Free Thought and Official Propaganda

53 mins read

“We must believe before we can doubt, and doubt before we can deny,” W.H. Auden observed in his commonplace book. Half a century earlier, Bertrand Russell (May 18, 1872–February 2, 1970), the great poet laureate of reason, addressed the central equation of free thinking in his 1922 Conway Memorial Lecture, later published as Free Thought and Official Propaganda (public library | free ebook) — a short and searing book charged with Russell’s characteristic intellectual electricity, the immense power of which melts an entire century into astonishing timeliness speaking directly to the present day.

Three decades before he was awarded the Nobel Prize for “his varied and significant writings in which he champions humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought,” Russell writes:

When we speak of anything as “free,” our meaning is not definite unless we can say what it is free from. Whatever or whoever is “free” is not subject to some external compulsion, and to be precise we ought to say what this kind of compulsion is. Thus thought is “free” when it is free from certain kinds of outward control which are often present. Some of these kinds of control which must be absent if thought is to be “free” are obvious, but others are more subtle and elusive.

Writing three years after the magnificent Declaration of the Independence of the Mind, which he signed alongside luminaries like Albert Einstein and Jane Addams, Russell points to two primary meanings of “free thought” — the narrower sense of resisting traditional dogma and a broader sense that encompasses all forms of propaganda pervading public life. A patron saint of nonbelievers, Russell writes:

I am myself a dissenter from all known religions, and I hope that every kind of religious belief will die out. I do not believe that, on the balance, religious belief has been a force for good. Although I am prepared to admit that in certain times and places it has had some good effects, I regard it as belonging to the infancy of human reason, and to a stage of development which we are now outgrowing.

But there is also a wider sense of “free thought,” which I regard as of still greater importance. Indeed, the harm done by traditional religions seems chiefly traceable to the fact that they have prevented free thought in this wider sense.

He considers the three essential elements of this wider conception of free thought:

Thought is not “free” when legal penalties are incurred by the holding or not holding of certain opinions, or by giving expression to one’s belief or lack of belief on certain matters… The most elementary condition, if thought is to be free, is the absence of legal penalties for the expression of opinions.

[…]

Legal penalties are, however, in the modern world, the least of the obstacles to freedom of thoughts. The two great obstacles are economic penalties and distortion of evidence. It is clear that thought is not free if the profession of certain opinions makes it impossible to earn a living. It is clear also that thought is not free if all the arguments on one side of a controversy are perpetually presented as attractively as possible, while the arguments on the other side can only be discovered by diligent search.

Echoing the essence of Descartes’s twelve tenets of critical thinking, penned three centuries earlier, Russell returns to the centerpiece of free thought — the willingness to doubt:

William James used to preach the “will to believe.” For my part, I should wish to preach the “will to doubt.” None of our beliefs are quite true; all have at least a penumbra of vagueness and error. The methods of increasing the degree of truth in our beliefs are well known; they consist in hearing all sides, trying to ascertain all the relevant facts, controlling our own bias by discussion with people who have the opposite bias, and cultivating a readiness to discard any hypothesis which has proved inadequate.

Half a century before Richard Feynman’s terrific meditation on science vs. religion and why doubt is essential for morality, Russell extols science as the domain of human knowledge that best exemplifies the fruitfulness of this “will to doubt”:

Every man of science whose outlook is truly scientific is ready to admit that what passes for scientific knowledge at the moment is sure to require correction with the progress of discovery; nevertheless, it is near enough to the truth to serve for most practical purposes, though not for all. In science, where alone something approximating to genuine knowledge is to be found, men’s attitude is tentative and full of doubt.

In religion and politics, on the contrary, though there is as yet nothing approaching scientific knowledge, everybody considers it de rigueur to have a dogmatic opinion, to be backed up by inflicting starvation, prison, and war, and to be carefully guarded from argumentative competition with any different opinion. If only men could be brought into a tentatively agnostic frame of mind about these matters, nine-tenths of the evils of the modern world would be cured. War would become impossible, because each side would realize that both sides must be in the wrong. Persecution would cease. Education would aim at expanding the mind, not at narrowing it. Men would be chosen for jobs on account of fitness to do the work, not because they flattered the irrational dogmas of those in power.

He points Einstein and the relativity theory he had formulated just seven years earlier as an epitome of this disposition:

His theory upsets the whole theoretical framework of traditional physics; it is almost as damaging to orthodox dynamics as Darwin was to Genesis. Yet physicists everywhere have shown complete readiness to accept his theory as soon as it appeared that the evidence was in its favour. But none of them, least of all Einstein himself, would claim that he has said the last word… This critical undogmatic receptiveness is the true attitude of science.

Indeed, we have seen a supreme testament to this in the recent landmark detection of gravitational waves — something Einstein saw as a purely theoretical concept of unimaginable empirical corroboration.

Russell offers a disquieting thought experiment of sorts:

If Einstein had advanced something equally new in the sphere of religion or politics … the truth or falsehood of his doctrine would be decided on the battlefield, without the collection of any fresh evidence for or against it. This method is the logical outcome of William James’s will to believe. What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is its exact opposite.

He considers the core obstacles to this vital rational doubt:

A great deal of this is due to the inherent irrationality and credulity of average human nature. But this seed of intellectual original sin is nourished and fostered by other agencies, among which three play the chief part — namely, education, propaganda, and economic pressure.

Russell examines each of the three in turn, beginning with education — a subject he would come to consider closely four years later in his masterwork on education and the good life. Education’s formal institutions, he argues, are set up “to impart information without imparting intelligence” and designed “not to give true knowledge, but to make the people pliable to the will of their masters” — a seedbed of political and cultural propaganda that begins in elementary school, with the teaching of a history told by those in power, and results in the widespread manipulation of public opinion. Lamenting “the paradoxical fact that education has become one of the chief obstacles to intelligence and freedom of thought,” he envisions the remedy:

Education should have two objects: first, to give definite knowledge — reading and writing, languages and mathematics, and so on; secondly, to create those mental habits which will enable people to acquire knowledge and form sound judgments for themselves. The first of these we may call information, the second intelligence.

He then turns to propaganda — the concerted manipulation of public opinion by those in power. Having previously advocated for the blurring of the line between intuition and the intellect, he writes:

Too much fuss is sometimes made about the fact that propaganda appeals to emotion rather than reason. The line between emotion and reason is not so sharp as some people think.

[…]

The objection to propaganda is not only its appeal to unreason, but still more the unfair advantage which it gives to the rich and powerful. Equality of opportunity among opinions is essential if there is to be real freedom of thought; and equality of opportunity among opinions can only be secured by elaborate laws directed to that end, which there is no reason to expect to see enacted. The cure is not to be sought primarily in such laws, but in better education and a more sceptical public opinion.

Turning to the final impediment of free thought — the economic pressures of conformity, under which one is rewarded for siding with and adopting the dogmas of those in power — Russell writes:

There are two simple principles which, if they were adopted, would solve almost all social problems. The first is that education should have for one of its aims to teach people only to believe propositions when there is some reason to think that they are true. The second is that jobs should be given solely for fitness to do the work.

Nearly a century after Kierkegaard argued for the power of the minority and a generation before Hannah Arendt’s case for outsiderdom, Russell urges:

The protection of minorities is vitally important; and even the most orthodox of us may find himself in a minority some day, so that we all have an interest in restraining the tyranny of majorities. Nothing except public opinion can solve this problem.

It’s a sentiment of enormous poignancy and prescience, illustrating both how far we’ve come — Russell is writing more than three decades before the zenith of civil rights and the Equal Pay Act — and how far we have yet to go in a culture where, a century later, sexism and racism are far from gone and many workplaces are still systematically discriminating against minorities like Muslims and the LGBT community.

The cultivation of public opinion that advances equality and justice rather than upholding oppressive power structures has to do with the “will to doubt” at the heart of Russell’s case. He writes:

Some element of doubt is essential to the practice, though not to the theory, of toleration… If there is to be toleration in the world, one of the things taught in schools must be the habit of weighing evidence, and the practice of not giving full assent to propositions which there is no reason to believe true.

The role of the educator, he argues, is to teach young minds how to infer what actually happened “from the biased account of either side” and to instill in them the awareness that “everything in newspapers is more or less untrue” — a task all the more urgent today, when the old role of the newspapers has been largely taken over by incessant opinion-streams barraging us online and off with the certitude of their respective version of reality masquerading as truth.

Russell returns to the basic human predicament obstructing freedom of thought and envisions its only fruitful solution:

The evils of the world are due to moral defects quite as much as to lack of intelligence. But the human race has not hitherto discovered any method of eradicating moral defects; preaching and exhortation only add hypocrisy to the previous list of vices. Intelligence, on the contrary, is easily improved by methods known to every competent educator. Therefore, until some method of teaching virtue has been discovered, progress will have to be sought by improvement of intelligence rather than of morals. One of the chief obstacles to intelligence is credulity, and credulity could be enormously diminished by instruction as to the prevalent forms of mendacity.

Writing nearly a century ago, even before Walter Benjamin’s increasingly timely meditation on the challenge of extracting wisdom from the morass of (mis)information, Russell once again reveals his extraordinary prescience:

Credulity is a greater evil in the present day than it ever was before, because, owing to the growth of education, it is much easier than it used to be to spread misinformation, and, owing to democracy, the spread of misinformation is more important than in former times to the holders of power.

He concludes by considering what it would take for us to implement these two pillars of free thought — an education system that fosters critical thinking rather than conformity and a meritocratic workforce where jobs are earned based on acumen rather than ideological alignment with power structures:

It must be done by generating an enlightened public opinion. And an enlightened public opinion can only be generated by the efforts of those who desire that it should exist.

Complement the timelessly terrific Free Thought and Official Propaganda with Galileo on critical thinking and the folly of believing our preconceptions, Ursula K. Le Guin on power, oppression, and freedom of mind, and Carl Sagan’s indispensable Baloney Detection Kit, then revisit Russell on what “the good life” really meanswhy “fruitful monotony” is essential for happinessthe nature of time, and the four desires driving all human behavior.

Systems of education professing to teach men and women how to think have been in use in Europe for, perhaps, three thousand years, we have not yet reached that degree of success which would be shown if most educated people came to much the same conclusions on the great problems of life from a study of the same evidence.

Everywhere you have rebels; but ninety per cent. of French or American students of history come to French or American conclusions, and eighty-five per cent. of English students come to English conclusions; eighty per cent. of Eton boys hold Eton political opinions all their lives; ninety per cent. of the Irish Catholic population of the United States seem to hold generation after generation identical opinions on religion and politics which are not held by the vast majority of Americans.

It may be said that in these cases only one kind of evidence is allowed to reach the students in each institution.

Everybody reads newspapers, and talks with his neighbours, and travels, and visits museums; and most intelligent people read books and magazines. Sooner or later much of the same evidence reaches us all. One of the main reasons why we do not to a greater degree draw the same conclusions from that evidence is that we do not really learn the difficult art of thought.

A boy at school is taught to memorize and to understand mathematical formulæ or foreign languages or scientific statements. But in weighing evidence the effort of memorizing, and even the effort of understanding, are not of the first importance. The effective process is a sort of painful and watchful expectancy.

A schoolboy or a college student finds that he has an uncomfortable sense of unreality in repeating some accustomed formula, or writing an essay to enforce some accustomed line of argument.

Freedom of Thought and Freedom of the Individual.

Let us begin by trying to be clear as to what we mean by “free thought.” This expression has two senses. In its narrower sense it means thought which does not accept the dogmas of traditional religion. In this sense a man is a “free thinkerif he is not a Christian or a Mussulman or a Buddhist or a Shintoist or a member of any of the other bodies of men who accept some inherited orthodoxy. In Christian countries a man is called a “free thinker” if he does not decidedly believe in God, though this would not suffice to make a man a “free thinker” in a Buddhist country.

I am myself a dissenter from all known religions, and I hope that every kind of religious belief will die out. I do not believe that, on the balance, religious belief has been a force for good. I am prepared to admit that in certain times and places it has had some good effects, I regard it as belonging to the infancy of human reason, and to a stage of development which we are now outgrowing.

There is also a wider sense of “free thought” and traditional religions have prevented free thought in this wider sense.

When we speak of anything as “free,” our meaning is not definite unless we can say what it is free from. Whatever or whoever is “free” is not subject to some external compulsion, and to be precise we ought to say what this kind of compulsion is. Thus thought is “free” when it is free from certain kinds of outward control which are often present. Some of these kinds of control which must be absent if thought is to be “free” are obvious, but others are more subtle and elusive

Thought is not “free” when legal penalties are incurred by the holding or not holding of certain opinions, or by giving expression to one’s belief or lack of belief on certain matters. Very few countries in the world have as yet even this elementary kind of freedom.

It is clear that the most elementary condition, if thought is to be free, is the absence of legal penalties for the expression of opinions. No great country has yet reached to this level, although most of them think they have. Legal penalties are, however, in the modern world, the least of the obstacles to freedom of thoughts.

The two great obstacles are economic penalties and distortion of evidence. It is clear that thought is not free if the profession of certain opinions makes it impossible to earn a living. It is clear also that thought is not free if all the arguments on one side of a controversy are perpetually presented as attractively as possible, while the arguments on the other side can only be discovered by diligent search. Both these obstacles exist in every large country known to me.

We may say that thought is free when it is exposed to free competition among beliefs—i.e., when all beliefs are able to state their case, and no legal or pecuniary advantages or disadvantages attach to beliefs. This is an ideal which, for various reasons, can never be fully attained. But it is possible to approach very much nearer to it than we do at present.

William James used to preach the “will to believe.” For my part, I should wish to preach the “will to doubt.”

None of our beliefs are quite true; all have at least a penumbra of vagueness and error. The methods of increasing the degree of truth in our beliefs are well known; they consist in hearing all sides, trying to ascertain all the relevant facts, controlling our own bias by discussion with people who have the opposite bias, and cultivating a readiness to discard any hypothesis which has proved inadequate. These methods are practised in science, and have built up the body of scientific knowledge. Every man of science whose outlook is truly scientific is ready to admit that what passes for scientific knowledge at the moment is sure to require correction with the progress of discovery; nevertheless, it is near enough to the truth to serve for most practical purposes, though not for all. In science, where alone something approximating to genuine knowledge is to be found, men’s attitude is tentative and full of doubt.

In religion and politics, on the contrary, though there is as yet nothing approaching scientific knowledge, everybody considers it de rigueur (required by etiquette or current fashion) to have a dogmatic opinion, to be backed up by inflicting starvation, prison, and war, and to be carefully guarded from argumentative competition with any different opinion.

If only men could be brought into a tentatively agnostic frame of mind about these matters, nine-tenths of the evils of the modern world would be cured. War would become impossible, because each side would realize that both sides must be in the wrong. Persecution would cease. Education would aim at expanding the mind, not at narrowing it. Men would be chosen for jobs on account of fitness to do the work, not because they flattered the irrational dogmas of those in power. Thus rational doubt alone, if it could be generated, would suffice to introduce the millennium.

Example of the Scientific Temper of Mind

We have had in recent years a brilliant example of the scientific temper of mind in the theory of relativity and its reception by the world. Einstein, a German-Swiss-Jew pacifist, was appointed to a research professorship by the German Government in the early days of the War; his predictions were verified by an English expedition which observed the eclipse of 1919, very soon after the Armistice. His theory upsets the whole theoretical framework of traditional physics; it is almost as damaging to orthodox dynamics as Darwin was to Genesis. Yet physicists 20everywhere have shown complete readiness to accept his theory as soon as it appeared that the evidence was in its favour. But none of them, least of all Einstein himself, would claim that he has said the last word. He has not built a monument of infallible dogma to stand for all time. There are difficulties he cannot solve; his doctrines will have to be modified in their turn as they have modified Newton’s. This critical undogmatic receptiveness is the true attitude of science.

What would have happened if Einstein had advanced something equally new in the sphere of religion or politics? English people would have found elements of Prussianism in his theory; anti-Semites would have regarded it as a Zionist plot; nationalists in all countries would have found it tainted with lily-livered pacifism, and proclaimed it a mere dodge for escaping military service. All the old-fashioned professors would have approached Scotland Yard to get the importation of his writings prohibited. Teachers favourable to him would have been dismissed. He, meantime, would have captured the Government of some backward country, where it would have 21become illegal to teach anything except his doctrine, which would have grown into a mysterious dogma not understood by anybody. Ultimately the truth or falsehood of his doctrine would be decided on the battlefield, without the collection of any fresh evidence for or against it. This method is the logical outcome of William James’s will to believe.

What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is its exact opposite.

If it is admitted that a condition of rational doubt would be desirable, it becomes important to inquire how it comes about that there is so much irrational certainty in the world. A great deal of this is due to the inherent irrationality and credulity of average human nature. But this seed of intellectual original sin is nourished and fostered by other agencies, among which three play the chief part—namely, education, propaganda, and economic pressure. Let us consider these in turn.

Education. Elementary education, in all advanced countries, is in the hands of the State. Some of the things taught are known to be false by the officials who prescribe them, and many others are known to be false, or at any rate very doubtful, by every unprejudiced person. Take, for example, the teaching of history. Each nation aims only at self-glorification in the school text-books of history. When a man writes his autobiography he is expected to show a certain modesty; but when a nation writes its autobiography there is no limit to its boasting and vainglory. The whole machinery of the State, in all the different countries, is turned on to making defenceless children believe absurd propositions the effect of which is to make them willing to die in defence of sinister interests under the impression that they are fighting for truth and right. This is only one of countless ways in which education is designed, not to give true knowledge, but to make the people pliable to the will of their masters. Without an elaborate system of deceit in the elementary schools it would be impossible to preserve the camouflage of democracy.

Religious toleration, to a certain extent, has been won because people have ceased to consider religion so important as it was once thought to be. But in politics and economics, which have taken the place formerly occupied by religion, there is a growing tendency to persecution, which is not by any means confined to one party.

It must not be supposed that the officials in charge of education desire the young to become educated. On the contrary, their problem is to impart information without imparting intelligence. Education should have two objects: first, to give definite knowledge—reading and writing, languages and mathematics, and so on; secondly, to create those mental habits which will enable people to acquire knowledge and form sound judgments for themselves. The first of these we may call information, the second intelligence. The utility of information is admitted practically as well as 30theoretically; without a literate population a modern State is impossible. But the utility of intelligence is admitted only theoretically, not practically; it is not desired that ordinary people should think for themselves, because it is felt that people who think for themselves are awkward to manage and cause administrative difficulties. Only the guardians, in Plato’s language, are to think; the rest are to obey, or to follow leaders like a herd of sheep. This doctrine, often unconsciously, has survived the introduction of political democracy, and has radically vitiated all national systems of education.

The country which has succeeded best in giving information without intelligence is the latest addition to modern civilization, Japan. Elementary education in Japan is said to be admirable from the point of view of instruction. But, in addition to instruction, it has another purpose, which is to teach worship of the Mikado—a far stronger creed now than before Japan became modernized

We are faced with the paradoxical fact that education has become one of the chief obstacles to intelligence and freedom of thought. This is due primarily to the fact that the State claims a monopoly; but that is by no means the sole cause.

Propaganda. Our system of education turns young people out of the schools able to read, but for the most part unable to weigh evidence or to form an independent opinion. They are then assailed, throughout the rest of their lives, by statements designed to make them believe all sorts of absurd propositions, such as that Blank’s pills cure all ills, that Spitzbergen is warm and fertile, and that Germans eat corpses. The art of propaganda, as practised by modern politicians and governments, is derived from the art of advertisement. The science of psychology owes a great deal to advertisers. In former days most psychologists would probably have thought that a man could not convince many people of the excellence of his own wares by merely stating emphatically that they were excellent. Experience shows, however, that they were mistaken in this. If I were to stand up once in a public place and state that I am the most modest man alive, I should be laughed at; but if I could raise enough money to make the same statement on all the busses and on hoardings along all the principal railway lines, people would presently become convinced that I had an abnormal shrinking from publicity. If I were to go to a small shopkeeper and say: “Look at your competitor over the way, he is getting your business; don’t you think it would be a good plan to leave your business and stand up in the middle of the road and try to shoot him before he shoots you?”—if I were to say this, any small shopkeeper would think me mad. But when the Government says it with emphasis and a brass band, the small shopkeepers become enthusiastic, and are quite surprised when they find afterwards that business has suffered. Propaganda, conducted by the means which advertisers have found successful, is now one of the recognized methods of government in all advanced countries, and is especially the method by which democratic opinion is created.

There are two quite different evils about propaganda as now practised. On the one hand, its appeal is generally to irrational causes of belief rather than to serious argument; on the other hand, it gives an unfair advantage to those who can obtain most publicity, whether through wealth or through power.

I am inclined to think that too much fuss is sometimes made about the fact that propaganda appeals to emotion rather than reason. The line between emotion and reason is not so sharp as some people think. Moreover, a clever man could frame a sufficiently rational argument in favour of any position which has any chance of being adopted. There are always good arguments on both sides of any real issue. Definite mis-statements of fact can be legitimately objected to, but they are by no means necessary.

Suppose, two parties with an equally good case, one of whom had a million pounds to spend on propaganda, while the other had only a hundred thousand. It is obvious that the arguments in favour of the richer party would become more widely known than those in favour of the poorer party, and therefore the richer party would win.

The objection to propaganda is not only its appeal to unreason, but still more the unfair advantage which it gives to the rich and powerful. Equality of opportunity among opinions is essential if there is to be real freedom of thought; and equality of opportunity among opinions can only be secured by elaborate laws directed to that end, which there is no reason to expect to see enacted. The cure is not to be sought primarily in such laws, but in better education and a more sceptical public opinion.

Economic pressure. I have already dealt with some aspects of this obstacle to freedom of thought, but I wish now to deal with it on more general lines, as a danger which is bound to increase unless very definite steps are taken to counteract it. The supreme example of economic pressure applied against freedom of thought is Soviet Russia, where, until the trade agreement, the Government could and did inflict starvation upon people whose opinions it disliked. The tendency, which exists wherever industrialism is well developed, for trusts and monopolies to control all industry, leads to a diminution of the number of possible employers, so that it becomes easier and easier to keep secret black books by means of which any one not subservient to the great corporations can be starved. The growth of monopolies is introducing in America many of the evils associated with State Socialism as it has existed in Russia. From the standpoint of liberty, it makes no difference to a man whether his only possible employer is the State or a Trust.

There are two simple principles which, if they were adopted, would solve almost all social problems. The first is that education should have for one of its aims to teach people only to believe propositions when there is some reason to think that they are true. The second is that jobs should be given solely for fitness to do the work.

To take the second point first. The habit of considering a man’s religious, moral, and political opinions before appointing him to a post or giving him a job is the modern form of persecution, and it is likely to become quite as efficient as the Inquisition ever was. The old liberties can be legally retained without being of the slightest use. If, in practice, certain opinions lead a man to starve, it is poor comfort to him to know that his opinions are not punishable by law.

If this danger were adequately realized, it would be possible to rouse public opinion, and to secure that a man’s beliefs should not be considered in appointing him to a post. The protection of minorities is vitally important; and even the most orthodox of us may find himself in a minority some day, so that we all have an interest in restraining the tyranny of majorities. Nothing except public opinion can solve this problem. Socialism would make it somewhat more acute, since it would eliminate the opportunities that now arise through exceptional employers. Every increase in the size of industrial undertakings makes it worse, since it diminishes the number of independent employers. The battle must be fought exactly as the battle of religious toleration was fought. And as in that case, so in this, a decay in the intensity of belief is likely to prove the decisive factor. While men were convinced of the absolute truth of Catholicism or Protestantism, as the case might be, they were willing to persecute on account of them. While men are quite certain of their modern creeds, they will persecute on their behalf. Some element of doubt is essential to the practice, though not to the theory, of toleration. And this brings me to my other point, which concerns the aims of education.

If there is to be toleration in the world, one of the things taught in schools must be the habit of weighing evidence, and the practice of not giving full assent to propositions which there is no reason to believe true. For example, the art of reading the newspapers should be taught. The schoolmaster should select some incident which happened a good many years ago, and roused political passions in its day. He should then read to the school children what was said by the newspapers on one side, what was said by those on the other, and some impartial account of what really happened. He should show how, from the biased account of either side, a practised reader could infer what really happened, and he should make them understand that everything in newspapers is more or less untrue. The cynical scepticism which would result from this teaching would make the children in later life immune from those appeals to idealism by which decent people are induced to further the schemes of scoundrels.

History should be taught in the same way. Napoleon’s campaigns of 1813 and 1814, for instance, might be studied in the Moniteur, leading up to the surprise which Parisians felt when they saw the Allies arriving under the walls of Paris after they had (according to the official bulletins) been beaten by Napoleon in every battle. In the more advanced classes, students should be encouraged to count the number of times that Lenin has been assassinated by Trotsky, in order to learn contempt for death. Finally, they should be given a school history approved by the Government, and asked to infer what a French school history would say about our wars with France. All this would be a far better training in citizenship than the trite moral maxims by which some people believe that civic duty can be inculcated.

It must, I think, be admitted that the evils of the world are due to moral defects quite as much as to lack of intelligence. But the human race has not hitherto discovered any method of eradicating moral defects; preaching and exhortation only add hypocrisy to the previous list of vices. Intelligence, on the contrary, is easily improved by methods known to every competent educator. Therefore, until some method of teaching virtue has been discovered, progress will have to be sought by improvement of intelligence rather than of morals. One of the chief obstacles to intelligence is credulity, and credulity could be enormously diminished by instruction as to the prevalent forms of mendacity. Credulity is a greater evil in the present day than it ever was before, because, owing to the growth of education, it is much easier than it used to be to spread misinformation, and, owing to democracy, the spread of misinformation is more important than in former times to the holders of power. Hence the increase in the circulation of newspapers.

If I am asked how the world is to be induced to adopt these two maxims—namely (1) that jobs should be given to people on account of their fitness to perform them; (2) that one aim of education should be to cure people of the habit of believing propositions for which there is no evidence—I can only say that it must be done by generating an enlightened public opinion. And an enlightened public opinion can only be generated by the efforts of those who desire that it should exist. I do not believe that the economic changes advocated by Socialists will, of themselves, do anything towards curing the evils we have been considering. I think that, whatever happens in politics, the trend of economic development will make the preservation of mental freedom increasingly difficult, unless public opinion insists that the employer shall control nothing in the life of the employee except his work. Freedom in education could easily be secured, if it were desired, by limiting the function of the State to inspection and payment, and confining inspection rigidly to the definite instruction. But that, as things stand, would leave education in the hands of the Churches, because, unfortunately, they are more anxious to teach their beliefs than Freethinkers are to teach their doubts. It would, however, give a free field, and would make it possible for a liberal education to be given if it were really desired. More than that ought not to be asked of the law.

Spread of the scientific temper, which is an altogether different thing from the knowledge of scientific results. The scientific temper is capable of regenerating mankind and providing an issue for all our troubles.

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