Monday, June 16, 2008

Gladstonian Ghosts - Towards Anarchism

There is an entertaining story told (I know not with exactly how much accuracy) of a well-known Liberal trade unionist, who has recently become a Member of Parliament. He is a typical labour leader of the last generation, a Liberal in politics, a Nonconformist in religion, a deacon (I understand) of his native chapel, a veritable pillar of proletarian respectability, and an unflinching opponent of Socialism in every shape and form. Once it was his duty to attend an international congress of the representatives of his trade, where he found, I should suppose, the revolutionary trade unionism of the Continent little to his taste. However, that may have been, a resolution was proposed at the congress in question demanding a statutary eight hours day.

This reputable and independent Briton rose to oppose it, and in so doing made a characteristic Liberal speech, recommending the workmen to rely on themselves, not to appeal to governments, to win what they desired by their own efforts, and so on. Somewhat to his own surprise, the speech on being translated was greeted with no inconsiderable applause applause which at the conclusion of his fine peroration became thunderous, and was mingled with enthusiastic shouts of "Vive J --- et l’ Anarchie!" He had unfortunately succeeded in conveying the impression that by such phrases as "rely upon your own efforts" he meant to indicate the throwing of bombs!

This story gains considerably in point by the events of the last two years. For, during that period, the kinship (always innate) between Liberalism and Anarchism has been made apparent to the whole world in a most startling manner; and we have seen the Nonconformist section of the Liberal party, a section which above all others has always claimed an almost hypochondriac tenderness of conscience, trying to affect the repeal of a measure to which it takes exception, by means of a campaign which involves nothing less than a cynical repudiation of the duties of citizenship and an anarchic war against human society.

Anyone who possesses a temperament sardonic enough to enable him to take pleasure in tracing the moral debacle of what was once a great party can hardly amuse himself better than by following the history of the campaign against the Education Acts both before and after they became law. No one burdened with much moral or social enthusiasm will be able to do so with sufficient calm, for I venture to assert that a more disgraceful debauch of cant, hypocrisy, flagrant misrepresentation amounting sometimes to flat lying, sectarian venom, the prostitution of religious excitement to base ends, all exploited with an utterly shameless disregard of the public interest, cannot be found in the records of English politics for the last century or more.

That is a strong statement; to support it let me recall the facts of the ease. First I would ask a fair-minded man to glance through some of the innumerable letters and articles which have flooded the Nonconformist and Radical press from the first introduction of the Education Bill down to the present time, and I would ask such a man to say what, taking his impressions from this source alone, he would have supposed the purport of that Bill to be.

I think I may say without the slightest exaggeration that he would imagine that its effect must be (i) to hand over all elementary schools to the Church of England to be disposed of at her pleasure, (2) to impose on all teachers in such schools a new and stringent religious test, whose effect would be to prevent any but Anglican (and perhaps Roman Catholic) teachers from obtaining employment. I do not think there is any exaggeration in the above plain summary. On every side one still hears phrases like "handing over the schools of the nation to the Church," "imposing a religious test on teachers," "giving the People's property to the Priest," "establishing clericalism in the public schools," etc., which can have no other rational meaning than that stated above. Now it is not a matter of argument but one of simple fact that the Education Act did nothing of the kind, that nothing of the kind has ever been proposed in the whole course of the controversy. What the Act did do was (i) to give effect in denominational schools (already mainly supported out of public funds) to an enormously increased measure of public control, where before clerical control had been unbridled (2) to mitigate largely the effect of such religious "tests" as can in any sense be said to have existed in such schools. No new "test" of any sort or kind was imposed, and the Provided or Board Schools remain of course entirely unaffected except as to their transference from one publicly elected and unsectarian body to another and far more efficient one.

Consider for one moment the state of affairs which prevailed before the passing of the Act. There were then two kinds of public elementary school recognised by the State the Board School and the Voluntary School Schools of the former type were under the control of School Boards, bodies of irregular distribution and greatly varying importance. It must always be remembered that throughout more than half of England there were no School Boards at all. In the big towns you had doubtless often enough large and efficient Boards administering elementary education over the areas of great cities like London, Glasgow and Birmingham. In the country districts when they existed at all, the Boards were often elected to govern ridiculously small areas (sometimes with only one school in a whole district) and were most commonly inefficient and reactionary.

Such was the situation of the Board Schools: that of the Voluntary Schools was still more impossible. These schools, founded originally on denominational lines, were controlled despotically by a private board of clerical or clerically-minded managers. No effective public control was insisted upon. Even where a voluntary school was situated within a school board area, the School Board had no shadow of authority over it. And, as I have already mentioned, rather less than half of England possessed School Boards at all. The only pretence of public supervision then existing in the case of voluntary schools was to be found in the infrequent visits of notoriously complacent inspectors from Whitehall. Indeed the inspectors had to be complacent, for few voluntary schools had the means to make themselves educationally efficient even though they might wish to do so. Though more than two thirds of the money spent on their upkeep came out of the public exchequer in the form of government grants, the remaining third had to be raised by private subscription, that is to say had to be begged vigorously from the most incongruous people, from Churchmen anxious to preserve definite theological teaching and from rich ratepayers and even Railway Companies anxious to avoid the incidence of a School Board rate. As a natural consequence the schools which, be it remembered, were reckoned as part of the national machinery for education, were counted in the statistics of school accommodation, and were indeed the only schools available for a considerable part of the child population, were in a state of chronic and hopeless beggary, and dragged on a miserable existence, starved, irresponsible, notoriously inefficient, yet practically safe from public intervention.

Meanwhile technical education, unnaturally divorced from elementary, was confided to the care of the County and Borough Councils. Secondary education was nobody's business. It would have been entirely neglected had not some progressive School Boards stretched the term " elementary " to cover as much as they could until sharply pulled up by the Cockerton judgment, while some of the more progressive Councils stretched the term " technical " in much the same way, and would probably, but for the intervention of the Act, have met with the same fate.

Now what did the Education Acts do? The first and by far the most important change which they made was to transfer all education to the County and Borough Councils.* The effect of this was to provide that in future there should be everywhere throughout England one popularly elected local authority responsible for every kind and grade of education within its administrative area, and that this body should be that responsible for local government as a whole. Thus they made possible for the first time the co- ordination of all forms of education and the co-ordination of education with other municipal and local services.

*I omit mention of the proviso whereby certain Non-County Boroughs and Urban District Councils have authority over Elementary but not over Higher Education. The concession was a most unfortunate one, but it does not affect the general drift of my argument.

This change had of course the effect of sweeping away the old system of electing educational authorities ad hoc This seems to have struck many people as a flagrant piece of injustice, an impudent repudiation of democracy, and a shameless invasion of popular rights. It is difficult to understand why. A County or Borough Council is fully as democratic a body as a School Board, if democratic be taken to mean elected by popular suffrages. And if it is seriously contended that a body ought to be specially elected to deal with education alone, because the issues at a general municipal election may be confused, why not carry the principle further and have ad hoc bodies for each branch of local activity? Indeed why should the principle be applied only to local affairs? Why not elect a separate Parliament to deal with foreign affairs another to deal with Colonial matters, another to deal with social reform and so on? The fact is that the much Taunted ad hoc principle never had any real existence. It is not contained, as Nonconformists and Radicals seem to imagine either in the Bible or in Magna Charta; it is no part of the Natural Rights of Man or the Social Contract or even of the British Constitution. It is nothing but the last relic of a thoroughly discredited system of local government. The framers of the Education Act of 1870 themselves knew of no such principle. They created ad hoc bodies to deal with education, simply because government was then so undeveloped in this country that there was no other body to which it could be entrusted.

County Councils did not then exist; the Local Government Act of 1889, which like the Education Act of 1902 we owe to a Tory government, had not yet been passed. Over the greater part of Eng- land there was no democratic local government at all. Therefore it was necessary to create a stop-gap authority to deal with education. Similarly there were in the earlier part of the century innumerable other ad hoc bodies, entrusted with the duties of lighting the streets, making public improvements, etc., but they have all been swept away and their powers absorbed by county, borough, town, district or parish council. In course of time it was inevitable that the obsolete School Boards should follow them into the limbo of rejected experiments. It now only remains for Parliament to complete its work by abolishing our hopeless and discredited Boards of Guardians.

I suppose I ought in passing to refer to the contention that the administrative machinery of the Acts is undemocratic because the Councils are to govern through Committees. The absurdity of such a view will be obvious to anyone acquainted with the machinery of local government. All local bodies act through committees in educational and other matters. The Committee is a purely executive body, absolutely subject to the authority which creates it; and in this respect there is no essential difference between the Education Committee and that which controls the trams, the parks or the music halls.

To return to the other provisions of the Acts of 1902-3. The second effect which they have is to give to the local authority complete control over the "Voluntary" Schools now called Non-Provided Schools in all matters relating to secular education. This, I know well, will sound an audacious statement in the ears of those who have taken their views from the declarations of the Liberal press. I can only re- commend such people to buy a copy of the Act and read it for themselves. They will find that the managers of the non- provided schools are expressly compelled to carry out any instructions of the local education authority in regard to secular education, that in the event of failure to do so they can by a single stroke be deprived of all the benefits of the Act, and that the authority has two nominated representatives on the board of managers who are responsible to the public alone and can at once appeal to the public authority should their denominational colleagues show symptoms of recalcitrance.

Lastly all the cost of maintaining these schools (except for the upkeep of the buildings) is to come from public funds, the balance once borne by private subscriptions now coming out of the rates (bear in mind that already two thirds of their income was derived from taxes) so that a great nation is no longer placed in the humiliating position of having to rely on private charity in order to meet its educational needs, while denominational schools will no longer be able to plead beggary as an excuse for inefficiency.

That in plain English is what the Education Act of 1902 and the London Education Act of 1903 have effected. I defy any Liberal or Nonconformist opponent of the measure to show that I have misrepresented their purport in any particular.

But no sooner was the first draft of the Bill before the country than the campaign of unscrupulous misstatement began. The loudest and most popular cry was that the Bill "imposed" a religious test on teachers. I remember once at a public debate asking a gentle- man who urged this with great rhetorical effect to point out to me the

Clause of the Bill which imposed such a test. There upon I experienced the keen pleasure of watching my antagonists struggle through a copy of the Bill in the hopeless endeavour to find such a clause. Of course he did not find it for the same reason which prevented Tilburina from seeing the Spanish Fleet. There is no religious test imposed by the Act. Its sole effect in this respect is firstly to introduce an elective and non- sectarian element into the body which appoints the teacher and secondly to allow that body to over-ride any religious test imposed upon assistant teachers by the Trust-deeds of the school.

Then came the cry that the "People's Schools" were being "handed over to the Priest." What this meant I cannot conceive. The reference could hardly be to the denominational schools which before the passing of the Act were absolutely under the control of the " Priest " while under the Act his control is to say the least of a very shadowy and much mitigated character. I am therefore forced to the conclusion that those who used the phrase really supposed or at any rate wished others to suppose that the Board Schools were handed over to the Church, which is of course so monstrously untrue_ so devoid of even the faintest shadow of foundation in fact, that it is difficult to put it on paper without laughing.

There is, so far as I can see, no escape from one of these conclusions. Either the Nonconformists who made use of these catch-words and of many others like them had never read the Education Acts, or they were incapable of understanding the plainest English, or, having read the Acts and knowing their purport they deliberately misrepresented them. Take which ever explanation you choose: are they men whom we can safely trust with political power?

Later the agitation passed through another phase. After flagrant misrepresentation came nausious cant and fantastic casuistry. I believe that the English Nonconformists profess a great horror of Jesuits. But nothing attributed to the latter in the fiercest of Pascal's satires can equal the extraordinary casuistical tour de force whereby the former tried to find a distinction between the payment of rates and the payment of taxes. With one voice the Nonconformists declared that it would sear their consciences as with a hot iron if they had to pay a penny towards the support of schools where "Romanising" teaching was given. Whereto sensible men replied by pointing out that for years the Nonconformists had been paying for the cost of such schools out of the taxes. Then it was that the new ethical principle was discovered. It appears to be as follows: It is not wrong to pay money to a national body to meet the cost of supporting Denominational Schools but it is wrong to pay money to a local body for the same purpose, I will not attempt to follow the various lines of argument by which this remarkable conclusion is reached. I merely set down the conclusion itself for the amusement of my readers.

It should be remembered moreover that all the time that they were ranting about " Rome on the Rates " and the wickedness of compelling Dissenters to pay for teaching in which they did not believe the Nonconformists were themselves forcing on the provided schools and endeavouring to force on all schools a form of religious instruction notoriously abhorrent to Anglicans (at any rate of the Catholic type), Romanists, Agnostics and Jews. Could sanctified hypocrisy go further?

Yes, it could and did! No sooner was the Education Bill law than the leaders of Nonconformity with Dr. Clifford at their head entered upon the Opera Boujfe rebellion (mischievous enough despite its silliness) known as "Passive Resistance" That is to say that, fortified by the magnificent ethical principle italicised above, they considered themselves justified in repudiating their plain duties as citizens in the hope that by so doing they might injure the educational machinery of the country. The form which their very prudent insurrection took was that of refusing to pay their rates and compelling the community to distrain on their goods.

With the manifold humours of the movement, with the sale of Dr. Clifford's trowels and the sad fate of his bust of Cromwell, with the evident eagerness of our Nonconformist martyrs to part with their Bibles at the earliest possible moment, with the diurnal letters of Dr. Clifford to the Daily News, with his just anger against the brutal authorities who let a "resister" out of prison, with the even more delicious letters of minor lights of Dissent, with the fear expressed by one of these lest his heroic action should be supposed by the cold world to be merely an economic distraint for rent,* with the olympian wrath of those aspirants for the martyr's crown who found their hopes blighted by the baseness of some unknown person who had cruelly paid their rates for them with none of these do I propose to deal. Doubtless the proceedings of these brave martyr-rebels, whose motto, like that of the conspirators in one of Mr. Gilbert's operas, "is Revenge without Anxiety that is without unnecessary Risk," are delightful, if regarded from the standpoint of humour. It is to be regretted that we cannot altogether afford so to regard them. No Christian can free himself from a sense of shame at seeing Christian bodies sink so low, nor can any patriotic Englishman, whatever his creed, watch the signs of the times without anxiety when he sees what was once a great English party flatter such men and condone such a policy.

*The gentleman in question announced, if I remember rightly that he proposed to avoid this misunderstanding by showing in his front garden a placard with the inscription "MY GOODS ARE BEING SOLD TO PROMOTE RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE." a remarkably candid confession!

Seriously considered the "Passive Resistance" campaign proved two things. The immense impetus which it has gained among the Nonconformists is a symptom of that utter disregard of the public interest which has in all ages been characteristic of political sectaries. The toleration, if not encouragement, of it by the bulk of the Liberal party shows how superficial is the conversion of Liberals from their former anarchic view of civic duty. For "Passive Resistance" cannot be justified except the philosophic doctrines and assumptions of Anarchism be first accepted. Mr. Auberon Herbert might be a passive resister without inconsistency, for he regards taxation as a mere subscription sent by the subscriber to an organisation of his own choice and to be used only for such purposes as he may approve. He therefore maintains that all taxes should be voluntary and, were he to " resist " at all, would doubtless resist in the case of all state expenditure which he may think undesirable, armaments, wars, state ceremonial, and even municipal enterprise. Now this theory, if once accepted, will tell much more against the progressive side than against the reactionaries. The Nonconformists are as likely as not, I imagine, to "resist" the payment of money required to start a municipal public house; taking example from them, other persons may resist payment of taxes needed to furnish old age pensions on the ground that their con- sciences forbid them to allow their money to be used for the discouragement of the virtue of thrift. In a word the only logical conclusion of the "passive resistance" policy is complete Anarchism - Anarchism from which the Liberal ideal sprang and in which it will end. For us Collectivists, of course, the problem does not arise at all. From our point of view it is not Dr. Clifford's money that is going to support Roman Catholic schools, but some of the money which the community allows Dr. Clifford to handle subject to certain conditions, one of which is that he should pay his contribution towards the general expenses of government. If he does not like the use made of it, he has his vote as a citizen and such influence as his abilities may command, and that is all he is entitled to. That is the case against Passive Resistance, and I can only say that, if it is invalid, the whole case for taxation is invalid also.

Finally what strikes one most about this propaganda is its utterly cruel and cynical carelessness of the interests of the children. At a time, when education is so necessary to our national existence, it is no light thing when a deliberate attempt is made by responsible citizens to wreck our educational machinery in the interest of a group of sects. This is no exaggeration. We are told explicitly that the object of the agitation is to make the Education Act unworkable, that is to say to make it impossible to educate the children properly. How far in this direction the leaders of the movement are prepared to go may be seen from the case of Wales, where they are dominant and can act as they please. There they have formulated a policy whereby the deliberate ruin of Welsh education will be brought about by Welsh "patriots," the object being to defeat what they are pleased to call the "Welsh Coercion Act," which of course is not a Coercion Act at all, but merely an Act making provision for the upkeep of the children's schools in cases where local authorities neglect their duties and leave the unfortunate children fireless and bookless. I could wish that the Non- conformist leaders, who are so fond of the "Open Bible" would devote a little attention to Matthew XVIII 6.

Where it will all end no-one can say. Given favourable circumstances and a fair and firm administration of the law, I believe "Passive Resistance" in all its forms would soon die of its own inanity. The Dissenting Anarchists failed to capture the L.C.C. thanks to the patriotism and good sense of the Progressives at whom they have been snarling ever since ; and it hardly seems as if, outside Wales, they would achieve much in the arena of municipal politics. In Wales, where they have perhaps a slightly stronger case, some compromise might be effective, the proposals of the Bishop of St. Asaphs might form a basis for discussion. But, of course, the whole situation would be profoundly changed, were a Parliament dominated by Dissent to be returned at the General Election. In that case the settlement of 1902 would be upset, whole question would be flung once more into the melting pot, and our educational system would be fought for by Churchmen and Dissenters, as two ill-tempered dogs fight for a bone. That is what is quite likely to happen if we are not very careful, and serious educationalists can only look to the future with anxiety and disquiet. Though perhaps in the last resort we can rely on the House of Lords!

No comments: