Cardinal Richelieu On The Necessity Of Non-Education

Cardinal Richelieu On The Necessity Of Non-Education

This excerpt is from The Political Testament of Cardinal Richelieu, chapter II (1642); numbers and paragraphifications have been added to aid readability.

(1) Because a knowledge of letters is entirely indispensable to a country, it is certain that they should not be indiscriminately taught to everyone. A body which had eyes all over it would be monstrous, and in like fashion so would a state if all its subjects were learned; one would find little obedience and an excess of pride and presumption.

(2) The commerce of letters would drive out that of goods, from which the wealth of the state is derived. It would ruin agriculture, the true nourishment of the people, and in time would dry up the source of soldiery, whose ranks flow more from the crudities of ignorance than from refinements of knowledge.

(3) It would, indeed, fill France with quibblers more suited to the ruination of good families and the upsetting of public order than to doing any good for the country.

(4) If learning were profaned by extending it to all kinds of people one would see far more men capable of raising doubts than of resolving them, and many would be better able to oppose truth than to defend it.

(5) It is for this reason that statesmen in a well-run country would wish to have as teachers more masters of mechanic arts than of liberal arts.


(1) Giving an average man a “degree” is more often than not apt to make him run about spouting nonsense like Scarecrow. And not only spouting nonsense, but demanding to be respected for his credentialed opinions.

The closer we get to a democracy, the more everybody is required to have an opinion on every subject, and must vote on every matter. It is absurd to think everybody can know enough about everything to make wise or even good decisions. Yet everybody with “degrees” believes himself capable of just that.

The other assumption is that everything taught in educational institutions (to use a neutral term) is worthwhile. This is by now obviously false. And when material is worthwhile the age-old aphorism is apt: A little learning is a dangerous thing.

The prediction is that the greater education, at all levels, expands, the more divided, roiled, contentious, and inefficient government becomes. Contrast this all to subsidiarity, where every decision that can be made at a lower level is made at the lower level, where men are equipped and actually knowledgeable about matters that arise. Instead the drive is for absolute strict uniformity everywhere—which they call “diversity”.

(2) Education is now big business, sucking in greater resources at rates faster than most industries. True, the budgets of ideology factories swell because of the addition of innumerable offices of Diversity and Inclusion. But what’s forgotten is these offices are product. Education is less and less about things, but about experience, about “being educated”, and that can only mean indoctrination into an ideology.

Soldier as noble profession is now almost absent. It is no surprise to learn the military is increasingly interested in upping its Diversity statistics, a direct consequence of the officer corps receiving their education from ideology factories and not battlefields.

The same thing happened to the priesthood when it was decided to model seminaries as modern universities. As universities became debased, so too did seminaries.

Somehow, for both soldier and priests, the idea of the secular credential, the stamp of worldly approval, became more important than knowing their business. It is always assumed, and assumed everywhere, that the “degree” or credential grants a sort of power to its holder such that they can learn their profession without effort later, but that he could not learn it without the “degree”. That is, it is acknowledge the “degree” itself confers little to no actual learning, but that it changes the soul like an initiation used to.

(3) Is there anything to say about this prediction by Richelieu other than his ghost announcing “I told you so!”? Quibbler, quibblers everywhere, and not a sage to speak!

(4) Not only is our good Cardinal right about raising doubts, he didn’t see that the act of doubt-raising is far better rewarded is for certainties lowered. It’s easy to cast barbs, the problem being the thrower is convinced of the sting because of his “degree”. All are too sure of and think too well of themselves.

(5) The plain difference in teaching somebody to build and repair and engine and modern education, is that it is trivial to test whether the training has worked in the first case, and difficult in the second. Plus, people with “degrees” think themselves superior—again the initiation!—to the mechanic. Somehow the very little learning they have in mostly useless subjects elevates them about the men who know how the world works.

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  1. Gary

    “It’s easy to cast barbs,” so tell us what the appropriate fraction of the population should be “learned.”

  2. Gary – nice barb there, caster. Got anything useful to add to the discussion?
    How about 20%. You know, from the 80/20 rule. Now prove me wrong.

    No more than 5% of women should attend collegemc. As we have seen, over-educating women is anti-civilizational. It leads to layer and fewer marriages, as well as a horrific reduction in birth rates.

    All existing colleges and universities should be purged of all faculty and staff, then reestablished anew by actual experts who have proven themselves by years of real world accomplishments. Anyone voluntarily involved in a “studies” or “diversity” program should be stood against a wall.

    You want to learn about 18th century French poetry? Read it on your own time.

  3. Dave

    It amazes me how many ostensibly solid Christians plan to send their daughters off to college. Why not pimp them out yourself and save the tuition?

    With young men abandoning college in droves, the M.R.S. degree has been replaced with the L.U.G. — Lesbian Until Graduation. College campuses are also a gold mine for pornographers as cuties flush with Daddy’s cash often perform for free.

    “That won’t happen to my daughter, she’s a good girl!” says the father of every college ho.

    What you should do is marry her off at 16-18 to a solid twenty-something man from your church. Especially if she’s smart, because the future needs smart babies.

  4. Ken

    “… “degree” or credential grants a sort of power … …people with “degrees” think themselves superior…”

    Ba humbug.

    Some, no doubt, have such narcissistic views but by no means all or even anything close to a majority. And for most that do perceive themselves “superior” “superior” relative to what?

    A common, recurring, theme of commencement speeches is that that the formal education is the beginning of lifelong study, not the end of one’s learning. That’s why it’s called “commencement” — a beginning.

    Might the solution to educated fools be more education, not less? And might the a remedy to malignant narcissists who misuse their education as a sort of dopey superiority claim be education among the rest of us to recognize how stupid that is … and perhaps psychiatric treatment of those so afflicted?

    I don’t know, never have, anyone in the working world that doesn’t catch on that performance and results make the difference, not some academic credential. Seems Briggs here is overgeneralizing a subgroup’s pathology — some educated subgroup that doesn’t do much real-world work. Indicating the problem is not the degree. Maybe the content of “learning” associated with the degree, and/or other factors.

  5. Faith

    Interesting that so far half the commenters have proved you and Richelieu right, Briggs.

  6. Briggs


    Thanks to Leo K we have this link: Baby sharks take to the streets.

    When I taught history at Oxford 20 years ago, one of my favorite articles about the 1848 Revolutions was by Lenore O’Boyle, “The Problem of an Excess of Educated Men in Western Europe, 1800-1850.” Something similar happened in the 1960s, as the late lamented Norman Stone described in his magnificently mordant book, “The Atlantic and Its Enemies.”

    Guess what? We’ve done it again, but now on an unprecedented scale. In every country where major protests have been reported in the past year, higher education is at an all-time high.

    Compare the World Bank’s 2016 figures for gross enrollment in tertiary education (as a percentage of the total population of the relevant five-year age group) with those for the late 1980s. In Chile, the share has risen from 18 percent to 90 percent. In Ecuador, it’s up from 25 percent to 46 percent. Egypt: 15 percent to 34 percent. France: 34 percent to 64 percent. Hong Kong: 13 percent to 72 percent. Lebanon: 32 percent to 38 percent (the smallest increase). Top of the class is Turkey: 12 percent to 104 percent (they must have a lot of mature students).

  7. Edgewise

    I’m sorry, but isn’t this the thinking (or “thinking”?) of a tyrant or a slaver?

    No. This attitude is _NOT_ acceptable.

  8. Briggs

    Edgewise, with that kind of attitude you’ll never make house slave.

    There is a difference between wanton profligate encouragement and tyrannical prohibition, strange as it may seem.

  9. Sylvain Allard

    Of course, you don’t include yourself among those who should have been denied education.

    You are very silent on Trump lately. I guess it means you hadn’t thought he was such an idiot.

    There’s a reason I call him the idiot in chief. He almost scrapped Al-Baghdadi mission.

  10. Briggs


    Late-night drunk commenting is the best commenting.

  11. Sylvain Allard

    M’y hangover must be very since the last drink (alcohol) I took was in 1992.

  12. Briggs

    I’ll have one in your stead, Syl.

  13. I’m going to presume the cardinal’s words didn’t translate well through time. Either that or he believes it’s good for the masses to be unwashed ignorant serfs without agency. Or perhaps by “education” he means the medieval equivalent of the modern Western diploma mill.

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