The beginning of this section can't be said better than Will and Ariel Durants' 1968 book, The Lessons of History, Chapter XII, on pages 92 and 93:
Since Inequality grows in an expanding economy, a society may find itself divided between a cultured minority and a majority of men and women too unfortunate by nature or circumstance to inherit or develop standards of excellence and taste. As this majority grows it acts as a cultural drag upon the minority; its ways of speech, dress, recreation, feeling, judgment, and thought spread upward, and internal barbarization by the majority is part of the price that the minority pays for its control of educational and economic opportunity.
As education spreads, theologies lose credence, and receive an external conformity without influence upon conduct or hope. Life and ideas become increasingly secular, ignoring supernatural explanations and fears. The moral code loses aura and force as its human origin is revealed, and as divine surveillance and sanctions are removed. In ancient Greece the philosophers destroyed the old faith among the educated classes; in many nations of modern Europe the philosophers achieved similar results. Protagoras became Voltaire, Diogenes Rousseau, Democritus Hobbes, Plato Kant, Thrasymachus Nietzsche, Aristotle Spencer, Epicurus Diderot. In antiquity and modernity alike, analytical thought dissolved the religion that had buttressed the moral code. New religions came, but they were divorced from the ruling classes, and gave no service to the state. An age of weary skepticism and Epicureanism followed the triumph of rationalism over mythology in the last century before Christianity, and follows a similar victory today in the first century after Christianity.
Caught in the relaxing interval between one moral code and the next, an unmoored generation surrenders itself to luxury, corruption, and a restless disorder of family and morals, in all but a remnant clinging desperately to old restraints and ways. Few souls feel any longer that "it is beautiful and honorable to die for one's country." A failure of leadership may allow a state to weaken itself with internal strife. At the end of the process, a decisive defeat in war may bring a final blow, or barbarian invasion from without may combine with barbarism welling up from within to bring the civilization to a close.
right to education should "develop standards of excellence and taste"
in everyone, regardless of circumstances. That right thus becomes the
first bastion against the long decline that leads to barbarism.
However, that "inalienable right" is meaningless if the standards of
educational excellence are allowed to degrade. The barbarism invades
more slowly, but it advances nonetheless.
One unique attribute of Western Civilization is that its end times have available a mass media for communicating with the barbarians within, and this at least gives us the opportunity to attempt to instill those "standards of excellence and taste" in the masses. No previous civilization had either the methodology or the motivation to attempt to reverse the advance of barbarism within its own citizenry; or if reversal is not possible, to at least plant the seeds of a grand replacement for Western Civilization.
The centerpiece of the above quotation is the first three sentences of the second paragraph, which I repeat here for emphasis:
As education spreads, theologies lose credence, and receive an external conformity without influence upon conduct or hope. Life and ideas become increasingly secular, ignoring supernatural explanations and fears. The moral code loses aura and force as its human origin is revealed, and as divine surveillance and sanctions are removed.
This is the
other edge of the sword. To be totally obvious, the first edge is that
a failure to educate the masses leads inevitably to a failure of those
masses "to inherit or develop standards of excellence and taste." The
opposite edge is the quote, above.
Is this problem unresolvable? Is it impossible to have an educated mass of lower class individuals who will conform their behavior to a moral code without divine surveillance and sanctions? In other words, is an ignorant and eventually barbarous mass of mindless religious believers a prerequisite to a maintenance of social order?
I HOPE NOT!
This book is, in large part, an expression of my own hope in the development of a truly new social order which can stare the Universe in the eye without blinking, and without the need of supernatural assistance. Why should this ability be reserved for only those of the upper classes? Obviously, there is no universal rule which demands that this be true. This result is merely the consequence of the repetitive trials humanity has repeated from time to time throughout recorded history. Even God is an imperfect guardian because there have always been those who did not care about the consequences of evil deeds. Is there not an idea which is better than God?
Clearly, there have been utopian plans before, but none have gained favor with any significant number of people for any significant amount of time to give any such utopian plan a fair test.99
While we have yet to choose a direction, the road map is clearly before us. On the final two pages of The Lessons of History, the Durants state:
If education is the transmission of civilization, we are unquestionably progressing. Civilization is not inherited; it has to be learned and earned by each generation anew; if the transmission should be interrupted for one century, civilization would die, and we should be savages again. So our finest contemporary achievement is our unprecedented expenditure of wealth and toil in the provision of higher education for all. . . . We may not have excelled the selected geniuses of antiquity, but we have raised the level and average of knowledge beyond any age in history.
None but a child will complain that our teachers have not yet eradicated the errors and superstitions of ten thousand years. The great experiment has just begun, and it may yet be defeated by the high birth rate of unwilling or indoctrinated ignorance. . . . Consider education not as the painful accumulation of facts and dates and reigns, nor merely the necessary preparation of the individual to earn his keep in the world, but as the transmission of our mental, moral, technical, and aesthetic heritage as fully as possible to as many as possible, for the enlargement of man's understanding, control, embellishment, and enjoyment of life.
The heritage that we can now more fully transmit is richer than ever before. . . . If progress is real despite our whining, it is not because we are born any healthier, better, or wiser than infants were in the past, but because we are born to a richer heritage, born on a higher level of that pedestal which the accumulation of knowledge and art raises as the ground and support of our being. The heritage rises, and man rises in proportion as he receives it.
History is, above all else, the creation and recording of that heritage; progress is its increasing abundance, preservation, transmission, and use. . . . The historian will not mourn because he can see no meaning to human existence except that which man puts into it; let it be our pride that we ourselves may put meaning into our lives, and sometimes a significance that transcends death. If a man is fortunate he will, before he dies, gather up as much that he can of his civilized heritage and transmit it to his children. And to his final breath, he will be grateful for this inexhaustible legacy, knowing that it is our nourishing mother and our lasting life.
So much for the first edge of the sword. The task, then, is to defeat the second edge. We must find a theology which does not lose credence as education spreads.100 That theology must embrace all life and ideas so that they may never become secular. Finally, we must find a moral code that will hold its force in spite of its human origin and without divine surveillance and sanctions as its enforcer. In a play on the old Mission Impossible television series, this is mankind's assignment, should we choose to accept it.
99 I am all but ignoring Communism when making this statement. There was never any honest attempt at implementing the alleged utopian ideals of Communism. Instead, those utopian ideals were used in lieu of a religion. So, instead of religion being the opiate of the masses, Communism used its own alleged utopian ideals as the opiate of its masses. (see The Lessons of History, page 51.) Besides, Communism was only in power for three quarters of a century (roughly 1917 to 1992). Finally, as Clement Attlee said: "[Russian Communism is] the illegitimate child of Karl Marx and Catherine the Great." (Speech at Aarhus University, June 14, 1957, quoted in the London Times the next day.) Thus, there was never any attempt at "pure" communism, and it could not have worked if there had been.
100 This is what is occurring with Christianity. The writings of biblical scholars like John Dominic Crossan, which de-mystifies much of the life of Jesus, actually contribute to the decline of Christianity. The reactionaries of the Christian "Right" recognize this, and they strongly agitate for teaching the literal truth of the Bible in our schools, beginning with the teaching of creationism. I strongly believe that this divisive debate actually drives more people away from Christianity than it ends up attracting to the fundamentalist cause.
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