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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

114.The Fabian Spirit: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

The Fabian Spirit 

To speak of scientific management in school and society without crediting the influence 
of the Fabians would do great disservice to truth, but the nature of Fabianism is so 
complex it raises questions this essay cannot answer. To deal with the Fabians in a brief 
compass as I'm going to do is to deal necessarily in simplifications in order to see a little 
how this charming group of scholars, writers, heirs, heiresses, scientists, philosophers, 
bombazines, gazebos, trust-fund babies, and successful men and women of affairs 
became the most potent force in the creation of the modern welfare state, distributors of 
its characteristically dumbed-down version of schooling. Yet pointing only to this often 
frivolous organization's eccentricity would be to disrespect the incredible 
accomplishments of Beatrice Webb and her associates, and their decisive effort on 
schooling. Mrs. Webb is the only woman ever deemed worthy of burial in Westminster 

What nineteenth-century Transcendentalists and Muggletonians hoped to be in reordering 
the triumvirate of society, school, and family, twentieth-century Fabians actually were. 
Although far from the only potent organization working behind the scenes to radically 
reshape domestic and international life, it would not be too far out of line to call the 
twentieth century the Fabian century. One thing is certain: the direction of modern 
schooling for the bottom 90 percent of our society has followed a largely Fabian design — 
and the puzzling security and prestige enjoyed at the moment by those who speak of 

"globalism" and "multiculturalism" are a direct result of heed paid earlier to Fabian 
prophecies that a welfare state, followed by an intense focus on internationalism, would 
be the mechanism elevating corporate society over political society, and a necessary 
precursor to Utopia. Fabian theory is the Das Kapital of financial capitalism. 

Fabianism always floated above simplistic politics, seeking to preempt both sides. The 
British Labour Party and its post- WWII welfare state are Fabianism made visible. This is 
well understood; not so easily comprehended are signs of an aristocratic temper — like 
this little anti-meritocractic Fabian gem found in a report of the British College of 

Medicine would lose immeasurably if the proportion of such students [from upper-class 
and upper-middle-class homes] were to be reduced in favour of precocious children who 
qualify for subsidies [i.e., scholarship students]. 

Even though meritocracy is their reliable cover, social stratification was always the 
Fabian's real trump suit. Entitlements are another Fabian insertion into the social fabric, 
even though the idea antedates them, of course. 

To realize the tremendous task Fabians originally assigned themselves (a significant part 
of which was given to schooling to perform), we need to reflect again on Darwin's 
shattering books, The Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871), each 
arguing in its own way that far from being blank slates, children are written upon 
indelibly by their race of origin, some "favored" in Darwin's language, some not. A 
powerful public relations initiative of recent years has attempted to separate Darwin from 
"social Darwinism," but it cannot be done because Darwin himself is the prototypical 
social Darwinist. Both books taken together issued a license for liberal upper classes to 
justify forced schooling. From an evolutionary perspective, schools are the indoctrination 
phase of a gigantic breeding experiment. Working-class fantasies of "self-improvement" 
were dismissed from the start as sentimentality that evolutionary theory had no place for. 

What Darwin accomplished with his books was a freeing of discussion from the narrow 
straitj acket it had worn when society was considered a matter of internal associations and 
relationships. Darwin made it possible to consider political affairs as a prime instrument 
of social evolution. Here was a pivotal moment in Western thought, a changing of the 
guard in which secular purpose replaced religious purpose, long before trashed by the 

For the poor, the working classes, and middle classes in the American sense, 7 this change 
in outlook, lauded by the most influential minds of the nineteenth century, was a 
catastrophe of titanic proportions, especially for government schoolchildren. Children 
could no longer simply be parents' darlings. Many were (biologically) a racial menace. 
The rest had to be thought of as soldiers in genetic combat, the moral equivalent of war. 
For all but a relative handful of favored families, aspiration was off the board as a 
scientific proposition. 

For governments, children could no longer be considered individuals but were regarded 
as categories, rungs on a biological ladder. Evolutionary science pronounced the majority 
useless mouths waiting for nature to dispense with entirely. Nature (as expressed through 
her human agents) was to be understood not as cruel or oppressive but beautifully, 
functionally purposeful — a neo-pagan perspective to be reflected in the organization and 
administration of schools. 

Three distinct and conflicting tendencies competed in the nineteenth-century theory of 
society: first was the empirical tendency stemming from John Locke and David Hume 
which led to that outlook on the study of society we call pragmatism, and eventually to 
behavioristic psychology; the second line descended from Immanuel Kant, Hegel, 
Savigny, and others and led to the organic theory of the modern state, the preferred 
metaphor of Fabians (and many later systems theorists); the third outlook comes to us out 
of Rousseau, Diderot, d'Alembert, Bentham, the Mills, and leads almost directly to the 
utilitarian state of Marxist socialism. Each of these postures was savagely assailed over 
time by the development of academic Darwinism. After Darwin, Utopia as a human- 
friendly place dies an agonizing death. The last conception of Utopia after Darwin which 
isn't some kind of hellish nightmare is William Morris' News from Nowhere. 

With only niggling reservations, the Fabian brain trust had no difficulty employing force 
to shape recalcitrant individuals, groups, and organizations. Force in the absence of 
divine injunctions is a tool to be employed unsentimentally. Fabian George Bernard 
Shaw established the principle wittily in 1920 when he said that under a Fabian future 

You would not be allowed to be poor. You would be forcibly fed, clothed, lodged, taught, 
and employed whether you like it or not. If it were discovered that you have not character 
and industry, you might possibly be executed in a kindly manner. 
- The Intelligent Woman 's Guide to Socialism and Capitalism 

Fabianism came into existence around the year 1884, taking its name from Roman 
general Fabius Cunctator 8 who preserved the Roman state by defeating Hannibal, 
chipping away at Hannibal's patience and will to win by avoiding combat. Darwin was 
the weird holy man Fabians adored, the man who gave them their principle, a theory 
inspirationally equal to god-theory, around which a new organization of society could be 

Society, after Darwin, was incontrovertibly about good breeding. That was the only true 
goal it had, or scientifically could have. Before Darwin, the view of historical 
development which fit best with Anglo/ American tradition was a conception of 
individual rights independent of any theory of reciprocal obligations to the State; the duty 
of leaders was to Society, not to Government, a crucial distinction in perfect harmony 
with the teachings of Reformation Christianity, which extended to all believers a 
conception of individual duty, individual responsibility, and a free will right to decide for 
oneself beyond any claims of states. John Calvin proclaimed in his Institutes that through 
natural law, the judgment of conscience alone was able to distinguish between justice and 

injustice. It's hard for secular minds to face, but the powerful freedoms of the West, 
unmatched by any other society at any other time, are rooted deeply in a religion so 
radical, so demanding it revolts the modern temper. 

For Protestant Christians, salvation was uniquely a matter between God and the 
individual. The mind of northern Europe had for centuries been fixed on the task of 
winning liberties for the individual against the State. Notable individual freedoms were 
taken from the State beginning symbolically at Runnemede' in 1215. By 1859, six and a 
half centuries later, in the Age of Darwin, individual rights were everywhere in the 
Anglo-Saxon world understood to transcend theories of obligation to the State. Herbert 
Spencer embodies this attitude, albeit ambiguously. For Spencer, Darwinian evolution 
promised rights only to the strong. It is well to keep in mind that his brief for liberty 
masks a rigorously exclusionary philosophy, particularly when he sounds most like 
Thomas Paine. The first and second amendments of our own constitution illustrate just 
how far this freedom process could carry. Say what you please before God and Man; 
protect yourself with a gun if need be from government interference. 

Spencer was the reigning British philosopher from 1870 to 1900. In the Westminster 
Review of January 1860, he wrote: "The welfare of citizens cannot rightly be sacrificed to 
some supposed benefit of the State, the State is to be maintained solely for the benefit of 
citizens. 10 The corporate life in society must be subservient to the lives of its parts, instead 
of the lives of the parts being subservient to the corporate life." Spencer had an even 
greater vogue in America, influencing every intellectual from Walt Whitman to John 
Dewey and becoming the darling of corporate business. Early in 1882 a grand dinner was 
held in his honor by the great and powerful who gathered to hear scientific proof of 
Anglo-Saxon fitness for rule — and a brief for moral relativism. This dinner and its 
implications set the standard for twentieth-century management, including the 
management of schooling. A clear appraisal of the fateful meal and its resonance is given 
in E. Digby Baltzell's The Protestant Establishment, a well-bred look at the resurgence of 
the Anglican outlook in America. 

This attitude constituted a violent contradiction of German strong-state, state-as-first- 
parent doctrine which held that interests of the individual as individual are without 
significance. But derogation of individual rights was entirely consistent with Darwinian 
science. The German authoritarian preference received an invigorating restorative with 
Darwin's advent. Natural selection, the operational principle of Darwinism, was held to 
reach individuals only indirectly — through the action of society. Hence society becomes a 
natural subject for regulation and intervention by the State. 

To illustrate how reverberant a drum the innocent-sounding locution "natural selection" 11 
can really be, translated into social practice, try to imagine how denial of black dignities 
and rights and the corresponding degradation of black family relationships in America 
because of this denial, might well be reckoned an evolutionarily /wszYzve course, in 
Darwinian terms. By discouraging Negro breeding, eventually the numbers of this most 
disfavored race would diminish. The state not only had a vested interest in becoming an 
active agent of evolution, it could not help but become one, willy-nilly. Fabians set out to 

write a sensible evolutionary agenda when they entered the political arena. Once this 
biopolitical connection is recognized, the past, present, and future of this seemingly 
bumbling movement takes on a formidable coherence. Under the dottiness, lovability, 
intelligence, high social position, and genuine goodness of some of their works, the 
system held out as humanitarian by Fabians is grotesquely deceptive; in reality, Fabian 
compassion masks a real aloofness to humanity. It is purely an intellectual project in 
scientific management. 

Thomas Davidson's History of Education seen through this lens transmutes in front of 
our eyes from the harmlessly addled excursion into romantic futurism it seems to be into 
a manual of frightening strategic goals and tactical methods. Fabians emerged in the first 
years of the twentieth century as great champions of social efficiency in the name of the 
evolutionary destiny of the race. This infused a powerful secular theology into the 
movement, allowing its members to revel privately in an ennobling destiny. The Fabian 
program spread quickly through the best colleges and universities under many different 
names, multiplying its de facto membership among young men and women blissfully 
unaware of their induction. They were only being modern. H.G. Wells called it "the open 
conspiracy" in an essay bearing the same title, and worth your time to track down. 

As the movement developed, Fabians became aristocratic friends of other social- 
efficiency vanguards like Taylorism or allies of the Methodist social gospel crowd of 
liberal Christian religionists busy substituting Works for Faith in one of the most 
noteworthy religious reversals of all time. Especially, they became friends and advisors 
of industrialists and financiers, travelers in the same direction. This cross-fertilization 
occurred naturally, not out of petty motives of profit, but because by Fabian lights 
evolution had progressed furthest among the international business and banking classes! 

These laughing gentry were impressively effective at whatever they turned their hands to 
because they understood principles of social leverage. Kitty Muggeridge writes: 

If you want to pinpoint the moment in time when the very first foundation of the Welfare 
State was laid, a reasonable date to choose would be the last fortnight of November in 
1905 when Beatrice Webb was appointed to the Royal Commission on the Poor Law, and 
she convinced her protege, Albert Beveridge, to join a committee for dealing with 

During Mrs. Webb's tenure on the Royal Commission, she laid down the first blueprint 
of cradle-to-grave social security to eradicate poverty "without toppling the whole social 
structure." She lived to see Beveridge promulgate her major ideas in the historic 
Beveridge Report, from which they were brought to life in post- WWII Britain and the 
United States. 

Fabian practitioners developed Hegelian principles which they co-taught alongside 
Morgan bankers and other important financial allies over the first half of the twentieth 
century. One insightful Hegelianism was that to push ideas efficiently it was necessary 
first to co-opt both political Left and political Right. Adversarial politics — competition — 

was a loser's game. 12 By infiltrating all major media, by continual low-intensity 
propaganda, by massive changes in group orientations (accomplished through principles 
developed in the psychological- warfare bureaus of the military), and with the ability, 
using government intelligence agents and press contacts, to induce a succession of crises, 
they accomplished that astonishing feat. 

In the British sense, middle classes are a buffer protecting elites from the poor; our own statistical income-based designation leads to a more 
eclectic composition, and to somewhat less predictability of attitudes and values. 

'The origins are disputed but it was an offshoot of Thomas Davidson's Utopian group in New York, "The Fellowship of the New Life" — an 
American export to Britain, not the other way around. The reader should be warned I use the term "Fabian" more indiscriminately with less 
concern for actual affiliation through the rest of the book than I do here. Fabianism was a Zeitgeist as well as a literal association, and thousands 
of twentieth-century influentials have been Fabians who might be uncomfortable around its flesh and blood adherents, or who would be 
puzzled by the label. 

The spelling preferred by baronial descendants of the actual event. See Chapter Twelve. 

Contrast this with John F. Kennedy's "Ask not what your country cando for you but what you can do foryour country" Inaugural of 1960 
which measured the distance we had retreated since the Civil War. It's useful to remember, however, that Spencer reserved these feelings only 
for the Elect. 

In 1900, Sidney Sherwood of Johns Hopkins University joined a host of prominent organizations and men like Andrew Carnegie in declaring 
the emergence of the corporate system as the highest stage in evolution. Sherwood suggested the modern corporation's historic task was to sort 
out "genius," to get rid of "the weak." This elimination is "the real function of the trust," and the formation of monopoly control is "natural 
selection of the highest order. " Try to imagine how this outlook played out in corporate schooling. 

l2 The most dramatic example of abandoning competition and replacing it with cooperation was the breath-taking monopolization of first the 
nation's, then the world's oil supply by Standard Oil under the personal direction of John D. Rockefeller Sr. Rockefeller despised the 
competitive marketplace, as did his fellow titans of finance and industry, J. P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie. Rockefeller's negotiating team 
was instructed to accommodate any company willing to enter his cartel, to destroy any that resisted. 

The Open Conspiracy 

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