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On State Education
Free Life, June 1898
Have I, AB, a right to say to CD: "Send your child to school, or I, as the stronger, will lock you up in a cellar or take so much of your money from you?" Have I such a right? Clearly not. Then 20 ABs, or 10,000,000 ABs have not such a right. If my right to treat CD in such a fashion =0, then the right of 20,000,000 persons, who are exactly like me, can only =0. You may multiply 0 by any power but you will only arrive at 0 in the end. The truth is men build up an abstract idea, like that of Society, forgetting that there is no reality in it; and that the only reality which exists is in the individuals who are used to construct the abstraction. We are constantly told "Society" ought to do this thing or the other thing; but what is Society? Society is only a collection of individuals, and if a collection of individuals ought to do something, it can only be because in the first instance each separate individual in the collection ought to do that same thing. The truth is that the Socialistic regulations and interferences in which "Society" indulges are based upon illusion and bad reasoning. They all imply that by multiplying cyphers you can arrive at a certain value. AB has no moral right to coerce CD into sending his children to school; but according to Socialistic reasoning if you multiply AB sufficiently often, you will obtain the moral right to coerce.
So much as regards the principle involved. The case is equally strong from the point of view of expediency. Under compulsion, and the State system that must accompany compulsion, you get the following results:--(1) Education is bad, because it is uniform; because it is directed by officials who, whatever their personal merits, can only see after the necessarily narrow and restricted fashion of officials; because you must test results by very coarse methods, which have the effect, as is often rightly urged, of turning the children into grant-earners, or what is very nearly as bad of turning the schools into machines for grant-earning; (2) because you set the whole country quarreling over the control of this uniform system, and you make what ought to be a peaceful, reconciling, and uniting work [into] a cause of bitterness and division; (3) because you create a great body of teachers--often excellent men--but, like too many doctors and lawyers, penetrated with the belief that they have a right to enjoy a monopoly, and that their own special interests are to be safeguarded by legal barriers; (4) because you destroy a real enthusiasm for education amongst the people. No doubt those who are Socialistically minded will zealously support a State education for their own reasons, but the deeper and more honest interest in the work, the readiness to make sacrifices on the part of the parents, and the friendly co-operation of all classes are sacrificed, as soon as ever the rate-collector, the magistrate, and the policeman take the thing into their special keeping. there is hardly anything that would so truly civilize and raise a nation as pure Voluntaryism in education--that would tend more strongly to preserve and the self-respect of the parents, and to cement and strengthen the ties that exist between parents and children; but all this influence for good has been stamped out in every country by the politician in his haste to take short cuts, in his desire to magnify his own usefulness, in his ignorance of the slow natural processes by which alone moral results can be won. We Voluntaryists, in attacking State education, have no doubt a steep hill to climb and a long hard fight before the crest is gained; but we shall never desist from the struggle until pure Voluntaryism in education is won, and the people are no longer demoralized and led astray by having immense bribes tossed to them, and a great natural duty and great concern of the home violently taken out of their hands, and handed over to departments, officials, magistrates, and policemen. The State may throw its millions every year to the people in order to bribe them into acquiescence of this evil thing, in which at present they let themselves take part, but no bribe yet has permanently saved any system which enslaved any part of the higher consciousness of a nation.
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