Thursday, March 29, 2012

C.S. Lewis on why only "high-brow" education can preserve democracy.

From C.S. Lewis, "Democratic Education" in The WSJ

The demand for equality has two sources; one of them is among the noblest, the other is the basest of human emotions. The noble source is the desire for fair play. But the other source is the hatred of superiority. At the present moment it would be very unrealistic to overlook the importance of the latter.

There is in all men a tendency (only corrigible by good training from without and persistent moral effort from within) to resist the existence of what is stronger, subtler or better than themselves. In uncorrected and brutal small men this hardens into an implacable and disinterested hatred for every kind of excellence. . . .

Equality (outside mathematics) is a purely social conception. It applies to man as a political and economic animal. It has no place in the world of the mind. Beauty is not democratic; she reveals herself more to the few than to the many, more to the persistent and disciplined seekers than to the careless. Virtue is not democratic; she is achieved by those who pursue her more hotly than most men. Truth is not democratic; she demands special talents and special industry in those to whom she gives her favours.

Political democracy is doomed if it tries to extend its demand for equality into these higher spheres. Ethical, intellectual, or aesthetic democracy is death. A truly democratic education—one which will preserve democracy—must be, in its own field, ruthlessly aristocratic, shamelessly "high-brow."