In this season of the “holidays,” it was announced several days ago that Fairfax County schools would be permitted to install video surveillance cameras in High Schools. Fairfax County is frequently lauded as being one of the best public school counties in the nation, but, as residents of the county, we receive regular updates of various assaults, thefts, “gang-banging” and near-riots taking place in the High Schools.

A civilization reveals its deepest commitments through its education – enculturation – of its young. We have whitewashed not only God and religion from the schools, but all questions of the Good in favor of a embrace of relativist toleration and non-judgmentalism, along with an ethic of entitlement, self-realization, and a utilitarian view of education. It has been argued since the beginning of the liberal era that the “bracketing” of questions of the Good would result in civil peace and toleration.

Instead – as Thomas Hobbes told us – we increasingly live within a surveillance State, an all-seeing Leviathan. In lieu of self-sustaining standards of respect, modesty, manners and maturity, we are surrounded by evidence of cultural pollution, social dissolution and irresponsibility. Into the breach fills the State to enforce by diktat what social decencies once governed.

This is the consequence of several centuries of the liberal vision of toleration and peace in place of God and Good – our children “surveilled” where instead they should be gaining deeper understanding and practices of adulthood and even the beginnings of wisdom. But, do not mention the name God or say “Merry Christmas” – that might cause discomfort. Better to turn our schools into panopticons, our children into inmates.

Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture


  1. This has really been going on for a long time as you have said. It always amuses me and just a bit enrages me when I see those old articles talking about the superiority of these supposedly “Middle Class” morals. In the old high schools and boarding schools things were in many ways moving in the same direction, with the students under direct control and surveillance by their instructors. This is what Wells was talking about when he described the Eloi.

  2. Having attended elementary and middle school in Fairfax County, this was quite interesting to me. I’ve not been back in nearly fourteen years, but I quite remember drug-sniffing dogs in the halls. It was in the locker room that I learned the principles of fist fighting, as I was constantly being attacked due to my ethnicity, religion, and style of dress. I also vividly remember a teacher in fourth grade becoming angry with me when I asked what political party and religion they belonged to. In fact, I was just trying to grasp what these concepts meant, but it was not “politically correct” to ask others.

    As for placing the blame for these changes on the school system, perhaps this is true… In many places I have resided since, I would also be inclined to blame the deterioration of the family. It is difficult to argue whether we should blame this change on the education system removing religion and ethics from schools, or else a change in American culture which brought about the removal of religion and ethics from the home. Regardless of what initially caused this change, the current situation is such that many families neither believe in God/Good, nor want to teach it in their homes. Hence, while I mourn that the role of education has taken such a turn, I also mourn that the role of the family in moral education has become equally as neglected.

  3. Our schools are structured as a cross between prisons and “human resource” factories. It’s no wonder that kids act like criminals in these situations.

  4. Of course, we embarked on “several centuries of the liberal vision of toleration and peace in place of God and Good” in order to avoid killing each other in religious wars. Would you rather have ongoing religious warfare or cameras in school hallways?

    And, in any event, in terms of the lack of religion in the public square, is the problem liberalism or the doctrine of incorporation?

  5. Anon,
    The narrative of religious wars was a strategic narrative that was used by liberalism to gain ascendancy, as William Cavenaugh has persuasively shown. The idea that the mention of God will lead to religious violence is a trope too long peddled by liberalism to justify the comprehensive modern state, with its incessant war-making, micro-managing of human lives in the name of efficiency, economic rapaciousness, and utilitarian reductionism. The “vision” of civil peace and toleration is just that, a cover that shrouds a regime of incessant violence – as a cursory read of the daily newspaper will show.

    “Incorporation” is a logical outcome of liberal assumptions – the State’s interest in governing all relations must be extended to every sphere of life.

  6. Yes, we’ve taken all the Jesus stuff out of schools, but just think of all the jobs the surveillance state has created. A mighty Job Creator is our lord.

  7. When one relies on the “Watcher” to control the public’s conduct, you can be sure that this so-called “watcher” will be busily engaged in the invention of all kinds of mischief. In the current case, it is like putting Hookers in charge of monitoring morals at the whore house.Not that some hookers are not more moral than their detractors, by far.

    Deneen “crotchety”? Seems to me that deflation might be hitting the language as well as the currency.

  8. Look, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for “God and Good.” I’m not convinced “toleration and peace”–even the liberal vision thereof–are necessarily their sworn nemesis, however. I’m also not convinced that the belief that they are mutually incompatible is very well illustrated by this example.

    Mr. Deneen could just as easily have used speed traps as his example. You know: “Once upon a time, people just obeyed laws out of a disinterested concern for the common good. But you’ll note traffic laws came in right around the time of the Federal Reserve–give or take a few. Coincidence? I don’t think so: Both are symptoms of the creeping totalitarianism that seeks to pacify the people by singing it lullabies of security . . .”

    Furthermore, is this really Hobbes’ all-seeing Leviathan? Is it really even the State with a capital “S”? I mean, we’re talking a local school corporation here, right?

    Now, if the Federal government ever starts watching us through satellites . . .

  9. I think one can easily see the historical origins of this kind of attitude towards adolescence. Look at the vast of theories of adolescence in the Progressive Era. This restrictive and scientistic attitude towards human beings clearly originates in a modernist urban middle class context, and cannot be separated from that. It is certainly part of a trend towards a rationalized control of human beings, a trend that is arguably Secularist.

  10. I’ll bet you $10,000 that the people who installed those surveillance cameras were Christians of some stripe or other.

  11. Cavanaugh’s work looks interesting. I’ll have to pick up the book. Thanks.

    Still, it doesn’t seem to suggest that absolutism/statism is a liberal idea. You seem to be arguing against a development within liberalism rather than the whole of liberalism itself. Would Hayek, for example, have to accept that incoroporation is a logical outcome of his position? That seems to run directly contrary to his argument in the Road to Serfdom.

    And how does your portrayal of liberalism square with Locke’s theory of limited government? It seems to me that Locke’s theory can fit quite well with the principle of subsidiarity, for instance. Liberalism on your view seems much closer to Hobbesism.

  12. “if the government starts watching us by satellite”? “if” , really now.

    The sky is falling, boo hoo hoo. There is no greater force of following improvident leads than this our United States of America.
    Then again, an opponent may strike pay dirt but our usual response is to repudiate our heritage first, attack the opponent later.

  13. When the Truth, the Good and the Beautiful are not acquired, internalized and lived out, that is, written on our hearts as a people in community, then the counterfeits thereof will be enforced by statutes and by the instruments to enforce those statutes such as surveillance devices. The plethora of laws and policies is directly proportional to the deadness of men’s souls. Roe v. Wade broke upon us because the taboo of abortion had long since been dismantled in the popular mind; Roe v. Wade was merely the legal acknowledgment of the moral breakdown which was antecedent to it.

  14. The article interests me, too, as someone who went to Fairfax County middle and high schools. The article says nothing about the reason for the cameras or about the students’ opinions about all this. Are the cameras for physical safety? If so, I’d guess that a lot of students would support them.

    When I was a student in Fairfax County schools they were safe and orderly, no gang violence or near riots. I don’t remember any talk of God or the Good, so that couldn’t have been the reason. I do remember that the schools were almost all-white.

  15. Just in time, permission to take a deep breath arrives in my in-box:

    “Most downtown anti-crime cameras don’t work
    Los Angeles Times | Dec. 23, 2011 | 12:31 p.m.

    “Most of the surveillance cameras installed in downtown Los Angeles as part of an effort to help police crack down on crime have not been working for two years, according to interviews and records reviewed by The Times.

    “The cameras were installed in a highly publicized partnership between local business groups, which purchased them, and the Los Angeles Police Department, which was meant to monitor and maintain them.”

  16. “I don’t remember any talk of God or the Good, so that couldn’t have been the reason.”
    Long term changes take time. Decades and Centuries.

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