that passive resistance wouldn’t have stopped Hitler because “it wasn’t tried.” I don’t have to try flying by jumping out my office window to know it can’t possibly work. The ideal of Communism “works” when human beings stop acting like human beings. That’s not going to happen.

      • It was Daniel Berrigan who said that we could never know if passive resistance would have stopped the Nazis because it wasn’t tried on a large enough scale or soon enough. This from a man who joined the Jesuits right out of high school in 1939 and spent the rest of his life organizing groups in opposition to the idea of war and writing screeds of bad verse. Well, excuse me if I don’t believe it.

        His bonehead followers, all 11 of them that are still out there, will continue to tell you that passive resistance is what stopped Hitler from coming down harder on some of the occupied nations, like Denmark, like Norway, like Bulgaria. Some of that pseudo history, like the assertion that the king of Denmark himself donned the yellow star, in effect daring the Nazis to send him to the camps, and the Nazis blinked, is out and out untruth. Most of the rest is lie by omission. The fact is that things were working well enough for the Nazis in some of those occupied Nations that they did not want to upset the applecart while they were dealing with Britain and France, and later the Soviet Union and the United States. Had the United States stayed out of the war and had Hitler not foolishly tried to take on the Soviets, no amount of “resistance,” passive or otherwise, would have prevented the Nazis from returning to the already occupied countries to finish whatever they had started but not quite gotten to yet. After France fell and Britain was forced to the peace table, within 10 years, maybe less, all of Europe west of Poland and north of the Alps would have been judenrein, and Hitler would have been pressing Mussolini in Italy and Franco in Spain to start turning over their Jewish citizens for liquidation, lest he decide to take them by force. These advocates of non-violence and passive resistance make the same mistake that they accuse conventional historians of, namely leaving out or deliberately omitting the part of history that undermines their cause.

        We touched on this recently with regard to the murdered bakery owner in California whose family pleaded that whoever was responsible not be held responsible, and I’ll touch on it again now. Evil is a fact of human existence. It is never new, it just wears a different face and goes by a different name every time it is allowed to wax strong. It was allowed to do so in World War II because too much of the world was afraid of repeating World War I, and the German government that replaced the Kaiser’s regime was a failure, leading to widespread disillusionment, resentment, and willingness to follow something that promised better times. Had the Weimar republic not been so hapless in its governing and handled the worldwide depression so badly, no scrawny, mustachioed corporal from Austria would have been able to get himself elected Chancellor based on false promises of bringing back German glory.

        That brings me to something I didn’t talk about too much last time, which is false promises and the tendency to believe them when things are bad or perceived as bad. That is something that both evil and the stupid idealism that enables it to flourish at times are guilty of. Lenin promised the Russian people peace, bread, and land. Marx promised that the state would wither away. The peace and land that Lenin promised ended up being the peace and the land of the grave, and the state that was supposed to wither away was maintained by force. The crop of activists that led the baby boomer generation down the stray path of the 1960s also promised things that simply couldn’t be, but to a lot of that generation, getting endlessly stoned and grabbing as much co-ed you-know-what as you could sounded infinitely better than getting shipped off to die in the rice fields of a nation most of us barely understood. To others, it sounded better to fight and die fighting for black people’s rights here than yellow people’s rights overseas.

        Well, 50 years later almost all of the activists who stir It up the trouble in the ’60s are dead, in some cases long dead. Daniel Berrigan has been dead since 2006, and his angrier, more bitter, more destructive younger brother Philip (who was excommunicated from the church for breaking his own priestly vows and marrying a nun in secret, proof positive that he believed no rules applied to him), preceded him into the great unknown in 2002, with the trip facilitated by cancer. A very few aging disciples, mostly in comfortable gigs as university professors or living rough in these various communal arrangements, keep the cause alive, but that’s it. The rest of that generation who was going to change the world all tuned out, turned off, and dropped back in. Vietnam is a third world tyranny, and racial equality in the United States remains a pipe dream, unachievable as much because of the way black people continue to act as anything else. Still more fake promises, which were never realized, which may be unrealizable, but which did a lot of damage.

        I sometimes wonder, man of faith though I am, whether religion is the ultimate fake promise, which is unverifiable since no one returns from beyond this life to tell us if there is an afterlife and if so what it’s like. The new false promises, that go with so-called allyship, or certainly worse than any of that, though. They demand that you give up your world and everything that makes you you, and they promise you absolutely nothing in return except that someone will hate you maybe a little less.

      • On this Pi day, I’m diving straight into the dark abyss of pessimism. You’ve been warned.

        Jack wrote, “The ideal of Communism “works” when human beings stop acting like human beings.”…

        Interestingly enough, what snowflakes and social justice warriors are trying to do in the 21st century USA is to literally force society into conforming to the ideals of Communism by controlling the thoughts and actions of human beings. They’re trying to reprogram our entire society, using whatever means they deem necessary, into their way of thinking, which is the complete elimination of the freedom to act like human beings and the installation of social equity. They are trying to squash human nature. It’s all or nothing with these cultish people, complete unadulterated absolutism.

        The driving four tenants of “truth” are…

        1. The left (read: Communism) is right.
        2. The right (read: everyone else) is wrong.
        3. Wrong is evil.
        4. Evil must to be destroyed.

        …that’s the dead end of their ability to think critically.

        Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt wasn’t incorrect in her assertion that the Communists would use the public school systems across the USA and social pressures applied by an irrational horde of dumbed down people to undermine the USA and intimidate We the People into submission. We’re only a few short social steps away from dissenters being forced to wear the 21st century equivalent of the Star of David or the Scarlett Letter to publicly identify the unclean non-believers; personally, I won’t need to wear such things because I won’t stop speaking out against the irrational horde.

        Jack wrote, “…That’s not going to happen.”

        You and I can positively say that about ourselves; however, regardless of perceived human nature, I’m not so sure we can say that about our whole society. Ideology throughout history seems to shift like sinewave cycles trending towards freedom and Liberty on one side of reference line for a while and then towards totalitarianism on the opposite side of the reference line for a while. From my perspective, I think our society has shifted so far socially towards the totalitarianism side of the reference line that it’s now inevitable until humans violently revolt.

        Those of you that are naive enough to think that you can reverse this societal trend by being “nice” and logical and simply explain to those totalitarian absolutists that they’re wrong – are wrong, dead wrong, that’s essentially what those that oppose their totalitarian shift have been doing for decades with their opposition and compromises that have been chipping away at our society and culture. This kind of psychological naivety feeds right into their playbook, it’s literally enabling the irrational horde to take over one small piece at a time.

        Remember; program away the individuals’ ability to think relatively independently via social pressures, intimidation, indoctrination and outright brainwashing and these irrational totalitarians will win. I think the signs are there and we’re already beyond the social tipping point and have dropped well below that sinewave reference line. I don’t think that society can reverse the current slide down the slippery slope into totalitarianism without outright violence against the irrational horde, the problem is who to target in a rebellion against an irrational horde, there is no real leadership. We might have to wait until those in government power literally strip us of our Constitutional rights and liberty and then we target them.

        I would really like someone to explain to me how I’m wrong and how this trend can be reversed without further enabling the horde or outright bloody violence.

    • Jut wrote “Capitalism” is a Marxist slur. Smith never spoke about Capitalism. It was always about economic freedom. People who piss and moan about Capitalism seem to not know what they are talking about.”

      No truer words were spoken. The closest he came to that term was in book 2 of the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations in chapter 3 where he comments on the accumulation of stock.

      Jack said something to the effect of ethics requires something to be achievable to be ethical and humans will do what they have done for eons which is to be self-interested and because that will not change trying to create an economic system that runs counter to human behavior is unachievable and thus unethical.

      It is not just human behavior that renders the communist utopia unachievable. For any economic system to be sustainable it must be able to withstand the problem of unlimited human wants and a finite capacity to provide for those wants. Therefore, a production and distribution scheme that people will democratically agree to is the only system that will work long term.

      Free markets or some form of Capitalism is the only means we have at this time to ration goods and services in a manner people will accept. In this case choices allow the individual to make their own determination with respect to the basket of goods that will engender the greatest level of satisfaction based on the person’s available resources to acquire such goods. Because satisfaction is subjective, there is no objective and measurable level of true economic efficiency. What gives me great satisfaction today my not do so tomorrow. We assume we that economic efficiency occurs when there is neither a shortage or surplus of goods and services. It is through price changes we clear the market and achieve equilibrium. It is the freedom of the market that allows for maximum choice. Pure capitalism, in which a few who have better information or are unethical, can cause systemic collapse as well. Because information is asymmetrical no market is perfect, in our complex economy we employ some controls on transactional activities to try to balance the interests of buyers and sellers.

      The whole concept of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) seeks to undermine freedom of choice. By eliminating the rational choice of merit which would suggest that quality and/or output would increase for a given level of expenditure of resources (Rational Self-Interest) in favor of some arbitrary decision to have x number of this group in the production scheme is no different than centrally planning for how many tons of nails need to be produced and fixing that number without any consideration of what the consumers want or need.

      When government decides to tell you what your needs are and what type of productive output you will be told to do you become a slave to government.

      Biden recently stated that there will be no bailout for investors because you put your money in and take the risk; that’s what Capitalism is. Someone needs to point out to him that with that risk comes the potential to make big profits and without that ability no one will invest because the potential is not there. Thus, no profits can be classified as obscene if people willingly choose to pay for the goods or service sold.

      The same is true for those investing in their education by going into debt. It is not the government’s responsibility to bailout students for investing in coursework for which there is little market value. Someone need to explain that to have market value you must create something others value and are willing to trade for.

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