NL XXXVII: Civilization As Education

Index to this series

Knowing, from the previous chapter, what civilization is, we ask: How do we bring it about? Collingwood’s answer is to homeschool our children.

This is the New Leviathan’s first detailed piece of positive advice, and it may sound crazy. Rather than list reasons why, I want to see what sense can be made of the ideas.

Civility is respect (37. 15). To respect another person is to recognize their freedom (37. 14). To do this, one needs self-respect (37. 13).

Instead of respect, we may approach another person with servility, namely “the demeanour of a man lacking self-respect towards one whom he fears” (37. 17). The will to barbarism is just the will to servility (37. 19).

Mary Cassatt (American, 1844-1926)
The Boating Party, 1893/1894, oil on canvas
Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art

Collingwood does not spell it out, but we can conclude that the feared authoritarian is also beset by servility and fear. They are servile towards their own passions, and fearful of those persons who are not. However, our focus now is not the authoritarian or totalitarian enemy, but how to fight the enemy; and one way to do this, even the only way, is just to be civilized.

In addition to the parts on Man, Society, Civilization, and Barbarism, the New Leviathan was going to have a fifth part on what to do about barbarism. As Collingwood says in an unused draft preface, included in his Essays in Political Philosophy, edited by David Boucher (Oxford 1989),

I shall begin by asking what man is. Next, I shall ask what society is. Next, I shall ask what civilization is. Then I shall consider the revolt against civilization: and lastly I shall ask how a society which considers itself civilized should behave in the face of this revolt. It is the last of these five questions that constitutes the real subject of the book; but it cannot be answered until the way has been prepared by answering the other four.

Somehow that fifth part never appeared as such. As Boucher says in his Editor’s Introduction to the revised edition of the New Leviathan (Oxford 1992), “the answer to the question posed may be found scattered throughout the four parts which constitute The New Leviathan.” Chapter XXXVII, “Civilization as Education,” now under consideration, would seem to constitute the biggest part of the answer so far, unless one counts the rejection of pacifism in Chapters XXIX and XXX. For Collingwood, writing during an actual war, this rejection may have been more immediately pressing than just teaching children well.

The current part of the New Leviathan, “Civilization,” is tied to the previous, “Society,” by the observation that civilization, as a process, is the conversion of a non-social community into a society. In a word, civilization is socialization (37. 22).

Richard Norris Brooke (American, 1847-1920)
A Pastoral Visit, 1881, oil on canvas
Corcoran Collection (Museum Purchase, Gallery Fund), National Gallery of Art

The goal of the process of civilization, namely civility or now sociality (37. 25), is an ideal, never reached (37. 26). If you think you can pass laws to enjoin civility (37. 27), then you must expect to punish infractions. This will be using force, as in a non-social community. In particular, you will be enforcing servility (37. 29). This is not what you want.

I distinguish four points so far:

  1. “Recognizing one’s own freedom is inseparably bound up with recognizing the freedom of others” (37. 13).
  2. Recognition of (or consciousness of) one’s own freedom is self-respect (37. 12); recognition of others’ freedom is respecting them (37. 14).
  3. Civility, which is just respect (37. 15), must not be confused with servility, which is a kind of fear (37. 17).
  4. It is impossible (37. 28) to “insist that every member of [a non-social community] behaves civilly to every other” (37. 27).

I think all of these points, and more, are made with eloquence by Jim Wright, whom I thank for permission to quote from his 2016 essay “Respect: Colin Kaepernick—The Extended Cut,” from his blog, Stonekettle Station:

The very first thing I learned in the military is this: Respect is a two-way street.

If you want respect, true respect, sincere respect, then you have to give it.

If you want respect, you have to do the things necessary to earn it each and every single day. There are no short cuts and no exceptions. This is true of men and true of nations.

Respect cannot be compelled.

Respect cannot be bought.

Respect cannot be inherited.

Respect cannot be demanded at the muzzle of a gun or by beating it into somebody or by shaming them into it. Can not. You might get what you think is respect, but it’s not. It’s only the appearance of respect. It’s fear, it’s groveling, it’s not respect. Far, far too many people both in and out of the military, people who should emphatically know better, do not understand this simple fact.

There is an enormous difference between fear and respect. One is slavery, the other is liberty.

If you earn respect by giving it, how do you even do that? Answering this is the main burden of Collingwood’s Chapter XXXVII. Actually his question is slightly different:

37. 3. How in fact do people socialize, or civilize, nonsocial communities?

If we are able to give respect, how can we get others to be like us? To answer, we look at how it happens within the family (37. 31). Children have been being civilized since the New Stone Age; and Collingwood’s explanation for this is that the work “has not been done by specialists” (37. 32).

William Glackens (American, 1870-1938)
Family Group, 1910/1911, oil on canvas
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ira Glackens, National Gallery of Art

We looked earlier at Huckleberry Finn, who resisted civilization: at the end of his memoir, he says,

if I’d ’a’ knowed what a trouble it was to make a book I wouldn’t ’a’ tackled it, and I ain’t a-going to no more. But I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.

Perhaps Aunt Sally considers herself an expert. Like Huck, and like Michael Gove, in the truncated quotation that I repeated in the post called “Writing Rules,” Collingwood too has had enough of experts. He blames Plato for corrupting us into thinking that educating is performed

  1. by professionals,
  2. as a public service (37. 4).

Aunt Sally may be no professional, but she thinks she will do Huck a service.

Collingwood’s criticism of Plato is fair. The Republic is not actually a guide to creating the perfect state; but it is easily mistaken for one. In the ideal polity that Socrates describes to Glaucon, there are not even families, within which any civilizing at all might be done. The people are to be bred like dogs or birds, the best with the best (459A). This is eugenics, whose absurdity is detailed by Mary Midgley in Evolution as a Religion.

Not every reader of the Republic sees the absurdity of eugenics. However, Plato knows as well as Midgley that you won’t be creating the perfect state before you can perfect yourself. Socrates observes the need for philosophers to become kings; or kings, philosophers (473C–D). This is not going to happen. However, in a footnote to his Loeb translation, Shorey lists Marcus Aurelius, Constantine, Arcadius, James I, Frederick the Great, and Napoleon as rulers likened to philosopher-kings.

In the 2016 movie called Captain Fantastic, American parents give their children extreme homeschooling by raising them in a forest. The mother explicitly intends for them to be philosopher-kings; but she is bipolar and must be hospitalized. The father stays in the woods, replacing Christmas with Noam Chomsky Day, and having the children learn the Bill of Rights and slogans like “Power to the People.”

Collingwood’s proposal is not so extreme. Teach your children at home, according to their own inclinations; otherwise, just set a good example, as William Cobbett describes (37. 43) in Advice to Young Men, and (Incidentally) to Young Women, in the Middle and Higher Ranks of Life, in a Series of Letters, Addressed to a Youth, a Bachelor, a Lover, a Husband, a Father, a Citizen, or a Subject. Collingwood quotes from paragraphs 297, 288, 291, 299, and 300, which are in the letter to a father.

Charles Sydney Hopkinson (American, 1869–1962)
The Hopkinson Family Portrait, 1923
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

If the State will not allow you to follow Cobbett’s example (37. 55), then Collingwood’s advice is to smash the State (37. 56).

“Tell us then, O Socrates, a.k.a. Collingwood: What new state shall we build?”

  • Not the Nazi or Fascist one that we are headed towards now (37. 57).
  • Not the Marxian socialist state, since this would commit both of Plato’s errors (37. 58).
  • Not a capitalist state, with “cold socialism,” where failing businesses are saved by the people’s taxes (37. 59).

We just need a world where there are no professional educators (37. 62)! However, these persons do exist now, and we cannot “liquidate” them (37. 67) by sending them off to the fields, as Socrates says everybody more than ten years old must be sent, when his own ideal republic is founded (540–1). I read that passage of the Republic as showing the foolishness of the interlocutors Glaucon and Adeimantus, because they do not object.

Aiming to be civilized, we ourselves shall keep our professional educators around, but only in order to teach the children who want to learn what their parents cannot teach (37. 97). As researchers, the educators will go on doing research (37. 98). The model of education shall be medicine, where most ailments are treated at home (37. 99).

Gerard David (Netherlandish, c. 1460-1523)
The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, c. 1510, oil on panel
Andrew W. Mellon Collection, National Gallery of Art

Collingwood’s dream is like that of Robert Pirsig, who also thinks you should go to school, only if you want to. He also says, in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Chapter 25),

I think that if we are going to reform the world, and make it a better place to live in, the way to do it is not with talk about relationships of a political nature, which are inevitably dualistic, full of subjects and objects and their relationship to one another; or with programs full of things for other people to do. I think that kind of approach starts it at the end and presumes the end is the beginning. Programs of a political nature are important end products of social quality that can be effective only if the underlying structure of social values is right. The social values are right only if the individual values are right. The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there. Other people can talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind. I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle. I think that what I have to say has more lasting value.

As a graduating senior in high school, I quoted the last four sentences on my yearbook page.

For Collingwood too, anything we do to reform the world, we must do individually (37. 7). The hard part is just understanding this (37. 8).

37. 81. The difficulty is that we are so deeply accustomed to leaving things to the professional that we have no longer the self-confidence to do anything in which we are not experts, except when we forget this frightful fact and do the thing irresponsibly, for the fun of it.

When we do things outside our supposed realm of expertise, but we lack the proper attitude of irresponsibility, then we feel either guilty or imposed on: sinful or sinned against. Collingwood’s respective examples are singing when we “can’t,” and scrubbing floors (37. 82).

John Singleton Copley (American, 1738-1815)
The Copley Family, 1776/1777, oil on canvas
Andrew W. Mellon Fund, National Gallery of Art

There are, however, plenty of things we do for fun, without feeling the need to be professionals (37. 83). These things may include “games and sports and pastimes”; they almost always include “eating and sleeping and making love” (37. 84); they are almost everything we enjoy; and since we enjoy them, we generally do them well (37. 86). We must

  • appreciate these things (37. 87),
  • think how poor life would be without them (37. 88), and
  • add to them, first of all by playing with our children (37. 89).

Spend as much time as you can with your children (37. 9). Eat with them, sleep with them (37. 91). Sack your nurse if you have one (but what will she do then?); let your children be dirty, if you don’t like keeping them clean (37. 92). If you get a promotion at work, use it to spend more time with your children, but “don’t always be thinking about doing them good and keeping them in order and all that” (37. 93). Have free-range children: “If they ‘get on your nerves’, neglect them a bit; don’t take them so seriously; be irresponsible about them”; don’t let “a granny or an aunt or a neighbour” tell you how to raise them (37. 94).

Some of the foregoing advice is given separately to fathers or mothers, according to the traditional pattern. Collingwood is already rebelling against Victorian patterns; but there is only so far one can go.

I mentioned my high-school yearbook. My school was small, and called itself a family. We ate meals family style, with a teacher at the head of each table. A very few of the teachers were women; but we students ourselves were all boys. I recently found myself defending the principle of single-sex education: not that everybody should have it, but good single-sex schools exist, and some young people may prefer them for good reason. The adolescent daughter of a friend of mine chose a girls’ school for herself: it was the sister school of mine.

American 19th Century
The Sargent Family, 1800, oil on canvas
Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch, National Gallery of Art

Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee who is my age, went to another single-sex private school in the Washington area. From the late 1970s, when there was a move to admit women to a men’s college, probably Washington and Lee University, I recall a slogan against this: “Women in the hay, but not every day.” That men at a men’s college would come up with such a slogan is a good reason to make that college co-ed. It also helps make plausible the allegation that a seventeen-year-old Kavanaugh, student at a boys’ school, tried to rape a girl with the help of a male friend.

I have seen indications that young people today

  1. know that boys must not force themselves on girls, but
  2. don’t understand how a girl could be at a party where there were no grown-ups.

I hope the first point is true, even though I am sorry if the second one is true. I think children need freedom from their parents. I could talk about my own upbringing; let me just confess that I have no children, at least none but my students.

Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881-1973)
Family of Saltimbanques, 1905, oil on canvas
Chester Dale Collection, National Gallery of Art

Do I then disagree with Collingwood? We ought to read him as a Platonic dialogue. What Socrates says is not dogma, but something to ponder. As Collingwood says in An Autobiography, the point of reading something is not to tell whether it is true or false, but to understand what it means. He describes his teaching method as follows (pages 74–5). After being “employed in preparations for the peace conference” for the war of 1914–18,

From my return to Oxford until my becoming a professor, almost my whole teaching life as a Fellow of Pembroke College was spent in showing pupils how to read a philosophical text. It certainly interested the pupils. An undergraduate who had been merely repelled by ready-made refutations of a doctrine would grow excited when his tutor said, ‘Let us see, first, that you really know what the man says, and what the question is that he is trying to answer’, and books would be brought out and read and explained, and the rest of the hour would pass in a flash. And for myself it was no less salutary. Over and over again, I would return to a familiar passage whose meaning I thought I knew—had it not been expounded by numerous learned commentators, and were they not more or less agreed about it?—to find that, under this fresh scrutiny, the old interpretation melted away and some quite different meaning began to take form.

Collingwood himself was homeschooled till the age of thirteen. He dedicated Speculum Mentis to “My first and best teacher of art, religion, science, history and philosophy,” and this was his father. Still, in An Autobiography (pages 11–12), Collingwood finds some kind of educational fault in his father:

To apportion blame for mishaps is seldom worth doing. If my five years at Rugby were mainly waste, the fault lies partly with the obvious faults of the English public-school system; partly with Rugby as a bad example of that system, though among its faults I do not reckon the institution of fagging or that of government by members of the sixth form, both of which I count as virtues; partly with my father, who gave me an adult scholar’s attitude towards learning while I was still a child, realizing, as I now think, what the results would be, but judging the game worth the candle; and partly with myself, for being a conceited puppy and an opinionated prig.

Due out in 2019, James Connelly’s biography of Collingwood may say more about Collingwood’s relations with his parents, as well as with his two wives and his children. Meanwhile, we need not know what is behind Collingwood’s words, in order to decide how well they apply to us. Do parents today homeschool their children, not to let them discover the world, but to shield and indoctrinate them? “The world is always breeding new types of Yahoo” (30. 86).

11 Trackbacks

  1. By NL XXXVIII: Civilization and Wealth « Polytropy on September 21, 2018 at 6:08 pm

    […] « NL XXXVII: Civilization As Education […]

  2. By NL XXXIX: Law and Order « Polytropy on September 23, 2018 at 10:10 am

    […] three chapters ago, the essence of civilization was found in not using force against one another. Two chapters ago, civilization was found to be achieved, or at least perpetuated, through education by amateurs, […]

  3. By NL XL: Peace and Plenty « Polytropy on September 25, 2018 at 8:46 am

    […] As far as I understand, this “worse danger” of never having desires is brought about by helicopter parenting, which inhibits children from distinguishing what they want from what their parents want. Barney may be the apotheosis of the helicopter parent. In any case, cosseting is no doubt a perversion of what Collingwood recommends to parents. […]

  4. By NL XLI: What Barbarism Is « Polytropy on September 27, 2018 at 6:22 pm

    […] Civilization is, fundamentally, the process towards civility; barbarism (34. 78) is the reverse process (34. 57), tending towards barbarity. We make a connection with Part II only when we observe that civilization is socialization (37. 22). […]

  5. […] suggests the question of how seriously to take Collingwood. I have proposed taking him as we ought to take Plato, who wrote dialogues, not categorical […]

  6. By NL XLV: The Germans « Polytropy on February 21, 2019 at 9:14 am

    […] himself takes issue with Matthew Arnold, who was a school-inspector as well as a writer. We have seen Collingwood’s idea that children ought to be free-ranging and home-schooled. Apparently […]

  7. […] Intellectual happiness of the population might be a policy, pursued by the policy of providing public education at all levels. This is my proposed example; Collingwood himself will promote homeschooling in Chapter XXXVII, “Civilization as Education.” […]

  8. By NL I: “Body and Mind” Again « Polytropy on August 17, 2019 at 8:59 am

    […] sympathy for your sense of inadequacy. He expects you to get over it. In Chapter XXXII, “Civilization as Education,” he will tell you not to send your children to professionals, but to educate them yourself, […]

  9. By Return to Narnia « Polytropy on June 14, 2020 at 11:34 am

    […] then in principle independent of the authors’. Readers may not understand this. I have written elsewhere about misreading the Republic as a guide to state-building. Glaucon and Adeimantus may take […]

  10. By Articles on Collingwood « Polytropy on October 17, 2020 at 5:54 pm

    […] education should be provided on the same basis as medicine—always available when needed, but never forced […]

  11. By Chaucer, CT, Franklin’s Tale « Polytropy on August 17, 2021 at 4:30 pm

    […] another thing that you cannot win by force. I took up that theme in considering Collingwood on “Civilization as Education” (September, 2018). Confusion here may explain the problem of bad leadership that Socrates takes […]

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