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Notes on Education Free and Compulsory - Murray Rothbard

Notes on Education Free and Compulsory - Murray Rothbard#

It is evident that the common enthusiasm for equality is, in the fundamental sense, anti-human. It tends to repress the flowering of individual personality and diversity, and civilization itself; it is a drive toward savage uniformity. Since abilities and interests are naturally diverse, a drive toward making people equal in all or most respects is necessarily a leveling downward. It is a drive against development of talent, genius, variety, and reasoning power. Since it negates the very principles of human life and human growth, the creed of equality and uniformity is a creed of death and destruction.

Instruction naturally proceeds in logical development: reading to be spent on such subjects as the world’s natural laws (natural science); the record of man’s development, his ends and actions (history, geography); and later the “moral sciences” of human behavior (economics, politics, philosophy, psychology); and man’s imaginative studies of man (literature).

The effect of the State’s compulsory schooling laws is not only to repress the growth of specialized, partly individualized, private schools for the needs of various types of children. It also prevents the education of the child by the people who, in many respects, are best qualified—his parents.

Finally, if one believes at all in a free society, where each one owns himself and his own products, it is obvious that his own child, one of his most precious products, also comes under his charge.

The State’s very being rests on violence, on compulsion

Above all, what would be taught is the doctrine of obedience to the State itself.

Instead of spontaneity, diversity, and independent men, there would emerge a race of passive, sheep-like followers of the State. Since they would be only incompletely developed, they would be only half-alive.

Every aggression, be it remembered—every infraction of rights—is necessarily active; whilst every neglect, carelessness, omission, is as necessarily passive. Consequently, however wrong the non-performance of a parental duty may be…it does not amount to a breach of the law of equal freedom and cannot therefore be taken cognizance of by the state.

In sum: “Heretics are not to be disputed with, but to be condemned unheard, and whilst they perish by fire.” Such was the goal of the initial force behind the first compulsory state school system in the Western world, and such was the spirit that was to animate the system.

On China: “There the government publishes a list of works which may be read; and considering obedience the supreme virtue, authorizes such only as are friendly to despotism. Fearing the unsettling effects of innovation, it allows nothing to be taught but what proceeds from itself. To the end of producing pattern citizens, it exerts a stringent discipline over all conduct. There are “rules for sitting, standing, walking, talking, and bowing, laid down with the greatest precision.”

On Japan: “The object has never been to train the individual for independent action, but to train him for cooperative action.... Constraint among us begins with childhood, and gradually relaxes [which would be the best for the child as his reasoning powers develop and he could be allowed more freedom and less guidance]; constraint in Far Eastern training begins later, and thereafter gradually tightens.... Not merely up to the age of school life, but considerably beyond it, a Japanese child enjoys a degree of liberty far greater than is allowed to Occidental children.... The child is permitted to do as he pleases.... At school, the discipline begins…but there is no punishment beyond public admonition. Whatever restraint exists is chiefly exerted on the child by the common opinion of his class; and a skillful teacher is able to direct that opinion.... The ruling power is always the class sentiment.... It is always the rule of the many over the one; and the power is formidable.”

The move towards collectivism: “It means, in the first place, that A, who educates his children at his own expense, or has no children to educate is compelled to pay for the education of the children of S, who, though maybe having means to pay for it, prefers that the payment should come from the pockets of his neighbors. It tends, in the second place, as far as elementary education goes, to place the children of the rich and of the poor, of the provident and the improvident, on something like an equal footing. It aims, in short at the equalization of advantage.”

Thomas Jefferson on compulsion: “It is better to tolerate the rare instance of a parent refusing to let his child be educated, than to shock the common feelings and ideas by the forcible transportation and education of the infant against the will of the father.”

Differences in quality of clothing invoked feelings of envy on the part of the poor and disdain by the rich—which should be eliminated by forcing one uniform upon both.

The government bureaucracy has fostered Civil Service as an extraordinarily powerful tool of entrenchment and permanent domination.

The effect of progressive education is to destroy independent thought in the child, indeed to repress any thought whatsoever.

Studies tend to be pursued now at the lowest common denominator, rather than at the average—so as not to “frustrate” the more moronic. As a result, the bright pupils are robbed of incentive or opportunity to study, and the dull ones are encouraged to believe that success, in the form of grades, promotions, etc., will come to them automatically.


  • Murray N. Rothbard. “Education Free & Compulsory”