249. Work on what has been spoiled (V)
Classical liberals used to accept that there should be qualifications to sit in a parliament; usually, these were property qualifications—sometimes, as with the extra votes for Oxbridge graduates and literacy tests, these were intelligence qualifications. John Stuart Mill accepted that a legislator should be a responsible, independent thinker; he was a democratic elitist: representatives and the electorate had to have certain qualities to participate in government so as to avoid majoritarian tyranny and irresponsibility. However, Mill also saw that there was a vast new working class in Britain; and this class was disenfranchised and restive. His chum Carlyle highlighted the French Revolution: Carlyle said the revolution had been a judgement on France’s corrupt aristocracy; so for Mill, the concern was to expand political participation as widely as possible—he would refresh the democratic elite and stave off the guillotine.
To achieve this goal, Mill advocated education. As with all liberals, from Locke onwards, Mill accepted the tabula rasa: man was, in the important respects, a blank; he could be corrupted, but there was no intrinsic block to his improvement. Mill wished to see the new working class educated upward to become responsible participants in government; responsible gentlemen, just like Mill. Now you know why today’s progressive liberals shout “Educate yourself!” at their populist foes. They descend from Mill’s ambition to raise up more and more people to be responsible citizens through education. The smugness found amongst progressive liberals—the “out of touch Islington set” as the British say—derives from the fact that they feel themselves to be Mill’s descendants; they are the democratic elite that raises people up—unlike Mill, fluent in Latin and Ancient Greek as a teenager, they are complete ninnies. Yet the delusion remains, hence Blair’s most famous speech harped on the theme: “Education, education, education.”
Now, as it turns out, Mill’s project has gone awry; for it is not possible to educate people to be Mill, to be a brilliant polymath. Actually, it is not even possible to educate them up to be a bright Victorian mechanic; so, instead, the standards have dropped. Property qualifications, literacy tests, plural votes for graduates, and so on have all dropped away—and long-standing safeguards to protect liberty, such as the Electoral College, are under threat.
The franchise has been universally expanded and everyone is very “educated”, although in a way Mill would never recognise. Over the decades, this Millsian progressive liberalism has melded with the bureaucratic state, Fabianism, degraded Christianity, technocratic “expertise”, and elements of the New Left and Marxism to form a hegemonic ideology; its proponents refuse to see themselves as an elite because they still believe themselves to be Mill’s democratic elite engaged in a noble project to educate the masses up to a higher level. People who oppose education must, quite logically, be idiotic yahoos who deserve only pity and condescension—voters for Brexit and Donald Trump.
This is why, of course, Critical Race Theory—though it has a debt to Marx—has Mill’s fingerprints all over it. How is CRT administered? It is not a gulag, not a “struggle session”—to call it that is propaganda. CRT is delivered via seminars, workshops, and homework: it is delivered through education; education to make you fit to be a citizen.
Now, poor old John Stuart Mill would be severely chastised if he turned up at a CRT seminar and adumbrated his views: the last state in the world to truly practice his democratic elitism was Rhodesia, with its cautious but studiously liberal qualified enfranchisement of the majority black population. Yet, just the same, CRT is his grandchild; the classical liberals fought back against progressive liberalism with weak complaints about standards; and Thatcher was the last gasp for this approach. Today, if you tell our democratic elite that the education they offer is pointless due to inherent differences in man, and that, further, the education they offer is sub-standard anyway, the cognitive dissonance will hit them and they will scream and scream.