The Conflict of Philosophies

The Conflict of Philosophies

Editor’s Note, by Art Middlekauff

In 1936, Elsie Kitching wrote a book review for The Parents’ Review, the journal she edited from 1923 to 1949. Published in the April issue, the piece covered The Year Book of Education, 1936, edited by Harley V. Usill. Kitching enumerated the key sections of the book and noted some of its contributors, and then she concluded with this note:

The Parents’ Review is much indebted to both author and editor for permission to reprint one of the outstanding chapters, ‘The Conflict of Philosophies.’[1]

Kitching was known to be a highly reliable interpreter of Mason’s views. “It was startling to many,” wrote H. Costley-White in 1955, “to hear her in any discussions quote instantly, and often verbatim, what Miss Mason’s view of the matter was.”[2] In 1936, this reliable interpreter had hand-picked an article from The Year Book of Education and obtained permission to reprint it in the May Parents’ Review.

The article “The Conflict of Philosophies” was written by Sir Fred Clarke, Director of the Institute of Education at the University of London. Kitching continued to favor Clarke’s works, reprinting an article by him in The Parents’ Review in 1937 (“The Crisis of Freedom”)[3] and 1946 (“The Qualities of the Teacher”).[4]

Later in 1946, Kitching wrote an extraordinary note for the November Parents’ Review:

There are in this New Age leaders of vital constructive thought in matters educational who offer guidance for the future, and we may perhaps be allowed to believe that the Method (in Coleridge’s sense) of Charlotte Mason will receive fuller apprehension as their thought becomes established.[5]

She then listed five contemporary educationists whom she felt provided a springboard from which Mason’s ideas could flourish. Third on her list was Sir Fred Clarke, and she included this inspiring quote from him:

The purpose of education is to make men aware of their deeper and more permanent wants, and it cannot but act as a revolutionary force in an unsatisfying world[6]

In the last months before her retirement, Kitching revisited Clarke one last time. In the November 1949 Parents’ Review, she reviewed Clarke’s monograph entitled Freedom in the Educative Society. Kitching noted Clarke’s “long experience of University Training Colleges in England, Africa and Canada.”[7] Interestingly, the book review also included a lengthy excerpt (published by permission) in which Clarke referenced his 1936 “Conflict of Philosophies” and reiterated a key point of the article.[8]

What was the content of this article that resonated so much with Kitching and which was reaffirmed by its author thirteen years later? In what way did it provide a framework that could help others to appreciate Mason’s thought? Read on and consider.

By F. Clarke
The Parents’ Review, 1936, pp. 281-307

‘Education is, in fact, the drawing and leading of children to the rule which has been pronounced right by the voice of law, and approved as truly right by the concordant experience of the best and oldest men.’ ‘He (i.e. the lawgiver) need only tax his invention to discover what convictions would be most beneficial to a city, and then contrive all manner of devices to ensure that the whole of such a community shall treat the topic in one single and selfsame lifelong tone, alike in song, in story and in discourse.’—Plato’s Laws (A. E. Taylor’s translation).

‘The only man who does his own will is he who has no need, in order to do it, to put the arms of another to do it as well as his own; whence it follows that the first of all good things is not authority, but liberty. The man truly free wants only what he can have and does what pleases himself. There you have my fundamental maxim.’—Rousseau’s Emile.

General Smuts’s now famous metaphor, ‘Humanity has struck its tents and is once more on the march,’ with itspronounced African flavour, conveys no more than the sober truth. Since he uttered it, the process of discarding or revising old ruling values and of reconstructing institutions in the light of new criteria has gathered momentum. At such a time established beliefs and routines in the field of education must inevitably, sooner or later, experience the shock of a sharp challenge. For, whatever else education may mean, it must mean primarily the self-perpetuation of an accepted culture—a culture which is the life of a determinate society. This is true, whether the educative process is regarded, with the individualists, as the nurture of free Personality through the cultural sustenance which the life of a society can offer; or, with the totalitarians, as the affirmation of the one spiritual Whole in its temporary and partial bearers and servants, the citizens. In either case the culture is authoritative in its own field merely because it is indispensable.

Its authoritative character is least obvious just when it is most complete and unquestioned; when it is so secure, so absolute, so all-pervading that it feels no need to be obtrusive. At such times education proceeds with a peaceful assurance which brings a sense of amplitude and freedom that is not all illusion. Obvious examples can be found in the education of historic China before contact with the West had begun to cloud and corrode the universally accepted values upon which it proceeded, and in the education of mediaeval Christendom before the influences which produced the Renaissance and the Reformation had decisively asserted themselves.

Less obvious, but for that very reason more illuminating, is the example of the United States. Superficially the educational scene there during the past century has been one of almost feverish activity and of apparently unrestricted freedom to invent and experiment. It was the land where educators professed themselves ready to ‘try everything once,’ where education claimed its own complete autonomy, where the dictator, in any form, was the arch-enemy, and where the ‘casting off of tradition’ was the wellnigh universal pose.

Now, when the nineteenth century really has passed away and the shock of real challenge to the old fundamentals is too plain to be ignored, it becomes clear that all the eager activity and the appearance of freedom were possible just because beneath it all there was a tradition which nobody questioned. The bitter experience of daring spirits in this last generation who did venture to question what might be called the ‘tradition of normalcy’ is evidence enough of the foundation of cultural authority upon which the whole thing proceeded. The foundation lay so deep and was so universally accepted as to remain below the conscious level until, in recent years, it was seriously questioned. But no one who studies education as it proceeded in the United States during the past century can doubt that it too had its ‘Chinese’ side—the thoughts and practices which were not permissible, the prohibitions and tabus which were hardly formulated just because what they excluded was so completely alien to the accepted tradition. The appearance of freedom, as is now becoming clear, was the obverse of this acceptance, as it were. In England, too, in the nineteenth century there was acceptance, though of a somewhat different tradition. The whole great structure of popular education grew up without any serious disturbance of the dominant social faith. Widespread provision for elementary education fitted very readily into a social tradition that included the Poor Laws and the Charity School. There was nothing really revolutionary in it, and even to-day, when criticism of the old order of society and culture grows more radical and thoroughgoing, the critics do not appear to come, in any preponderant degree, from the newer and more popular schools. In the nineteenth century at any rate, what Mr. Chesterton has called the Victorian Compromise ruled unquestioned. The traditional order remained intact, so that new demands for education and the pressure of rising classes were met, not by a new education or by the creation of wholly new types of institutions, but by skilful adaptation of the old resources to meet the new needs in old terms. To-day, the persistence of the non-provided schools and the Church training colleges, the assimilation of new universities and secondary schools to the traditional types, even that rejuvenation of the ancient county units to which the Education Act of 1902 has contributed so largely, all bear witness to the abiding strength of a dominant tradition. That libertas docendi of which Englishmen are so justly proud may be more closely related to an assured sense of the security of the tradition than we like to believe. Should the rise of new and radical forms of social and political thought in the coming years bring with it any serious and resolute challenge to the still-continuing social and cultural order, it will be interesting to see what happens to the libertas docendi. For evidence of the influence upon it of the fear that an established order is threatened one need not go beyond certain British Dominions to-day.

We may agree, then, that systematic and effective education has always the character of an accepted culture perpetuating itself. There is, indeed, no error more disastrous than that to which some modern intellectuals seem to be especially prone, namely the error which assumes that no education can be healthy unless itspostulates are continuously being questioned.

The ultimate basis of all sound education is not Enquiry, but Faith. It is a regimen, a routine, a continuous rhythm, presupposing at every point established norms and injured by nothing so much as by dubieties, hesitations and too many fresh starts. The normal atmosphere in which it can thrive and achieve its results is one of quiet assurance where the authority that is its essential agent and the discipline that is its essential instrument are diffused, as it were, through a stable and all-pervading social and cultural order that laps the pupil round and conveys to him the sustenance of personality. The insight of Locke in this regard is less profound than that of Rousseau and Plato. Locke appears to rely mainly upon the assertive action of a somewhat intrusive personal authority, whereas both Plato and Rousseau, alike regardful of the all-important inwardness and sense of spontaneity in the pupil, see as the real agent a purged and simplified surrounding order. They differ, indeed, in their respective modes of conceiving this order. For Plato it is the city community, with its ‘music’ cleansed and concentrated by the moral censorship. For Rousseau it is the seclusion of rural society, free from the contaminations of an incurably corrupt city life and affording unobstructed action of the monitions of ‘Nature.’ The one installs the Good as sovereign; the other flees from the Evil. But the principle is identical. Rousseau’s ‘tutor’ is Plato’s ‘censor’ in another guise, a symbolical figure standing for the educative action of a social and cultural order so pure and so certain in its moralising action that the pupil does not feel he is ‘being educated’ at all. He responds freely to every impulse that his environment offers, steadily acquiring through such responses a mode of personal being which is itself an individual embodiment of a moral order. Self-conscious appropriation of the principles of that moral order comes in due course, but the foundations are laid in free and untrammelled activity in a medium which can be completely authoritative just because it can be completely accepted.

Such then is the normal condition of a still atmosphere and free acceptance of stimuli to which all sound education continually aspires. So much is this the case, so essential is the atmosphere of moral security to the whole process, that men are ready to persuade themselves that an acceptable moral order is still present and operating when it has really passed away or become corrupted. Educators are apt to be incurable optimists, and so much do they fear agitation and dubiety in the surrounding social medium that they are sometimes ready to assume a stability which does not exist. Many an utterance on the occasion of a school Speech Day could be cited as evidence.

Nor is this altogether blameworthy, unfortunate as it may be when the chill of disillusionment descends upon the erstwhile pupil. For, as Prof. Hocking puts it: ‘Education must produce the type.’ He adds the vitally important qualifying words, ‘and it must provide for growth beyond the type’; words to which we shall have to pay some attention presently. But if education does not produce the type first, it can produce little else but airywisps to be ‘blown along a wandering wind.’

It has been necessary to reaffirm, by way of preface, the dependence of all sound education upon a stable cultural order, since it is precisely this truth which is apt to be overlooked in times of questioning and upheaval such as the present. Doctrines are then put forward which exaggerate beyond all reason the free creativeness of education and misconceive the nature of the freedom which education may rightfully claim. Thus it is strange to hear thoroughgoing English individualists, themselves the product of the rich resources of an English society which first communicated its ‘type’ to them, speaking as though they created themselves, now that they have ‘grown beyond the type.’ The result is a complete misconception of the place and nature of discipline in education and a disastrous misplacing of that freedom of the pupil which, in its proper place, is the driving force of the whole process. Both Plato and Rousseau understood such freedom, not as a purely spontaneous and relatively indeterminate ‘growth’ of ‘natural’ dispositions, but as the unobstructed appropriation by the pupil of the nurture-material which a purged and regenerated moral and cultural order can provide. The ultimate faith of both alike was faith in a moral order; indeed, their interest in education was derived from that faith. And no one could be more insistent than Rousseau was upon the necessity for a determinate forming: the same Rousseau who is so mistakenly claimed as their prophet by some of the modern exponents of educational anarchism.

But, in such times as these, not only is the inescapable demand that ‘education must produce the type’ apt to be overlooked. There also arises a further tendency, when the old foundations of use and wont shake and slip, to exaggerate the rôle of the calculating intelligence in both life and education.

Young mothers then over-‘plan’ the upbringing of their children, harass themselves unduly about the correctness and up-to-dateness of their ‘methods,’ and even want to substitute the maxims of the scientific textbooks for their own maternal intuitions. We are learning, to our great advantage, that there is a large and important field for systematic investigation and carefully planned action in the work of education. But we dehumanise it utterly if we assimilate its rationale as a whole to that of engineering, and we do the pupil a doubtful service if we loose him upon the world, as we are loosing so many to-day, with an exaggerated and distorted idea of the place of ‘engineer’ intelligence in life.

Administrative tendencies, in days of universal education, and popular tendencies in days of exaltation of science, rather work this way. Fascism, in not the least important of its varied aspects, is a rather violent reaction against this very thing.

After all, effective living, even in a highly civilised society, is much more a matter of intelligent and sensitive routine than of continuous ‘problem-solving,’ and the capable housewife is a much more typical human being than the specialised scientist.

Thus present conditions make it all the more necessary to assert the primary and essential dependence of education upon a stable and acceptable social and cultural order. Those who, like the writer, believe that the full values of a rich education can be achieved only in an order of the democratic kind are in no position to answer the Fascist unless this fundamental postulate is fully accepted. We may dislike intensely the ‘type’ which the Fascist admires, we may disagree fundamentally with his doctrine of the ultimate rights of politically organised society in education. But he is wholly right in asserting with emphasis the truth too often obscured, that the first business of education is to produce the type and that the type, whatever it is, is socially determined.

The issue, then, is not that of a choice between an abstract and shapeless ‘individual’ and a highly concrete ‘citizen-type.’ It is not even a choice between an order of things which openly depresses Personality and one which exalts it. The Fascist would repudiate with heat any suggestion that he is suppressing Personality; he would claim rather that he is taking the only road to its complete fulfilment. If, in any case, education must take as its main task the production of a socially determined type, then the debate must centre upon the nature of the type and particularly upon its ultimate destiny. Most of all it must concentrate upon the crucial issue of the double relation of the type to the society, on the one hand, the claim of the society to perpetuate itself in the type, and on the other hand, the claim of the type to become more than a type—a Person—and so to react fruitfully, if critically, upon the society which has produced him. It is upon this last point that we may have to join issue with the Fascist.

But the debate itself is inescapable when the old foundations break up and the new construction has not yet taken shape. It is not for this generation to know the settled peace and quiet effectiveness of an assured and straight-moving education. For that very reason it should guard against the temptation to generalise its own peculiar experience. The new order is not yet, but it will come: the age of Solomon will succeed to that of David.

Upon us of this generation, however, the inescapable duty falls. The remainder of this paper will be devoted to a very sketchy and imperfect attempt to define the main issues.

Our concern is with the formulating of educational ends in terms of the modern situation and particularly with the determining of the limits of social authority in education on the one hand and the precise meaning of the autonomy of Personality on the other hand.

At one stage it appeared that the central issue might be stated in the form of a sharp antithesis between education as conceived in Plato’s Laws and education as conceived in Rousseau’s Emile. In the citations which appear at the head of this paper we seem to have represented a clear opposition between the principle of Authority and that of Liberty. For Plato, one would say, Good is enshrined in a purified and austerely governed social order which therefore, as by divine right, exercises absolute authority over the forming of the individual. For Rousseau, on the other hand, ‘everything is good as it comes from the hand of the Author of Nature’; social man is the deformer, and Good is to be fulfilled by the preservation and fostering of ‘natural liberty’ in the individual.

But neither Plato nor Rousseau is as one-sided as so sharp an antithesis would suggest, an antithesis better suited to the conflicts of doctrinaire partisans than to the rounded thought of moral philosophers. It is less easy to set these two creative thinkers of the educational tradition of the West in strong opposition when one takes the thought of each in its entirety. There are differences of emphasis, no doubt, due partly to differences of temperament and circumstances. But if we take the thought of each as a whole and extract as well as we can the central meaning, it is the identities rather than the differences which strike us. The totalitarian can and does find much in Rousseau, particularly in the doctrine of the Sovereignty of the General Will, which gives plausible support to his own position. And the democrat, especially if he have Fabian inclinations, can derive much comfort from many a passage in the Laws. Simply to dub Plato absolutist and Rousseau individualist is to underestimate what is central and essential in the thought of both.

What makes it so well worth while in these days to turn back to such guides is not only the value they may have as illustrating opposed principles, but also the concern of both with the permanent foundations of human life and society. Each was acutely conscious of a decaying society around him. Plato’s long life witnessed the decline of the City-State, the one political form in which the ancient world had succeeded in combining order and freedom. Rousseau looked out on a Europe that seemed to him ‘headed for a state of crisis and a century of revolution.’ Neither could accept contemporary society; both were acutely conscious of its corruptions and deficiencies as the nurse and maintainer of virtue. Each turned away from an intractable and unacceptable Present to that which was beyond all question, and beyond all the vicissitudes of time and history, to a moral order of the universe, eternal ‘Nature.’ The one thing that could not be doubted, whose authority was absolute, was ‘virtue’ itself. Speaking of the knowledge which was virtue, Plato says, as though using all the emphasis at his command: ‘I find it more certain that these truths are beyond question than that Crete is an island.’ And the language can be paralleled in Rousseau.

Thus what they doubted was, not the authority of the law of virtue, but the capacity of any existing society to afford scope and opportunity to the virtuous man.

In such societies, as Plato says, ‘there is no ally with whom such a man may safely march to the succour of the just. Instead he keeps quiet and confines himself to his own concerns, like one who takes shelter behind a wall on a stormy day, when the wind is driving before it a hurricane of dust and rain; and when, from his retreat, he sees the infection of lawlessness spreading over the rest of mankind, he is well content if he can in any way live his life here untainted in his own person by unrighteousness and unholy deeds, and, when the time for his release arrives, take his departure amid bright hopes with cheerfulness and security.’[1]

Thus the ethical conviction gives rise to the political problem, how to find for the good man ‘a republic suited to him,’ a civil order where moral and political obligation coincide, or, as Rousseau puts it, ‘not a question … of a power one is forced to obey but of that which one is obliged to recognise.’

There is no final security for education, but much conflict and dubiety, until such an order has been found. And once found, education is the guarantee of its maintenance. Government and Education are, in the last resort, the same thing. Either we can say, as Plato seems to say in the Republic: ‘Here is a civil order whose obedience is perfect freedom, where civil and moral duty coincide. The man educated for such a citizenship is the good man.’ Or we can say as Rousseau seems to say in the Emile: ‘Here is the good man, shown as he emerges through the formative process of his education. The good State will be that which offers him scope and opportunity and sets up no conflict between his civil duty and his moral judgment.’ In either case the point of principle is the same, a sovereign moral law determining a civil order which in turn sustains, and is sustained by, its appropriate education.

The same broad simplification, the same return to first principles, have again become urgent, and in our own time. But there is a further point, and it is of high importance in its bearing upon the present situation. The immediate problem of both of these great representative thinkers was, indeed, set for them by the corruptions of contemporary society. But neither was in any doubt that the root of evil was in men as men. Rousseau’s language, especially in his earlier writings, does seem to suggest a pristine innocence of individuals which has been clouded by the corruptions of a society that is other than the individuals. And he suffered at the hands of the Church for his supposed denial of the doctrine of Original Sin. But he knew his own heart too well to have any doubt of the real origin of the evils he saw in the society around him. Indeed, it is almost in the manner of the Christian writers themselves that he relates the need for civil society to the weaknesses rather than to the natural virtues of men: ‘Our needs draw us together in proportion as our passions divide us; and the more we become enemies of our fellows the less we can do without them. Such are the primary bonds of society in general.’ Readers of the Republic will recall something very like this in Plato’s conjectural account of the origin of the city.

Thus there is no countenancing by either of these foundation thinkers of the specious pleadings by which men to-day try to evade responsibility for the consequences of their own weaknesses and even to throw the respectable cloak of a pseudo-science over their sins.

Externalism of this kind, endless in the variety of its disguises, is highly characteristic of the contemporary mass-mind. For instance the legend is widely current, more on the other side of the Atlantic perhaps than on this, of a wholly innocent democracy, an unspotted, blameless People, that has somehow been corrupted by a diabolical villain, who, in the manner of such monsters, goes by various names. Sometimes he is the Economic System, sometimes Capitalism, sometimes the Money Power, always some wolf from the forest insinuating himself into the company of innocent Red Riding Hood. It suits the interests of seekers after power and influence to give currency to such a legend. It is so much easier to call upon a righteously wrathful democracy to ‘smash’ this and to ‘smash’ that if the thing to be smashed can be represented as a sort of gigantic marauding animal quite external to us, instead of a jealously harboured canker in our own bosom. Thus does violence itself acquire a sort of sanctification, while the really urgent self-examination of the individual sinner not only does not happen but must not be so much as mentioned lest a Sovereign People feel insulted.

Similarly, no countenance would be given by either of our authorities to another popular ‘alibi’ (to use the rather illogical Americanism), namely that of an inevitable ‘Progress’ or ‘Evolution’ which marches on its predestined way irrespective of moral good or evil in the actions of men. On the contrary with both Plato and Rousseau all the emphasis falls on sustained moral effort as the essential condition of the well-being of men. Thus education is first and foremost an education of the will; civil society itself exists only as the expression of collective moral effort, and continues to exist only in so far as conscious ‘virtue’ in the individual citizen guarantees its continuous renewal.

In the last resort there is a fundamental difference between Plato and Rousseau which does reflect, in principle, the same sharp cleavage in social philosophy which is now so marked in Europe. It concerns the nature of social authority and the relation of social authority to the achievement of full Personality. We shall have to do justice to it later. At the moment we are concerned rather with the diagnosis which each thinker arrived at in regard to the central problem as he saw it in his own time. And the point to be made here is that in both cases the diagnosis was one of moral weakness and evil in men as men.

It would conduce to clarity and robustness of thinking if we could start from the same point in surveying our own plight to-day and admit that our case is primarily one for the moralist, and after that, certainly, for the legislator and economist. Increased conflicts and difficulties, social, political and economic, do not necessarily demonstrate that men are worse than they were. Indeed, some of the troubles may have arisen just because men are better than they were. But they do indicate weakness and inadequacy, in dealing with which, education, working in conjunction with its correlate, Government, should to-day find its first and main task. Government works by generalised Law: education by individualised Influence. What the first can do is limited by the achievements of the second, and, as we have seen, it is a widespread and characteristic weakness to-day, especially in democracies, to abuse Government as the source of ills which really spring from remediable defect in individuals.

We have no intention here of launching out into a self-righteous chastisement of modern sins. To illustrate the point we are trying to make about the immediate task of education it will be enough to refer briefly to threewell-marked tendencies of modern men, each of which must take some share of the blame for our present troubles and must be regarded as calling for corrective action by the processes of education.

The first is a habit of blind and easy optimism which takes many forms and in its total effect amounts to a thoroughgoing denial of Original Sin. (It is curious that philosophies and religions which set out from a relative pessimism should be so fruitful in achievement!) Thus there is the naïve acceptance of the maxim vox populi, vox Dei, which hampers so much that might be salutary in Government and stands in the way of any honest revealing to men of their real condition. There is the modern belief in a pseudo-scientific ‘Progress’ and ‘Evolution,’ carrying men onwards like a cosmic railway train in complete disregard of all moral effort and desert and of the outstanding fact which all history demonstrates that ‘the flesh lusteth against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh.’ There is again the whole spirit of Nationalistic Imperialism, which seems to argue that all is permitted to the Chosen People and identifies Right with national necessity.

Of the special and peculiar case of Marxism, a kind of inverted pessimism which accepts the Evil as a direct source of the Good, little need here be said. It should be included, however, as it contributes strongly to the antinomian temper which is here in question. But we must admit that it has qualities of energy and ascetic concentration of will which differentiate it rather sharply from the smiling flabbiness that usually accompanies the easy optimisms.

The general result of all these phenomena is a distortion of moral focus, so that individual responsibility tends to be disclaimed and the source of ill is found always in the malevolence of an external agent. The tares among the wheat are always the work of an ‘enemy’ of some sort.

If, as we suggest, there is among us to-day such a widespread distortion of moral focus, the correction of it is an obvious task for education. Particularly so in the democratic countries where the maintenance of the whole system depends upon the securing of moral integrity and responsibility in the individual citizen.

Next we may consider that moral anarchism, the essence of which is a denial of the moral character of the State, and the assertion of an unrestricted right to the exploitation of Power. It jeers at the League and all attempts to enthrone public right in the place of sheer physical power. Through tariff manipulation and other devices it exploits the State quite unscrupulously in its own material interest. It inspires the grafter and the political ‘boss’ and the gangster in all his protean forms. It regards the international anarchy as normal and delights to paint the picture of a condition,

Where he may take who has the power
And he may keep who can.

Though, without the State and the Law to be exploited, it would be relatively powerless, it claims the right for itself to live and act in that Hobbesian ‘State of Nature’ which civil society was intended to supersede.

Here is Thrasymachus of the Republic again with his doctrine that Justice is the interest of the stronger. The whole position is essentially dishonest, since it is only through the existence of the State and the Law and a majority of law-abiding people that the exploitation is possible at all. Such people, as Prof. Hocking points out, are the real anarchists.

‘To such wills it is “My policy or none”; these are the practical anarchists. A nation of such wills would end in chaos. But while “rule or ruin” seems to imply a willingness to accept ruin, it is like the usual temper of suicide, a perverted form of the will to live, essentially self-contradictory. It relies on the unwillingness of the great majority to let the State fail; it shares that unwillingness. Its pretence to prefer no deed, and hence in the end no State, to the deed of its momentary opponent is essentially insincere.’

He adds significantly:

‘The amount of this perversity increases. It is necessary to recognise it for what it is, the only variety of anarchism at all likely to lead to anarchy.’[2]

Here again is a true moral weakness, a defect of education, not confined to any one form of polity. Clearly it sets a task for education first and foremost, the more so since here, if anywhere, is the moral seed-ground of war.

Thirdly, we may take a glance at what may be called the ‘totalitarian’ state of mind, a state which is, again, not confined to any one polity. It can be found working quite strongly in some of the democracies.

It appears to be directly connected with that decline of inwardness and that increase of externalism and ‘worldliness’ which have been going on from about the time of the Renaissance. Men tend to find the sources of both good and evil more and more outside of themselves. The locus of values has shifted, as it were, from the centre to the circumference. So the vision of a mundane Paradise comes into view, a Kingdom which is very much of this world.

Happiness is to be secured by uniform collective action working upon externals, and this can be done if there is perfect discipline and no dissent.

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is apparently a mordant satire on this kind of thing. The point to remember is that the way of thought is by no means confined to the Fascists. It is all around us, and there are publicists and demagogues who can give it all the appearance of high humanitarian virtue and throw over its pursuit something of the sanctity of a noble crusade. The effect in sanctioning violence and in inducing a condition where ‘whosoever killeth you shall think he doeth God’s service’ does not need to be emphasised.

Here, if anywhere, is the hardest and profoundest task of education, to ensure a return of that inwardness which knows what is meant by the sanctity of Personality, and is the beneficent seed-ground of all true tolerance and social peace. The cure for the mischiefs which the totalitarian mind can do—a sort of unregenerate Saul of Tarsus—is a realisation of the true import of the words: ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’

We have dealt at some length with these more general weaknesses and deficiencies, just because they aregeneral. Without this discussion as a background, the very real cleavage in social-educational philosophy which now divides Europe would be seen out of focus. For the danger which the educator has to guard against, particularly here in England, is that the whole situation will be read in terms that are too exclusively political and not sufficiently moral. That is why it was worth while to return to such masters as Plato and Rousseau with their emphasis upon the ethical basis and meaning of all political structure.

We in England have already taken our stand on the purely political issue and have made it plain to the world that we shall continue to develop the possibilities of our own tradition of Freedom. And the recent grant ofextended self-government to India is there as evidence that we are willing to share the tradition with others who care to come in. In so doing we bear witness to the faith that what we have in England is something that is more than national, having in it universal values which are capable of re-translation into the terms of other and widely differing peoples. That in itself is answer enough to the totalitarian nationalist.

There is thus no doubt about our position on the purely political issue, and our education, in that regard, will proceed accordingly. The case is different, however, with the moral issue, which is much more general. Full awareness of it should accompany any stand that we may have to take on the issue of a social philosophy. Our own doorstep should be as clean as we can make it.

Thus some critical survey of the moral condition of Western culture as a whole seemed to be a necessary preliminary to any definition of the conflict of social philosophy between ourselves and the totalitarians. To that conflict we must now turn.

That there should be any conflict at all is due to differences of history much more than to any access of perversity, and the situation cannot be properly understood without taking account of such differences. We cannot go into them here, but will merely remark that English people, in taking their attitude, should never forget the peculiarly favoured conditions which have dominated English history. ‘He jests at scars who never felt a wound.’ A land where social and cultural unity is relatively so strong and so unbroken as to be taken for granted with no explicit thought about it is apt to lose sight of the real foundations upon which English freedom rests. When that traditional basis comes to be seriously questioned and is itself the object of contention between bitterly opposed parties will be the time to discover how far English freedom is rooted in unshakable principle.

With that remark let us now turn to the issue between ourselves and the totalitarians. It seems to concern the nature of Personality, and especially the place of freedom both as a necessary condition in the educative processes by which Personality is achieved, and as a necessary quality of Personality itself. The decisive step to the totalitarian position seems to be taken as soon as the group itself is thought of as a super-Person. The essential wholeness of Personality is then transferred to it and such personality as the individual retains thus becomes derivative. In it, in the Group-Person, he lives and moves and has his fragmentary being. From this it is not a very long step to the deification of the Group, and then the whole apparatus of tribalism returns. In this regard totalitarianism wears the aspect of a vast return of history upon itself, a plain rejection of all the meaning of two millennia of history.

Once grant the reality of the supreme Group-Person as the bearer of all spiritual values and all the rest follows. Then the contradiction of a finite Absolute sits enthroned. The conclusions for education are too obvious to need any emphasis, and they have been sufficiently demonstrated for us in practice in recent years. In Hocking’s terms, education confines itself to the production of the type, arguing, not merely that the type is an all-sufficient personality, but also that true personality can be produced in no other way. Growth beyond the type is the unpermissible thing, a monstrosity that to the totalitarian is an alien poison in the tribe, or, at best, just nothing at all.

In answer to this position, it is not enough to raise the question as to how society under these conditions is to provide for its own revitalisation and progressive enrichment. That is the totalitarian’s concern.

It seems better to join issue squarely on the nature of Personality itself, and to deny altogether the fiction of the Group-Person. The issue is, in another form, the old one of Reformation times, that of the direct relation of the soul to God. The seat and source of values in the earthly sense, we should argue, are in Personality as ordinarily understood, and nowhere else.

Freedom of Personality to achieve itself, we should maintain, is not only a necessary postulate of a democratic society, which rests on the faith that the whole is incomplete and impoverished unless it can count upon the free contribution of each member. It is even more—it is the raison d’être of democratic society itself. That, if anything, is the meaning of Equality, the faith that human personality is so valuable as to be beyond valuing, and is to be regarded with the same reverence wherever it is found. With such a tradition as that of England behind us, we shall have to concede freely that Personality, so far as its substance is concerned, is dependent upon the social medium. To that extent, society is authoritative in the making of it. But, in the last resort, the society exists for the sake of the personality, not the personality for the sake of society. A civil society exists and perpetuates itself in the making of fresh generations of personalities in its own type, not for its own ends or to fix a type for all time, but in the discharge of its supreme function in the making of men. In Rousseau’s terms, it is not by a preordained and final social pattern that we produce our Emiles; it is the needs of the full growth of an Emile that must determine the structure and adaptations of our social forms.

It is here that Plato and Rousseau part company and we follow Rousseau. Both, indeed, were concerned with the establishing of the authority of the Good. (It is a mistake to assume, as is still often done, that Rousseau shirked the problem of Authority. On the contrary, his whole quest was to find a form of authority which would save and guarantee the substance of freedom, For him it is ‘not a question of power one is forced to obey, but of that which one is obliged to recognise.’)

To the specious plea put forward by the totalitarian to the effect that his régime actually rests upon consent, Rousseau would retort roundly, ‘To renounce one’s liberty is to renounce one’s character as a man.’ And again, in words that have a peculiar relevance to the contemporary situation: ‘There will always be a vast difference between making a mass of men submit and ruling a society.’

The tyrannies which obscure this difference have usually tried to assume the disguise of a Civitas Dei upon the earth, an attempt to seat the Whole Good on an earthly throne. Such was Plato’s Laws, grand enough in conception, but too divine for earthly men. Rousseau, after all, keeps his feet on the earth, and whatever one may think of his conception of the General Will, it was an honest attempt to square the primary postulate of Free Personality with the necessities of civil society. Certainly it sets the function of education in the right perspective. For the authority is that of a free people, and education functions to secure on the one hand the necessary disinterestedness and intelligence of the Sovereign People as ruler, and on the other hand the enlightened obedience and restraint of the citizen as subject.

But this is no place for lengthy expositions of political philosophy. The main issue is clear in the setting of the ideal of Free Personality served by ‘a republic suited to it,’ against that of the semi-divine Group-Person as the container of all good.

Though this is the main point, there remain certain qualifications and corollaries of which educational philosophy in England must take account. For if we are to make our own position quite clear as against the totalitarians, we must be ready to attach our own degree of weight to considerations to which they attach too much.

The first problem that requires to be worked out is that of the function of group-life in the forming of Personality. We know much about this in England in actual practice, but we have probably done too little in subjecting it to explicit analysis.

Experiments now proceeding in many schools, various forms of club life, organisations like the Boy Scouts, should provide abundant material. What is needed is a reasoned demonstration of the care for Free Personality that goes with all this; nay, more, a demonstration that the fullness of Free Personality, though passing beyond it, is not attainable without it.

This in turn would raise the question of Authority, and there is nothing upon which we stand in greater need to clear our minds. The word itself, like its kindred word, Discipline, is deeply suspect in many quarters, particularly where ‘advanced’ theories of education are held. This is not surprising in view of the meaning that such terms have on the lips of the totalitarians. But the terms are necessary if we are to speak correctly about the educational process, and to shun them is not only to distort and confuse our own thinking, but to expose a vulnerable flank to serious attack.

The very idea of education, as the directing of the processes by which the immature achieve maturity of a determinate shape, implies authority. Rousseau himself leaves us in no doubt on the point.

We may illustrate it from the case of language, the acquisition of which no one will deny to be a necessary function of education. It is the authority of the society to which the English child belongs that requires him to call a certain animal dog rather than chien or hund. So, too, with the forms of grammar, the technique of writing, and a thousand other skills and attainments that go to the forming of his achieved personality. That a thing is this way rather than that, that you speak thus rather than in some other way: these things come in the first instance on social authority. They are not really matters within the child’s choice unless his education is to go all awry.

This is not to say that all is authority, still less to return to the bad old tradition of a frowning intrusiveness in the matter. Rousseau, again, puts the case in the right light. The authority brought to bear in educating the child is contingent like that of the physician, not absolute like that of the semi-divine Group-Person. It is at once the measure and the servant of the child’s need. As Rousseau indicates, the child ‘depends’ rather than obeys.

Thus what we have to do is to define the nature of that authority which is the handmaid of freedom, like the authority of Government in a free State.

Two things, at least, can be said about it, in its educational aspect. One is that it will operate rather by control of surrounding conditions than by direct injunction upon the pupil. The measure of its successful use will be largely the measure of its unobtrusiveness. But it is authority none the less, emerging, in its general intention, from the decisions of the educator rather than from the choice of the educand.

The other is that the true sanction of authority for the child, when he does become aware of it, is that he should be able, sooner or later, to recognise in it himself, his own will as it would be, were he more fully enlightened. The justification is the same as that which Rousseau adduces of obedience to the General Will.

In reality there is no other justification. Prof. Whitehead seems to have such an idea in mind when he speaks of ‘transfiguration of imposed routine’ as the function of all good teaching.

Advocates of absolute authority such as was claimed by the Stuarts followed a true instinct in basing it upon Divine Right, for God alone could take such complete possession of free human lives as they presumed to do.

Thus the concept of Freedom in education is not only compatible with, but urgently demands, the concept of a correlative Authority. This is a concept which will reveal the duty of the educator as identical with the right of the child. Without it we are to that extent unequipped for setting out the full philosophy of Freedom.

A third problem which will fall to be worked out in the light of the main position is that of the functions of the State in education. Here again the unique character of English experience must be remembered. There is a sense in which it would be true to say that England has hardly known the true State school at all, at least not as that is understood in some other countries. For example, that the officers of a State Department of Education should sit round a table prescribing for all the schools under their control the textbooks that are to be used (and even the passages of literature that are to be committed to memory), backed by a law which prohibits entirely the use in school of any book not so prescribed; this is a thing unknown in England.

But it is a long-established practice in some British Dominions and is still stoutly defended.

In England the older tradition of autonomy has proved strong enough to assert itself in the new schools which owe their origin to the action of the State. Further, the absence in English society of any deep cleavage such as characterises some of the countries of Europe and some British Dominions where there are mixed populations serves to keep schools and school curricula out of politics as it were. And this applies to State schools equally with those otherwise provided.

Such good fortune is less common than is sometimes supposed. While it increases the difficulty of English people in understanding the lengths to which State surveillance has gone in other countries, it does place them in a favourable position to determine the function of the State in education on purely educational grounds. Little else but the efficiency of education as such needs to be considered. As a contrary example we might take the very minute regulation which the law exercises over the use of the two official languages in the State schools of South Africa. The grounds for such control are political, not pedagogic, and the argument is still freely used that political conditions are such as not to allow free course to purely educational considerations.

It is because England is so free from such handicaps that she should be able to view the State on its purely educational merits as it were. In working out this possibility she might be able to state a doctrine and lay down norms which would be of real value to the world.

It remains now to draw a few conclusions as to the actual conduct of education from what has been said. Little in the way of settled assurance is possible for this generation, and the experience of the elders is less relevant to the needs of the young, to the kind of world in which the young will have to live, than at any other time in history.

Broadly, the outstanding need is for an increase of inwardness. From many points of view this would seem to be the conclusion. If, as has been suggested, an over-externalising of values and of the influences by which life is determined is one of the main causes of the modern malaise, education is doing no more than its proper work when it corrects the over-emphasis by its own stress upon inwardness.

Again, if the main difference between ourselves and the totalitarians consists essentially in conflicting views of Personality where we on our side deny the reality of a super-Group-Person and refer all values to persons in the ordinary usage of the term, then our education is out of register with our social philosophy unless it sets itself to produce fully integrated personalities with their own inner sources of strength and autonomous cohesion.

The continued existence of free societies and free institutions may well come to depend on successful education of this kind. If we deliberately choose to follow the path of democracy, we should do so with the full knowledge that we are making the most difficult choice. We are staking the well-being of all on the integrity and sense of responsibility of each. For, as Prof. Hocking puts it: ‘The individual is not mature until he thinks the group and thinks for it.’ And so he can speak of the function of education as being, ‘to confirm individual selves in a competent, independent judgment which is essentially their own.’

The danger is that we may accept such a position in terms and under-estimate the practical difficulties and severities of the kind of education to which it commits us. Our inheritance from the nineteenth century is not altogether helpful in this regard, for it encourages a far too easy and optimistic view of democracy. The tree is all fruit and no thorns! Not only was the emphasis during that century heavily on the side of the rights of democracy as contrasted with its duties, but the peculiarly favourable economic conditions may have led men to ascribe to their own virtues, individual and social, benefits which were really due to sheer good fortune. Take away the sheer good fortune, and the naked demand for personal integrity and personal moral effort looks much less attractive. A democracy that can find no stomach at all for the word ‘discipline’ in any sense is likely to last less long in this century than it might have done in the preceding one.

The very uncertainty of the future adds further emphasis to that need for inwardness of which we are speaking. None can foresee with any clearness the kind of world in which our children will have to live. Never was there a time when a ‘drill’ education of the boat-race practice type was more out of place. What can we do except, on the one hand, to emphasise those truths which are independent of time and circumstance, and, on the other hand, to concentrate on an education which will produce people with full knowledge and full command of their own resources?

At the risk of misunderstanding, then, we would plead for a note of severity in education. This does not mean, of course, a new vigour of birch and tawse, but rather the continuous maintenance in education of stringency and tension, something analogous to the conditions of ‘fitness’ in the physical field.

Here, perhaps, is a clue to the much-needed reform of examinations (where again we find, significantly enough, the prevailing externalism of the age strongly manifested). If for the potential executioner outside the pupil we could substitute his own censor within, surely something would have been gained in principle. It is this internalising of standards, this taking of a sort of clinical attitude towards one’s own intellectual and moral condition, that we have in mind in speaking of ‘severity.’ The teacher’s intercourse with the pupil will reflect and stimulate it at every point, yet obviously it presupposes freedom both as the medium in which it works and the end towards which it strives. In this connection we may have to revise a little our ideas of the true nature of the ‘pleasantness’ which we rightly claim should accompany the educative process.

With severity as thus defined should go simplification. This concerns both curricula and the spirit and direction of teaching. No reduction of actual content is contemplated. Rather the contrary, for it is a grave mistake to under-estimate the degree of sheer knowledge which modern conditions demand. What is meant, rather, is that curricula and teaching should definitely say something, that they should have, as Plato would put it, their own unmistakable and consistent ‘music.’ Highly departmentalised schools and universities, syllabi loaded with too much of obscuring detail, over-emphasis on credits and passes and matriculation standings to the relative exclusion of considerations of unity and coherence in the total result: these will all have to undergo modification. Already there are healthy movements in this direction, and in the United States especially much experiment with what are known as ‘Orientation courses’ and other devices, though not always well directed, has produced some salutary improvements.

There is something amiss, surely, when, with young people, their strictly ‘educational’ activities, and their often painful struggles to make sense of their world run in quite distinct channels. Such phenomena are all too common, and the remedy would seem to be the introduction of the necessary beacons and broad illuminations more thoroughly into the teaching itself. In the free atmosphere which still rules in England this should be easily attainable.

Unification of the same kind seems to afford the real answer to that problem of ‘Education for Leisure,’ of which so much is heard. Only here the effort is more difficult and will have to be more fundamental. Serious danger lurks in all that common talk about leisure which regards it as a fenced-off area of life occupied, one might almost imagine, by quite another person than he who earns his daily bread by placing himself under the collar. To talk thus is to accept as irresolvable the fatal dualism which is at the root of much of our trouble to-day. If, as has been argued, we are to treat the unity of a Free Personality as the pole-star of all our thinking and actions, we cannot stultify ourselves by accepting any such dualism. The activities in which a man spends his free leisure are determined by what the man as a whole is, and this, in turn, is largely determined by his education as a whole. It may be admitted that more than the unification of educational effort is involved here; the transcending of the dualism in practice involves social and industrial policy as well, indeed, some degree of unification of all the influences that play upon the growing personality. But the salt has indeed lost its savour if educators themselves begin by accepting the very dualism which it is their first business to transcend. To do that is not to face ‘a new need of this age’ at all, but to throw away any hope of ever facing it effectively.

Much the same may be said of the continuing misuse of the term ‘vocational’ to describe forms of educational activity whose proper justification is that they contribute necessary elements to the complex whole of an achieved personality. A whole volume could be written on the mischief thus arising from the intrusion into educational thinking and terminology of considerations that are not properly educational at all. But the point must be left at that.

Finally, it will be clear that if, as we become more acutely conscious of the real heart and spiritual centre of all our polity and education, we build in our education upon and around the ideal of a Free Personality, the training of the teacher assumes a central importance. Almost we begin to see the lineaments of the philosopher-king! We may pray devoutly that there may not arise in England any such sharp conflict over the fundamentals of society as has occurred elsewhere. For there is a vast gulf between the conception of the teacher as the functionary of an imposed régime, and the conception of him as the free disposer of the instruments and sustenance of Personality. (Compare Rousseau’s contrast between ‘making a mass of men submit and ruling a society.’)

The world, or some parts of it, may yet be found looking to us for light on the better way in this regard. Our own conceptions of training are, perhaps, still not wholly free from the taint of the ‘functionary’ idea, still not richly enough imbued with the liberalism which the fulfilment of our central principle would seem to require. But, here again, the signs are favourable and the achievement so far is probably much greater than ill-informed critics realise.

The above comments are intended as no more than illustrations of the practical bearing upon our education of a whole-hearted and conscious realisation of the full meaning of the philosophy to which, it would seem, we give our adhesion in face of the totalitarian challenge.

If, in conclusion, we revert to the two great exponents of our Western philosophy whose words are quoted at the head of this paper, we shall have to admit that, in the last resort, we are with Rousseau rather than with Plato. The exalted pessimism which characterises them both issues, in the one case, in a rigidly ordered polity, a beleaguered citadel of the spirit, which demands absolute loyalty on pain of a traitor’s death; in the other case in what seems like a stout-hearted sally of men in a common resolve to achieve in their unity a range and security of freedom which are beyond them as individuals. The road to freedom and the adventures of the spirit remains open for Rousseau. But none realises better than he how perilous the road is. ‘If there were a people of gods, they would be governed democratically. So perfect a government is not suited to mere men.’ This is Rousseau speaking, be it noted.

The best we can do, the highest pitch of moral tension we can achieve, will still leave a very imperfect and untidy world. Original Sin may be more than an outworn theological dogma after all. May not our happiness, as well as the saving grace of our education, consist in the end in a frank and humble recognition of the fact?

When the voice of the Pharisee is heard again declaiming loudly (though perhaps a little nervously) in the temples of the city his, ‘Lord I thank Thee that I am not as other men are,’ is not the publican with his, ‘God be merciful to me, a sinner,’ giving expression in the humility of profound self-knowledge to the last attainment of earthly wisdom? Of all the needs of democracy, some abiding sense of the reality of Original Sin may yet prove to be the greatest.

[Note.—For citations from Rousseau and for much else in the interpretation of Rousseau, the writer is deeply indebted to Prof. C. W. Hendel’s Jean Jacques Rousseau: Moralist (Oxford University Press).]

By kind permission of the author and of the Editor of The Year Book of Education, 1936.

[1] Republic (Davis & Vaughan tr.), page 496.

[2] W. E. Hocking: Man and the State, page 388.

Editor’s Note: The formatting of the above article was optimized for online viewing. To access a version which is formatted more similarly to the original, and which includes the original page numbers, please click here.

Endnotes for the Editor’s Note

[1] The Parents’ Review, vol. 47, p. 268.

[2] Elsie Kitching, 1870-1955 — Recollections, July 1956, p. 7.

[3] The Parents’ Review, vol. 48, p. 503.

[4] The Parents’ Review, vol. 57, p. 53.

[5] The Parents’ Review, vol. 48, p. 259.

[6] Ibid., p. 260.

[7] The Parents’ Review, vol. 60, p. 265.

[8] Ibid., p. 266.

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