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Jonathan Lindsell 25/04/2011 How important was education relative to repression in creating the modern state?
At the start of the nineteenth century Europe, and the world, resembled the medieval period far more closely than the modern. However by 1914 many of the hallmarks we associate with the "modern state" were firmly in place in Europe and her colonies. This essay aims to examine and compare the roles that education and repression played in the transition. To do this, a number of terms need to be defined. Firstly and most importantly, "modern state" shall be taken to mean a state with defined borders and laws, wide suffrage, a complex economy and state supports of some kind. "Education" will be treated as any formal, institutional or private teaching of members of the state at all levels, from literacy and numeracy to university degrees and the like. "Repression" will mean any act by the ruling power that limits or directs people against their will, with or without actual force. What is immediately clear from these definitions is that the modern state necessarily embodies significant levels of both factors a priori. There must be a degree of repression in the form of policing and courts in order to uphold laws. Without this basic requirement any nation would be categorised as anarchic, and hence not a modern state. Likewise a basic education of the populace is intrinsic to our understanding of the modern state - we would not consider modern a state in which the majority could not read or write. Indeed without these requirements, complex economy would hardly be feasible. There are three main ways in which education led to statehood. Firstly, a general rise in literacy causing the lower classes to pursue more vigorously rights and suffrage. Secondly a surplus of highly educated British men were obliged to administer the colonies, creating them as modern states. A similar surplus from France, Germany and Russia were unemployed and hence formed a group susceptible to revolutionary movements and agitation. Thirdly, states with education, seeing it oppressed, make martyrs out of those radicals opposing repression and adding revolutionary impetus. Revolution by the lower and middle classes invariably demanded civil rights, a constitutional rather than absolute monarchy, and wider suffrage. Thus most such revolutions were agents of creation of modern states. As the education of the people improved, so a greater number are literate. Those who were literate were given greater access to journalism critical of the government or state system, of philosophical and political thinkers influential in the sphere of freedom and rights such as Locke, Hegel and Mill. They inevitably demanded such rights and political representation, or indeed political power themselves. Their literacy made them better equipped to argue their cases for rights to assembly and freedom of thought. They could themselves form their own ideas about the function and nature of the state. Furthermore, as noted above, having a better educated workforce enables a more complex monetary economy, so as education improved, so each nation moved towards modernity. The Western European middle and upper classes attached focus and prestige onto University education. Prussia promoted such a path in life for young men as enabling them a route into administrative bureaucracy. France did not need to, so competitive were such jobs that no motivation was needed to train. Britain, with less status attached to government jobs and more to industrial or financial success, had a lower number of graduates than the continent. However all three countries found themselves with a surplus of classically educated men, and none had the domestic jobs or the capital for their employment.
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