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9 The Recovery of Spiritual Unity N o ONE CAN LOOK at the history of Western civilization during the present century without feeling dismayed at the spectacle of what modern man has done with his immense resources of new knowledge and new wealth and new power. And if we go back to the nineteenth century and read the words of the scientists and the social reformers or the liberal idealists and realize the mood of unbounded hope and enthusiasm in which this movement of world change was launched, the contrast is even more painful. For not only have we failed to realize the ideals of the nineteenth century; we are all more or less conscious of worse dangers to come-greater and more destructive wars, more ruthless forms of despotism, more drastic suppression of human rights. It is no good going on with the dismal catalogue, we know it all only too well. There is no need to listen to the alarmist predictions of writers like George Orwell or Aldous Huxley: it is enough to read the newspapers to convince ourselves that the cause of civilization is no longer secure and that the great movement of Western man to transform the world has somehow gone astray. The Recovery of Spiritual Unity 233 Whatever may be the ultimate cause of this crisis, it is certain that it is a spiritual one, since it represents the failure of civilized man to control the forces that he has created. It is due above all to the loss of common purpose in Western culture and the lack of a common intelligence to guide the new forces that are changing human life. Yet this failure is certainly not due to the neglect of education in modern society. No civilization in history has ever devoted so much time and money and organization to education as our own. And it is one of the most tragic features of the situation that our failure has been the failure of the first society to be universally educated, one which had been subjected to a more systematic and completely national education than any society of the past. In spite of this, there is no doubt that the modern European and American system of universal education suffered from serious defects. In the first place, the achievement of universality was purchased by the substitution of quantitative for qualitative standards. Education was accepted as a good in itself and the main question was how to increase the total output: how to teach more and more people more and more subjects for longer and longer periods. But in proportion as education became universal , it became cheapened. Instead of being regarded as a privilege of the few it became a compulsory routine for everybody. It is difficult for us to imagine the state of mind of a man like Francis Place, labouring to all hours of the night after a hard day's work, out of sheer passion for knowledge. In the second place, the establishment of a universal system of public education inevitably changed the relations of education to the state. It is this above all else which has caused the mind of our society to lose its independence, so that there is no power left outside politics to guide modern civilization, when the politicians go astray. For in proportion as education becomes controlled by the state, it becomes nationalized, and in extreme cases the servant of a political party. This last alternative still strikes us here in England as outrageous, but it is not only 234 Selected Essays essential to the totalitarian state; it existed before the rise of totalitarianism and to a great extent created it, and it is present as a tendency in all modern societies, however opposed they are to totalitarianism in its overt form. For the immense extension of the scale of education and its ramification into a hundred specialisms and technical disciplines has left the state as the only unifying element in the whole system. In the past the traditional system of classical education provided a common intellectual background and a common scale of values which transcended national and political frontiers and formed the European or Western republic of letters of which every scholar was a citizen. All the old systems of primary and secondary education presupposed the existence of this intellectual community which they served and from which they received guidance and inspiration . The primary school taught children their letters, the grammar school taught them Latin and...


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