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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 53

Duties of the State

Duties of the State.

(1.) Why the State is justified in interfering at all with the liberty of its subjects in the matter of education; and

(2.) How far its duties, as a State, extend,

And it is especially important that we have clear views on this, because all the problems concerning the establishment and support by the State of Primary Schools, Universities, and Secondary Schools (including Colleges Grammar and High Schools), and Open Scholarships are soluble only if we form correct conclusions in respect of these two queries, Now, as regards the first query, namely: Why the State is justified in interfering at all. As I have already pointed out, it is clearly not justified until the parent omits or neglects his duty, and is then only justified in the interests of the common good. But it is then justified (see, however, Lord Brougham's argument and views contra in his speech to the House of Lords on the education of the people) on the ground that the State is a society (socius, a friend)—just like a family —whose interest it is that all the members of that society (or family) do the utmost possible for the common good of that society (or family), in order that the society (or family) as a whole may prosper. And as its prosperity largely depends on the ability and inclination of the aggregate of its members, the State (i.e. the society) is directly interested to see that its members are so individually trained (or, in other words, educated) as to contribute, by their labour physical, mental, or moral, to the prosperity of the society. It is on only such a principle that—
(a.)The State (i.e. the society) is justified in interfering with individual liberty of action (hence compulsory education). Or
(b.)Justified in levying contribution on its subject A to educate its subject (hence free education).

But the justification ends when the object of endowing the subject with the, power and inclination to make prosper the State (alias the society) and therefore himself, is attained. Thus the State is not justified either in interfering with liberty, or making its subject A contribute to the education of its subject B, except for the purposes of the prosperity of the State, and therefore not justified in educating B merely for his personal advancement, at the expense of A. page 11 Because that is taxing the industry of A tor the sole benefit of B, and would therefore not only be unjust, but have the effect of discouraging and ultimately suppressing unaided exertion: and thereby injuring the State: (he prosperity of which-as I mention below is largely dependant on the exertions of its subjects. And, moreover, be injurious to B by undermining that self-reliance which is such an important factor in successful character.

And thus we are brought to the next stage to inquire: How far is it requisite for its own prosperity that the State should see that its subjects are educated?

Now, a State or Government exists only (or the purpose of rendering its subjects happy—because the sole object of all government should be the happiness of the governed. So that its subjects should be educated—

Firstly, To clearly comprehend what will render the State (as a society) happy, and

Secondly, To have the power and inclination to render the State (i.e. their society) happy.

To comprehend the former requires physical development, and disciplined intelligence; to obtain the latter, these qualities coupled with a trained conscience.

Therefore, the State is justified in insisting on education thus far, but no farther. So that when the State has ascertained that its subject has been so developed and disciplined

(1.) That he is in a position to clearly comprehend what will render the State (or society) happy, and

(2.) And that he has had the discipline which should ensure the power and inclination to render the State (or society) happy

Then its duty to its subjects, in other words to the aggregate society, not only ceases, but is absolutely barred from further action by considerations of unwarrantable interference with the rights of the educatable person, and of its subjects at whose expense the public education is being sustained.

Because the ambition of one subject must not be encouraged by the State at the expense of its subjects, otherwise such encouragement handicaps (i.e., taxes) unaided exertions, and thereby impoverishes the State; inasmuch as the wealth of a State is largely derived from the labour of its subjects, and the greater the wisely directed labour of its subjects the greater (ceteris paribus) the wealth of the State (i.e., the society), and, therefore, the greater the prosperity of its individual subjects. Consequently, any action on the part of the State (that is, on the part of the society as a whole) that tends to tax and thereby discourage unaided individual labour tends to impoverish the State, because discouraging, and therefore repressing industry; and is also objectionable because, as I remark above, inclining to injure—instead of promoting—that self-reliance which is so indispensable to success.

Thus I hold that Universities and State Secondary Schools—such as Colleges, Grammar Schools and High Schools—and Open Scholarships (i.e., scholarships to pupils other than those educated in the primary schools) ought not to be established or assisted at the public expense; because the requisite power and intelligence that I have spoken of should be easily attainable by the curriculum which should be provided in our primary schools. I do not say that it is now so attainable, but that is merely in consequence of the errors of the system on which our primary schools are conducted—the main phases of which I have endeavoured to exhibit in my first article. But with our primary schools conducted as they should be, all that the State requires of its subjects can and ought to be obtained in them without further expenditure of public money.

Here, however, I anticipate an objection that I make no provision for exceptionally clever or deserving boys, who should be encouraged to persevere for the purpose of becoming brilliant ornaments to the State. In other words, to fulfil the main purport of the ancient Greek code of education—to become brilliant citizens. But the answer to such an argument I conceive as conclusively applicable to our colony, is that such exceptionally clever or deserving boys who have distinguished themselves at the primary schools have the district scholarships (as distinguished from the open scholarships) expressly provided and therefore available for them.

For when living—as here—in a place where no one is clogged or handicapped page 12 with hereditary or class privileges or advantages, and where everyone therefore has distinction depending solely on his own merits, and where, therefore, the principle of "the survival of the fittest" has fair play, no boy under such circumstances can complain if he does not achieve all that he desires to accomplish.

Moreover, I cannot—as I mention above—but think that extraneous aid, under such circumstances, is positively pernicious to the boy, because the very struggles requisite to success are the best endowments which a boy can possibly possess when success is secured. In other words, cement his character, and thereby make the boy a permanent success. Thus, if my views be correct, the establishment and support at the expense of the State of Universities, Secondary Schools (including Colleges, Grammar and High Schools), and Open Scholarships are unjustifiable—that is, if A receive the advantage of such establishment and support at the expense of B. Do not, however, let me be misunderstood; because, although I deprecate the establishment and support at the ultimate expense of the State of such nurseries of education, I would expressly advocate their establishment and support by the State—an entirely different matter—for reasons which I have not space at the moment to explain.

I am well aware that there is a second ground urged by political economists, as expressed by Professor Fawcett in his work on political economy, viz., "The State must resolutely interfere and boldly assert the great principle that every child shall be protected against the irreparable wrong which is inflicted on him if he is permitted to grow up in ignorance."

But it is unnecessary for me to comment on this as a ground for State interference, as it is fully embraced in the ground) already mentioned by me.

Let me now, therefore, briefly sum up the main gist of this article as follows:—