Liberty vs. Leviathan

Chronicling Liberty's battle against Leviathan

Bastiat on Education

The Irish Liberty Forum notes Karen DeCoster’s comments regarding this article about illiteracy in the USA and worries that the same fate will befall the Irish. Is it just a coincidence that one of the very men who warned us of such a fate has been muzzled for over a century and denigrated as a “pamphleteer”?  (See Joseph Salerno’s work here and here.)

Frédéric Bastiat on education in his 1849 essay “What is Money?”:

B. I have not yet made up my mind that your views upon money and political economy in general are correct. But, from your conversation, this is what I have gathered:—That these questions are of the highest importance; for peace or war, order or anarchy, the union or the antagonism of citizens, are at the root of the answer to them. How is it that in France and most other countries which regard themselves as highly civilized, a science which concerns us all so nearly, and the diffusion of which would have so decisive an influence upon the fate of mankind, is so little known? Is it that the State does not teach it sufficiently?

F. Not exactly. For, without knowing it, the State applies itself to loading everybody’s brain with prejudices, and everybody’s heart with sentiments favorable to the spirit of anarchy, war, and hatred; so that, when a doctrine of order, peace, and union presents itself, it is in vain that it has clearness and truth on its side,—it cannot gain admittance.

B. Decidedly you are a frightful grumbler. What interest can the State have in mystifying people’s intellects in favor of revolutions, and civil and foreign wars? There must certainly be a great deal of exaggeration in what you say.

F. Consider. At the period when our intellectual faculties begin to develop themselves, at the age when impressions are liveliest, when habits of mind are formed with the greatest ease—when we might look at society and understand it—in a word, as soon as we are seven or eight years old, what does the State do? It puts a bandage over our eyes, takes us gently from the midst of the social circle which surrounds us, to plunge us, with our susceptible faculties, our impressible hearts, into the midst of Roman society. It keeps us there for ten years at least, long enough to make an ineffaceable impression on the brain. Now observe, that Roman society is directly opposed to what our society ought to be. There they lived upon war; here we ought to hate war; there they hated labor; here we ought to live upon labor. There the means of subsistence were founded upon slavery and plunder; here they should be drawn from free industry. Roman society was organized in consequence of its principle. It necessarily admired what made it prosper. There they considered as virtue what we look upon as vice. Its poets and historians had to exalt what we ought to despise. The very words liberty, order, justice, people, honor, influence, etc., could not have the same signification at Rome, as they have, or ought to have, at Paris. How can you expect that all these youths who have been at university or conventual schools, with Livy and Quintus Curtius for their catechism, will not understand liberty like the Gracchi, virtue like Cato, patriotism like Caesar? How can you expect them not to be factious and warlike? How can you expect them to take the slightest interest in the mechanism of our social order? Do you think that their minds have been prepared to understand it? Do you not see that in order to do so they must get rid of their present impressions, and receive others entirely opposed to them?

B. What do you conclude from that?

F. I will tell you. The most urgent necessity is, not that the State should teach, but that it should allow education. All monopolies are detestable, but the worst of all is the monopoly of education.

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April 2017
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