Bernard Shaw

Church, School, and Press

Written: 1928;
Source: The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism, Capitalism, Sovietism and Fascism;
Published: Pelican Books, 1937;
Transcribed: 2001 for

JUST as Parliament and the Courts are captured by the rich, so is the Church. The average parson does not teach honesty and equality in the village school: he teaches deference to the merely rich, and calls that loyalty and religion. He is the ally of the squire, who, as magistrate, administers the laws made in the interests of the rich by the parliament of rich men, and calls that justice. The villagers, having no experience of any other sort of religion or law, soon lose all respect for both, and become merely cynical. They may touch their hats and curtsey respectfully; but they whisper to one another that the squire, no matter how kind his wife may be at Christmas by way of ransom, is a despoiler and oppressor of the poor, and the parson a hypocrite. In revolutions, it is the respectful peasants who burn the country houses and parsonages, and rush to the cathedrals to deface the statues, shatter the stained windows, and wreck the organ.

By the way, you may know parsons who are not like that. At least I do. There are always men and women who will stand out against injustice, no matter how prosperous and well-spoken-of it may be. But the result is that they are ill-spoken-of themselves in the most influential quarters. Our society must be judged, not by its few rebels, but by its millions of obedient subjects.

The same corruption reaches the children in all our schools. Schoolmasters who teach their pupils such vital elementary truths about their duty to their country as that they should despise and pursue as criminals all able-bodied adults who do not by personal service pull their weight in the social boat, are dismissed from their employment, and sometimes prosecuted for sedition. And from this elementary morality up to the most abstruse and philosophic teaching in the universities, the same corruption extends. Science becomes a propaganda of quack cures, manufactured by companies in which the rich hold shares, for the diseases of the poor who need only better food and sanitary houses, and of the rich who need only useful occupation, to keep them both in health. Political economy becomes an impudent demonstration that the wages of the poor cannot be raised; that without the idle rich we should perish for lack of capital and employment; and that if the poor would take care to have fewer children everything would be for the best in the worst of all possible worlds.

Thus the poor are kept poor by their ignorance; and those whose parents are too well-off to make it possible to keep them ignorant, and who receive what is called a complete education, are taught so many flat lies that their false knowledge is more dangerous than the untutored natural wit of savages. We all blame the ex-Kaiser for banishing from the German schools and universities all teachers who did not teach that history, science, and religion all prove that the rule of the house of Hohenzollern: that is, of his own rich family, is the highest form of government possible to mankind; but we do the same thing ourselves, except that the worship of rich idleness in general is substituted for the worship of the Hohenzollern family in particular, though the Hohenzollerns have family traditions (including the learning of a common craft by every man of them) which make them much more responsible than any Tom or Dick who may happen to have made a huge fortune in business.

As people get their opinions so largely from the newspapers they read, the corruption of the schools would not matter so much if the Press were free. But the Press is not free. As it costs at least a quarter of a million of money to establish a daily newspaper in London, the newspapers are owned by rich men. And they depend on the advertisements of other rich men. Editors and journalists who express opinions in print that are opposed to the interests of the rich are dismissed and replaced by subservient ones. The newspapers therefore must continue the work begun by the schools and colleges; so that only the Strongest and most independent and original minds can escape from the mass of false doctrine that is impressed on them by the combined and incessant suggestion and persuasion of Parliament, the law-courts, the Church, the schools, and the Press. We are all brought up wrongheaded to keep us willing slaves instead of rebellious ones.

What makes this so hard to discover and to believe is that the false teaching is mixed up with a great deal of truth, because up to a certain point the interests of the rich are the same as the interests of everybody else. It is only where their interests differ from those of their neighbors that the deception begins For example, the rich dread railway accidents as much as the poor; consequently the law on railway accidents, the sermons about railway accidents, the school teaching about railway accidents, and the newspaper articles about them are all quite honestly directed to the purpose of preventing railway accidents. But when anyone suggests that there would be fewer railway accidents if the railwaymen worked fewer hours and had better wages, or that in the division of the railway fares between the shareholders and the workers the shareholders should get less and the workers more, or that railway travelling would be safer if the railways were in the hands of the nation like the posts and the telegraphs, there is an immediate outcry in the Press and in Parliament against such suggestions, coupled with denunciations of those who make them as Bolsheviks or whatever other epithet may be in fashion for the moment as a term of the most infamous discredit.