Richelieu And Bacon On Education

Cardinal Duc de Richelieu
From France in the Age of Louis XIII and Richelieu by Victor-L. Tapié translated by D. McN. Lockie, Praeger Publishers, New York, 1975, p. 172:

He regarded a multiplication in the number of colleges or the uncontrolled proliferation of all sorts of ideas as a source of spiritual danger: ‘If learning were profaned by being made available to all and sundry, it would be found that there were more people capable of creating doubts than of resolving them, and many would show themselves more apt in opposing truth than in defending it,’ he observed in 1625.

And in a footnote to the same, “In 1611 Bacon wrote to James I as follows:”

Concerning the advancement of learning, I do not subscribe to the opinion…that, for grammar schools, there are already too many…The great number of schools which are in your Highness’s realm doth cause a want, and likewise an overthrow—both of them inconvenient and one of them dangerous; for by means thereof they find want in the country and towns, both of servants for husbandry and of apprentices for trade; and on the other side there being more Scholars bred than the State can prefer and employ…it must needs fall out the many persons will be bred unfit for other vocations and unprofitable for that in which they were bred up, which fill the realm full of indignant, idle and wanton people… [p 478; ellipses original]

In re education today: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose?

Richelieu’s observation came from his Maximes D’Etat, Or Testament Politique, p. 169 at that link.


  1. Claude Boisson

    Which luminary of the French Enlightenment has voiced these delicate thoughts (among many others of a similar nature)?

    “It seems to me essential that there be ignorant peasants […]. It is not the unskilled worker who should be educated, but the good bourgeois, the city-dweller [….]. When the rabble is intent on reasoning, everything is lost”.

    Voltaire, letter to Damilaville, April 1st, 1766.

    Complete quotation in French:
    “Je crois que nous ne nous entendons pas sur l’article du peuple, que vous croyez digne d’être instruit. J’entends par peuple la populace qui n’a que ses bras pour vivre. Je doute que cet ordre de citoyens ait jamais le temps ni la capacité de s’instruire ; ils mourraient de faim avant de devenir philosophes. Il me paraît essentiel qu’il y ait des gueux ignorants. Si vous faisiez valoir comme moi une terre, et si vous aviez des charrues, vous seriez bien de mon avis. Ce n’est pas le manÅ“uvre qu’il faut instruire, c’est le bon bourgeois, c’est l’habitant des villes ; cette entreprise est assez forte et assez grande.
    Il est vrai que Confucius a dit qu’il avait connu des gens incapables de science, mais aucun incapable de vertu. Aussi, doit-on prêcher la vertu au plus bas peuple ; mais il ne doit pas perdre son temps à examiner qui avait raison de Nestorius ou de Cyrille, d’Eusèbe ou d’Athanase, de Jansénius ou de Molina, de Zuingle ou d’Oecolampade. Et plût à Dieu qu’il n’y eût jamais eu de bons bourgeois infatués de ces disputes ! Nous n’aurions jamais eu de guerres de religion, nous n’aurions jamais eu de Saint-Barthélemy.Toutes les querelles de cette espèce ont commencé par des gens oisifs et qui étaient à leur aise. Quand la populace se mêle de raisonner, tout est perdu.”

  2. Jim Fedako

    Wow. This is a real throwback to my Peace Corps days in Jamaica.

    During our indoctrination (er, introduction), an official from the national education department said something along the lines of, “We (meaning the state) do not want too many educated people since they will demand more and better jobs than can be made available.” And she said that to PC volunteers about to work in the education sector.

    Yes, that made sense within Jamaica’s form of socialism, since socialism is, in essence, a job and growth killer. But the evil was the state limiting the prospect of economic growth, not education per se.

    Nevertheless, statements such as those above in the context of a free market (of course, one unhampered by state intervention in education) are extremely offensive — more so when they are made as moral statements as is implied above. Better to let the market — which is nothing more than the name for free exchanges between individuals — lead the way.

    So the solution in Jamaica, as elsewhere, is for folks like the Jamaican state official and those above to quit advocating for a state solution to another problem of scarce resources best handled by individuals. And to let individuals allocate resources to their best and most fruitful uses.

    Note: To take the above to its logical extreme would require this blog to cease forthwith. Why? Education is greater than the school system. And if educated masses are to be feared (sounds very statist), then this blog, and the Internet for that matter, must no longer exist.

  3. VXXC

    Well we used to have this thing called “manufacturing” that took place in buildings called “factories”. However these were an offense to our holy scholars, so they banished them. This is better for keeping the poor in their place. For they need not toil, our scholars have found the secret to boundless wealth: create money from nothing.

    Truly we are blest.

  4. If he were alive today I think Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr would have completed the sentence as in:

    The more things change the more they stay the same except the situation has been agravated by moral relativism and objectivism.

    (Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chosesauf que la situation a été aggravé par le relativisme moral et l’objectivisme.)

  5. Scotian

    Maybe the problem is over schooling and under educating. A free market in education would definitely be an improvement over coerced government schooling. People will learn what they need to know if it is readily available. No one can be forced to learn, but learning can be deneigned both by withholding knowledge or by wasting someone’s time with busy work.

  6. Sylvain Allard

    There are so many Republican like Ted Cruze and Rand Paul who have ideas that belong to the 18th century and should be left there to prove your point.

  7. Nullius in Verba

    When there are too many scholars and not enough peasants, peasants will have to be paid more than scholars.
    The last shall be first and the first shall be last.

    Certainly when it comes to scholarship in economics, nothing changes.

  8. Rich

    In the UK the old joke went, “What do you say to someone with a degree in Sociology?”
    “Big Mac and fries please.”

  9. dearieme

    All UK experience points to government being utterly hopeless at workforce planning. They can’t even get the numbers of doctors or teachers right, which is remarkable given that the government employs almost all of them.

    So it would probably be wise to leave it to the scatterbrained decisions of teenagers – they could hardly do worse and they, at least, bear the burden of their own decisions. Of course, government would have to stop widespread rigging of the education market with its student loans and disbursements to universities. I wouldn’t mind a bit of narrowspread rigging with scholarships for a few bright children of the poor. About 5% of the age cohort, say.

  10. VXXC

    The 18th century gave us the realization of Enlightenment government, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution.

    What we really need to do is turn our backs on the 20th century, and YOU.

  11. VXXC

    The scholars do not want peasants. Or bien pensants.

    They want serfs, and debt serfs for life for a worthless degree is even better than having them work the land.

    Never has their been a more malignant rule of useless priests.

  12. Sylvain Allard


    Men you are way too funny.

    The realization of Enlightenment government, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution proved to be a very progressive era in US History.

    For a while it gave the same right to every white men in the country. That was until the big industries took back these rights from these men enslaving children and women to menial job for a petty allowance and no free time.

    These industries united into thrust and lavish the government with gift so that any laws would be favorable to them. This was over a hundred years ago, and this is where the tea party would like to take back the US (i.e. down the drain). The 20th century happened because the idea of the 18th century proved to be insufficient a hundred years later.

    Without a strong government industries abused men, women, children. They creating trust to make sure no one else could join there little club of very rich people.

    To believe that people were free in the 19th century is to be very naïve.

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