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Normative Thoughts

You may have come across the term “normative” in your meditations and research on classical education. David Hicks “popularized” it in his book Norms and Nobility. Here is an example of a text that turns the reader to normative questions from merely analytical ones:

We hear on all sides that the world is in a bad way, so bad as to give but slim assurance that anything worth doing can be done about it. Some think we are plunging into the chaos of the Dark Ages; others think we are at the end of an era, and entering into a new mediaevalism. One suspects that these views of our situation may be a little excessive, or at least that while waiting for the crash we have time to be cheerful. If it be true, however, that the world is actually perishing before our eyes, there is perhaps some sort of melancholy interest in the thought that it may be perishing largely of inattention to the value of useless knowledge.

Nothing shows more clearly how profound this inattention is than the nature of current comment on the New Deal. This comment runs to millions of words, and covers every conceivable question suggested by our public enterprises except the one that the man of forgotten learning most wants to hear discussed. He is naturally interested in the outcome of these enterprises, interested to see how the American variant of Statism and corporalism is going to work, and therefore he is glad to read all the intelligent comment on it, pro and con, that comes his way; but the previous question always rises in his mind. Suppose our adventure in Statism works perfectly, suppose the New Deal scores a clean success at every practical point, what kind of people are we going to be when it has done so?

Albert Jay Nock
The Value of Useless Knowledge

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