The Pierian Spring.
Addressing an Educational Society meeting in London at the end of March, Lord Haldane, as reported by The Scotsman, said that “he did not think we would get a fully intelligent nation and, as a consequence, a fully intelligent Government, until we got the influence of the University student permeating the whole nation. The Universities were to-day rising to a new function. . . A great change had come over the people. . . The working classes were becoming keen about the higher knowledge. They thought nothing too difficult to learn, from Einstein downwards.” (Downwards to J. S. Nicholson, we presume.) “He saw in the future a class of University student who would find a career in the missionary effort of going into the industrial centres, and preaching the higher knowledge to the workers. It would be a new kind of work, akin to that of the clergy, but would be pursued from the standpoint of the University.”
We like this vision of Lord Haldane’s. We like it immensely. We thrill to the thought of the young venturer answering the call : “Come over into Manchester and help us.” We follow him in spirit into the wilds of Barrow and Luton, clad in the decorum of Eights’ Week as in a garment, and luminous with Higher Knowledge. Wondrous gospel and full of promise !
What constitutes Higher Knowledge? We do not know. But be sure it embraces whatever concerns the upward march of man. Its apostle will first make known to the workers that there is no longer any reason why they should be starved either of learning or of bread. That without their toil there would be neither for any man. That the whole history of human kind from the first slaves till now is the story of the many, ignorant and meanly provided, serving in different ways the few, privileged to wealth and culture. That they are the last to win their freedom, and when they resolve to produce for themselves, instead of their masters, neither physical or intellectual hunger will go unsatisfied.
Oh, be sure the Higher Knowledge must begin with this—the setting of the workers’ feet upon the road to universal culture, the Pierian spring at which all may drink and rejoice—well, perhaps not quite that. “With an educated democracy, such as he had in view, the workers would not only earn better wages, but there would be fewer strikes and lock-outs and disturbances, and the productivity of the nation would increase as the result of its system of higher education.”
So the highest blessings of the Higher Knowledge is, after all, only to make more efficient wage-slaves. No, on second thoughts, there will be no reason to abandon socialist teaching even if Lord Haldane’s dream shall come true. There will still be need of knowledge, simple and unexalted—knowledge with a small k.
(Socialist Standard, August 1922)