A Despotism of the Mind

Evidence That J. S. Mill Was Right

One terrible consequence of New Zealand’s pervasive socialism-without-doctrines was that from early days a near universal consensus was that education and schooling should be a state run monopoly.  The government was not just going to fund education: it was to own and operate virtually all schools in New Zealand.  Education, according to the Education Act of 1877 was to be free, compulsory, and secular and completely controlled, regulated and provided by the State. The “far seeing” progressives were ecstatic.

Doubtless thoughtless pragmatism was a significant influence.  But J. S. Mill had published his essay On Liberty in 1859.  Contained in it was a dire warning about education being controlled by the government.  He wrote:

The objections which are urged with reason against State education, do not apply to the enforcement of education by the State, but to the State’s taking upon itself to direct that education: which is a totally different thing.  [J. S. Mill, On Liberty, Representative Government, The Subjection of Women (London: Oxford University Press, 1912), p.130.]

Mill could accede to the State requiring that children be educated and chastising negligent parents.  But the idea that the State should itself produce that education as the virtual sole provider was an entirely different proposition.

That the whole or any large part of the education of the people should be in State hands, I go as far as any one in deprecating.  All that has been said of the importance of individuality of character, and diversity in opinions and modes of conduct, involves, as of the same unspeakable importance, diversity in education.  A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another: and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, a priesthood, an aristocracy, for the majority of the existing generation in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by natural tendency to one over the body.  [Ibid.]

New Zealand is one of the most secular nations upon earth.  For over 130 years it has maintained the tyranny of exclusive state control over education which has had to be, by law, be secular.  So, as Mill presciently foretold, the government legislated monopoly over education has created a secular school system which in turn has created a despotism over the collective mind of New Zealand.  The Borg hums.  Secularism rules.  No surprises there. 

The only sustainable way out of this miasmic morass is for the state to recognise a distinction between regulation and provision.  Ironically, the state in New Zealand has been forced to do just this in other areas, due to fiscal constraints (it just does not have enough money to go around), as well as a tacit acknowledge of state incompetence when it comes to operational execution.  Thus, increasingly now, in areas such as welfare provision the state recognises that the “private sector”–that is, the non-governmental sector–can deliver better services and achieve better outcomes than a gaggle of wooden headed, box ticking bureaucrats.

If the state were to apply this same thinking to education, we would see a reformation of sorts in our school system.  But to achieve substantial reform the government needs to empower the consumers of education (parents) to choose the education they want for their children.  What stands in the way?  Only the latent despotism of the general mind created by our universal, compulsory, secular state controlled education system in the first place.  The voucher system has now proven itself overseas to be a radical reforming policy in under-performing education areas, along with charter (non-government controlled) schools.

Meanwhile, New Zealand continues to slip behind in global education league tables.  How long this will continue before the “revolution” we do not know.  But in this socialism-without-doctrines country, more and more state monopolies have been disbanded, with good results.  An optimist would say it is only a matter of time before the state monopoly over education is broken down.  Meanwhile, let the truth of Mill’s dire warning shine forth.  He was right.  Sadly, New Zealand has provided evidence for his argument.
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