Front Page Titles (by Subject) 9.: Academic Degrees and Socialism - Selected Essays on Political Economy
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Selected Essays on Political Economy, trans. Seymour Cain, ed. George B. de Huszar, introduction by F.A. Hayek (Irvington-on-Hudson: Foundation for Economic Education, 1995).
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Academic Degrees and Socialism
I have submitted to the Assembly an amendment that has as its object the abolition of university degrees.* My health does not permit me to present it orally on the rostrum. Allow me to have recourse to a written communication.1
The question is an extremely serious one. However imperfect the law that has been drafted by your commission may be, I believe that it would mark a distinct advance over the present state of public education if it were amended as I propose.
The university system of academic degrees has the threefold inconvenience of making education uniform (uniformity is not unity), of imposing upon it the most disastrous administration, and then of making it inflexible.
If there is anything in the world that is progressive by nature, it is education. What is education, in fact, if not the transmission from generation to generation of the knowledge acquired by society, that is, of a treasure that is refined and increased every day?
How does it happen that education in France has remained uniform and stationary since the darkness of the Middle Ages? Because it has been monopolized and enclosed in an enchanted circle by university degrees.
There was a time when, in order to acquire any knowledge whatsoever, it was as necessary to learn Latin and Greek as it was indispensable to the Basques and the Bas-Bretons to begin by learning French. Living languages were not fixed; printing had not been invented; the human mind had not applied itself to penetrating the secrets of Nature. To be educated was to know what Epicurus and Aristotle had thought. People of the upper classes boasted of not being able to read. The only class that possessed and transmitted knowledge was the clergy. What, then, could that knowledge be? Evidently it had to be limited to the knowledge of dead languages, and principally of Latin. There were only Latin books; writing was done only in Latin; Latin was the language of religion; the clergy could teach only what they had learned—Latin.
Hence, it is understandable that in the Middle Ages education was confined to the study of the dead languages, quite improperly called the learned languages.
Is it natural, is it good, that the same should be true in the nineteenth century? Is Latin a necessary means for the acquisition of knowledge? Can religion, physics, chemistry, astronomy, physiology, history, law, ethics, industrial technology, or social science be learned from the writings left to us by the Romans?
Knowing a language, like knowing how to read, means having possession of an instrument. And is it not strange that we should spend our whole youth in making ourselves masters of an instrument that is good for nothing—or not good for much, since nothing is more urgent when one begins to know it than to forget it? Alas, if one could only forget as quickly the impressions that this wretched study has left!
What should we say if at Saint-Cyr,* in order to prepare our youth for modern military science, all they were taught was to throw stones with a slingshot?
The law of our country decrees that the most honorable careers are to be closed to whoever does not have a bachelor's* degree. It decrees, further, that in order to earn that degree, one must have so far crammed his head with Latinity that nothing else can enter it. Now, what is the result? As everyone knows, young people have calculated the exact amount strictly necessary to earn the degree, and they rest content with that. You find all this deplorable. Well, do you not understand that this is the protest of the public conscience against the imposition of so much useless effort?
To learn an instrument which, as soon as one knows how to play it, gives out no further sound, is hardly rational. Why has this practice been perpetuated up to now? The explanation is to be found in a single word: monopoly. Monopoly is so constituted that it paralyzes all that it touches.
Hence, I wanted the Assembly to ensure the freedom, that is, the progress, of education. It has now decided that this is not to be. We shall not have complete freedom. Allow me to make an effort to save at least a shred of it.
Freedom may be considered from the point of view of persons and in relation to material things—ratione personae et ratione materiae, as the legal scholars say; for to abolish competition in methods of instruction is no less a violation of freedom than to abolish competition among men.
There are some who say: “Teaching as a career is going to be free, for everyone will be able to enter upon it.” This is a great illusion.
The state—or rather, the party, the faction, the sect, the man, that is in momentary and even quite legal possession of the governmental power—can give to education the desired direction and mold men's minds at will solely by means of the system of academic degrees.
Give a man the power to confer academic degrees and, while leaving anyone free to teach, education will be, in fact, in servitude.
I, the father of a family, and the teacher whom I hire for the education of my son, may both believe that genuine education consists in teaching what things are and what effects they produce, in the physical order as well as in the moral order. We may think that he is the best educated who has the most exact idea of phenomena and best understands the connection between causes and effects. We should like to base education on this assumption. But the state has another idea. It thinks that to be learned is to be able to scan the verses of Plautus and to cite the opinions of Thales and Pythagoras on fire and air.
Now, what does the state do? It says to us: “Teach what you want to your student; but when he is twenty years old, I shall question him concerning the opinions of Thales and Pythagoras; I shall have him scan the verses of Plautus; and if he is not good enough in these matters to prove to me that he has devoted the whole of his youth to them, he will be able to become neither a physician nor a barrister nor a magistrate nor a consul nor a diplomat nor a teacher.”
From that moment I am forced to submit, for I will not take upon myself the responsibility of closing to my son so many fine careers. You may tell me that I am free; but I say that I am not, since you reduce me to making a pedant of my son, at least from my point of view—perhaps a frightful little rhetorician—and unquestionably an unruly rebel.
If only the knowledge required for the bachelor's degree still bore some relation to the needs and the interests of our age! If at least it were merely useless! But it is deplorably harmful. To pervert the human mind—that is the problem which seems to have been posed and which has been solved by those to whom the monopoly of education has been handed over. This is what I am going to try to demonstrate.
Since the beginning of this dispute, the university and the clergy have been firing accusations at each other as if they were bullets.
“You pervert our young people with your philosophic rationalism,” says the clergy.
“You stupefy them with your religious dogmatism,” replies the university.
Conciliators enter, saying: “Religion and philosophy are sisters. Let us combine free inquiry and authority. University, clergy, each of you has had the monopoly in turn; share it, and let this dispute come to an end.”
We have heard the venerable Bishop of Langres* address the university in these terms: “It was you who gave us the socialist generation of 1848.”
And M. Crémieux was not long in retorting to this rebuke in these terms: “It was you who educated the revolutionary generation of 1793.”
If there is truth in these allegations, what must we conclude? That the two systems of education have been harmful, not in what differentiates one from the other, but in what they have in common.
Yes, that is my conviction; these two systems have one point in common: the abuse of classical studies, and it is by this means that both of them have perverted the judgment and the morality of the country. They differ in that the one makes religion the predominant element; the other, philosophy. But each of these elements, far from having caused the harm, as they are accused of doing, has, in fact, mitigated it. We owe it to them that we have not become as barbarous as the barbarians who are constantly held up to us by the Latinists for our imitation.
Permit me a supposition which is perhaps a bit forced, but which will make my thought understood.
Suppose, then, that a nation exists somewhere, at the antipodes, which, hating and despising labor, has based its whole mode of life on the successive pillage and enslavement of all its neighbors. That nation has founded its politics, its morality, its religion, and its public opinion on the brutal principle that maintains and develops it. Since France has given the monopoly of education to the clergy, the latter find nothing better to do than to send all of French youth among this people to live its life, to become inspired with its sentiments and filled with its enthusiasms, and to breathe in its ideas like the air. But care is taken that each student who leaves is provided with a small volume called The Gospels. The generations raised in this way return to the homeland, and a revolution breaks out. I leave it to the reader to imagine the role that they will play in it.
Seeing what has happened, the state takes the monopoly of education away from the clergy and hands it over to the university. Faithful to tradition, the university, too, sends the young to the antipodes, among the plundering, slave-owning people, after having provided each of them with a little volume entitled Philosophy. Five or six generations thus educated have hardly touched their native soil again before a second revolution breaks out. Reared in the same school as their predecessors, they show themselves worthy emulators of them.
Then war breaks out between the monopolists.
“It is your little book that has caused all the evil,” says the clergy.
“It is yours,” replies the university.
No, gentlemen, your little books count for nothing in all this. What has caused the evil is the strange idea, conceived and put into practice by both of you, of sending the youth of France, with the intention of preparing them for labor, peace, and freedom, to drink in, and become imbued and saturated with, the feelings and the opinions of a nation of brigands and slaves.
I say that the subversive doctrines called socialism or communism are the fruit of classical education, whether provided by the clergy or by the university. I add that the bachelor's degree will forcibly impose a classical education even on those schools supposedly free, which should, it is said, come into existence as a result of the law. That is why I ask for the abolition of university degrees.
The study of Latin is much praised as a means of developing the intellect. This is purely a conventional judgment. The Greeks, who did not learn Latin, were not lacking in intelligence, and we do not see that French women are deprived of it any more than they are deprived of common sense. It would be strange that the human mind could not be strengthened without becoming perverted. Will it never be understood that the altogether problematic advantage that is alleged to exist in a classical education, if it exists at all, is very dearly paid for by the terrible consequence of having allowed the soul of France to be penetrated, along with the language of the Romans, by their ideas, their sentiments, their opinions, and a caricature of their manners and customs?
Ever since God pronounced this judgment on men: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread,” earning a living has been for them so great, so absorbing an affair that, depending upon the means that they employ to provide for their existence, there must be great differences in their manners, their opinions, their ethics, and their social customs.
People that live by hunting cannot be like people that live by fishing, nor can a nation of shepherds be like a nation of sailors.
But even these differences are nothing in comparison with those that must characterize two nations of which one lives by labor and the other by theft.
For among hunters, fishermen, shepherds, farmers, merchants, and manufacturers, there is this in common: that all seek the satisfaction of their wants in the action that they exert on things. What they want to subject to their control is Nature.
But those who live by plunder exert their action on other members of their species; what they ardently aspire to dominate are their fellow men.
In order for men to exist, it is necessary to exert upon Nature the action called labor.
The fruits of this action can profit the nation that devotes itself to it, but it is also possible that they may reach, at second hand and by force, another people that has the laboring nation under its control.
I cannot develop this idea fully here; but if one reflects on it, he will be convinced that, between two masses of men placed in conditions so opposed, everything—manners, customs, opinions, social organization, morality, and religion—must so far differ that even the words used to express the most fundamental relations, like the words “family,” “property,” “freedom,” “virtue,” “society,” “government,” “republic,” and “people,” cannot represent the same ideas to both nations.
A nation of warriors understands quite soon that family life can weaken military ardor (we feel it ourselves, since we forbid it to our soldiers). Yet the population cannot be allowed to stop growing. How is the problem to be solved? As Plato did in theory and Lycurgus in practice: by promiscuity. Yet Plato and Lycurgus are names that we are accustomed to pronounce only with idolatry.
As for property, I defy anyone to find in all antiquity a tenable definition of it. Nowadays we say: “Every man owns himself, and consequently his labor, and, accordingly, the product of his labor.” But could the Romans conceive such an idea? As owners of slaves, could they say: “Every man belongs to himself"? Despising labor, could they say: “Every man is the owner of the product of his labor"? This would have been tantamount, in effect, to collective suicide.
On what, then, did antiquity base the right to property? On the law—a disastrous idea, the most disastrous that has ever been introduced into the world, since it justifies the use and abuse of everything that it pleases the law to declare property, even the fruits of theft, even man himself.
In those barbarous times, freedom could be no better understood. What is freedom? It is the sum total of all our freedoms. To be free, on one's own responsibility, to think and to act, to speak and to write, to labor and to exchange, to teach and to learn—this alone is to be free. Can a nation disciplined for endless battle conceive of freedom thus? No, the Romans prostituted this name to a certain boldness in the civil wars that the distribution of the spoils provoked among them. The leaders wanted everything; the people demanded their share. Hence the tumults in the forum, the refuges on Mount Aventine, the agrarian laws, the intervention of the tribunes, and the popularity of conspirators; hence the maxim: Malo periculosam libertatem,* etc., which has passed into our language, and with which I embellished all my textbooks in school:
Admirable examples, sublime precepts, precious seeds to plant in the soul of French youth!
What is to be said of Roman morality? And I am not speaking here of the relations of father and son, of husband and wife, of patron and client, of master and servant, of man and God—relations that slavery, by itself alone, could not fail to transform into a whole network of depravity; I wish to dwell only on what is called the admirable side of the Republic, i.e., patriotism. What was this patriotism? Hatred of foreigners, the destruction of all civilization, the stifling of all progress, the scourging of the world with fire and sword, the chaining of women, children, and old men to triumphal chariots—this was glory, this was virtue. It was to these atrocities that the marble of the sculptors and the songs of the poets were dedicated. How many times have our young hearts not palpitated with admiration, alas, and with emulation at this spectacle! It is thus that our teachers, venerable priests, full of years and of charity, prepared us for the Christian and civilized life. So great is the power of conventional opinion!
The lesson has not been lost; and it is from Rome undoubtedly that this adage comes to us, true in regard to theft, false in regard to labor: one nation's loss is another nation's gain—an adage that still governs the world.
To acquire an idea of Roman morality, imagine in the heart of Paris an organization of men who hate to work, determined to satisfy their wants by deceit and force, and consequently at war with society. Doubtless a certain moral code and even some solid virtues will soon manifest themselves in such an organization. Courage, perseverance, self-control, prudence, discipline, constancy in misfortune, deep secrecy, punctilio, devotion to the community—such undoubtedly will be the virtues that necessity and prevailing opinion would develop among these brigands; such were those of the buccaneers; such were those of the Romans. It may be said that, in regard to the latter, the grandeur of their enterprise and the immensity of their success has thrown so glorious a veil over their crimes as to transform them into virtues. And this is precisely why that school is so pernicious. It is not abject vice, it is vice crowned with splendor, that seduces men's souls.
Finally, in regard to society, the ancient world has bequeathed to the modern world two false ideas that undermine its stability and will do so for a long time to come.
The first is that society is a condition outside of Nature, the result of a contract. This idea was not as erroneous in the past as it is in our day. Rome and Sparta were indeed two associations of men having a common and definite end: pillage; they were not exactly societies, but armies.
The second, a corollary of the preceding idea, is that law creates rights, and that, consequently, the legislator and the rest of mankind are in the same relation to each other as the potter and the clay. Minos, Lycurgus, Solon, and Numa molded the Cretan, Lacedemonian, Athenian, and Roman societies. Plato was the manufacturer of imaginary republics designed to serve as models for future founders of peoples and fathers of nations.
Now, observe that these two ideas constitute the characteristic feature, the distinctive mark, of socialism, taking this word in the unfavorable sense and as the common label of all social utopias.
Whoever, unaware of the fact that the body politic is, like the human body, constituted by virtue of the operation of natural laws, dreams of creating an artificial society and sets about manipulating the family, property, law, and mankind in any way he pleases, is a socialist. He is not studying physiology; he is wielding the sculptor's chisel on his fellow man. He is not making observations; he is inventing. He does not believe in God; he believes in himself. He is not a scientist; he is a tyrant. He does not serve his fellow men; he disposes of them. He does not study their nature; he changes it, following the advice of Rousseau.2 He is inspired by antiquity: he follows in the footsteps of Lycurgus and Plato. In a word, he is, without a doubt, the holder of a bachelor's degree.
“You exaggerate,” I shall be told. “It is not possible that our studious young men acquire such deplorable opinions and sentiments from beautiful antiquity.”
And what else do you expect them to acquire than what is there? Make an effort to recall what state of mind you were in when, on leaving school, you entered the practical world. Did you not burn with the desire to imitate the despoilers of the earth and the agitators of the forum? For my part, when I see present-day society casting young people, by dozens of thousands, into the mold of Brutus and the Gracchi, in order to launch them forth later, incapable of all honest labor (opus servile), into the mob in the street, I am astonished that they withstand this ordeal. For classical education not only has the imprudence to plunge us into Roman life; it plunges us into it while accustoming us to become enthusiastic about it, to consider it as the ideal model for all mankind, the sublime type, too exalted for modern men, but one that we must strive to imitate without ever pretending to attain it.3
Will it be objected that socialism has taken possession of the classes that do not aspire to the bachelor's degree?
I reply with M. Thiers:
Secondary education teaches the ancient languages to the children of the well-to-do classes..... It is not only words that are taught to the children when they learn Greek and Latin; it is also noble and sublime things [plunder, war, and slavery]; it is the history of mankind in simple, great, indelible images..... Secondary instruction forms what are called the enlightened classes of a nation. Now, although the enlightened classes do not constitute the entire nation, they do give it its character. Their vices, their qualities, their good and evil propensities soon become those of the entire nation; they determine its form by the contagion of their ideas and their sentiments.4
Nothing is truer, and nothing better explains the harmful and unnatural perversities of our revolutions.
“Antiquity,” M. Thiers adds,
let us dare to say it to a century full of self-pride: antiquity is what is most admired in the world. Please, gentlemen, let childhood abide in antiquity, as in a calm, peaceful, and healthful sanctuary, so that it may be kept fresh and pure.
The calm of Rome! The peace of Rome! The purity of Rome! Oh, if the long experience and the remarkable common sense of M. Thiers have not been able to preserve him from so strange an infatuation, how do you expect our ardent youth to defend itself from it?5
Recently the National Assembly witnessed a comic dialogue, surely worthy of the pen of Molière.
M. Thiers, addressing himself from the height of the rostrum, and without laughing, to M. Barthélemy de Saint-Hilaire:* “You are wrong, not in regard to art, but in regard to morality, to prefer Greek to Latin letters, especially for the French, who are a Latin nation.”
M. Barthélemy de Saint-Hilaire, also without laughing, “What about Plato?”
M. Thiers, still not laughing: “They have been wise, they have been very wise, to encourage Greek and Latin studies. I prefer Latin studies for a moral purpose. But they have also required these poor young people at the same time to know German, English, the exact sciences, the physical sciences, history, etc.”
To know what is, is evil. To be steeped in Roman ways is morality!
M. Thiers is neither the first nor the only one who has succumbed to this illusion—I might almost say, to this mummery. Let me indicate briefly how profound an impression classical education has left on French literature, morality, and politics. I have neither the leisure nor the intention to paint the whole picture, for what writer would not have to be included in it? I shall content myself with a sketch.
I need not cite Montaigne.* Everyone knows how Spartan he was in his velleities, little as he was so in his tastes.
As for Corneille, of whom I am a sincere admirer, I believe he performed a disservice to the spirit of his age in clothing in beautiful verse, in giving a stamp of sublime grandeur, to strained, unnatural, fierce, antisocial sentiments such as the following:
And I confess that I feel disposed to share the feeling of Curiace, not in regard to a particular fact, but with respect to the whole history of Rome, when he says:
Today communism fills us with horror because it frightens us; but did not long association with the ancients make a communist of Fénelon, the man whom modern Europe rightly regards as the most admirable typification of moral perfection? Read his Télémaque, the book that parents are so quick to place in the hands of their children. There you will see Fénelon, in the borrowed robes of Wisdom herself, laying down the law to the legislators. And on what plan does he propose to organize his model society? On the one hand, the legislator reflects, invents, acts; on the other, society, impassive and inert, allows itself to be acted upon. The moral impulse, the principle of action, is thus forcibly taken from all men to become the prerogative of only one man. Fénelon, the precursor of the boldest of our modern proponents of an artificially planned social order, is the one who decides on the food, clothing, housing, diversions, and occupations of all the inhabitants of Salente. He is the one who says what they shall be permitted to eat and drink, on what plan their houses are to be constructed, how many rooms they are to have, and how they are to be furnished.
He says—but I shall let him speak for himself:
Mentor set up magistrates to whom the merchants were accountable for their stock, their profits, their expenses, and their business ventures..... In other respects, there was complete freedom of trade..... He forbade the importation of any foreign products that might lead to luxury and soft living..... He eliminated a great number of merchants who sold brocade, etc..... He established rules and regulations regarding clothing, food, furniture, and the size and ornamentation of houses for all the different degrees and conditions of men.
“Set up rules for the various ranks established by birth,” he said to the king; “.... those of the first rank, after you, will be dressed in white; .... those of the second rank, in blue; .... the third, in green; .... the fourth, in yellow; .... the fifth, in pale red or pink; .... the sixth, in gray linen; .... and the seventh, which will be the last, in a mixture of white and yellow. These are the clothes of the seven different degrees of free men. All the slaves will be dressed in dark gray. No alteration is to be6 tolerated either in the type of cloth used or in the shape of the garments.”
He regulated in the same way the food of both the citizens and the slaves.
He then eliminated soft and effeminate music.
He set simple and gracious standards of architecture. He wanted every house of any consequence to have a parlor and a peristyle, with little rooms for all the free people.
Yet the moderation and frugality of Mentor did not prevent him from authorizing the construction of large buildings to be used for horse and chariot races and for wrestling and boxing matches.
Painting and sculpture seemed to Mentor to be arts that should not be allowed to die out, but he wanted only a few practitioners of these arts to be permitted in Salente.
Does one not recognize here an imagination inflamed by the reading of Plato and by the example of Lycurgus, amusing itself by making experiments on men as if they were so much raw material?
One should not seek to justify such idle fancies by saying that they are the fruit of an excessive benevolence. There is as much of it here as there is in any of those who propose to organize or disorganize societies.
Rollin is another, almost the equal of Fénelon in intelligence and depth of feeling, and concerned to an even greater extent than Fénelon with education. Alas, to what depths of intellectual and moral degradation was this good man not reduced by his long association with antiquity! One cannot read his books without a feeling of sorrow and pity. One cannot tell whether he is Christian or pagan, so impartial is he between God and the gods. He is as ready to believe the legends of the heroic age of antiquity as he is the miracles recounted in the Bible. Over his placid countenance one always sees passing the shadow of warlike passions; he speaks of nothing but javelins, swords, and catapults. For him, as for Bossuet, one of the most interesting of social problems was whether the Macedonian phalanx was better in battle than the Roman legion. He extols the Romans for being devoted only to sciences that have domination for their object: eloquence, politics, war. In his eyes, all other knowledge is a source of corruption, fit only to incline men towards peace; hence, he is careful to ban it from his schools, to the plaudits of M. Thiers. All his homage is paid to Mars and Bellona; he can hardly spare more than a few grains of incense for Christ. Sad dupe of the conventional judgment that has given classical education the predominant position, he was so set on admiring the Romans that, where they were concerned, he took simple abstention from the most heinous offenses as a manifestation of the highest virtue. Alexander, in having regretted assassinating his best friend, and Scipio, in not taking a woman away from her husband, give proof, in his eyes, of inimitable heroism. In short, if he has made of each of us a living contradiction, surely he is himself the most perfect example of it.
Rollin is thought to be an admirer of communism and of Spartan institutions. Yet let us do him justice; his admiration is not entirely unqualified. With suitable circumspection, he reproves the Spartan legislator for having marred his work with four slight imperfections: idleness, promiscuity, infanticide, and the mass slaughter of slaves. But once having expressed these four reservations, the good man, again falling under the spell of conventional opinion concerning classical antiquity, sees in Lycurgus, not a man, but a god, and finds his polity perfect.
The intervention of the legislator in all things seemed to Rollin so indispensable that he quite seriously congratulates the Greeks on the fact that a man named Pelasges came to show them how to eat acorns. Before that, he says, they grazed on the land like cattle.
Moreover, he says:
God gave the Romans their empire as a reward for their great virtues, which cannot but be obvious. He would not have done them justice if He had accorded to these virtues, which have nothing materialistic about them, any less compensation.
Does one not see clearly here conventional opinion and Christianity in conflict over a poor lost soul in the person of Rollin? The sentence we have quoted sums up the very essence of all the works written by the founder of education in France. To contradict oneself, to make God contradict Himself, and to make us learn to contradict ourselves—this is the whole of the teaching of Rollin and the sum and substance of the kind of education that leads to the bachelor's degree.
If promiscuity and infanticide caused Rollin to have certain qualms about the institutions of Lycurgus, he was enthusiastic about everything else, and he even found a way of justifying theft. This is a curious fact and one sufficiently relevant to my subject to warrant being reported. Here is how he did it.
Rollin begins by assuming, in principle, that the law creates property—a deplorable principle, common to all the proponents of artificial social orders, and one that we shall find repeated by Rousseau, Mably, Mirabeau,* Robespierre, and Babeuf. Now, since property has its basis in the law, could the law not also be the basis of theft? How oppose this argument?
Theft was permitted in Sparta. It was severely punished among the Scythians. The reason for this difference is obvious: the law, which alone determines the right to property and the use of goods, granted a private individual no right, among the Scythians, to the goods of another person, whereas in Sparta the contrary was the case.
Then, the good man, in the ardor of his plea on behalf of theft and of Lycurgus, invokes the most incontestable of authorities, that of God:
Nothing is more common than the existence of similar rights to the goods of another person; thus, God has not only given the poor the power to gather grapes in the vineyards and to glean in the fields and to take away whole sheaves but has also granted to every passer-by without distinction the freedom to enter as often as he likes the vineyard of another person and to eat as many grapes as he wants, in spite of the owner of the vineyard. God Himself gives the first reason for this. It is that the land of Israel belonged to Him and that the Israelites enjoyed possession of it only on that onerous condition.
No doubt it will be said that this doctrine is peculiar to Rollin. This is precisely what I say. I am trying to demonstrate to what a state of moral infirmity the habit of consorting with the frightful society of antiquity can reduce the most admirable and the most honest of intellects.
It has been said of Montesquieu that he rediscovered the rights of man. He is one of those great writers whose every phrase has the privilege of being authoritative. God forbid that I should seek to diminish his glory! But what is to be thought of classical education if it so far succeeded in misleading that noble mind as to induce him to admire in antiquity the most barbarous institutions?
The ancient Greeks, imbued with the necessity of training in the virtues those who were to live under a popular government, designed institutions peculiarly fitted for this end..... The laws of Crete served as the model for those of Sparta, and those of Plato corrected the latter.
I invite the reader's attention to the great genius these lawgivers must have had: in flying in the face of all accepted customs, in confounding all the virtues, they showed the world their wisdom. Lycurgus, in combining larceny with the spirit of justice, the harshest slavery with extreme liberty, the most atrocious sentiments with the greatest moderation, gave stability to his city. He seemed to be depriving it of all its resources, arts, commerce, money, and defenses; there was ambition, but no hope of being better off; there were natural affections, and yet no man was either child or husband or father; even chastity was no longer regarded as respectable. This is the way that Sparta was led to grandeur and glory; but so infallible were its institutions that nothing was gained in winning battles against it if the victor did not succeed in depriving it of its polity.7
Those who would like to have similar institutions will set up a regime in which property is communally owned, as in Plato's republic, and in which there will be the respect that he demanded for the gods and the separation of the natives from foreigners for the preservation of morality, with the state, not the citizens, engaging in commerce; they will give us our arts without our luxury and will satisfy our needs rather than our desires.
The great influence that the ancients attributed to music Montesquieu explains in these terms:
I believe I can explain this. One has to put oneself into the spirit of the Greek city-states, especially those that had war as their chief object. All the gainful occupations and professions were regarded as unworthy of a free man. “Most of the arts,” says Xenophon, “weaken the body; those who practice them must sit in the shade or by the fire; they have time neither for their friends nor for the republic.” It was only with the corruption of certain democracies that artisans attained the status of citizens. This is what Aristotle teaches us, and he maintains that a good republic will never grant them civil rights.
Agriculture was still a servile occupation and was ordinarily carried on by a conquered people: the helots among the Spartans, the Perioecians among the Cretans, the Penestaeans among the Thessalians, and other enslaved peoples in other republics.
In short, all commerce was ignoble in the eyes of the Greeks. It would have required that a citizen render services to a slave, to a tenant, to a stranger, an idea repugnant to the spirit of Greek liberty. Hence, Plato wants the laws to punish any citizen who engages in commerce.
There were considerable inconveniences and difficulties involved in putting these ideas into practice in the Greek republics. On the one hand, the citizens were not supposed to engage in commerce, agriculture, or the arts; on the other, they were not supposed to be altogether idle, either. They occupied their time in gymnastic exercises and in those relating to war. Their institutions allowed them no other occupations. The Greeks must, then, be regarded as a society of athletes and warriors. Now, these exercises, so well fitted to make people fierce and hardy, needed to be tempered by others that could polish and refine their manners. Music, which touches the spirit by way of the organs of the body, was very well suited to this end.8
This is the idea that classical education gives us of liberty. And now let us see how it teaches us to understand equality and thrift:
Although equality of wealth is the very essence of the democratic state, it is, nevertheless, so difficult to establish that it is not always expedient to aim at extreme exactitude in this regard. It suffices to reduce and fix the differences within certain limits, after which it will be the function of particular laws to equalize, so to speak, the remaining inequalities by the taxes that they impose on the rich and the relief they grant to the poor.9
It is not enough, in a good democracy, that all land allotments be equal; they must be small, as among the Romans.....
As equality of wealth involves thrift, so thrift maintains equality of wealth. The two things, although different, are such that one cannot subsist without the other.10
The Samnites had a custom which, in a small republic, and, above all, in one situated as theirs was, was bound to produce admirable results. All the young people were assembled and judged. He who was declared the best took whatever girl he liked as his wife; then the next best after him was allowed his choice, and so on..... It would be difficult to imagine a reward more noble, more magnificent, less costly to a small state, more capable of acting as an incentive for both sexes.
The Samnites were the descendants of the Spartans; and Plato, whose laws are but the perfection of those of Lycurgus, hardly equaled this in his own system.11
No man exerted a greater influence on the French Revolution than Rousseau. “His works,” says Louis Blanc, “were on the table of the Committee of Public Safety. His paradoxes, which his own age took for literary extravagances, soon came to be regarded in the public assemblies of the nation as dogmatic truths as incisive as a sword.” And, so that the moral link that connects Rousseau with antiquity may not be overlooked, the same panegyrist adds: “His style recalls the moving and passionate language of a disciple of Corneille.”
Who does not know, besides, that Rousseau was one of the most ardent admirers of the ideas and the customs generally attributed to the Romans and the Spartans? He himself said that the reading of Plutarch made him what he was.
His first essay was directed against the human mind. Its very first pages bear his characteristic stamp:
Shall I forget the city that once flourished in the heart of Greece and that we long to see raised up again, as famous for its happy ignorance as for the wisdom of its laws, that republic of demigods rather than men, so superior their virtues seem to those of ordinary humanity? O Sparta, eternal shame of an empty doctrine! While the vices fostered by the fine arts found their way into Athens, while a tyrant collected there with so much care the work of the prince of poets, thou didst banish from thy confines the arts and the artists, the sciences and the scholars!12
In his second work, the Discours sur l'inégalité des conditions, he inveighed with even greater vehemence against all the foundations of society and civilization. He did this because he believed himself to be the interpreter of classical wisdom:
I shall imagine myself in the Lyceum at Athens, repeating the lessons of my masters, having Plato and Xenocrates as my judges, and the human race as my auditors.
The essential idea of this famous work can be summarized as follows: The most frightful fate awaits those who, having the misfortune of being born after us, will add their knowledge to ours. The development of our productive capacities already makes us very unhappy. Our ancestors were less so, since they were more ignorant. Rome came near to perfection; Sparta realized it—so far, that is, as perfection is at all compatible with living in society. But man's true bliss is to be found in living in the woods, alone, naked, without ties, without affections, without language, without religion, without ideas, without family—in short, in a condition in which he was so little different from the beasts that it is really doubtful whether he stood upright and whether he did not have paws rather than hands.
Unhappily, that golden age did not last. Mankind passed through an intermediate stage, which was not without certain charms:
As long as they were content to live in rustic cabins, to clothe themselves in skins, to adorn themselves with feathers and shells, to paint their bodies different colors .... as long as they engaged in occupations that an individual could carry on alone, they were free, healthy, good, and happy.
Alas, they did not know enough to stop at this first stage of civilization!
.... From the moment when one man needed the help of another [society made its fatal appearance]; from the moment when it became apparent that it was useful for a lone individual to have resources for two, equality disappeared, property was introduced, labor became a necessity.....
Metallurgy and agriculture were the two arts whose invention produced this great revolution. For the poet, it is gold and silver, for the philosopher, it is iron and wheat, that have civilized man and led to his perdition.
It then became necessary to leave the state of nature and enter society. This is the subject of Rousseau's third work, The Social Contract.
It would not be pertinent to my topic for me to analyze this work here; I shall confine myself to pointing out that virtually every page of it reproduces Greco-Roman ideas.
Since society is a covenant, every man has the right to make his own terms.
Only those who associate together have the right to regulate the conditions of their association.
But this is not easy.
How shall they regulate these conditions? Shall it be by common agreement, or by a sudden inspiration?.... How is a blind multitude of men, who often do not know what they want, to accomplish of themselves such a great and difficult enterprise as that of devising a system of legislation?.... Hence the necessity of a lawgiver.
Thus, universal suffrage is no sooner accepted in theory than it is scuttled in practice.
For how will this lawgiver begin, who has to be, in every respect, an extraordinary man, who, in daring to undertake the founding of a nation, has to feel himself capable of changing human nature, of altering the physical and moral constitution of man, who has, in a word, to invent the machine for which men are the raw material?
Rousseau demonstrates very clearly here that the lawgiver cannot rely on either force or persuasion. How, then, is he to proceed? By imposture.
This is what, in all times, forced the founding fathers of nations to have recourse to the intervention of Heaven and to give credit to the gods for their own wisdom..... The decrees of sublime reason, which is above the reach of the common herd, are imputed by the lawgiver to the immortal gods, so as to win by divine authority the support of those whom human wisdom could not move. But it is not for every man to make the gods speak. [The gods! The immortal gods! A reversion to classical ideas.]
Like Plato and Lycurgus—his masters—like the Spartans and the Romans—his heroes—Rousseau gives the words “labor" and “liberty" a meaning according to which they express two incompatible ideas. In society, it is necessary to make a choice: either one must renounce freedom, or one must die of hunger. Yet there is a way out of the difficulty; namely, slavery.
From the moment the people of a nation elect representatives, they are no longer free.
Among the Greeks, all that the populace had to do it did for itself. The people were constantly assembled in the market place; slaves did all their work; their great concern was their liberty. No longer enjoying these advantages, how preserve the same rights? You concern yourself more with the improvement of your material well-being than with your liberty, and you fear slavery less than poverty.
What! Liberty can be preserved only if supported by slavery? Perhaps. The two extremes meet. Everything that is unnatural has its inconveniences, and civil society even more than anything else. There are unfortunate situations in which one man's liberty can be preserved only at the expense of another's, and where the citizen can be perfectly free only on condition that the slave be abjectly a slave. This was the case with Sparta. You nations of the modern world have no slaves, but you yourselves are slaves, etc.
Here we have a fine example of the conventional opinion of classical antiquity. The ancients were impelled to adopt slavery by their brutal instincts. But as it is a foregone conclusion, a tradition, in academic circles to find everything that they did admirable, all sorts of sophisticated reasoning on the essential nature of liberty are imputed to them.
The opposition that Rousseau set up between the state of nature and society is as fatal to private morality as it is to public morality. According to his system, society is the result of a contract that gives rise to the law, which in turns produces, ex nihilo, justice and morality. In the state of nature there is neither justice nor morality. The father has no duty to his son, nor the son to his father, the husband to his wife, the wife to her husband. “I do not owe anything to anybody to whom I have not promised anything; I recognize as belonging to another only what is not useful to me; I have an unlimited right to everything that tempts me and that I can acquire.”
It follows from this that if the social contract, once agreed upon, is later dissolved, everything is at once destroyed—society, law, morality, justice, duties. “Each,” says Rousseau, “regains his pristine rights and his natural liberty in losing the conventional liberty for the sake of which he renounced them.”
Now, we must know that it takes very little to dissolve the social contract. It happens every time any individual violates his agreements or commits any unlawful act whatsoever. The moment a condemned criminal escapes when society says to him, “It is fitting that you die"; the moment a citizen refuses to pay his taxes; the moment an accountant dips his hand into the public till; the social contract is forthwith broken; all moral duties come to an end; justice no longer exists; fathers, mothers, children, husbands and wives owe one another nothing; each has an unlimited right to everything that tempts him—in a word, the whole population reverts to a state of nature.
I leave it to the reader to imagine the havoc such doctrines must wreak in times of revolution.
They are no less fatal to private morality. What young man, going out into the world full of ardor and passion, does not say to himself: “The impulses of my heart are the voice of Nature, which is never mistaken. The institutions that stand in my way are man-made and are only arbitrary conventions to which I have never given my consent. In trampling these institutions underfoot, I shall have the double pleasure of satisfying my inclinations and of believing myself a hero.”
Need we recall here that lamentable and melancholy page from the Confessions?
My third child was then sent to the foundling hospital, as were the first two, and the same was done with the two following; for I have had five altogether. This arrangement seemed to me to be so good that, if I did not publicly boast of it, the motive by which I was withheld was merely my regard for their mother..... In abandoning my children to public education .... I regarded myself as a member of Plato's republic!
There is no need of quotations to prove the Greco-Roman mania of Abbé Mably. A man who was all of a piece, with a narrower mind and a less responsive heart than Rousseau, he accepted the idea with fewer qualifications and alien admixtures. Convinced, like all the classic authors, that mankind is raw material for the social planners, he preferred, like them, being the planner to being the raw material for the plan. Consequently, he set himself up as a lawgiver. In this capacity he was first called upon to found Poland, but he does not appear to have been successful. Then, he offered the Americans the black broth of the Spartans, but he failed to persuade them of its merits. Incensed by this blindness on their part, he predicted the collapse of the Union and gave it no more than five years to exist.
Let me introduce a qualification here. In citing the absurd and subversive doctrines of men like Fénelon, Rollin, Montesquieu, and Rousseau, I certainly do not mean to say that we do not owe to these great writers many pages full of wisdom and morality. But what is false in their works is derived from their acceptance of the conventional view of classical antiquity, and what is true is derived from quite another source. My thesis is precisely that exclusive instruction in Greek and Latin literature makes of all of us living contradictions. It turns us violently towards a past of which it glorifies even the worst horrors; while Christianity, the spirit of the present age, and that fund of good common sense which cannot be denied its rights show us the ideal as something to be realized in the future.
I spare the reader quotations from Morelly, Brissot,* and Raynal justifying—nay, extolling—the love of war, slavery, the impostures practiced by the priesthood, the common ownership of property, and idleness. Who could be mistaken about the impure source of such doctrines? That source, I must repeat, is the classical education imposed upon us in the course of acquiring the baccalaureate degree.
It is not only works of literature that antiquity—so calm, peaceful, and pure—has infected with its poison, but also the works of the jurists. I defy the reader to find in any of their writings anything that even approaches a rational conception of the right to property. And yet what must be the character of any legislation from which such a conception is absent? Recently I had occasion to open Vattel's*Traité du droit des gens. I note that the author has devoted a chapter to the examination of the following question: Is the abduction of women permissible? It is clear that we are indebted to the legend of the Romans and the Sabines for this precious tidbit. After having weighed the pros and the cons with the utmost gravity, he decides in favor of the affirmative. He owed this to the glory of Rome. Were the Romans ever wrong? There is a conventional opinion that prohibits us from thinking so. They are Romans; that is enough. Fire, pillage, rape, and all that flows from them are calm, peaceful, and pure.
Will it be objected that what I have been attacking here are just personal opinions peculiar to these writers? For the uniform action of classical education, reinforced by the concurrence of Montaigne, Corneille, Fénelon, Rollin, Montesquieu, Rousseau, Raynal, and Mably, not to have contributed to the formation of the general opinion in favor of antiquity, our society would have to have enjoyed some happiness. That remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, we have the proof that the idea of communism gained ascendancy, not just over certain individuals, but over whole bodies of men, among them the most learned as well as the most influential. When the Jesuits wanted to organize a social order in Paraguay, what were the plans that their studies suggested to them? Those of Minos, Plato, and Lycurgus. They established a communist society, which, in its turn, did not fail to have its unhappy consequences. The Indians sank several degrees below the state of savagery. Nevertheless, such was the inveterate prepossession of the Europeans in favor of communist institutions, which had always been presented to them as typifying perfection, that the happiness and the virtue of these creatures without a name (for they were no longer men), vegetating under the crosier of the Jesuits, was everywhere extolled.
Did those great proponents of the missions, Rousseau, Mably, Montesquieu, and Raynal, ever take the trouble to verify the facts? Not in the least. Could the Greek and Latin books be wrong? Could anyone go astray in taking Plato as his guide? Then, the Indians of Paraguay were happy, or they should have been, on pain of being miserable against all the rules. Azara,* Bougainville,† and other travelers started out on their voyages under the influence of these preconceived opinions in order to admire so many marvels. When the sad reality first struck their eyes, they could not believe it. But they had to accept the evidence, and they ended by declaring, to their great regret, that communism, seductive in fancy, is frightful in reality.
Given the premise, the conclusion is inescapable. It is perfectly obvious that the authors I have just cited did not dare to push their doctrine to its logical conclusion. Morelly and Brissot took it upon themselves to correct this lack of consistency. As true followers of Plato, they openly preached common ownership of property and of women; and they did so, be it noted, by constantly invoking the examples and the precepts of that wonderful age of classical antiquity which everyone agrees is so admirable.
Such was the state to which the education provided by the clergy had reduced public opinion in France in regard to the family, property, liberty, and society, when the Revolution broke out. No doubt it is explicable in terms of other causes than classical education. But can it be doubted that this education was a mélange of false ideas, brutal sentiments, subversive utopias, and fatal experiments? One has only to read the speeches delivered in the legislative assembly and at the National Convention. Their language is that of Rousseau and of Mably. They are nothing but prosopopoeias, invocations, and apostrophes to Fabricius, to Cato, to the two Brutuses, to the Gracchi, and to Catiline. If an atrocity is to be committed, a Roman example is always found to glorify it. What education has put into the mind expresses itself in action. It is agreed that Sparta and Rome are paragons; then, they must be imitated or parodied. One wants to bring back the Olympic games; another, the agrarian laws; and a third, black broth in the streets.
I cannot hope to exhaust this subject here, for it deserves a practiced hand and something more than a pamphlet on “The Influence of Greek and Roman Literature on the Mentality of our Revolutions.” I must confine myself to a few salient points.
Two great figures dominate the French Revolution and seem to personify it: Mirabeau and Robespierre. What were their views on the question of property?
We have seen that those nations which, in antiquity, had based their way of life on plunder and slavery were never able to establish property on its true foundation. They were obliged to regard property as a matter of convention; and they based the right to it on the law, thereby making it possible to justify slavery and theft, as Rollin so naively explains.
Rousseau too had said: “Property is a human convention and institution, whereas liberty is a gift of Nature.”
Mirabeau professed the same opinion:
Property is a social creation. The laws not only protect and maintain property; they constitute it as such and bring it into being; they determine its scope and the extent that it occupies in the rights of the citizens.
And when Mirabeau expressed himself thus, it was not simply to formulate a theory. His real aim was to persuade the legislator to limit the exercise of a right that was altogether dependent upon his discretion, since he had created it.
Robespierre repeats the definitions of Rousseau:
In defining liberty, the first of man's needs, the most sacred of his natural rights, we have said, quite correctly, that its limit is to be found in the rights of others. Why have you not applied this principle to property, which is a social institution, as if natural laws were less inviolable than human conventions?
After this prologue, Robespierre proceeds to the definition:
Property is the right that each citizen has of enjoying and disposing of the goods that are guaranteed to him by the law.
Thus, we have a sharply defined antithesis between liberty and property. These are two rights of different origin. One comes from Nature; the other is a social institution. The first is natural; the other artificial, a matter of convention.
Now, who makes the law? The legislator. He can therefore impose upon the exercise of the right to property, since he confers that right, whatever conditions he pleases.
Hence, Robespierre is not long in deducing from his definition the right to employment, the right to poor relief, and the progressive income tax.
Society is obliged to provide for the support of all its members, whether by giving them work or by assuring a livelihood to those who are out of work.
The aid needed to support the indigent is a debt that the rich owe to the poor. It is for the law to determine the manner in which this debt is to be discharged.
The citizens whose income does not exceed what is necessary for their subsistence are exempt from the obligation to contribute to the public expenses. The rest are obliged to make their contribution on a progressive basis, according to their wealth.
Robespierre, says M. Sudre,* thus adopted all those measures which, in the minds of their proponents, as well as in reality, make possible the transition from the system of private property to communism. By the application of the principles expounded in Plato's Laws, he proceeded, without realizing it, to establish the society described in the Republic.
(It is well known that Plato wrote two books: one, the Republic, to describe the ideal society [common ownership of property and of women]; the other, the Laws, to describe the steps in the transition to it.)
Robespierre can be considered, besides, as an enthusiastic admirer of the calm, the peaceableness, and the purity of classical antiquity. Even his speech on property is full of eloquent praises for these qualities: Aristides would not have envied the treasures of Croesus! The thatched hut of Fabricius has no need to envy the palace of Croesus! Etc.
Once Mirabeau and Robespierre grant the legislator, in principle, the prerogative of fixing the limits of the right to property, the point at which they judged it expedient to set these limits is of little importance. They might find it opportune not to go further than the right to employment, the right to poor relief, and the progressive income tax; but others, more consistent, did not stop there. If the law that creates and disposes of property can take one step toward equality, why should it not take two? Why not achieve absolute equality?
And so, as was inevitable, Saint-Just went beyond Robespierre, and, no less inevitably, Babeuf went beyond Saint-Just. If one takes this path, there can be only one reasonable stopping place. It has been pointed out by the divine Plato.
Saint-Just—but I have narrowed the scope of my subject too much in confining it exclusively to the question of property. I am forgetting that I have undertaken to show how classical education has perverted all our moral ideas. In the conviction that my reader is perfectly prepared to take my word for it when I say that Saint-Just went beyond Robespierre on the way to communism, I return to my theme.
First, it should be understood that the errors of Saint-Just are connected with his classical studies. Like all the men of his age and ours, he was imbued with the spirit of antiquity. He liked to think of himself as a Brutus. Kept far from Paris by his political commitments, he wrote:
O God! Brutus must languish, forgotten, far from Rome! I have committed myself, nevertheless, and if Brutus does not kill others, he will kill himself.
To kill! This seems to be man's destiny here on earth.
All the admirers of ancient Greece and Rome are agreed that the basis of a republic is virtue, and God knows what they mean by that word! That is why Saint-Just wrote:
A republican government is founded on virtue, if not on terror.
It was also the prevailing opinion in antiquity that industry is ignoble. Accordingly, Saint-Just condemns it in these terms:
Trade ill becomes the true citizen. The hand of man was made only to till the soil and to bear arms.
And it was to prevent anyone from debasing himself by practicing a trade that he wanted to distribute land to everyone.
As we have seen, the legislator, according to the ideas of the ancients, bears the same relation to mankind as the potter does to the clay. Unfortunately, when this idea prevails, nobody wants to be the clay, and everyone wants to be the potter. Saint-Just, quite understandably, assigned this fine role to himself:
On the day when I become convinced that it is impossible to give the French virtues conducive to peace and a spirit alert and inexorably resistant to tyranny and injustice, I shall die by my own hand.
If the people are virtuous, everything will go well. Institutions are needed to refine the moral fiber of the public. The first step toward improving their morality is to satisfy their needs and their interests. Everyone must be given land.
Children are to be dressed in linen throughout the year. They are to lie on mats and sleep for eight hours. They are to be fed in common; and they are to live only on roots, fruit, vegetables, bread, and water. They are not to eat meat until after the age of sixteen.
Men twenty-five years of age will be required every year to make a public declaration, in the temple, of the names of their friends. Whoever abandons his friends without good and sufficient reason will be banished!
Thus, Saint-Just, in imitation of Lycurgus, Plato, Fénelon, and Rousseau, arrogates to himself, in regard to the morals, the feelings, the wealth, and the children of the French people, more rights and more power than all of them have together. How insignificant mankind is beside him! Or rather, it lives only in him. His brain is the brain, and his heart is the heart, of mankind.
This, then, was the course imposed upon the Revolution by the conventional preconception in favor of classical antiquity. Plato had indicated the ideal to be realized; and both priests and laymen, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, set to work extolling it. When the time for action came, Mirabeau took the first step; Robespierre, the second; Saint-Just, the third; Antonelle,* the fourth; and Babeuf, more consistent than all his predecessors, went all the way down to the last, to absolute communism, to pure Platonism. I could cite quotations from his works here, but I shall confine myself to pointing out, for this is characteristic of him, that he signs them Gaius Gracchus.
The whole mentality of the Revolution, as regards what concerns us here, can best be seen from certain quotations. What did Robespierre want? “To raise men to the level of republican virtue attained by the nations of antiquity.”13 What did Saint-Just want? “To offer us the happiness of Sparta and of Athens.”14 He wanted, besides, “all citizens to carry on their persons the dagger of Brutus.”15 What did the bloodthirsty Carrier† want? “That every youth henceforth contemplate the fire of Scaevola, the hemlock of Socrates, the death of Cicero, and the sword of Cato.” What did Rabaut Saint-Étienne* want? “That, following the example of the Cretans and the Spartans, the state take charge of every man from his cradle and even from his birth.”16 What did the section of the Quinze-Vingts† want? “That a church be consecrated to liberty, and that an altar be erected on which will burn an eternal fire tended by vestal virgins.”17 What did the whole Convention want? “That the population of our towns henceforth consist only of Brutuses and Publicolas.”†18
Yet all these sectaries were acting in good faith, and this made them all the more dangerous; for a sincere commitment to error is fanaticism, and fanaticism is a potent force, especially when it acts on masses of men prepared to submit to its influence. Universal enthusiasm for a particular type of society can hardly be without issue; and public opinion, whether enlightened or misguided, is nonetheless mistress of the world. When one of these fundamental errors, such as the glorification of classical antiquity, implanted by education in every mind from the very first moments of its intellectual awakening, becomes firmly established as a conventional judgment, unquestionably accepted and agreed to by everybody, it tends to proceed from theory to practice, from thought to action. And when a revolution strikes the hour for the theory to be put to the test, who can say in what frightful guise he who a hundred years earlier was called Fénelon will make his appearance? He had expressed his idea in the form of a novel; now he dies for it on the scaffold. He had been a poet; now he is made a martyr. He had amused society; now he subverts it.
Yet there is in reality a power superior to the most widely held conventional judgment. When education has sown a fatal seed in the soil of public opinion, there is in the body politic a force of self-preservation, vis medicatrix, that enables it to rid itself, at long last, after many sufferings and tears, of the baneful germ with which it has become infected.
Thus, after communism had sufficiently frightened and imperiled society, a reaction became inevitable. France began to retreat toward despotism. In its ardor it did not even spare the legitimate conquests of the Revolution. It had the Consulate and the Empire. But alas, need I point out that its infatuation with everything Roman persisted even in this new phase? Antiquity is always there to justify all forms of violence. From Lycurgus to Caesar, how many models there are to choose from! Then—and I here borrow the language of M. Thiers—“we who, after having been Athenians with Voltaire, tried for a while to be Spartans under the Convention, ended by becoming soldiers of Caesar under Napoleon.” Is it possible to be unaware of the imprint that our love affair with Rome has left on our age? Merciful heavens, the signs of it are to be found everywhere—in our houses, in our monuments, in our literature, in the very styles of the Empire period, in the absurd names we have given all our institutions! It was certainly no accident that we saw arising on every hand consuls, an emperor, senators, tribunes, prefects, senatusconsulta, eagles, Trajan's arches, legions, Champs de Mars, prytaneums, and lyceums.
The struggle between revolutionary and counterrevolutionary principles, it would seem, should have come to an end after July of 1830. The intellectual energies of this country were thereafter turned toward the study of social questions—in itself a perfectly natural and beneficial pursuit. Unfortunately, the University still sets the course of our intellectual life and is directing it once again toward the poisoned springs of classical antiquity; so that our unhappy country has been reduced to repeating its past, starting all over again from the beginning, and going through the same trials anew. It seems to be condemned to keep on going round in the same circle: utopia, experimentation, reaction; literary Platonism, revolutionary communism, military despotism; Fénelon, Robespierre, Napoleon! How can it be otherwise? With the reappearance of literature and journalism, our young men, instead of seeking to discover and expound the natural laws of society, confine themselves to supporting the Greco-Roman axiom: The social order is a creation of the legislator—a lamentable principle that opens up a limitless field for the imagination and is nothing but the perpetual rebirth of socialism. For, if society is something invented, who does not wish to be its inventor? Who does not wish to be either Minos or Lycurgus or Plato or Numa or Fénelon or Robespierre or Babeuf or Saint-Simon or Fourier or Louis Blanc or Proudhon? Who does not find it glorious to be the founder of a nation? Who is not delighted to be called father of nations? Who does not aspire to combine, as if they were chemical elements, the family and property in some fancied mixture?
But in order to give free scope to such imaginings beyond the columns of a newspaper, it is necessary to have power, to be in command of the central point from which all the lines of political power radiate. This is the indispensable prerequisite of every social experiment. Every sect, every school of thought will therefore bend all its efforts to drive the dominant school or sect from its seat of power in the government; so that, under the influence of classical education, political life cannot be anything but an interminable series of struggles and revolutions to determine which utopian is to have the prerogative of making experiments on the people as if they were so much raw material!
Yes, I accuse the course of instruction leading to the baccalaureate degree of wantonly preparing the whole of the youth of France for socialist utopias and social experiments. And this is undoubtedly the reason for a very strange phenomenon; I mean the inability of the very people who believe themselves threatened by socialism to refute it. Men of the middle classes, landowners, capitalists, the systems of Saint-Simon, of Fourier, of Louis Blanc, of Leroux, and of Proudhon consist, after all, in nothing but doctrines. They are false, you say. Why do you not refute them? Because you have drunk from the same cup; because association with the ancients and your infatuation with everything Greek or Roman have imbued you with socialism.
Your soul is a little tainted with it.
Your proposals for equalizing wealth by means of tariffs, your poor-relief laws, your demands for free public education, your bounties and incentive subsidies, your centralization, your faith in the state, your literature, your theatre—all testify that you are socialists. You differ from the apostles of socialism only in degree, but you are all of the same bent. That is why, when you feel that you have been outdone, instead of offering a refutation, which you do not know how to do and could not do without condemning yourselves, you wring your hands, you tear your hair, you call for repressive measures, and you say piteously: “France is done for!”
No, France is not done for. For this is what is happening: While you indulge in fruitless lamentations, socialism is refuting itself. Its proponents are at loggerheads with one another. The phalanstery has had its day; the triad* has had its day; the national workshop has had its day; and your equalization of wealth will have its day. What is there still standing? Interest-free credit. Why have you not demonstrated its absurdity? Alas, because it is you yourselves who have invented it. You have been preaching it for these many years. When you were not able to eliminate interest entirely, you regulated it. You fixed a maximum rate of interest in your usury laws, thereby giving the impression that property is a creation of the law, which is precisely the idea of Plato, of Lycurgus, of Fénelon, of Rollin, of Robespierre, and which is, I venture to say, the very essence and quintessence not only of socialism, but of communism. Do not tell me, then, how good a course of instruction is which has taught you nothing of what you ought to know and which leaves you dumbfounded and mute in face of the first wild idea that it pleases some fool to conjure up. Since you are not in a position to oppose truth to error, at least let the errors destroy one another. Refrain from muzzling the utopians and thereby setting up their propaganda on the pedestal of persecution. The great mass of the workers, if not the middle classes, have taken an interest in the great social questions, and they will resolve them. They will succeed in finding for the words “family,” “property,” “liberty,” “justice,” and “society" other definitions than those provided by our system of education. They will rout not only the socialism that proclaims itself such, but also the socialism that does not know it is socialism. They will destroy your system of totalitarian state intervention, your centralization, your artificial national unity, your protectionist system, your official philanthropy, your usury laws, your barbarous diplomacy, and your monopolistic education.
And that is why I say: No, France is not done for. It will emerge from the struggle happier, more enlightened, better organized, greater, freer, more moral, and more religious than you have made it.
After all, please keep this in mind: When I attack classical studies, I do not demand that they be forbidden; I demand only that they not be imposed. I do not call upon the state to compel everyone to accept my opinion, but rather, not to force me to accept anybody else's opinion. There is a great difference between the one and the other; let us make no mistake about it.
M. Thiers, M. de Riancey,* M. de Montalembert, and M. Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire think that the atmosphere of Rome is excellent for shaping the heart and the mind of youth. Very well; let them plunge their own children into it; I leave them free to do so. But let them leave me free to remove my own children from it as from pestiferous air. What seems sublime to you conservatives seems odious to me; what satisfies your conscience alarms mine. All right! Follow your ideals, but let me follow mine. I do not force you. Why would you force me?
You are quite convinced that from the social and moral point of view the ideal model is to be found in the past. I, for my part, see it in the future. “Let us dare to say to a century full of self-pride,” M. Thiers declared, “antiquity is what is most admirable in the world.” As for me, I am happy not to share that distressing opinion. I say distressing, for it implies that by a fatal law, mankind is continually in process of deterioration. You place perfection at the beginning of time; I put it at the end. You believe that society is retrogressing; I believe it is progressing. You believe that our opinions, our ideas, our whole way of life should be, as far as possible, cast in the antique mold; I, who have studied the social order of Sparta and of Rome, see in them only acts of violence, injustice, fraud, perpetual wars, slavery, degradation, false politics, false morality, and false religion. What you admire, I abhor. But you hold to your judgment, and let me hold to mine. We are not lawyers here, one pleading for, the other against, classical education, before an assembly obliged to render a decision that will violate either my conscience or yours. I demand of the state only its neutrality. I demand liberty for you as well as for me. I at least have the advantage over you of impartiality, moderation, and modesty.
Three sources of education are going to be made available: that of the state, that of the clergy, that of the so-called free teachers.
What I ask is that the latter be free, in fact, to try new and fruitful methods in their instruction. Let the state university teach what it cherishes, Greek and Latin; let the clergy teach what it knows, Greek and Latin. Let both of them produce Platonists and demagogues; but let them not prevent us from training, by other methods, men for our country and for our century.
For, if this freedom is forbidden to us, what a bitter mockery it is to come and say to us at every moment: “You are free!”
In the session of February 23, M. Thiers declared for the fourth time:
I shall keep on repeating what I have said: The freedom that the law which we have drafted gives is freedom in accordance with the Constitution.
I defy you to prove anything else. Prove to me that it is not freedom; I, for my part, maintain that there is no other kind possible.
Formerly, one could not teach without the permission of the government. We have abolished prior authorization; everyone will be free to teach.
Formerly it was said: Teach such and such things; do not teach such and such others. Today, we say: Teach what you want to teach.
It is a painful thing to hear such a challenge and to be condemned to silence. If the weakness of my voice had not prevented my mounting the rostrum, I should have replied to M. Thiers in these terms:
Let us see, then, from the viewpoint of the teacher, of the father of a family, and of society, to what this freedom which you call so complete has been reduced.
In virtue of your law, I establish a preparatory school. With the students' tuition fees I must buy or lease the premises, provide food for the pupils, and pay the teachers. But next door to my school, there is a state school. It does not have to trouble itself about finding the means to pay for its premises and teachers. The taxpayers, including me, take care of these expenses. The state school, then, can reduce the students' tuition fees so as to render my enterprise impossible. Is this freedom? One recourse, however, remains to me: to provide an education so superior to yours, so sought after by the public, that students come to me in spite of the relatively high fees which you have forced me to charge. But at this point you intervene, and you say to me: “Teach what you want; but, if you depart from my methods and curriculum, all the learned professions will be closed to your students.” Is this freedom?
Now, suppose I am the father of a family. I put my sons in a “free" institution. What situation do I face? As their father, I pay for the education of my children, without anyone coming to my assistance; as a taxpayer and as a Catholic, I pay for the education of the children of others, for I cannot avoid the tax that pays for the state schools or exempt myself in the Lenten season from throwing into the hat of a mendicant friar the coin that must support the clerical schools. In the latter respect, at least, I am free. But am I free in regard to the tax? By no means! Say that you are establishing solidarity, in the socialist sense, but do not profess to be establishing freedom.
And this is only a minor aspect of the question. What is more serious is this. I prefer free education, because your official education (to which you force me to contribute, without my profiting from it) seems to me communist and pagan; my conscience is unwilling to have my sons imbued with Spartan and Roman ideas which, in my eyes at least, are nothing but a glorification of violence and brigandage. Consequently, I submit to paying tuition fees for my own children and to paying the tax for the children of others. But what do I find? I find that your mythological and martial education has been indirectly imposed on the free school through the ingenious mechanism of your academic degrees, and that I must bend my conscience to your views, on pain of making of my children social pariahs. You have told me four times that I am free. If you say it to me a hundred times, I shall reply to you a hundred times: I am not free.
Be inconsistent, since you cannot avoid it, and I shall grant you that in the present state of public opinion you could not close the official preparatory schools. But set a limit to your inconsistency. Do you not complain every day about the socialistic mentality and tendencies of our young men, of their estrangement from religious ideas, of their passion for martial expeditions, a passion so great that, in our deliberative assemblies it is hardly permitted to utter the word peace, and one must take the most ingenious oratorical precautions in order to speak of justice when it has reference to foreigners? Such deplorable attitudes have a cause, undoubtedly. Is it not possible that precisely your mythological, Platonic, bellicose, and seditious education had something to do with this situation? However, I do not tell you to change the curriculum; that would be asking too much of you. But I do say to you: Since you allow so-called free schools to spring up beside your state schools and in conditions already quite difficult, permit them to try, at their own peril and risk, a Christian and scientific curriculum. The experiment is worth making. Who knows? Perhaps it would be an advance. And you want to nip it in the bud!
Finally, let us examine the question from the point of view of society, and observe, first of all, that it would be strange for society to be free in regard to education if the teachers and the fathers of families are not.
The first sentence of the report of M. Thiers on secondary education, in 1844, proclaimed this terrible truth:
Public education is perhaps the greatest concern of a civilized nation; and, for this reason, control over it is the foremost objective of political parties.
It seems that the conclusion to draw from this is that a nation that does not want to be the prey of political parties should hasten to abolish public education, that is, education by the state, and to proclaim freedom of education. If the educational system is in the power of the government, political parties will have one more reason for seeking to gain power, since, by the same token, they will have control over the educational system, which is their foremost objective. Is not the ambition to govern inspired enough by covetousness already? Does it not provoke enough struggles, revolutions, and disorders? And is it wise to arouse it further by the lure of such a potent influence?
And why do political parties aspire to take over the direction of education? Because they know the saying of Leibnitz: “Make me the master of education, and I will undertake to change the world.” Education by governmental power, then, is education by a political party, by a sect momentarily triumphant; it is education on behalf of one idea, of one system, to the exclusion of all others. “We have made the Republic,” said Robespierre; “it remains for us to make republicans”—an attempt that was renewed in 1848. Bonaparte wanted to make only soldiers; Frayssinous,* only religious zealots; Villemain,† only orators; Guizot,‡ only doctrinaires; Enfantin,* only Saint-Simonians; and I, who am indignant to see mankind thus degraded, if I were ever in a position to say: “I am the state,” would perhaps be tempted to make only economists. Shall we never realize the danger of furnishing political parties, as they seize power, with the opportunity to impose their opinions—nay, their errors—universally and uniformly by force? For it is indeed using force to forbid by law every other idea than that with which one is oneself infatuated.
Such a demand is essentially monarchist, although no one proclaims it more resolutely than the republicans; for it rests on the assumption that the governed are made for the governors, that society belongs to the wielders of political power, and that they must make society in their own image; whereas, according to our law, so dearly won, political power is only an emanation of society, one of the manifestations of its thought.
For my part, I cannot conceive, especially as coming from republicans, a more absurdly vicious circle than this: From year to year, by means of universal suffrage, national opinion will be embodied in the magistrates, and then the magistrates will mold national opinion as they like.
This doctrine implies the following two propositions: National opinion is wrong. Governmental opinion is infallible.
If this is so, then, republicans, re-establish at the same time autocracy, state education, monarchy, the divine right of kings, and the power of the government as absolute, irresponsible, and infallible, since all these are institutions having a common principle and emanating from the same source.
If there is in the world an infallible man (or sect), then turn over to him (or to it) not only education, but complete and plenary power, and have done with it. If not, let us enlighten ourselves as well as we can, but let us not abdicate.
Now, I repeat my question: From the social viewpoint, does the law that we are discussing establish freedom?
Formerly there was a state university. Its permission was required in order to teach. It imposed its ideas and its methods, and one had to be satisfied with them. It was, then, according to Leibnitz's view, the mistress of the ages, and it was for that reason undoubtedly that its leader took the significant title of Grand Master.
Now all this has been brought to an end. Only two prerogatives are to be left to the state university: first, the right to say what one must know in order to obtain an academic degree; second, the right to close off innumerable careers to those who will not comply.
That is hardly anything at all, we are told. And I say it is everything.
This leads me to say something about a word that has often been used in this discussion: the word unity; for many people see in the bachelor's degree the means of turning all minds in a single direction, if not reasonable and useful, at least unitary, and therein good.
The admirers of unity are very numerous, and that is understandable. By a providential decree, we all have faith in our own judgment, and we believe that there is only one right opinion in the world, namely, our own. Therefore we think that the legislator could do no better than to impose it on everyone; and, the better to be on the safe side, we all want to be that legislator. But legislators come and go, and what is the result? With every change, one kind of unity replaces another. State education, then, makes uniformity prevail, if we consider each period separately; but, if we compare successive periods, for example, the Convention, the Directory, the Empire, the Restoration, the July Monarchy, and the Republic, we rediscover diversity, and, what is worse, the most subversive of all diversities, that which produces in the intellectual domain, as in a theatre, changes of scene at the whim of the stagehands. Shall we always allow the national mind and the public conscience to descend to this depth of degradation and indignity?
There are two kinds of unity. One is a point of departure. It is imposed by force, by those who momentarily have force at their command. The other is an end result, the great consummation of human perfectibility. It results from the natural gravitation of men's minds toward the truth.
The first kind of unity is based on contempt for the human race, and despotism is its instrument. Robespierre was a proponent of this kind of unity when he said: “Now that I have made the Republic, I am going to set about making republicans.” Napoleon was a partisan of this kind of unity when he said: “I love war, and I will make all Frenchmen warriors.” Frayssinous was committed to this kind of unity when he said: “I have a faith, and by means of education I will mold all consciences in that faith.” Procrustes was enamored of this kind of unity when he said: “I will shorten or lengthen whoever is too long or too short for the dimensions of this bed.” The bachelor's degree imposes this kind of unity when it says: “Life in society will be forbidden to whoever does not follow my curriculum.” And let no one allege that the Supreme Council will be able to change this curriculum every year; for, certainly, one could not imagine a more vexatious circumstance. Well, then, is the entire nation to become like the clay that the potter breaks when he is not satisfied with the form that he has given to it?
In his report of 1844, M. Thiers showed himself an ardent admirer of this kind of unity, though regretting that it was hardly in conformity with the spirit of modern nations.
The country in which freedom of education does not prevail would be one in which the state, animated by an absolute will, wishing to cast the whole of the country's youth in the same mold and to stamp it, like the coinage, with its own image, would permit no diversity in the system of education, and for several years would make all the children wear the same clothing, eat the same food, apply themselves to the same studies, submit to the same exercises, bow, etc.....
Beware of denigrating this demand on the part of the state to impose unity of character on the nation and of regarding it as an inspiration of tyranny. One might almost say, on the contrary, that this resolve on the part of the state to make all citizens conform to a common type is proportionate to the patriotism of each country. It was in the republics of antiquity, where the fatherland was most adored and best served, that it showed itself most rigorous and exacting in regard to the morals and ideas of the citizens..... And we, who in the last century experienced every type of human society, we, who after having been Athenians with Voltaire, tried for a while to be Spartans under the Convention and soldiers of Caesar under Napoleon, if we once dreamed of imposing the yoke of the state in an absolute manner over education, it was under the National Convention, at the moment of the greatest patriotic exaltation.
Let us do M. Thiers justice. He did not propose to follow such examples. “We must,” he said, “neither imitate nor stigmatize them. It was delirium, but the delirium of patriotism.”
The fact remains, nevertheless, that M. Thiers still shows himself here faithful to the judgment he pronounced earlier: “Antiquity is what is most admirable in the world.” He reveals a hidden predilection for the absolute despotism of the state, an instinctive admiration for the institutions of Crete and of Sparta, which gave the legislator the power to cast the whole of the country's youth in the same mold, to stamp it, like the coinage, in his image, etc., etc.
And I cannot but point out here, for it well accords with my subject, the vestiges of that conventional judgment in favor of classical antiquity which would have us admire in it as virtue what was the result of the harshest and most immoral of necessities. Those ancients that are so frequently extolled, I cannot repeat too often, lived by brigandage and would not for anything in the world have laid their hands on a tool. They had the whole human race as their enemy. They were condemned to perpetual warfare and faced the alternative of either always winning or perishing. Consequently, there was and there could be for them only one occupation, that of the soldier. The community had to concentrate on developing the military virtues in all its citizens uniformly, and the citizens submitted to the unity that was the guarantee of their existence.19
But what is there in common between those times of barbarism and our own age?
For what precise and definite object are all the citizens today to be stamped, like the coinage, with the same image? Is it because they are all destined for different careers? On what basis would they be cast in the same mold? And who will possess the mold? A terrible question, which should give us pause. Who will possess the mold? If there is a mold (and the bachelor's degree is one), everyone will want to have control of it: M. Thiers, M. Parisis, M. Barthélemy Saint-Hilaire, I, the Reds, the Whites, the Blues, the Blacks. We must fight, then, to settle this preliminary question, which will arise again continually. Is it not simpler to break this fatal mold and honestly proclaim freedom?
For freedom is the soil in which genuine unity grows and the atmosphere that makes it fruitful. The effect of competition is to encourage, bring to light, and diffuse good methods and to eliminate bad ones. It must be recognized that the human mind has a more natural affinity with the truth than with error, with what is good than with what is evil, with what is useful than with what is harmful. If this were not the case, if what is true were necessarily doomed to failure and what is false were predestined to succeed, all our efforts would be vain; humanity would be headed, as Rousseau believed, for inevitable and progressive degradation. We should have to say with M. Thiers: “Antiquity is what is most admirable in the world,” which is not only an error but a blasphemy. Men's interests, rightly understood, are harmonious with one another, and the inner light that reveals them to men shines with an ever more vivid brilliance. Hence, their individual and collective efforts, their experience, their gropings, even their disappointments, their competition—in a word, their freedom—make men gravitate toward that unity which is the expression of the laws of their nature and the consummation of the common good.
How has it happened that the liberal party has fallen into the strange contradiction of disregarding the liberty, the dignity, the perfectibility of man, and of preferring to them an artificial, stationary, degrading unity, imposed by turns by all despotic regimes on behalf of the most diverse systems?
There are several reasons for this: First, the liberal party too has been imbued with the Roman character by classical education. Do they not have holders of bachelor's degrees as their leaders? Secondly, they hope, through parliamentary upsets, to see that precious instrument fall into their hands—that intellectual mold which is, according to M. Thiers, the object of all ambitions. Finally, the necessities of defense against the unjust aggression of Europe in 1792 contributed not a little to popularize in France the idea of a powerful national unity.
But of all the motives that impel the liberals to sacrifice freedom, the most powerful is the fear that the encroachments of the clergy in the matter of education inspire in them.
I do not share that fear, but I understand it.
Consider, say the liberals, the situation of the clergy in France: its learned hierarchy, its strong discipline, its militia forty thousand strong (all unmarried and occupying the most prominent posts in their respective communities), and the influence it has on people's daily lives in the exercise of its functions. Speaking from the pulpit with uncontradicted authority and murmuring commands in the confessional, it draws ever tighter the bonds which tie it to the state, which assure it of funds from the national budget, and which at the same time subject it to a spiritual head who is a foreign king. It has further resources in contributions from an ardent and devoted membership and in the alms it distributes. Consider that it regards as its primary duty the control of education. Now, tell me whether under these conditions freedom of education is not a trap.
A volume would be necessary to treat this vast question and all the rest that go with it. I shall confine myself to one consideration:
Under a free system, it is not the clergy who will take command of education, but education that will take command of the clergy. It is not the clergy that will stamp the century with its image, but the century that will make the clergy in its image.
Can it be doubted that education—once freed from the shackles of the state university by virtue of the abolition of its academic degrees and from the conventional prepossession in favor of classical antiquity—would venture, under the stimulus of competition, into new and fruitful paths? The free institutions, which will with difficulty arise beside the state schools and church schools, will feel the necessity of giving the human mind its true nourishment; namely, the knowledge of what things are, and not the knowledge of what was said about them two thousand years ago. Antiquity is the childhood of the world, says Bacon, and, properly speaking, it is our time that is antiquity, the world having acquired knowledge and experience in growing old.* The study of the works of God and of Nature in the moral order and in the material order—this is genuine education, and this is what will prevail when the schools are free of government control. The young people who receive this kind of education will show themselves superior in force of understanding, sureness of judgment, and aptitude for practical life to the frightful little rhetoricians that the state university and the clergy will have saturated with doctrines as false as they are out of date. While the former will be prepared for the social responsibilities of our age, the latter will be forced at first to forget, if they can, what they have learned, and then to learn what they need to know. In face of results like these, the fathers of families will tend to prefer the unregimented schools, full of vigor and life, to those that succumb to the slavery of routine.
What will happen then? The clergy, too, always eager to preserve its influence, will have no other recourse than to substitute the kind of education that concerns itself with things rather than words, with the study of positive truths rather than with conventional doctrines, and with the substance rather than the appearance of things.
But to teach, one must know; and to know, one must learn. The clergy will, then, be forced to change the direction of its own studies, and reforms will be introduced even in the seminaries. Now, do you think that a different diet will not produce different temperaments? For, let us not forget, what will have to be changed is not only the content but also the method of clerical education. Knowledge of the works of God and of Nature is acquired by other intellectual methods than those needed in the study of theogonies. To observe facts and their concatenation is one thing; to accept without inquiry a sacred text and to draw consequences from it is another. When science replaces intuition, inquiry is substituted for authority, and the method of philosophy takes the place of mere reliance on dogma; another end requires another procedure, and other procedures give other dispositions to the mind.
It is not to be doubted, then, that the effect of introducing science into the seminaries, which must be the inevitable result of freedom of education, cannot fail to modify even the intellectual habits prevalent in those institutions. And this is a change that, I am convinced, will herald the dawn of a great and desirable revolution—one which will achieve religious unity.
I said just now that the conventional prepossession in favor of classical antiquity makes living contradictions of all of us—French by necessity and Romans by education. Could it not also be said that from the religious point of view we are living contradictions?
We all feel in our hearts an irresistible power that impels us toward religion, and, at the same time, we sense in our minds a force no less irresistible that alienates us from it—the more so, in point of fact, the more we have cultivated our minds, so that a great scholar* has said: Literati minus credunt: “Learned men are those who have the least faith.”
Oh, what a sad spectacle! For some time now, we have been hearing doleful lamentations about the weakening of religious beliefs; and, what is most strange, the very ones who have allowed the last spark of faith to be extinguished in their souls are the most disposed to find skepticism—on the part of others—in bad taste. “Surrender your reason,” they say to the people. “Unless you do, all is lost. It is all right for me to rely on my reason, for mine is of a special temper; and, in order to observe the Decalogue, I have no need to believe it to be revealed. Even when I deviate from it somewhat, the evil is not great; but you—that's different: you cannot violate it without imperiling society .... and my tranquillity.”
It is thus that fear seeks refuge in hypocrisy. One does not believe, but one makes a pretense of believing. While skepticism lurks in the depths, a calculated religiosity shows itself on the surface, and a new conventional opinion, of the worst kind, dishonors the human mind.
And yet all is not hypocrisy in this kind of talk. Even though everything is disbelieved, even though there is no formal religious observance, there is in the depths of men's hearts, as Lamennais says, a root of faith that never dries up.
How does this strange and dangerous situation come about? Could it not be that, to religious truths, primordial and fundamental, to which all sects and all schools of thought agree in adhering, there are added, with the passage of time, institutions, practices, and rites that the understanding, in spite of itself, cannot accept? And have these human additions any other support, even in the minds of the clergy, than the dogmatism by which they are connected with primordial truths that are not contested?
Religious unity will be achieved, but only when each sect abandons those parasitical institutions to which I have alluded. It may be recalled that Bossuet made short shrift of them when he discussed with Leibnitz the means of restoring to unity all the Christian confessions.* Would what appeared possible and good to the great scholar of the seventeenth century be regarded as too daring by the scholars of the nineteenth? In any case, freedom of education, in making new intellectual habits permeate the clergy, will undoubtedly be one of the most powerful instruments of the great religious revival that alone can henceforth satisfy men's consciences and save society.
Men have such a need of morality that the institution that has been made, in the name of God, the guardian and dispenser of morality, acquires an unlimited authority over them. Now, it is a matter of experience that nothing corrupts men more than unlimited authority. A time comes, then, when, far from the priesthood remaining only an instrument of religion, it is religion that becomes the instrument of the priesthood. From that moment a fatal antagonism is introduced into the world. Faith and reason will each try to prevail over the other. The priest will constantly add to sacred truths errors that he proclaims no less sacred, thereby providing the lay opposition with more and more valid objections, more and more serious arguments in support of its stand. The former will seek to pass off the false along with the true; the latter, to destroy the true along with the false. Religion becomes superstition; and philosophy, incredulity. Between these two extremes the masses drift in doubt, and it can be said that mankind is passing through a critical period. Meanwhile, the abyss becomes ever deeper, and the struggle is carried on not only between man and man, but even within the conscience of each man, with varied results. If a political disturbance happens to terrify society,* it rushes in fear to the side of faith. A sort of hypocritical religiosity gains the ascendancy, and the priest believes himself the victor. But no sooner does calm reappear, no sooner does the priest try to take advantage of his victory, than reason reassumes its rights and sets to work again. When, then, will this anarchy cease? When will the alliance between reason and faith be ratified? When faith is no longer a weapon; when the priesthood, having become again what it should be, the instrument of religion, abandons the formulas and rituals, which are its chief concern, for the essence, which is what chiefly concerns mankind. Then it will not be enough to say that religion and philosophy are sisters; it will have to be said that they are indissolubly united.
But—to come down from these lofty heights and return to the subject of university degrees—I wonder whether the clergy will not be strongly averse to abandoning the routine methods of classical education. They will, in any case, be in no way obliged to do so.
Would it not be ironic indeed if Platonic communism, paganism, the ideas and the moral principles fashioned by slavery and brigandage, the Odes of Horace, and the Metamorphoses of Ovid, were to find their last defenders and teachers in the priests of France? It is not for me to give them advice. But they will allow me to cite here an extract from a newspaper which, if I am not mistaken, is edited by churchmen:
Who, then, among the doctors of the Church, are apologists for pagan education? Is it Saint Clement, who wrote that profane science is like the fruits and preserves which ought to be served only at the end of the meal? Is it Origen, who wrote that in the golden cup of pagan poetry there are deadly poisons? Is it Tertullian, who calls the pagan philosophers the patriarchs of the heretics: Patriarchae hoereticorum? Is it St. Irenaeus, who declared that Plato has been the seasoning of all the heresies? Is it Lactantius, who observed that in his time learned men were those who had the least faith? Is it St. Ambrose, who said that it is very dangerous for Christians to occupy themselves with profane rhetoric? Is it, finally, St. Jerome, who, in his letter to Eustachius, vehemently condemning the study of pagan authors, said: “What is there in common between the light and the darkness? What agreement can exist between Christ and Belial? What has Horace to do with the Psalter, or Virgil with the Gospel? ....” St. Jerome regrets keenly the time that he devoted in his youth to the study of pagan letters: “Wretch that I was, I deprived myself of nourishment in order not to leave Cicero; early in the morning I had Plautus in my hands. If sometimes, returning to myself, I began the reading of the prophets, their style seemed to me uncouth; and because I was blind, I denied the light!”
But let us hear what Saint Augustine has to say:
The simple books that taught me to read and write were actually much more useful and solid than those I was later forced to apply myself to—books about the adventures of a certain Aeneas, that made me weep over the fate of Dido, dying of love, while I, forgetting my own sins, found my own death in these harmful readings..... And this sort of madness is considered a more honorable and more fruitful kind of literature than that by which I was taught to read and write! Tales dementiae honestiores et uberiores litterae putantur. .... Let them cry out against me, these merchants of fine literature; I am not afraid of them, and I am doing everything I can to depart from the evil ways I have followed..... It is true that from these studies I have retained many expressions that it is useful to know, but these can be learned elsewhere than in such frivolous readings, and children should be led on a less dangerous road. But who dares to stay thy course, O evil torrent of custom!.... Is it not in order to follow your course that I read the story of Jupiter, who at the same time unleashes the thunder and commits adultery? We know well that these things are contradictory; but with the aid of this false thunder the horror that adultery inspires is diminished, and young people are influenced to imitate the actions of a criminal god.
And yet, thou stream of Hell, all the sons of men are cast into thy current, and much is made of this blameworthy custom, which goes on publicly, under the very eyes of the magistrates, for an agreed salary..... It was the wine of error that was presented to us in our childhood by our inebriated teachers; they punished us when we refused to drink of it, and we could not appeal from their sentence to any judge who was not as drunk as they. My soul was thus the prey of impure spirits, for there is more than one way of offering sacrifices to the demons.*
Are not these very eloquent lamentations, adds the Catholic paper, this bitter criticism, these harsh reproaches, these touching regrets, these judicious counsels, addressed as much to our century as to the one for which St. Augustine wrote? Is not the same system of studies, against which St. Augustine inveighed with such vehemence, preserved under the name of classical education? Has not that torrent of paganism inundated the world? Are not thousands of children cast each year into its current, where they lose their faith and moral principles, the feeling of human dignity, the love of freedom, and the knowledge of their rights and their duties? Do they not emerge completely imbued with the false ideas of paganism, with its false ethics, its false virtues, as well as its vices and its deep contempt for mankind?
And this frightful moral disorder does not spring from the perversity of individuals abandoned to their own free will. No; it is imposed by law by means of university degrees. M. de Montalembert himself, while regretting that the study of ancient literature did not go far enough, cited the reports of the inspectors and the deans of the university faculties. They are unanimous in observing the resistance, I would almost say the revolt, of public sentiment against so absurd and so harmful a tyranny. All observe that the young people of France calculate with mathematical precision what they are required to learn and what they are allowed not to know about classical studies, and that they stop just at the point at which the degrees are obtained. It is by no means the same in the other branches of human knowledge. Is it not notorious that for ten admissions, one hundred candidates present themselves, all superior to what the courses of study require? Let the legislator, then, show some consideration for public opinion and the spirit of the age.
Is it a barbarian, a Goth, a Pict, who dares to speak here? Is he ignorant of the supreme beauty of the literary monuments bequeathed by antiquity or the services rendered to the cause of civilization by the Greek democracies?
Certainly not; it cannot be too often repeated that he is not asking that the law proscribe, but that it not prescribe. He asks that it leave the citizens free to do as they will. They will be able to see history in its true light, to admire what is worthy of admiration, to stigmatize what merits contempt, and to free themselves from that conventional prepossession in favor of classical antiquity that plagues modern nations so disastrously. Under the influence of freedom, the natural sciences and profane letters, Christianity and paganism will be able to play in education the part that rightfully belongs to them; and in this way there will be reestablished among men's ideas, interests, and ways of life that harmony which is the condition of order as much for the individual conscience as it is for society.
[*][It is important to distinguish between the American system of independent colleges and universities, free, within very broad limits, to establish their own requirements for academic degrees, and the French system, established by the First Empire, against which Bastiat protests. In France all higher education was completely unified under a university corps, the “University” (l'Université), headed by a “Grand Master” (le grand maître) and a “Supreme Council” (le Conseil Supérieur). This corps had full control over curriculum, methods, and requirements leading to the various academic degrees in all the schools and universities in the country. Bastiat does not exaggerate, therefore, the monopolistic power held by the “University.” Reforms in the direction of liberalization did not come until the decade of 1875–1885 under the Third Republic.—Translator.]
[*][The French West Point.—Translator.]
[*][The French baccalauréat, corresponding roughly, in time, to the first two years of college in America, is conferred by the secondary schools (the collège or the lycée). The standards, however, are high, and the work is intensive, so that the student, on receiving his baccalauréat, is presumed to have completed his general education and to be qualified to study for more advanced degrees in the universities.—Translator.]
[*][Pierre Louis Parisis (1795–1866), French prelate and politician, Bishop of Langres, 1835–1851, and of Arras, 1851–1866. Elected a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1848, he showed himself an outspoken monarchist and champion of reaction; also from 1848 on, he served as a member of the Supreme Council of the “University,” although Napoleon's coup d'état in 1852 ended his political career in other respects.—Translator.]
[*][“I prefer liberty, even though fraught with peril.”—Translator.]
[*][Jules Barthélemy de Saint-Hilaire (1805–1887), French scholar and author, professor of Latin and Greek in the Collège de France, Minister of Education under Cousin in 1840. He entered politics in 1848, serving as first head of the Secretariat of the Provisional Government, then as Deputy. During this time he publicly defended the existing “University" system against the attacks of Bastiat and others on the occasion of the “Law of 1850.” Known as very conservative and even reactionary, he became much more liberal in his later political career. As a protest against Napoleon III, he resigned his professorship and administrative duties at the Collège de France. After 1870, as a supporter of Thiers, he was elected to the National Assembly, became a member of the Thiers cabinet, was elected Senator for life in 1875, and, in 1880, served as Minister of Foreign Affairs.—Translator.]
[*][Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592), famed humanistic essayist of the Renaissance.—Translator.]
[*][Horace, II, iii.—Translator.]
[*][Charles Rollin (1661–1741), educator, defender of the privileges of the University, and champion of classical studies. He was the author of Traité des Études (1726).—Translator.]
[*][Honoré Gabriel Riqueti, Comte de Mirabeau (1749–1791), one of the great figures of the early years of the French Revolution, whose plan to set up a constitutional monarchy failed, owing to the resistance of the King and the Queen and to the radically changed political situation after 1789. He was president of the Jacobin Club, which included some of his inveterate opponents, and of the National Assembly, as well as reporter of the diplomatic committee of the Assembly.—Translator.]
[*][Jacques Pierre Brissot (1754–1793), pamphleteer, journalist, social reformer, and revolutionary. In the early years of the First French Republic he was an influential Jacobin Deputy and editor of the Patriote français. Active in the French movement to abolish the slave trade, he was the leader of the Girondins, a moderate group of republicans whose members were at first called Brissotins. He was evicted with them from the Convention and was guillotined in 1793.—Translator.]
[*][Emerich de Vattel (1714–1767), Swiss jurist, whose Law of Nations (1758) sought to apply the natural law to international relations. Liberal and humanitarian in temper, he defended the rights of neutrals in time of war, and his work influenced the subsequent development of international law.—Translator.]
[*][Don Felix de Azara (1746–1811), for twenty years Spanish commissioner for delimiting the boundaries between the Spanish and the Portuguese territories of South America, and author of Voyage dans l'Amérique méridionale depuis 1781 jusqu'en 1801 (Paris, 1809), incorporating observations on the natural history of South America and an account of the discovery and history of Paraguay.—Translator.]
[†][Louis Antoine de Bougainville (1729–1811), French navigator and explorer, who described his circumnavigation of the globe (1767–1769) in his Voyage autour du monde (1771). The largest of the Solomon Islands, which he sailed by on this voyage, is named after him.—Translator.]
[*][Théodore Rose Léon Alfred Sudre (b. 1820), publicist and economist, author of Histoire du communisme, ou Réfutation historique des utopies socialistes (1848).—Translator.]
[*][Pierre Antoine, Marquis d'Antonelle (1747–1817), journalist and politician, author of Catéchisme du tiers état (1789). He presided at the trial of Marie-Antoinette and the Girondins.—Translator.]
[†][Jean Baptiste Carrier (1756–1794), one of the most notorious administrators of the Terror. To make Nantes safe against the Vendée revolt, he set up a revolutionary tribunal that condemned masses of prisoners to the guillotine, the firing squad, and—most ingenious and efficient—the noyades, vessels with trapdoors for bottoms in which he had prisoners sunk in the Loire. He himself ended on the guillotine in December, 1794.—Translator.]
[*][Jean Paul Rabaut Saint-Étienne (1743–1793), political leader active in securing the removal of legal disabilities from non-Catholics. A Girondin, he was guillotined with the downfall of his party.—Translator.]
[†][Hospice de Quinze-Vingts, originally founded as an almshouse for three hundred blind poor. It was later placed under the jurisdiction of a special administration of that name and established as a workshop for the inmates.—Translator.]
[†][Publius Valerius Publicola, Roman general who took a leading part in the expulsion of the Tarquins in 510 B.C. and successfully defended Rome against the Volscians, the Etruscans, and the Sabines.—Translator.]
[*][One of the divisions of Fourier's phalanges.—Translator.]
[*][Henri Léon Camusat de Riancey (1816–1870), French publicist and politician with Catholic and royalist leanings, editor of the journal L'Union which he founded in 1850. Elected to the Assembly in 1845, he was outspoken in his opposition to republican government and to change in the educational system.—Translator.]
[*][Denis de Frayssinous (1765–1841), an ardent churchman and Grand Master of the University (1822).—Translator.]
[†][François Villemain (1773–1854), a Sorbonne professor, literary critic, and Minister of Public Education (1839–1844).—Translator.]
[‡][François Pierre Guillaume Guizot (1787–1874), French statesman and historian, professor of history at the Sorbonne. He began his long political career as Secretary-General of the Ministry of the Interior under the Restoration government, became Minister of Public Education in 1832 under the Louis Philippe government, and finally, 1840–1848, its head. Although he was a liberal in his earlier years, his growing conservatism made him unacceptable to the leaders of the 1848 Revolution, and, from that date on, his political influence waned rapidly. As an historian and organizer of historical research, he was one of the eminent figures of his day.—Translator.]
[*][Barthélemy Prosper Enfantin (1796–1864), an engineer and also one of the founders of Saint-Simonianism.—Translator.]
[*][“And to speak the truth, antiquity, as we call it, is the young state of the world; for those times are ancient when the world is ancient; and not those we vulgarly account ancient by computing backwards; so that the present time is the real antiquity.” Advancement of Learning, Book I.—Translator.]
[*][Bossuet's proposal was simply for all dissenting sects to return to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.—Translator.]
[*][Like the Revolution of 1848.—Translator.]
[*][St. Augustine, Confessions, Bk. I, xiii-xvii.—Translator.]
[1.][Twenty years before, the author, in his first essay, had already pointed to freedom of education as one of the reforms that the nation should strive to obtain. See, in Vol. I (of the French edition), the pamphlet entitled “To the Electors of the Department of Landes.”—Editor.]
[2.]“He who ventures to found a nation must feel himself capable of changing, so to speak, human nature, .... of altering the physical and moral constitution of man, etc.” (Social Contract, chap. 7.)
[3.][See “The Law" (chap. 2 of this volume).—Editor.]
[4.]Report of M. Thiers on the Law of Secondary Education, 1844.
[5.]Distance contributes not a little to give to ancient figures a quality of grandeur. If someone speaks to us of the Roman citizen, we ordinarily do not picture to ourselves a brigand occupied with acquiring booty and slaves, at the expense of peaceful peoples; we do not see him half-naked, shockingly dirty, going about muddy streets; we do not surprise him in the act of flogging a slave until the blood flows or putting him to death if he shows a bit of energy and spirit. We prefer to picture to ourselves a beautiful head crowning an impressive and majestic body draped like an ancient statue. We like to think of him as meditating on the high destinies of his country. He seems to us to be seeing his family gathering around the hearth, which is honored by the presence of the gods; the wife preparing the simple repast of the warrior and glancing with confidence and admiration at her husband's face; the young children attentive to the discourse of an old man who whiles away the hours by recounting the exploits and the virtues of their father.....
[6.]Those who would like to knead society as if it were dough sometimes are too modest to say, “I shall do, I shall arrange.....” They prefer to make use of the indirect, but equivalent form: “It is to be done, it is to be arranged.....”
[7.]Spirit of the Laws, Bk. IV, chap. 6.
[8.]Op. cit., Bk. IV, chap. 8.
[9.]Op. cit., Bk. V, chap. 5.
[10.]Op. cit., Bk. V, chap. 6.
[11.]Op. cit., Bk. VII, chap. 16.
[12.]Discours sur le rétablissement des sciences et des arts.
[14.]23 Nivôse, Year III.
[16.]December 16, 1792.
[17.]November 21, 1794.
[18.]March 19, 1794.
[19.][In the fragment from which we borrowed note 5 above, the author examines these two questions: First, whether self-sacrifice is a preferable political motive to self-interest. Second, whether the ancient peoples, and notably the Romans, practiced this self-sacrifice better than modern peoples.
[*][Nivôse was the fourth month in the French revolutionary calendar.—Translator.]