Foremost among the dominant ideas of the present epoch is to be

found the notion that instruction is capable of considerably

changing men, and has for its unfailing consequence to improve

them and even to make them equal. By the mere fact of its being

constantly repeated, this assertion has ended by becoming one of

the most steadfast democratic dogmas. It would be as difficult

now to attack it as it would have been formerly to have attacked

the dogmas of the Church.

On this point, however, as on many others, democratic ideas are

in profound disagreement with the results of psychology and

experience. Many eminent philosophers, among them Herbert

Spencer, have had no difficulty in showing that instruction

neither renders a man more moral nor happier, that it changes

neither his instincts nor his hereditary passions, and that at

times--for this to happen it need only be badly directed--it is

much more pernicious than useful. Statisticians have brought

confirmation of these views by telling us that criminality

increases with the generalisation of instruction, or at any rate

of a certain kind of instruction, and that the worst enemies of

society, the anarchists, are recruited among the prize-winners of

schools; while in a recent work a distinguished magistrate, M.

Adolphe Guillot, made the observation that at present 3,000

educated criminals are met with for every 1,000 illiterate

delinquents, and that in fifty years the criminal percentage of

the population has passed from 227 to 552 for every 100,000

inhabitants, an increase of 133 per cent. He has also noted in

common with his colleagues that criminality is particularly on

the increase among young persons, for whom, as is known,

gratuitous and obligatory schooling has--in France--replaced


It is not assuredly--and nobody has ever maintained this

proposition-- that well-directed instruction may not give very

useful practical results, if not in the sense of raising the

standard of morality, at least in that of developing professional

capacity. Unfortunately the Latin peoples, especially in the

last twenty-five years, have based their systems of instruction

on very erroneous principles, and in spite of the observations of

the most eminent minds, such as Breal, Fustel de Coulanges,

Taine, and many others, they persist in their lamentable

mistakes. I have myself shown, in a work published some time

ago, that the French system of education transforms the majority

of those who have undergone it into enemies of society, and

recruits numerous disciples for the worst forms of socialism.

The primary danger of this system of education--very properly

qualified as Latin--consists in the fact that it is based on the

fundamental psychological error that the intelligence is

developed by the learning by heart of text-books. Adopting this

view, the endeavour has been made to enforce a knowledge of as

many hand-books as possible. From the primary school till he

leaves the university a young man does nothing but acquire books

by heart without his judgment or personal initiative being ever

called into play. Education consists for him in reciting by

heart and obeying.

"Learning lessons, knowing by heart a grammar or a compendium,

repeating well and imitating well--that," writes a former

Minister of Public Instruction, M. Jules Simon, "is a ludicrous

form of education whose every effort is an act of faith tacitly

admitting the infallibility of the master, and whose only results

are a belittling of ourselves and a rendering of us impotent."

Were this education merely useless, one might confine one's self

to expressing compassion for the unhappy children who, instead of

making needful studies at the primary school, are instructed in

the genealogy of the sons of Clotaire, the conflicts between

Neustria and Austrasia, or zoological classifications. But the

system presents a far more serious danger. It gives those who

have been submitted to it a violent dislike to the state of life

in which they were born, and an intense desire to escape from it.

The working man no longer wishes to remain a working man, or the

peasant to continue a peasant, while the most humble members of

the middle classes admit of no possible career for their sons

except that of State-paid functionaries. Instead of preparing

men for life French schools solely prepare them to occupy public

functions, in which success can be attained without any necessity

for self-direction or the exhibition of the least glimmer of

personal initiative. At the bottom of the social ladder the

system creates an army of proletarians discontented with their

lot and always ready to revolt, while at the summit it brings

into being a frivolous bourgeoisie, at once sceptical and

credulous, having a superstitious confidence in the State, whom

it regards as a sort of Providence, but without forgetting to

display towards it a ceaseless hostility, always laying its own

faults to the door of the Government, and incapable of the least

enterprise without the intervention of the authorities.

The State, which manufactures by dint of textbooks all these

persons possessing diplomas, can only utilise a small number of

them, and is forced to leave the others without employment. It

is obliged in consequence to resign itself to feeding the first

mentioned and to having the others as its enemies. From the top

to the bottom of the social pyramid, from the humblest clerk to

the professor and the prefect, the immense mass of persons

boasting diplomas besiege the professions. While a business man

has the greatest difficulty in finding an agent to represent him

in the colonies, thousands of candidates solicit the most modest

official posts. There are 20,000 schoolmasters and mistresses

without employment in the department of the Seine alone, all of

them persons who, disdaining the fields or the workshops, look to

the State for their livelihood. The number of the chosen being

restricted, that of the discontented is perforce immense. The

latter are ready for any revolution, whoever be its chiefs and

whatever the goal they aim at. The acquisition of knowledge for

which no use can be found is a sure method of driving a man to


peoples. It is also to be observed in China, which is also a

country in the hands of a solid hierarchy of mandarins or

functionaries, and where a function is obtained, as in France, by

competitive examination, in which the only test is the

imperturbable recitation of bulky manuals. The army of educated

persons without employment is considered in China at the present

day as a veritable national calamity. It is the same in India

where, since the English have opened schools, not for educating

purposes, as is the case in England itself, but simply to furnish

the indigenous inhabitants with instruction, there has been

formed a special class of educated persons, the Baboos, who, when

they do not obtain employment, become the irreconcilable enemies

of the English rule. In the case of all the Baboos, whether

provided with employment or not, the first effect of their

instruction has been to lower their standard of morality. This

is a fact on which I have insisted at length in my book, "The

Civilisations of India"--a fact, too, which has been observed by

all authors who have visited the great peninsula.

It is evidently too late to retrace our steps. Experience alone,

that supreme educator of peoples, will be at pains to show us our

mistake. It alone will be powerful enough to prove the necessity

of replacing our odious text-books and our pitiable examinations

by industrial instruction capable of inducing our young men to

return to the fields, to the workshop, and to the colonial

enterprise which they avoid to-day at all costs.

The professional instruction which all enlightened minds are now

demanding was the instruction received in the past by our

forefathers. It is still in vigour at the present day among the

nations who rule the world by their force of will, their

initiative, and their spirit of enterprise. In a series of

remarkable pages, whose principal passages I reproduce further

on, a great thinker, M. Taine, has clearly shown that our former

system of education was approximately that in vogue to-day in

England and America, and in a remarkable parallel between the

Latin and Anglo-Saxon systems he has plainly pointed out the

consequences of the two methods.

One might consent, perhaps, at a pinch, to continue to accept all

the disadvantages of our classical education, although it

produced nothing but discontented men, and men unfitted for their

station in life, did the superficial acquisition of so much

knowledge, the faultless repeating by heart of so many

text-books, raise the level of intelligence. But does it really

raise this level? Alas, no! The conditions of success in life

are the possession of judgment, experience, initiative, and

character--qualities which are not bestowed by books. Books are

dictionaries, which it is useful to consult, but of which it is

perfectly useless to have lengthy portions in one's head.

How is it possible for professional instruction to develop the

intelligence in a measure quite beyond the reach of classical

instruction? This has been well shown by M. Taine.

"Ideas, he says, are only formed in their natural and normal

surroundings; the promotion of the growth is effected by the

innumerable impressions appealing to the senses which a young man

receives daily in the workshop, the mine, the law court, the

study, the builder's yard, the hospital; at the sight of tools,

materials, and operations; in the presence of customers, workers,

and labour, of work well or ill done, costly or lucrative. In

such a way are obtained those trifling perceptions of detail of

the eyes, the ear, the hands, and even the sense of smell, which,

picked up involuntarily, and silently elaborated, take shape

within the learner, and suggest to him sooner or, later this or

that new combination, simplification, economy, improvement, or

invention. The young Frenchman is deprived, and precisely at the

age when they are most fruitful, of all these precious contacts,

of all these indispensable elements of assimilation. For seven

or eight years on end he is shut up in a school, and is cut off

from that direct personal experience which would give him a keen

and exact notion of men and things and of the various ways of

handling them."

" . . . At least nine out of ten have wasted their time and pains

during several years of their life--telling, important, even

decisive years. Among such are to be counted, first of all, the

half or two-thirds of those who present themselves for

examination--I refer to those who are rejected; and then among

those who are successful, who obtain a degree, a certificate, a

diploma, there is still a half or two-thirds--I refer to the

overworked. Too much has been demanded of them by exacting that

on a given day, on a chair or before a board, they should, for

two hours in succession, and with respect to a group of sciences,

be living repertories of all human knowledge. In point of fact

they were that, or nearly so, for two hours on that particular

day, but a month later they are so no longer. They could not go

through the examination again. Their too numerous and too

burdensome acquisitions slip incessantly from their mind, and are

not replaced. Their mental vigour has declined, their fertile

capacity for growth has dried up, the fully-developed man

appears, and he is often a used-up man. Settled down, married,

resigned to turning in a circle, and indefinitely in the same

circle, he shuts himself up in his confined function, which he

fulfils adequately, but nothing more. Such is the average yield:

assuredly the receipts do not balance the expenditure. In

England or America, where, as in France previous to 1789, the

contrary proceeding is adopted, the outcome obtained is equal or


The illustrious psychologist subsequently shows us the difference

between our system and that of the Anglo-Saxons. The latter do

not possess our innumerable special schools. With them

instruction is not based on book-learning, but on object lessons.

The engineer, for example, is trained in a workshop, and never at

a school; a method which allows of each individual reaching the

level his intelligence permits of. He becomes a workman or a

foreman if he can get no further, an engineer if his aptitudes

take him as far. This manner of proceeding is much more

democratic and of much greater benefit to society than that of

making the whole career of an individual depend on an

examination, lasting a few hours, and undergone at the age of

nineteen or twenty.

"In the hospital, the mine, the factory, in the architect's or

the lawyer's office, the student, who makes a start while very

young, goes through his apprenticeship, stage by stage, much as

does with us a law clerk in his office, or an artist in his

studio. Previously, and before making a practical beginning, he

has had an opportunity of following some general and summary

course of instruction, so as to have a framework ready prepared

in which to store the observations he is shortly to make.

Furthermore he is able, as a rule, to avail himself of sundry

technical courses which he can follow in his leisure hours, so as

to co-ordinate step by step the daily experience he is gathering.

Under such a system the practical capabilities increase and

develop of themselves in exact proportion to the faculties of the

student, and in the direction requisite for his future task and

the special work for which from now onwards he desires to fit

himself. By this means in England or the United States a young

man is quickly in a position to develop his capacity to the

utmost. At twenty-five years of age, and much sooner if the

material and the parts are there, he is not merely a useful

performer, he is capable also of spontaneous enterprise; he is

not only a part of a machine, but also a motor. In France, where

the contrary system prevails--in France, which with each

succeeding generation is falling more and more into line with

China--the sum total of the wasted forces is enormous."

The great philosopher arrives at the following conclusion with

respect to the growing incongruity between our Latin system of

education and the requirements of practical life:--

"In the three stages of instruction, those of childhood,

adolescence and youth, the theoretical and pedagogic preparation

by books on the school benches has lengthened out and become

overcharged in view of the examination, the degree, the diploma,

and the certificate, and solely in this view, and by the worst

methods, by the application of an unnatural and anti-social

regime, by the excessive postponement of the practical

apprenticeship, by our boarding-school system, by artificial

training and mechanical cramming, by overwork, without thought

for the time that is to follow, for the adult age and the

functions of the man, without regard for the real world on which

the young man will shortly be thrown, for the society in which we

move and to which he must be adapted or be taught to resign

himself in advance, for the struggle in which humanity is

engaged, and in which to defend himself and to keep his footing

he ought previously to have been equipped, armed, trained, and

hardened. This indispensable equipment, this acquisition of more

importance than any other, this sturdy common sense and nerve and

will-power our schools do not procure the young Frenchman; on the

contrary, far from qualifying him for his approaching and

definite state, they disqualify him. In consequence, his entry

into the world and his first steps in the field of action are

most often merely a succession of painful falls, whose effect is

that he long remains wounded and bruised, and sometimes disabled

for life. The test is severe and dangerous. In the course of it

the mental and moral equilibrium is affected, and runs the risk

of not being re-established. Too sudden and complete disillusion

has supervened. The deceptions have been too great, the

disappointments too keen."[12]

almost the last that Taine wrote. They resume admirably the

results of the great philosopher's long experience.

Unfortunately they are in my opinion totally incomprehensible for

such of our university professors who have not lived abroad.

Education is the only means at our disposal of influencing to

some extent the mind of a nation, and it is profoundly saddening

to have to think that there is scarcely any one in France who can

arrive at understanding that our present system of teaching is a

grave cause of rapid decadence, which instead of elevating our

youth, lowers and perverts it.

A useful comparison may be made between Taine's pages and the

observations on American education recently made by M. Paul

Bourget in his excellent book, "Outre-Mer." He, too, after

having noted that our education merely produces narrow-minded

bourgeois, lacking in initiative and will-power, or

anarchists--"those two equally harmful types of the civilised

man, who degenerates into impotent platitude or insane

destructiveness"--he too, I say, draws a comparison that cannot

be the object of too much reflection between our French lycees

(public schools), those factories of degeneration, and the

American schools, which prepare a man admirably for life. The

gulf existing between truly democratic nations and those who have

democracy in their speeches, but in no wise in their thoughts, is

clearly brought out in this comparison.

Have we digressed in what precedes from the psychology of crowds?

Assuredly not. If we desire to understand the ideas and beliefs

that are germinating to-day in the masses, and will spring up

to-morrow, it is necessary to know how the ground has been

prepared. The instruction given the youth of a country allows of

a knowledge of what that country will one day be. The education

accorded the present generation justifies the most gloomy

previsions. It is in part by instruction and education that the

mind of the masses is improved or deteriorated. It was necessary

in consequence to show how this mind has been fashioned by the

system in vogue, and how the mass of the indifferent and the

neutral has become progressively an army of the discontented

ready to obey all the suggestions of utopians and rhetoricians.

It is in the schoolroom that socialists and anarchists are found

nowadays, and that the way is being paved for the approaching

period of decadence for the Latin peoples.