That's what conservatives are accused of running, as you all know. Recently I was poking around in John Dewey's How We Think, one of those works by the mild-mannered destroyer of classical education that shows the uses of believing that people who lived long ago were imbeciles. Dewey says that before Columbus sailed the ocean blue, everyone believed that the earth was flat. Now they know it's round. Actually, it isn't round, either, and Columbus thought it was sort of egg-shaped, but you get the point. In the old days, Dewey says, in his long descent from Kant, people didn't think on their own, which is to say they didn't perform empirical experiments, but accepted "truths" from tradition, "truths" such as the flatness of the earth. So, in teaching children, he says, in his even longer descent from Francis Bacon, we have to sever them even from the opinions of their own parents, so that they may learn to think on their own. "So that they may learn to think on their own," wrote thousands and thousands of teachers, nodding in unison.
Yet people of Columbus' day knew perfectly well that the earth was round. So did people of Dante's day. So did the ancient Greeks and Romans. The only prominent thinker I know of who did not believe, necessarily, that the earth was round, was the materialist and empiricist Epicurus. He thought the earth might well be a flat disk, because it sure looked flat. He didn't care whether it was flat or round -- he was not a mathematician or an astronomer, Epicurus -- so long as we didn't believe that the gods were in charge of it. But Dewey didn't even know enough about the Middle Ages to come up with a decent slander against them. How any editor could let him get away with the embarrassing mistake is hard to see.
It's one of the characteristics of the "progressive" strain in the West, the slander of one's ancestors. A strange phenomenon, really, and as far as I know it's pretty peculiar to the west. Architects in the Renaissance coined the term "Gothic" to describe the most splendid buildings ever to grace the earth; the term means "fit for barbarians." The philosophes of the eighteenth century, when they were not laughing at the messiness of Shakespeare or the barbarisms of Dante, looked at the art of Tintoretto, Rubens, Carracci, Caravaggio, Reni, Borromini, El Greco, Bernini, and all the rest, and called it "Baroque," meaning "grotesque". We for our part have had some hearty laughs at the supposedly straitlaced and intellectually dormant Victorians -- from that age that gave us Newman, Arnold, Macaulay, Ruskin, Mill (well, we could have done without Mill), Browning, Carlyle, Dickens, Lord Acton, and Pater. In fact I think you could define "modern progressivism" as that ungrateful urge to exalt oneself by belittling one's forebears. Or, to look at it in a more malignant light, it is the urge to separate the little people from their cherished traditions, so that you can do with them what you like. "No, we don't believe that the earth is flat! We just follow every word that comes from the mouth of CNN."