My argument for the preferential treatment of certain subjects in education met with an objection from some to ‘social engineering’. I find this puzzling. Do these people object to social engineering in principle, or to what has over the years been a primary objective of that process? If it is the former, they have a logical dilemma. One cannot object to the principal of ‘social engineering’ and protest about the government’s failure to control immigration, for example.
If we view society as a complex entity in a state of constant transition we have to accept either that its shape is ‘engineered’ or left to random forces. If the former is thought preferable, we have to ask who or what should do the engineering. Historically, that has been done by governments and is, indeed, the rationale for having government at all. In my view, it is the principal responsibility of government to define a society’s strategic needs, and to determine the policies necessary to meeting them. That is simply what governments should do, and is the reason for our desire to have some democratic control over their activity.
Recognising the need for that process does not imply support for the specific strategic aims a government pursues. For many years British governments of all stripes have pursued pseudo-egalitarian objectives, perhaps most closely observed in education. We witnessed the attack on grammar schools, for instance, by the likes of Anthony Crosland and Shirley Williams conducted in the name of social equality and fairness. Yet, while slamming the door in the face of bright, working class children, these people did not abolish the public schools, which were a much more evident symbol of inequality. It was, of course, a pseudo-egalitarianism that they pursued, but successive governments have continued to pay lip-service to this particular idol.
I am bitterly opposed to such idolatry, but my objection to a specific objective or set of policies does not deny the legitimacy of government’s role in developing and pursuing strategic objectives on our behalf. I do not believe the slogan that less government is better government. Indeed, the reason we are presently in crisis lies in government failure to do its job.