What Is and What Might Be - A Study of Education in General and Elementary Education in Particular
by Edmond Holmes
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First published, May 1911. Second impression, July 1911. Third impression, September 1911. Fourth impression, November 1911. Fifth impression, January 1912. Sixth impression, October 1912.

Transcriber's note: Obvious printer errors have been corrected. All other inconstancies in spelling or punctuation are as in the original.


My aim, in writing this book, is to show that the externalism of the West, the prevalent tendency to pay undue regard to outward and visible "results" and to neglect what is inward and vital, is the source of most of the defects that vitiate Education in this country, and therefore that the only remedy for those defects is the drastic one of changing our standard of reality and our conception of the meaning and value of life. My reason for making a special study of that branch of education which is known as "Elementary," is that I happen to have a more intimate knowledge of it than of any other branch, the inside of an elementary school being so familiar to me that I can in some degree bring the eye of experience to bear upon the problems that confront its teachers. I do not for a moment imagine that the elementary school teacher is more deeply tainted than his fellows with the virus of "Occidentalism." Nor do I think that the defects of his schools are graver than those of other educational institutions. In my judgment they are less grave because, though perhaps more glaring, they have not had time to become so deeply rooted, and are therefore, one may surmise, less difficult to eradicate. Also there is at least a breath of healthy discontent stirring in the field of elementary education, a breath which sometimes blows the mist away and gives us sudden gleams of sunshine, whereas over the higher levels of the educational world there hangs the heavy stupor of profound self-satisfaction.[1] I am not exaggerating when I say that at this moment there are elementary schools in England in which the life of the children is emancipative and educative to an extent which is unsurpassed, and perhaps unequalled, in any other type or grade of school.

I am careful to say all this because I foresee that, without a "foreword" of explanation, my adverse criticism of what I have called "a familiar type of school" may be construed into an attack on the elementary teachers as a body. I should be very sorry if such a construction were put upon it. No one knows better than I do that the elementary teachers of this country are the victims of a vicious conception of education which has behind it twenty centuries of tradition and prescription, and the malign influence of which was intensified in their case by thirty years or more[2] of Code despotism and "payment by results." Handicapped as they have been by this and other adverse conditions, they have yet produced a noble band of pioneers, to whom I, for one, owe what little I know about the inner meaning of education; and if I take an unduly high standard in judging of their work, the reason is that they themselves, by the brilliance of their isolated achievements, have compelled me to take it. I will therefore ask them to bear with me, while I expose with almost brutal candour the shortcomings of many of their schools. They will understand that all the time I am thinking of education in general even more than of elementary education, and using my knowledge of the latter to illustrate statements and arguments which are really intended to tell against the former. They will also understand that at the back of my mind I am laying the blame of their failures, not on them but on the hostile forces which have been too strong for many of them,—on the false assumptions of Western philosophy, on the false standards and false ideals of Western civilisation, on various "old, unhappy, far-off things," the effects of which are still with us, foremost among these being that deadly system of "payment by results" which seems to have been devised for the express purpose of arresting growth and strangling life, which bound us all, myself included, with links of iron, and which had many zealous agents, of whom I, alas! was one.







The function of education is to foster growth. By some of my readers this statement will be regarded as a truism; by others as a challenge; by others, again, when they have realised its inner meaning, as a "wicked heresy." I will begin by assuming that it is a truism, and will then try to prove that it is true.

The function of education is to foster growth. The end which the teacher should set before himself is the development of the latent powers of his pupils, the unfolding of their latent life. If growth is to be fostered, two things must be liberally provided,—nourishment and exercise. On the need for nourishment I need not insist. The need for exercise is perhaps less obvious, but is certainly not less urgent. We make our limbs, our organs, our senses, our faculties grow by exercising them. When they have reached their maximum of development we maintain them at that level by exercising them. When their capacity for growth is unlimited, as in the case of our mental and spiritual faculties, the need for exercise is still more urgent. To neglect to exercise a given limb, or organ, or sense, or faculty, would result in its becoming weak, flabby, and in the last resort useless. In childhood, when the stress of Nature's expansive forces is strongest, the neglect of exercise will, for obvious reasons, have most serious consequences. If a healthy child were kept in bed during the second and third years of his life, the damage done to his whole body would be incalculable.

These are glaring truisms. Let me perpetrate one more,—one which is perhaps the most glaring of all. The process of growing must be done by the growing organism, by the child, let us say, and by no one else. The child himself must take in and assimilate the nourishment that is provided for him. The child himself must exercise his organs and faculties. The one thing which no one may ever delegate to another is the business of growing. To watch another person eating will not nourish one's own body. To watch another person using his limbs will not strengthen one's own. The forces that make for the child's growth come from within himself; and it is for him, and him alone, to feed them, use them, evolve them.

All this is—

"As true as truth's simplicity, And simpler than the infancy of truth."

But it sometimes happens that what is most palpable is least perceptible; and perhaps it is because the truth of what I say is self-evident and indisputable, that in many Elementary Schools in this country the education given seems to be based on the assumption that my "truisms" are absolutely false. In such schools the one end and aim of the teacher is to do everything for the child;—to feed him with semi-digested food; to hold him by the hand, or rather by both shoulders, when he tries to walk or run; to keep him under close and constant supervision; to tell him in precise detail what he is to think, to feel, to say, to wish, to do; to show him in precise detail how he is to do whatever may have to be done; to lay thin veneers of information on the surface of his mind; never to allow him a minute for independent study; never to trust him with a handbook, a note-book, or a sketch-book; in fine, to do all that lies in his power to prevent the child from doing anything whatever for himself. The result is that the various vital faculties which education might be supposed to train become irretrievably starved and stunted in the over-educated school child; till at last, when the time comes for him to leave the school in which he has been so sedulously cared for, he is too often thrown out upon the world, helpless, listless, resourceless, without a single interest, without a single purpose in life.

The contrast between elementary education as it too often is, and as it ought to be if the truth of my "truisms" were widely accepted, is so startling that in my desire to account for it I have had recourse to a paradox. "Trop de verite," says Pascal, "nous etonne: les premiers principes ont trop d'evidence pour nous." I have suggested that the inability of so many teachers to live up to the spirit, or even to the letter, of my primary "truism," may be due to its having too much evidence for them, to their being blinded by the naked light of its truth.

But there may be another explanation of the singular fact that a theory of education to which the teacher would assent without hesitation if it were submitted to his consciousness, counts for nothing in the daily routine of his work. Failure to carry an accepted principle into practice is sometimes due to the fact that the principle has not really been accepted; that its inner meaning has not been apprehended; that assent has been given to a formula rather than a truth. The cause of the failure may indeed lie deeper than this. It may be that the nominal adherents of the principle are in secret revolt against the vital truth that is at the heart of it; that they repudiate it in practice because they have already repudiated it in the inner recesses of their thought. "This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me." Tell the teacher that the function of education is to foster growth; that therefore it is his business to develop the latent faculties of his pupils; and that therefore (since growth presupposes exercise) he must allow his pupils to do as much as possible by and for themselves,—place these propositions before him, and the chances are that he will say "Amen" to them. But that lip assent will count for nothing. One's life is governed by instinct rather than logic. To give a lip assent to the logical inferences from an accepted principle is one thing. To give a real assent to the essential truth that underlies and animates the principle is another. The way in which the teacher too often conducts his school leads one to infer that the intuitive, instinctive side of him—the side that is nearest to practice—has somehow or other held intercourse with the inner meaning of that "truism" which he repeats so glibly, and has rejected it as antagonistic to the traditional assumptions on which he bases his life. Or perhaps this work of subconscious criticism and rejection has been and is being done for him, either by the spirit of the age to which he belongs or by the genius of the land in which he lives.

Why is the teacher so ready to do everything (or nearly everything) for the children whom he professes to educate? One obvious answer to this question is that for a third of a century (1862-1895) the "Education Department" did everything (or nearly everything) for him. For a third of a century "My Lords" required their inspectors to examine every child in every elementary school in England on a syllabus which was binding on all schools alike. In doing this, they put a bit into the mouth of the teacher and drove him, at their pleasure, in this direction and that. And what they did to him they compelled him to do to the child.

So far as the action of the "Education Department" was concerned, this policy was abandoned—in large measure, if not wholly—in 1895; but its consequences are with us still. What conception of the meaning and purpose of education could have induced "My Lords" to adopt such a policy, and, having adopted it, to adhere to it for more than thirty years? Had one asked "My Lords" at any time during those thirty years what they regarded as the true function of education, and had one suggested to them (as they had probably never turned their minds to the question) that the function of education was to foster the growth of the child, they might possibly have given an indolent assent to that proposition. But their educational policy must have been dictated by some widely different conception. They must have believed that the mental progress of the child—the only aspect of progress which concerned educationalists in those days—would best be tested by a formal examination on a prescribed syllabus, and would best be secured by preparation for such a test; and they must have accepted, perhaps without the consent of their consciousness, whatever theory of education may be implicit in that belief.

In acting as they did, "My Lords" fell into line with the Universities, the Public Schools, the Preparatory Schools, the Civil Service Commissioners, the Professional Societies, and (to make a general statement) with all the "Boards" and "Bodies" that controlled, directly or indirectly, the education of the youth of England. We must, therefore, widen the scope of our inquiry, and carry our search for cause a step farther back. How did the belief that a formal examination is a worthy end for teacher and child to aim at, and an adequate test of success in teaching and in learning, come to establish itself in this country? And not in this country only, but in the whole Western world? In every Western country that is progressive and "up to date," and in every Western country in exact proportion as it is progressive and "up to date," the examination system controls education, and in doing so arrests the self-development of the child, and therefore strangles his inward growth.

What is the explanation of this significant fact? In my attempt to account for the failure of elementary education in England to foster the growth of the educated child, I have travelled far. But I must travel farther yet. The Western belief in the efficacy of examinations is a symptom of a widespread and deep-seated tendency,—the tendency to judge according to the appearance of things, to attach supreme importance to visible "results," to measure inward worth by outward standards, to estimate progress in terms of what the "world" reveres as "success." It is the Western standard of values, the Western way of looking at things, which is in question, and which I must now attempt to determine.

That I should have to undertake this task is a proof of the complexity of education, of the bewildering tanglement of its root-system, of the depths to which some of its roots descend into the subsoil of human-life. The defect in our system of education which I am trying to diagnose is one which the "business man," who may have had reason to complain of the output of our elementary schools, will probably account for in one sentence and propound a remedy for in another. But I, who know enough about education to realise how little is or can be known about it, find that if I am to understand why so many schools turn out helpless and resourceless children, I must go back to the first principles of modern civilisation, or in other words to the cardinal axioms of the philosophy of the West.

This does not mean that I must make a systematic study of Western metaphysics. Professional thinkers abound in the West; but the rank and file of the people pay little heed to them. It is true that they take themselves very seriously; but so does every clique of experts and connoisseurs. The indirect influence of their theories has at times been considerable; but their direct influence on human thought is, and has always been, very slight. For the plain average man, who cannot rid himself of the suspicion that the professional thinker is a professional word-juggler, has a philosophy of his own which was formulated for him by an unphilosophical people, and which, though it is now beginning to fail him, was once sufficient for all his needs.

At the present moment there are two schools of popular thought in the West. For many centuries there was only one. For many centuries men were content to believe that the outward and visible world—the world of their normal experience—was the all of Nature. But they were not content to believe that it was the "all of Being." The latter conception would have said "No" to certain desires of the heart which refuse to be negatived,—desires which are as large and lofty as they are pure and deep: and in order to provide a refuge for these, men added to their belief in a natural world which was bounded by the horizon of experience (as they understood the word), the complementary belief in a world which transcended the limits of experience, and in which the dreams and hopes for which Nature could make no provision might somehow or other be realised and fulfilled. With the development of physical science, the conception of the Supernatural has become discredited, and a materialistic monism has begun to dispute the supremacy of that dualistic philosophy which had reigned without a rival for many hundreds of years. But antagonistic as these philosophies are to one another, they have one conception in common. The popular belief that the world of man's normal experience is the Alpha and Omega of Nature, is the very platform on which their controversies are carried on. Were any one to suggest to them that this belief was without foundation, that there was room and to spare in Nature for the "supernatural" as well as for the normal, that the supernatural world (as it had long been miscalled) was nothing more nor less than "la continuation occulte de la Nature infinie,"—they would at once unite their forces against him, and assail him with an even bitterer hatred than that which animates them in their own intestine strife.

The dualistic philosophy which satisfied the needs of the West for some fifteen centuries was systematised and formulated for it, in the language of myth and poetry, by an Eastern people. The acceptance of official Christianity by the Graeco-Roman world was the result of many causes, two of which stand out as central and supreme. The first of these was the personal magnetism of Christ, in and through which men came in contact with, and responded to, the attractive forces of those moral and spiritual ideas which Christ set before his followers. The second was the readiness of the Western mind to accept the philosophy of Israel,—a philosophy with the master principles of which it had long been subconsciously familiar, and for the clear and convincing presentation of which it had long been waiting. Of the personal magnetism of Christ and the part that it has played in the life of Christendom, I need not now speak. My present concern is to show how the philosophy of Israel—accepted nominally for Christ's sake, but really for its own—has influenced the educational policy of the West.

In the Old Testament the Western mind found itself face to face with the philosophical theories—theories about the world and its origin, about Man and his destiny, about conduct and its consequences—to which its own mythologies had given inadequate expression, but which the poetical genius of a practical people was able to formulate to the satisfaction of a practical world. In the philosophy of Israel "Nature" was conceived of, not as animated by an indwelling life or soul, but as the handiwork of an omnipotent God. In six days—so runs the story—"God created the heavens and the earth." Whether by the word which we translate as "days" were meant terrestrial days or cosmic ages matters nothing, for in either case the broad fact remains that according to the Biblical narrative the work of creation occupied a definite period of time, and that on a certain day in the remote past the Creator rested from his labours, surveyed his handiwork, and pronounced it to be very good.

His next step was to stand aside from the world that he had made, leave it to its own devices and see how it would behave itself in the person of its lord and his viceroy,—Man. That the Creator should place Creation on its trial and that it should speedily misbehave itself, may be said to have been preordained. The idea of a Creator postulates the further idea of a Fall. The finished work of an omnipotent Creator is presumably good,—good in this sense, if in no other, that its actualities must needs determine the creature's ideals and standards of good. But the world, as Man knows it, seems to be deeply tainted with evil. How is this anomaly to be accounted for? The story of the Fall is the answer to this question. Whether modern theology regards the story of the Fall as literally or only as symbolically true, I cannot say for certain. The question is of minor importance. What is of supreme importance is that Christian theology accepts and has always accepted the consequences of the idea of the Fall, and that in formulating those consequences it has provided the popular thought of the West with conceptions by which its whole outlook on life has been, and is still, determined and controlled.

The idea of the Fall, as dramatised by Israel and interpreted by the "Doctors" of the West, gives adequate expression—on the highest level of his thinking—to the crude dualism which constitutes the philosophy of the average man. Hence the immense attractiveness of the idea to the practical races of the West,—to peoples whose chief idea is to get their mental problems solved for them as speedily, as authoritatively, and as intelligibly as possible, that they may thus be free to devote themselves to "business," to the tangible affairs of life.

Let us follow the philosophy of the Fall into some of its more obvious consequences. The Universe (to use the most comprehensive of all terms) is conceived of as divided into two dissevered worlds,—the world of Nature, which is fallen, ruined, and accursed, and the Supernatural world, which shares in the perfection and centres in the glory of God. Between these two worlds intercourse is, in the nature of things, impossible. But Man is not content that his state of godless isolation should endure for ever. As a thinker, he has exiled God from Nature and therefore from his own daily life. But, as a "living soul," he craves for reunion with God; and so long as the gulf between the two worlds remains impassable, his philosophy will be felt to be incomplete. A supplementary theory of things must therefore be devised. Corrupt and fallen as he is, Man cannot hope to climb to Heaven; but God, with whom nothing is impossible, can at his own good pleasure come down to earth. And come he will, whenever that sense of all-pervading imperfection which exiled him, in its premature attempt to explain itself, to his supernatural Heaven, is realised in man's heart as a desire for better things. But what will be the signs of his advent? The philosophy of the Fall is at no loss for an answer to this question. There was a time when Nature was the mirror of God's face. But it is so no longer. The mirror was shattered when Adam fell. Henceforth it is only by troubling the waters of Nature, by suspending the operation of its laws, by turning its order into confusion, by producing supernatural phenomena, or "miracles" as they are vulgarly called, that God can announce his presence to Man.

The question of the miraculous is one into which we need not enter. Let us assume that God can somehow or other come to Man, and that Man can somehow or other recognise God's presence and interpret his speech. We have now to ask ourselves one vital question. With what purpose does God visit the world which has forfeited his favour, and what does he propose to do for ruined Nature and fallen Man? For Nature, nothing. For Man, to provide a way of escape from Nature. The dualism of popular thought must needs control the very efforts that men make to deliver themselves from its consequences. The irremediable corruption of Man's nature is the assumption on which the whole scheme of salvation is to be hinged. His deliverance from sin and death will be effected, not by the development of any natural capacity for good, but by his being induced to quit the path (or paths) of Nature, and to walk, under Divine direction, in some new and narrow path.

But how will this end be achieved? That Man cannot discover the path of salvation for himself will, of course, be taken for granted. The catastrophe of the Fall has corrupted his whole nature, and has therefore blinded him to the light of truth. "The way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." The promptings of his own nature, which he would follow if left to himself, can do nothing but lead him astray. It will also be taken for granted that the path of salvation is a path of action. When the whole inward disposition is hopelessly corrupt, the idea of achieving salvation by growing, by bringing one's hidden life to the perfection of maturity, must perforce be abandoned. It is only by doing God's will that Man can hope to regain his favour. One thing, then, is clear. Man must be told in exact detail what he is to do and also (should this be necessary) how he is to do it. In other words, an elaborate Code of Law, covering the whole range of human life and regulating all the details of conduct, must be delivered by God to Man. If Man will obey this Law he will be saved. If he will not obey it, he will be lost.

There is another aspect of the idea of a supernatural revelation on which it is necessary to touch. As intercourse between Nature and the Supernatural world takes place, not in the natural order of things but at the good pleasure of the Supernatural God, revelation must needs be conceived of as a highly-specialised process. A revelation which was addressed to the whole human race, and to which the whole human race was able to respond, could scarcely be regarded as of supernatural origin. The distinction between the supernaturalness of the appeal and the naturalness of the response would gradually tend to efface itself: for "what is universal is natural," and the voice which every man was able to recognise would come at last to be regarded as a voice from within oneself. If the supernatural character of an alleged revelation is to be established, its uniqueness must be duly emphasised. A particular people must be chosen for the purpose of the divine experiment. A particular law-giver must be commissioned to declare to the chosen people the will of the Supernatural God. And from time to time a particular prophet must be sent to rebuke the chosen people for its backslidings, to show it where it has gone astray, and to exhort it to turn again to its God.

For if it is far from Man to discern good, it is still farther from him to desire it. How, then, shall he be induced to walk in the path which the Law has prescribed for him? To this question there can be but one answer: By the promise of external reward, and the threat of external punishment. To set before Man an ideal of life—an ideal which would be to him an unfailing fountain of magnetic force and guiding light—is not in the power of legalism. For if an ideal is to appeal to one, it must be the consummation of one's own natural tendencies; but the current of Man's natural tendencies is ever setting towards perdition, and the vanishing point of his heart's desires is death. Were an ideal revealed to the Law-giver and by him presented to his fellow-men, and were the heart of Man to respond to the appeal that it made to him, the basic assumption of legalism—that of the corruption of Man's nature—would be undermined; for Man would have proved that it belonged to his nature to turn towards the light,—in other words, that he had a natural capacity for good. The plain truth is that legalism is precluded, by its own first principles from appealing to any motive higher than that instinctive desire for pleasure which has as its counterpart a quasi-physical fear of pain. It is impossible for the lawgiver to appeal to Man's better nature, to say to him: "Cannot you see for yourself that this course of action is better than that,—that love is better than hatred, mercy than cruelty, loyalty than treachery, continence than self-indulgence?" What he can and must say to him is this, and this only; "If you obey the Law you will be rewarded. If you disobey it you will be punished." And this he must say to him again and again.

It is true that among the many commandments which the Law sets before its votaries, there are some—the moral commandments, properly so called—which do in point of fact, and in defiance of the philosophical assumption of legalism, appeal to the better nature of Man. But these are at best an insignificant minority; and their relative importance will necessarily diminish with the development into its natural consequences of the root idea of legalism. For legalism, just so far as it is strong, sincere, and self-confident, will try to cover the whole of human life. The religion that is content to do less than this, the religion that acquiesces in the distinction between what is religious and what is secular, is, as we shall presently see, a religion in decay. Religion may perhaps be defined as Man's instinctive effort to bring a central aim into his life and so provide himself with an authoritative standard of values. In its highest and purest form, Religion controls Man's life, both as a whole and in all its essential details, through the central aim or spiritual ideal which it sets before him and the consequent standard of values with which it equips him. But legalism is debarred by its distrust of human nature from trying to control the details of life through any central aim or ideal; and its assumption that all the commandments of the Law are of divine origin, and therefore equally binding upon Man, is obviously incompatible with the conception of a standard of moral worth. Its attempt to cover the whole of life must therefore resolve itself into an attempt to control the details of conduct in all their detail; to deal with them, one by one, bringing each in turn under the operation of an appropriate commandment, and if necessary deducing from the commandment a special rule to meet the special case. In other words, besides being told what he is not to do (in the more strictly moral sphere of conduct), and what he is to do (in the more strictly ceremonial sphere), Man must be told, in the fullest detail, how he is to do whatever may have to be done in the daily round of his life. Such at least is the aim of legalism. The nets of the Law are woven fine, and flung far and wide. If there are any acts in a man's life which escape through their clinging meshes, the force of Nature is to be blamed for this partial failure, not the zeal of the Doctors of the Law.

It is towards this inverted ideal that the doctrine of salvation through obedience will lead its votaries, when its master principle—that of distrust of human nature—has been followed out into all its natural consequences,—followed out, as it was by Pharisaism, with a fearless logic and a fixed tenacity of purpose. An immense and ever-growing host of formulated rules, not one in a hundred of which makes any appeal to the heart of Man or has any meaning for his higher reason, will crush his life down, slowly and inexorably, beneath their deadly burden. "At every step, at the work of his calling, at prayer, at meals, at home and abroad, from early morning till late in the evening, from youth to old age, the dead, the deadening formula"[3] will await him. The path of obedience for the sake of obedience speedily degenerates into the path of mechanical obedience; and the end of that path is the triumph of machinery over life.

For it is to the letter of the Law, rather than to the spirit, that the strict legalist is bound to conform. The letter of the Law is divine; and obedience to it is within the power of every man who will take the trouble to learn its commandments. What the spirit of the Law may be, is beyond the power of fallen Man to determine; and were an attempt made to interpret it, the result would be a state of widespread moral chaos, for there would be as many interpretations of it as there were minds that had the courage and the initiative to undertake so audacious a task. As it is with the Law as such, so it is with each of its numerous commandments. The man who professes to obey the spirit of a commandment is in secret revolt against its divine authority. For he is presuming to criticise it in the light of his own conscience and insight, and to limit his obedience to it to that particular aspect of it which he judges to be worthy of his devotion. From such a criticism of the Fourth Commandment as "the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath" to open violation of the letter of the commandment (on this occasion or on that) there is but a single step. The whole structure of legalism would collapse if men were allowed to absolve themselves from obedience to the letter of the Law, out of regard for what they conceived to be its spirit. To interpret a commandment, in the sense of providing for its application to the fresh cases that may arise for treatment, is the work, not of poets and prophets but of Doctors and Scribes. The path of literal, and therefore of mechanical, obedience is the only path of safety; and the more punctiliously the letter is obeyed, the more perfect will be the machinery of salvation, and the nearer will legalism get to the appointed goal of its labours,—the extinction of spiritual life.

As is the life that legalism expects us to lead, so is the scheme of rewards and punishments by which (as we have already seen) it constrains us to lead it. The materialisation of life that takes place under the sway of the Law is accurately matched and measured by the materialisation of the doctrine of moral retribution. The general idea that virtue is rewarded and vice punished is profoundly true. But the idea is easily misinterpreted; and it necessarily shares in the degradation of one's general conception of life. Virtue rewards the virtuous by making them more virtuous. Vice punishes the vicious by making them more vicious. So long as the rewards for which we hope and the punishments which we dread are conceived of as inward and spiritual, we are on safe ground. But such a scheme of rewards and punishments is wholly foreign to the genius of supernaturalism. It is not by becoming more virtuous that we are saved. It is not by becoming more vicious that we are lost. We are saved by obedience, we are lost by disobedience, to the formulated rules of a divinely-delivered law. To appeal to Man's higher self, when there is no higher self to appeal to,—to set before him as the supreme reward of virtue the development of his better nature, when his nature is intrinsically evil,—would be an obvious waste of labour. And as, apart from the presumed repugnance of the "natural man" to the presumed delights of the Law, the intrinsic attractiveness of the life that legalism prescribes must needs diminish in exact proportion as the authority of the Law becomes oppressive and vexatious, and the letter of it tends to establish itself at the expense of the spirit,—it is clear that a scheme of rewards and punishments will become, in effect as well as in theory, the only weapon in the armoury of the legalist. It is also clear that there will be much work for that one weapon to do. The central tendencies of Man's nature, besides being ex hypothesi evil, are antagonistic de facto to the galling despotism and the irrational requirements of the Law; and the lawgiver, far from being able to enlist those tendencies under his banner by appealing to the highest of them—the natural leaders of the rest,—must be prepared to overcome their collective resistance by winning to his side the lowest of them, by terrifying Man's weaker self with threats, by corrupting his baser self with bribes. The ruin of Man's nature, whether hypothetical or actual,[4] has left intact (or relatively intact) only the animal base of it. It is to his animal instincts, then, that legalism must appeal in its endeavour to influence his conduct. In other words, the punishments and the rewards to which Man is to look forward must be of the same genus, if not of the same species, as the lash of the whip that punishes the lagging race-horse, or the lump of sugar that rewards his exertions. And with the inevitable growth of egoism and individualism in the demoralising atmosphere with which legalism (and its lineal successors) must needs invest human life, Man's conception of the rewards and punishments that await him will deteriorate rather than improve. The Jewish desire for national prosperity was an immeasurably nobler motive to action than is the Christian's fear of the quasi-material fires of Hell. Indeed it is nothing but our familiarity with the latter motive that has blinded us to its inherent baseness. It is no exaggeration to say that there have been epochs in the history of Christendom (as there are still quarters of Christian thought and phases of Christian faith) in which the trumpet-call that was meant to rouse the soldiers of God to renewed exertion has rung in their ears as an ignominious "sauve qui peut."

The tendency of legalism to externalise life has another aspect. In the eyes of the strict legalist there is no such thing as an inward state of human worth. The doctrine of the corruption of Man's nature is incompatible with the idea of "goodness" being measurable (potentially if not actually) in terms of the health and happiness of the "inward man." Goodness, as the legalist conceives it, is measurable in terms of correctness of outward conduct, and of that only. And when life is regulated by an elaborate Law, the rules of which are familiar to all men, there is no reason why a man's outward conduct should not be appraised, with some approach to accuracy, by his neighbours and friends. Hence it is that in the atmosphere of legalism an excessive deference is wont to be paid to public, and even to parochial, opinion. The life of the votary of the Law is lived under strict and constant surveillance; and a man learns at last to value himself as his conduct is valued by a critical onlooker, and to make it the business of his life to produce "results" which can be weighed and measured by conventional standards, rather than to grow in grace,—with silent, subtle, unobtrusive growth.

Were I to try to prove that the regime of the Law was necessarily fatal to the development of Man's higher faculties—conscience, freedom, reason, imagination, intuition, aspiration, and the rest—I should waste my time. Legalism, as a scheme of life, is based on the assumption that development along the lines of Man's nature is a movement towards perdition; and to reproach the legalist for having arrested the growth of the human spirit by the pressure of the Law were to provoke the rejoinder that he had done what he intended to do. The two schemes of Salvation—the mechanical and the evolutional—have so little in common that neither can pass judgment on the other without begging the question that is in dispute. When I come to consider the effect of legalism—or rather of the philosophy that underlies legalism—on education, I may perhaps be able to find some court of law in which the case between the two schemes can be tried with the tacit consent of both. Meanwhile I can but note that in the atmosphere of the Law growth is as a matter of fact arrested,—arrested so effectually that the counter process of degeneration begins to take its place. The proof of this statement, if proof be needed, is that legalism, when its master principle has been fully grasped and fearlessly applied, takes the form of Pharisaism, and that it is possible for the Pharisee to "count himself to have apprehended," to congratulate himself on his spiritual achievement, to believe, in all seriousness, that he has closed his account with God.

Pharisaism is at once the logical consummation and the reductio ad absurdum of legalism. It is to the genius of Israel that we owe that practical interpretation of the fundamental principle of supernaturalism, which was embodied in the doctrine of salvation through obedience to the letter of a Law. And it is to the genius of Israel that we owe that rigorously logical interpretation of the axiomata media of legalism, which issued in due season in Pharisaism. The world owes much to the courage and sincerity of Israel,—to his unique force of character, to his fanatical earnestness, to his relentless tenacity of purpose. In particular, it owes a debt which it can never liquidate to what was at once the cause and the result of his over-seriousness,—to his lack of any sense of humour,—a negative quality which allowed his practical logic to run its course without let or hindrance, and prevented the "brakes" of common-sense from acting when he found himself, in his very zeal for the Law, descending an inclined plane into an unfathomable abyss of turpitude and folly. The man (or people) who is able, of his own experience, to tell the rest of mankind what a given scheme of life really means and is really worth, owing to his having offered himself as the corpus vile for the required experiment, is one of the greatest benefactors of the human race. Had Israel been less sincere or less courageous, we might never have known what deadly fallacies lurk in the seemingly harmless dualism of popular thought.

* * * * *

But the West, it will be said, is Christian, not Jewish. Is it Christian? If the word "Christian" connotes acceptance of the teaching as well as devotion to the person of Christ, it is scarcely applicable either to the official or to the popular religion of the West. For Christ, the stern denouncer of the Pharisees, was the whole-hearted enemy of legalism; and the legal conception of salvation through mechanical obedience still dominates the religion and life of Christendom.

The Jewish Law tried to cover, and tended more and more to cover, the whole of human life. It is true that it controlled the details rather than the totality of life; but the reason why it dealt with life, detail by detail, was that its exponents, owing to their spiritual purblindness, were unable to see the wood for the trees. In Christendom, while the doctrine of salvation through mechanical obedience was retained, the authority of a Church was substituted for that of a Code of Law. The growth of the idea of Humanity, as opposed to that of mere nationality, made this necessary. As the former idea began to compete with the latter, the need for a divinely-commissioned society which should declare the will and communicate the grace of God, not to one nation only but to all men who were willing to hearken and obey,—and whose action, as a channel of intercourse between God and Man, should be continuous rather than spasmodic,—began to make itself felt. A Code of Law might conceivably suffice to regulate the life of one small nation; but when we consider under what varying conditions of climate, occupation, custom, tradition, and so forth, the general life of Humanity is carried on, we see clearly that no one Code can even begin to suffice for the needs of the whole human race. Hence, and for other reasons which we need not now consider, the West, in accepting the philosophy of Israel, translated its master idea of salvation through mechanical obedience into the notation of ecclesiastical, as distinguished from legal, control.

That obedience to a supernaturally-commissioned Church, or rather to the One supernaturally-commissioned Church, is the first and last duty of Man, is the fundamental assumption on which the stately fabric of Catholic Christianity has been reared. In various ways the Church has striven to exact implicit obedience from her children. Through the medium of the Confessional she has secured some measure of control over their morals. By regulating the worship of God—both public and private—she has been able to rule off a sphere of human conduct in which her own authority is necessarily paramount. By supplying the faithful with rations of "theological information" (to quote the apt phrase of a pillar of orthodoxy), and requiring them to accept these on her authority as indisputably true, she has succeeded in imposing her yoke on thought as well as on conduct. By claiming to control the outflow of Divine grace, through the channels of the Sacraments, she has been able to threaten the rebellious with the dread penalty of being cut off from intercourse with God. And by telling men, with stern insistence, that the choice between obedience and disobedience to herself is the choice between eternal happiness and eternal misery, she has sought to extend her dominion beyond the limits of time and to raise to an infinite power her supremacy over the souls of men.

But just because the life of collective Humanity is large, complex, and full of change and variety, the Church which aspires to be universal, however strong may be her desire to superintend all the details of human thought and conduct, and however ready she may be to adapt herself to local and temporal variations, must needs allow whole aspects and whole spheres of human life to escape from her control. The history of Christendom is the history of the gradual emancipation of the Western world from the despotism of the Church. The various activities of the human spirit—art, science, literature, law, statecraft, and the rest—have, one and all, freed themselves by slow degrees from ecclesiastical control, till little or nothing has been left for the Church to regulate but her own rites and ceremonies, the morals (in a narrow and ever-narrowing sense of the word), and the faith (in the theological sense of the word), of the faithful.

With the emancipation of Man's higher activities from ecclesiastical control, the distinction between the religious and the secular life has gradually established itself. That this should happen was inevitable. Mechanical obedience being of the essence of supernatural religion, the secularising of human life became absolutely necessary if any vital progress was to be made. The Church patronised art, music, and the drama so far as they served her purposes. When they outgrew those purposes, in response to the expansive forces of human nature, she treated them as secular and let them go their several ways. In the interests of theology she tried to keep physical science in leading-strings; but when, after a bitter struggle, science broke loose from her control, she treated it too as secular and let it go its way.

Let us see what this distinction involves. As salvation is to be achieved by obedience to the Church and in no other way, it follows that in all those spheres of life which are outside the jurisdiction of the Church (except, of course, so far as questions of "morals" may arise in connection with them), Man's conduct and general demeanour are supposed to have no bearing on his eternal destiny. This is the view of the secular life which is taken by the Church. And not by the Church alone. As, little by little, the Institution—be it Church, or Sect, or Code, or Scripture—which claims to be the sole accredited agent of the Eternal God, relaxes its hold upon the ever-expanding life of Humanity, all those developments of human nature which cease to be amenable to its control come to be regarded as mundane, as unspiritual, as carnal, as matters with which God has no concern.

Were this view of the secular life confined to those who call themselves religious, no great harm would be done. Unfortunately, the secular life, which is under the influence of the current conception of God as one who holds no intercourse with Man except through certain accredited agents, is ready to acquiesce in the current estimate of itself as godless, and to accept as valid the distinction between the religious life and its own. Hence comes a general lowering of Man's aims. As the secular life is content to regard itself as godless, and so deprives itself of any central and unifying aim, it is but natural that success in each of its many branches should come to be regarded as an end in itself. It is but natural, to take examples at random, that the artist should follow art for art's sake, that the man of science should deify positive knowledge, that the statesman should regard political power as intrinsically desirable, that the merchant and the manufacturer should live to make money, and that the highest motive which appeals to all men alike should be the desire to bulk large in the eyes of their fellow-men. Even the ardent reformer, whose enthusiasm makes him unselfish, pursues the ideal to which he devotes himself, as an end in itself, and makes no attempt to define or interpret it in terms of its relation to that supreme and central ideal which he ought to regard as the final end of human endeavour. When we remind ourselves, further, that secularism, equally with supernaturalism, tends to identify "Nature" with lower nature—in other words, with the material side of the Universe and the carnal side of Man's being,—we shall realise how easy it is for the secular life, once it has lost, through its divorce from religion, the tonic stimulus of a central aim, to sink, without directly intending to do so, into the mire of materialism,—a materialism of conduct as well as of thought.

But if the loss to the secular life, from its compulsory despiritualisation, is great, the loss to religion, from the secularisation of so much of Man's rational activity, is greater still. The very distinction between the secular and the religious life is profoundly irreligious, in that it rests on the tacit assumption that there is no unity, no central aim, in human life; and the fact that official religion is ready to acquiesce in the distinction, is ready, in other words, to make a compromise with its enemy "the world," is a proof that it is secretly conscious of its own failing power, and is even beginning to despair of itself. As it resigns itself to this feeling (as yet perhaps but dimly realised), its reasons for entertaining it must needs grow stronger. The progressive enlargement of the sphere of Man's secular activities is accompanied, step for step, by the devitalisation of the idea of the Divine. What kind of intercourse can God be supposed to hold with Man if the latter is to be left to his own devices in what he must needs regard as among the more important aspects of his life,—in his commercial and industrial enterprises, in his art, in his literature, in his study of Nature's laws, in his mastery of Nature's forces, in his pursuit of positive truth and practical good? As in these matters Man frees himself, little by little, from the yoke of supernaturalism, which he has been accustomed to identify with religion, his formal conception of his relation to God and of the part that God plays in his life—the conception that is defined and elucidated for him by religious "orthodoxy"—becomes of necessity more irrational, more mechanical, more unreal, more repugnant to his better nature and to the higher developments of his "common-sense." The tendency to exalt the letter of what is spoken or written, at the expense of the spirit, is as much of the essence of ecclesiasticism as of legalism. "Si dans les regles du salut le fond l'emporterait sur la forme, ce serait la ruine du sacerdoce." And, as a matter of experience, the hair-splitting puerilities of Pharisaism under the Old Dispensation have been matched, and more than matched, in the spheres of ritual, of dogmatic theology, and of casuistical morality, under the New. As Man gradually shifts the centre of gravity of his being from the religious to the secular side of his life, this puerile element in religion—the element of ultra-formalism, of irrationality, of unreality—tends, like a morbid growth, to draw to itself the vital energies of what was once a healthy organism but is now degenerating into a "body of death." If, in these days of absorbing secular activity, Man continues to tolerate the theories and practices of the religious experts, the reason is—apart from the influence of custom and tradition and of his respect for venerable and "established" institutions—that they are things which he has neither time nor inclination to investigate, and which he can therefore afford to tolerate as being far removed from what is vital and central in his life. I am told that the Catholic Church holds, in the case of a dying man, "that the eternal fate of the soul, for good or for evil, may depend upon the reception or the non-reception of absolution, and even of extreme unction." That the truly appalling conception of God which is implicit in this sentence should still survive, that it should not yet have been swept out of existence by the outraged common-sense and good feeling of Humanity, is a proof of the immense indifference with which the Western world, absorbed as it is in secular pursuits, regards religion.

It may indeed be doubted if men have ever been so non-religious as are at the present day the inhabitants of our highly-civilised and thoroughly-Christianised West. At any rate the absence of a central aim in human life has never been so complete as it is now. Most men are content to drift through life, toiling for the daily bread which will enable them to go on living, yet neither knowing nor caring to know why they are alive. There is a minority of stronger and more resolute men who devote life with unwavering energy to the pursuit of what I may call private and personal ends. Thus the man of business lives for the acquisition of riches; the scholar and the scientist, of knowledge; the statesman, of power; the speculator, of excitement; the libertine, of pleasure; and so forth. Few are they who ever dream of devoting life as a whole to the pursuit of an end which is potentially attainable by all men, and which is therefore worthy of Man as Man. The idea of there being such an end has indeed been almost wholly lost sight of. Those among us who are of larger discourse than the rest and less absorbed by personal aims, ask themselves mournfully: What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? Is life worth living? and other such questions; and being unable to answer them to their satisfaction, or get them answered, resign themselves to a state of quasi-stoical endurance. That religion cannot be expected to answer these questions—the very questions which it is its right and its duty to answer—seems to be taken for granted by all who ask them. Religion, as it is now conceived of, is a thing for priests and ministers, for churches and chapels, for Sundays and Saints'-days, for the private devotions of women and children, for educational debates in Parliament, for the first lesson on the time-table (9.5 to 9.45 a.m.) of a Public Elementary School. The "unbeliever" is eager to run a tilt against religion. The "non-believer" is content to ignore it. The "believer" is careful to exclude it from nine-tenths of his life. It is to this pass that the gospel of salvation by machinery has brought the most "progressive" part of the human race.

The phase of non-religiousness through which the West is passing has, we may rest assured, a meaning and a purpose. At the meetings of the Catholic Truth Society it is customary for the speakers to deplore the steady relapse of Christendom into paganism, which is going on before their eyes. As the Church had things her own way for ten centuries or more, these complaints on the part of her champions are equivalent to a confession on her part of disastrous failure. Why is the Church, after having evangelised the West and ruled it for a thousand years, allowing it to slide back into paganism? The answer to this question is that she herself is unwittingly paganising it. I mean by this that, without intending to do so, she is compelling it to choose between secularised life and arrested growth. Were a growing tree encircled with an iron band, the day would surely come when the tree, by the force of its own natural expansion, would either shatter the band or allow it to cut deep into its own stem. The growing consciousness of Humanity has long been encircled by a rigid and inadequate conception of God. The gradual secularisation of the West means that the soul of man is straining that particular conception of God to breaking-point: and it is infinitely better that it should be broken to pieces than that its iron should be allowed to sink deep into the soul.

The secularisation of contemporary life means this, and more than this. It means the gradual handing back of Man's life to the control of Nature,—of Nature which is as yet unequal to the task that is being set it, owing to its having been through all these centuries identified with its lower self, taught to distrust itself, and otherwise misinterpreted and mismanaged, but which, in obedience to the primary instinct of self-preservation, will gradually rise to the level of the responsibility that is being laid upon it. With the further secularisation of Man's life, the need for religion to make effective the control of Nature, by pointing out to it its own ideal and so co-ordinating and organising all its forces, will gradually make itself felt, and the regeneration of religion will at last have begun.

* * * * *

For many centuries the current of religious belief in the West was almost entirely confined to the one channel of Catholic Christianity. There the mighty river pursued his course, "brimming and bright and large," till the time came when, with the gradual loss of his pristine energy—

"Sands began To hem his wintry march, and dam his streams And split his currents";

Side channels were formed, and grew in number; and though Catholicism is still the central channel for the moving waters, the river has now fallen on evil days, and "strains along," "shorn and parcelled," like the river of the Asian desert—

"forgetting the bright speed he bore In his high mountain cradle."

Of the many side streams into which Western Christianity has split, the majority may be spoken of collectively as Protestant. Protestantism claims to have liberated a large part of Christendom from the yoke of Rome; and it is therefore right that we should ask ourselves in what sense and to what extent it has brought freedom to the human spirit. The answer to this question is, I think, that though Protestantism has fought a good fight for the principle of freedom, it has failed—for many reasons, the chief of which is that it began its work before men were ripe for freedom—to lead its votaries into the path of spiritual life and growth. Confronted by the uncompromising dogmatism of Rome, it had to devise a counter dogmatism of its own in order to rally round it the faint-hearted who, though eager to absolve themselves from obedience to the despotism of the Church, yet feared to walk by their own "inward light." In making this move, which was not the less false because it was in a sense inevitable, Protestantism may be said to have renounced its mission. That it has done much, in various ways, for human progress is undeniable; but the fact remains that it has failed to revitalise Christianity. Its master-stroke in its struggle with priestcraft—the substitution of "faith" for "works" as the basis of salvation—has done little or nothing to relieve the West from the deadly pressure of Israel's philosophy. For faith, as Protestantism understands the word, is the movement of the soul, not towards the ideal end of its being but towards an alleged supernatural transaction,—the redemption of the world by the death of Christ on the Cross. Gratitude to Christ for his love and self-sacrifice may indeed be an effective motive to action, but faith in the efficacy of Christ's atoning sacrifice is no guide to conduct. The inability of Protestantism to deduce a scheme of life from its own master-principle of salvation by "faith" has compelled it, in its desire to avoid the pitfalls of antinomianism, to revive in a modified form the practical legalism of the Old Testament. The Protestant desires to show his gratitude to Christ by leading a correct life; but his distrust of his own higher nature compels him to go to some external authority for ethical guidance; and as he has repudiated the authority of the supernaturally-inspired Church, he is compelled to have recourse to the supernaturally-inspired Bible. Hence the traditional alliance between Protestantism and the Old Testament, in which the path of duty is far more clearly and consistently defined than in the New. And hence the singular fact that Calvinism, which is the backbone of Protestantism, and which in theory, and even (at times) in practice, regards "works" as "filthy rags," finds its other self in Puritanism, which is in the main a recrudescence of Jewish legalism in the more strictly moral sphere of conduct.

It is owing to its alliance with the legalism of Israel, that Protestantism has been in some respects an even greater enemy of human freedom than Catholicism, and has on the whole done more than the latter to narrow and maim human life. The strict legalist tries, as we have seen, to bring the whole of human life under the direct control of the Law; and when he finds, as the Puritan did in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, that whole aspects of life have in point of fact escaped from the control of religion and won from the latter a tacit acceptance of themselves as secular, he not unnaturally tends to regard these non-religious aspects of life as "carnal," and therefore as unacceptable to God. Hence the antipathy of the Protestant, in his seasons of Puritanical fanaticism, to art, music, the drama, and other noble fruits of the human spirit. Catholicism has found itself compelled to tolerate the secular activities of the layman; Protestantism, while tolerating those activities by which man earns his daily bread and which may be spoken of collectively as "business," has from time to time waged war against all the developments of human nature which are neither spiritual (in the narrow and rigid sense of the word) nor obviously useful, and has sought to extirpate the corresponding desires from the heart of Man. On the more artistic side of human life, it has done as much to impede the growth of the soul as Catholicism has done on the more intellectual side; and through its influence on character it has done as much to harden the fibre of the soul as Catholicism has done to relax it, the tendency of both religions being to destroy that elasticity of fibre which mediates between hardness and flabbiness, and which has its counterpart in vigorous health and strength.

The truth is—but it is a truth which Protestantism is apt to misinterpret, and which Catholicism finds it expedient to ignore—that religion is not a branch or department of human life, but a way of looking at life as a whole. Indeed, it is of the essence of religion (as has been already suggested) that it should look at life as a whole, and so be able to look at each of its details in the light of that supreme synthesis which we call Divine. And the religion which sanctions, and by its own action necessitates, the division of life into two branches—the secular and the religious—has obviously missed its destiny and betrayed its trust.

* * * * *

A brief summary of the contents of this chapter will prepare the way for the next. The movements of higher thought in the West have been dominated, nominally by the professional thinker, really by the average man. As a thinker, the average man is incurably dualistic. Enslaved as he is to the requirements of his instrument, language, he instinctively opposes mind to body, spirit to matter, good to evil, the Creator to the Creation, God to Man; and in each case he fixes a great gulf between the "mighty opposites" that constitute the given antithesis. Confronted by the mystery of existence, he has explained it by the story of Creation. Confronted by the twin mysteries of sin and sorrow, he has explained them by the story of the Fall. From the story of the Fall he has passed on to the doctrine of original sin, to the belief that Nature in general, and human nature in particular, is corrupt and ruined, and therefore intrinsically evil. Shrinking from the hopeless prospect which this belief opens up to him, he has found refuge in the conception of another world,—of a world above and beyond Nature, a world of Divine perfection from which information and guidance can at God's good pleasure be doled out to Man. For a "supernatural revelation" (as theologians call this sending of help from God to Man) special instruments are obviously needed,—a special People, a special Scripture, a special Lawgiver, a special Prophet, a special Church. Hence has arisen the idea that certain persons, certain castes, certain institutions have a monopoly of Divine truth and grace, and are therefore in a position to dictate to their fellow-men how they are to bear themselves if they wish to be "saved," what they are to believe, what they are to do. From this the transition has been easy to the further idea that salvation is to be achieved by blind and mechanical obedience,—by renouncing the right to follow one's own higher nature, to obey one's own conscience, to use one's own reason, to map out one's own life. In order to induce men to yield the obedience which is required of them, their lower instincts have had to be appealed to (for the higher, ruined by the Fall, have presumably ceased to operate),—their desire for pleasure by the promise of Heaven, their fear of pain by the threat of Hell. And in order that their lives may be kept under close supervision and their merits accurately appraised, an ever-increasing stress has had to be laid on what is outward, visible, and measurable in human life, as distinguished from what is inward and occult,—on correctness in the details of prescribed conduct, or again in the details of formulated belief. As the idea of salvation through mechanical obedience develops into a systematised scheme of life, the higher and more spiritual faculties of Man's nature become gradually atrophied by disuse. In other words, the channel of soul growth—the only channel that leads to spiritual health, and therefore to "salvation"—becomes gradually obstructed, with the result that the vital energies of the soul tend either to dissipate themselves and run to waste, or to make new channels for themselves,—channels of degenerative tendency, the end of which is spiritual death.


[1] By "self-satisfaction" I mean satisfaction with the existing system as a system. That strenuous efforts are being made to improve the system, within its own limits, I can well believe. But the system itself, with the defects and limitations which are of its essence, seems to be regarded as adequate, and even as final, by nearly all who work under it.

[2] 1862 to 1895 A.D.

[3] The Jewish People in the time of Jesus Christ, by Dr. Emil Schuerer.

[4] In its extreme form legalism tends to bring about that ruin of human nature which it starts by postulating; for, by forbidding Man's higher faculties to energise, it necessarily arrests their development, and so makes it possible for the lower faculties to draw to themselves an undue share of the rising sap of Man's life.



The God of popular theology has been engaged for more than thirty centuries in educating his child, Man. His system of education has been based on complete distrust of Man's nature. In the schools which Man has been required to attend—the Legal School under the Old Dispensation, the Ecclesiastical School under the New—it has been taken for granted that he can neither discern what is true, nor desire what is good. The truth of things has therefore been formulated for him, and he has been required to learn it by rote and profess his belief in it, clause by clause. His duty has also been formulated for him, and he has been required to perform it, detail by detail, in obedience to the commandments of an all-embracing Code, or to the direction of an all-controlling Church.

It has further been taken for granted that Man's instincts and impulses are wholly evil, and that "Right Faith" and "Right Conduct" are entirely repugnant to his nature. In order to overcome the resistance which his corrupt heart and perverse will might therefore be expected to offer to the authority and influence of his teachers, a scheme of rewards and punishments has had to be devised for his benefit. As there is no better nature for the scheme to appeal to, an appeal has had to be made to fears and hopes which are avowedly base. The refractory child has had to be threatened with corporal punishment in the form of an eternity of torment in Hell. And he has had to be bribed by the offer of prizes, the chief of which is an eternity of selfish enjoyment in Heaven,—enjoyment so selfish that it will consist with, and even (it is said) be heightened by, the knowledge that in the Final Examination the failures have been many and the prize-winners few.

And as, under this system of education, obedience is the first and last of virtues, so self-will—in the sense of daring to think and act for oneself—is the first and last of offences. It is for the sin of spiritual initiative—the sin of trying to work out one's own salvation by the exercise of reason, conscience, imagination, aspiration, and other spiritual faculties—that the direst penalties are reserved. The path of salvation is the path of blind, passive, mechanical obedience. To deviate even a little from that path is to incur the penalty of eternal death.

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As Man is educated by his father, God, so must the child be educated by his father, the adult man. If the nature of Man is intrinsically evil, the child must needs have been conceived in sin and shapen in iniquity. If Man, even in his maturity, cannot be trusted to think or desire or do what is right, still less can he be so trusted when he is that relatively immature and helpless being, the child. If the adult man has to be told in the fullest detail (whether by a formulated Law or by a living Church) how he is to conduct himself, still greater is the need for such or similar direction to be given to the child. If the adult is to be "saved" by strict and mechanical obedience, and by no other method, still greater is the need for such obedience on the part of the child. If a system of external and quasi-material rewards and punishments is indispensable in the education of the adult, still less can it be dispensed with in the education of the child. These a fortiori arguments are strong; but there is a stronger. The child will develop into the adult, and he cannot too soon be initiated into the life which, as the adult, he will have to lead. The process of educating the child is not merely analogous to the process of "saving" the man. It is a vital part of it. For childhood is the time when human nature is most easily moulded; and the bent that is given to it then is, in nine cases out of ten, decisive of its ultimate destiny.

It is clear, then, that if Man is to be "saved" by a regime of mechanical obedience, his education in his childhood must be based on the same general conception of life and duty. This means, in the first place, that the child must be brought up in an atmosphere of severity. The God of the Old Testament—the Deity whose nimbus overshadows the life of the West—combines in his own person the functions of law-giver, governor, prosecutor, judge, and executioner. His subjects are a race of vile offenders, whose every impulse is bad, and whose nature turns towards evil as inevitably as a plant turns towards the light. As he cannot trust them to know good from evil, he has had to provide them with an elaborate code of law; and he has had to take for granted that, left to themselves, they will break his commandments, and find pleasure in doing so. From the very outset, then, his attitude towards them has been one of suspicion and rising anger. He is always on the look-out for disobedience, and he is ready to chastise the offender almost before he has had time to commit the offence. His pupils, brought up in an atmosphere of suspicion, and taught from their earliest days to disbelieve in and condemn themselves, can scarcely be blamed for living down to the evil reputation which they have unfortunately gained. To persuade a man that he is a miserable sinner is to go some way towards leading him into the path of sin. Systematic distrust paralyses and demoralises those who live under it, and so tends to justify the cruelty into which it too readily develops. The penalties which God has attached to the sins which he may almost be said to have provoked Man to commit, are so terrible and unjust that if the fear of them has not robbed life of all its sunshine, the reason is that their very horror has numbed Man's imagination, and made it impossible for him even to begin to picture to himself their lurid gloom.

In the West men have loyally striven to reproduce towards their children the supposed attitude of their God of Wrath towards themselves. From very tender years the child has been brought up in an atmosphere of displeasure and mistrust. His spontaneous activities have been repressed as evil. His every act has been looked upon with suspicion. He has been ever on the defensive, like a prisoner in the dock. He has been ever on the alert for a sentence of doom. He has been cuffed, kicked, caned, flogged, shut up in the dark, fed on bread and water, sent hungry to bed, subjected to a variety of cruel and humiliating punishments, terrified with idle—but to him appalling—threats. In his misery he has shed a whole ocean of tears,—the salt and bitter tears of hopeless grief and helpless anger, not the soul-refreshing tears which are sometimes distilled from sorrow by the sunshine of love. But of all the cruelties to which he has been subjected, the most devilish has been that of making him believe in his own criminality, in the corruption of his innocent heart. In the deadly shade of that chilling cloud, the flower of his opening life has too often withered before it has had time to expand. For what is most cruel in cruelty is its tendency to demoralise its victims, especially those who are of tender years—to harden them, to brutalise them, to make them stubborn and secretive, to make them shifty and deceitful, to throw them back upon themselves, to shut them up within themselves, to quench the joy of their hearts, to numb their sympathies, to cramp their expansive energies, to narrow and darken their whole outlook on life. All this the cruelty of his seniors would do to the child, even if he had not been taught to believe in his own inborn wickedness. But that belief, with which he has been indoctrinated from his earliest days, necessarily weakens his power of resisting evil, and so predisposes him to fall a victim to the malignant germs that cruelty sows in his heart. We tell the child that he is a criminal, and treat him as such, and then expect him to be perfect; and when our misguided education has begun to deprave him, we shake our heads over his congenital depravity, and thank God that we believe in "original sin."[5]

In the next place, if Man is to be faithful to his model, he must bring up the child in an atmosphere of vexatious interference and unnatural restraint. That Man himself has been brought up in such an atmosphere in both his schools—the Legal and the Ecclesiastical—I need not take pains to prove. What he has suffered at the hands of his Schoolmaster—the God of Israel (and of Christendom)—he has taken good care to inflict on his pupil, the child. Such phrases as: "Don't talk," "Don't fidget," "Don't worry," "Don't ask questions," "Don't make a noise," "Don't make a mess," "Don't do this thing," "Don't do that thing," are ever falling from his lips. And they are supplemented with such positive instructions as: "Sit still," "Stand on the form," "Hold yourself up," "Fold arms," "Hands behind backs," "Hands on heads," "Eyes on the blackboard." At every turn—from infancy till adolescence, "from early morning till late in the evening"—these "dead and deadening formulas" await the unhappy child. The aim of his teachers is to leave nothing to his nature, nothing to his spontaneous life, nothing to his free activity; to repress all his natural impulses; to drill his energies into complete quiescence; to keep his whole being in a state of sustained and painful tension. And in order that we may see a meaning and a rational purpose in this regime of oppressive interference, we must assume that its ultimate aim is to turn the child into an animated puppet, who, having lost his capacity for vital activity, will be ready to dance, or rather go through a series of jerky movements, in response to the strings which his teacher pulls. It is the inevitable reaction from this state of tension which is responsible for much of the "naughtiness" of children. The spontaneous energies of the child, when education has blocked all their lawful outlets, must needs force new outlets for themselves,—lawless outlets, if no others are available. The child's instinct to live will see to that. It sometimes happens that, when the channel of a river has been blocked by winter's ice, the river, on its awakening in Spring, will suddenly change its course and carve out a new channel for itself, reckless of the destruction that it may cause, so long as an outlet can by any means be found for its baffled current. It is the same with the river of the child's expanding life. The naughtiest and most mischievous boy not infrequently develops into a hero, or a leader of men. The explanation of this is that through his very naughtiness the current of soul-growth, which ran stronger in him than in his school-mates, kept open the channel which his teachers were doing their best to close. Even Hooliganism—to take the most serious of the periodic outbursts of juvenile criminality—resolves itself, when thoughtfully considered, into a sudden and violent change in the channel of a boy's life, a change which is due to the normal channel (or channels) of his expansive energies having been blocked by years of educational repression. His wild, ruffianly outrages are perhaps the last despairing effort that his vital principle makes to assert itself, before it finally gives up the struggle for active existence.

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When severity and constraint have done their work, when the spirit of the child has been broken, when his vitality has been lowered to its barest minimum, when he has been reduced to a state of mental and moral serfdom, the time has come for the system of education through mechanical obedience to be applied to him in all its rigour. In other words, the time has come for Man to do to the child, what the God whom he worships is supposed to have done to him,—to tell him in the fullest and minutest detail what he is to do to be "saved," and to stand over him with a scourge in his hand and see that he does it. In the two great schools which God is supposed to have opened for Man's benefit, freedom and initiative have ever been regarded (and with good reason) as the gravest of offences. Literal obedience has been exacted by the Law; blind obedience by the Church; passive obedience—the obedience of a puppet, or at best of an automaton—by both. The need for this insistence on the part of Law and Church is obvious. If any lingering desire to think things out for himself, if any intelligent interest in what he was taught, survived in the disciple, the whole system of salvation by machinery would be in danger of being thrown out of gear.

As it has been, and still is, in the schools which God has opened for Man, so it has been, and still is, in the schools which Man has opened for the child. Blind, passive, literal, unintelligent obedience is the basis on which the whole system of Western education has been reared. The child must distrust himself absolutely, must realise that he is as helpless as he is ignorant, before he can begin to profit by the instruction that will be given to him. His mind must become a tabula rasa before his teacher can begin to write on it. The vital part of him—call it what you will—must become as clay before his teacher can begin to mould him to his will.

The strength of the child, then, is to sit still, to listen, to say "Amen" to, or repeat, what he has heard. The strength of the teacher is to bustle about, to give commands, to convey information, to exhort, to expound. The strength of the child is to efface himself in every possible way. The strength of the teacher is to assert himself in every possible way. The golden rule of education is that the child is to do nothing for himself which his teacher can possibly do, or even pretend to do, for him. Were he to try to do things by or for himself, he would probably start by doing them badly. This is not to be tolerated. Imperfection and incorrectness are moral defects; and the child must as far as possible be guarded from them as from the contamination of moral guilt. He must therefore trust himself to his teacher, and do what he is told to do in the precise way in which he is told. His teacher must stand in front of him and give such directions as these: "Look at me," "See what I am doing," "Watch my hand," "Do the thing this way," "Do the thing that way," "Listen to what I say," "Repeat it after me," "Repeat it all together," "Say it three times." And the child, growing more and more comatose, must obey these directions and ask no questions; and when he has done what he has been told to do, he must sit still and wait for the next instalment of instruction.

What is all this doing for the child? The teacher seldom asks himself this question. If he did, he would answer it by saying that the end of education is to enable the child to produce certain outward and visible results,—to do by himself what he has often done, either in imitation of his teacher, or in obedience to his repeated directions; to say by himself what he has said many times in chorus with his class-mates; to disgorge some fragments of the information with which he has been crammed; and so forth. What may be the value of these outward results, what they indicate, what amount or kind of mental (or other) growth may be behind them,—are questions which the teacher cannot afford to consider, even if he felt inclined to ask them. His business is to drill the child into the mechanical production of quasi-material results; and his success in doing this will be gauged in due course by an "examination,"—a periodic test which is designed to measure, not the degree of growth which the child has made, but the industry of the teacher as indicated by the receptivity of his class.

The truth is that inward and spiritual growth, even if it were thought desirable to produce it and measure it, could not possibly be measured. The real "results" of education are in the child's heart and mind and soul, beyond the reach of any measuring tape or weighing machine. It follows that if the work of the teacher is to be tested, an external test must be applied. This means that external results, results which can be weighed and measured, must be aimed at by both teacher and child, and that the value of these as symbols of what is inward and intrinsic must be wholly ignored. Not that the inward results of education would in any case be seriously considered. When education is based on the passivity of the child, nothing matters to him or to his teacher except the accuracy with which he can reproduce what he has been taught,—can repeat what he has been told, or do by himself what he has been told how to do. What connection there may be between these achievements and his mental state matters so little that the bare idea of there being such a connection is, as a rule, entirely lost sight of. The externalisation of religion in the West, as evidenced by its ceremonialism and its casuistry, has faithfully mirrored itself in the externality of Western education. The examination system (which I will presently consider) keeps education in the grooves of externality, and drives those grooves so deep as to make escape from them impossible. Yet it does but give formal recognition to, and in so doing crown and complete—as the keystone crowns and completes the arch—the whole system of education in the West. It is because what is outward and visible counts for everything in the West, first in the life of the adult and then in the life of the child, that the idea of weighing and measuring the results of education—with its implicit assumption that the real results of education are ponderable and measurable (a deadly fallacy which now has the force and authority of an axiom)—has come to establish itself in every Western land.

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