Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Good Government & Universal Education

In the context of intellectuality, government is a matter of rational management to be guided by principles of utility. The real security for good government would not be popular participation but an enlightened population who would not obey government blindly but on the basis of a critical recognition of its rational purposes.

To ensure an enlightened population, there is a need for universal education which would make it possible for the broad population to distinguish sound policies and scientific principles (of political economy) from "The lies and fallacies of those who would use them to sinister purposes and from the equally pernicious nonsense of their weak and ignorant well-wishes."

While most ordinary subjects lacked both time and inclination to master knowledge that would make acquiescence in government a fully rational affair, they could learn at least the 'leading principles' of those matters (such as social ethics and economics) that concerns government, and if they were imbued with those principles, and were practised in the art of applying them, they would be docile to the voice of reason, and armed against sophistry and errors. It is rational reasonings that could circumscribe the irrational and customary basis (semua ok) of the acceptance of authority.

The habit of obedience to the sovereign is rooted in custom, prejudices and reason bottomed in the principle of utility, that is, a recognition of the expediency of government. In a soundly educated people, reason would play a most important role. Equally, fear of sanction or punishment is not likely to be more powerful in deterring deviance than is the fear of public disapprobation, with its countless train of evils.

The making extensive use of coercion through law in the matter of government, is also an image of a state that can be based on reason, provided it is guided by the principle of utility and securing the allegiance of subjects to the sovereign ideally through their rational understanding and not prejudice, fear or blind habit. Nevertheless, we must recognised that populations are kept largely unenlightened by their rulers. Hence much government does in fact rely on irrational, habitual popular acquiescence. Universal education is thus the only prescription for a sound, enlightened policy.

Until the ethical notion of men were more clear and consistent, no considerable improvement could be hoped for in our legal and political institutions. Education remained the key to advance but the struggle is now seen as a far harder one than originally envisaged; perhaps indeed, an impossible one.


(Adapted from John Austin, 1832; The Province of Jurisprudence Determined)

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1 comment:

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