On an Educational Reform
By Hilaire Belloc

Since we are determined (as I am not, but as all my colleagues seem to be) that a new world has arisen ; since, therefore, all institutions may be remodelled at will, I trust there will appear in the education of wealthy children a reform overdue these many years.


This reform is an addition, of a certain subject, to the curriculum of schools. We have all at one time or another deplored its absence: we all, in one crisis or another of our lives, recognise its necessity. If it be true that we have today an opportunity for new things, do let us inaugurate this novelty at least, which would be of such vast advantage to the generation now sprouting. And the new subject is Fraud.


Fraud is the sole basis of the only form of success recognised among us. By Fraud alone are those vast fortunes suddenly acquired which and which only are the condition of greatness in a modern man.


Fraud is the master subject, ignorance or inability in which (looms a man to toil and obscurity. Yet Fraud is never taught at school. Men who had the parts for a most brilliant career fail on leaving the Academies because they are outwitted by Guttersnipes who have no letters but can cheat.


There used to be taught in schools Latin and Greek after a grammatical fashion, which made the better pupils true masters of the inwards of these languages. When they were so formed they were called "scholars." To this expertise was added some knowledge of a foreign language (usually French or German, but only a smattering thereof), and latterly also the elements of physical science and of mathematics, until these last branches took up so much time that often a choice was made between them and the older humanities.


So far, so good. Indirectly the young people were taught also the manner of their society, and this especially through the modern discipline of games. But there is not one of them (and I speak with feeling on the matter, for I have experience myself) who upon leaving school or the University has not suddenly found himself in a world where a ready practice in cheating proved the only thing of serious importance and yet was to him quite unfamiliar. He found himself, usually without resources, cast upon a world, wherein survival (or even decent honour and spiritual security) depended upon the exercise of certain arts of deceit to which he had never been trained, and which he must acquire at his peril. In proportion as he failed to acquire these arts lie failed altogether and was cast away.


Every one will admit that the swindling of one's fellow beings is a necessary practice. Upon it is based all really sound commercial success, and through it men arrive at those solid positions which command the honour and respect of our contemporaries. Thus, the chief way of making money is by buying cheap and selling dear, or, rather, by buying cheap and selling dear quickly; but when you buy cheap you only do so by taking in the vendor, and, when you sell dear, the purchaser. Your action may be remote and indirect, as when you gamble upon the Stock Exchange. It is commonly direct and personal as when you acquire under contract the services of another man. But it is essentially an exercise in overreaching. It is of its very nature getting some other human being into a state of mind in which he underestimates what you desire to get out of him or overestimates what you desire to unload upon him. Thus, in my own poor trade, I am a good business man if I can persuade some unhappy publisher or newspaper owner that the public is athirst for my words. Conversely, my honourable employers and masters will be good business men if they persuade me that no one is so base as to want to hear me at all, and that I am only employed as a sort of charity. And so it is with the selling of a boat or a house, or with the buying of land.


Another mastergate to fortune is abuse of confidence: you persuade men to entrust you with money for one purpose and then use it secretly for a very different end. If you bring off the deal it is your gain. If you drop the money the loss is theirs.


Another royal road is "merger"; another false description; another plain straightforward theft.


All these repose on a sound talent in Fraud, and, in general, so it is in all forms of fortunegetting, save in the highly specialised craft or mystery of blackmail. Upon cheating all honour, and therefore all happiness, depends. It is wealth so made which (save for those who inherit wealth and who are securely tied up as well) determines the position of a man today among his fellows.


Well, what trace is there of this great truth in the curriculum of our schools? It is entirely neglected! I admit that pomposity, which is a necessary element in all success, is indirectly taught. I admit still more freely and fully that the spirit of falsehood is taught as a sort of general subject, but I maintain that swindling as a particular subject is not taught at all, and even the most elementary forms of it, with which every boy ought to be acquainted in his early 'teens, come upon him with a shock when he is already a young married man launched in life and, as the phrase goes, battling with the world.


This, I say, is a shameful neglect. Here is an instance: the most elementary form of swindling, that which is, as it were, the gambit of every operation, and that which is the sum total of all

 the simpler operations of commerce, consists in giving a verbal assurance which it is intended to repudiate later by document or action. You promise a man something which you do not intend to perform, or you give a false description which reality will later expose, or in some other way you use the psychology of affirmation to your advantage.


Well, what could be simpler than to have a class (even if it were but half an hour a week) where all boys over a certain age could be trained by example both to be upon their guard against the false affirmation of others and (what is more important) to make false but plausible affirmations themselves with all the boldness which breeds success to make affirmations particular, affirmations emphatic, affirmations probable, affirmations flattering.


Even the negative side of this very necessary piece of training is omitted, and boys are not taught (at least in any school with which I have acquaintance) the importance of economy in falsehood.


The immature mind will, of course, tend to falsehood as a natural human instinct, but the force of kindly nature is here wasted because it lacks direction.  Young men go out into the world lying freely about the grandeur of their acquaintance, their personal prowess, and the rest , all matters conducing in no way to the accumulation of wealth which is the end of man.  Now, what could be simpler than, in such a class as I suggest (I admit that half an hour a week is rather short commons, but everything must have a beginning)what could be simpler than to give some direction at least to this pseudological factor in the mind and train it to the right end?


Examples should be set before youth. Let the master recite some braggart story of strength or skill such as is common among the young of the rich. Then let him show what a waste of energy it is, and how an equal amount of pseudological force expended in a useful channel, a false description or a flattery, might have earned  £1OO. "It is just as easy," the good preceptor would tell his young charges, "to brag about a horse that you want to sell as about, say, your horsemanship, for which there is no market. It is just as easy to lie about the value of something you have for sale as it is to lie about your lineage. But in the first case you trouser the dibs, while in the second there is no stuffit is wasted effort. Remember, therefore, my dear boys, to check yourselves when you are about to tell an uneconomical falsehood. Count ten before you speak and consider whether there be not ready to your hand some subject in which you can fully satisfy this natural instinct of lying and at the same time prepare some advantage for your pocket."


It may be objected to me that if this very necessary reform were introduced and the elements of modern commerce were taught in all our schools, the results would cancel out; for since all our youth would be forearmed, there would still be waged in the great world outside the conflict of the better sharper against the worse, with victory as now to the masterthief. But such an objection applies to all forms of learning. My desire is to raise the general level of our gentry in this department, and especially not to leave the men in middle age with the bitter memory of lost opportunities: opportunities lost through no personal fault but through the neglect of those who had a sacred trust and who did not fulfill it. At least let the man of fifty be able to say to himself: "I had every advantage. My masters at school (and no one more than my dear old headmaster, Dr. Buggins) repeatedly warned me against the peril of honesty and were at pains to teach me how to overreach the innocent; if I have proved clumsy and am now living as a publisher's hack, the fault is all with me."  As things now are, many a man who has sunk to be a proofreader, or even and author, is, in his heart, bitterly reproaching those who launched him upon the world quite ignorant of affairs.


I conceive that the educationist who is ever eager to improve his changing science will here suggest particular subjects in this new department.  He will see an expanding hoizon of opportunity.  My words have roused enthusiasm in him.  He will ask me, of instance, who I have not included special classes in blackmail, monopoly, bullying, bribery, perjury, and so forth.


Yes, certainly; all these should have their place, especially for older boys. But they may well be considered later. Perhaps such subjects would best be left to special institutions, such as those which were so successful in the last generation under the name of "crammers." Blackmail in particular, very like the art of outflanking in military science, requires a judgment of the world to which the mind can hardly attain till it is mature. Napoleon said: "Beware when you attempt to outflank that you be not outflanked yourself"; a sound saying, for any one in process of edging round his opponent extends his own communications and leaves an opportunity for that opponent to edge round him. And so it is with blackmail; too often the blackmailer just in the act of seizing his prize (a post in the Ministry or what not) feels a sharp bite and discovers to his horror that the tables are turned.


In a word, the teaching of this art of blackmail is the teaching of a very difficult and skillful, complex action which must not be attempted rashly, and that is why I have some hesitation in recommending it for the ordinary curriculum of schools. Nevertheless, the very rudiments of it, or, at any rate, some idea of what it is, might profitably be given even to the younger boys, and for this purpose I would suggest a visit to some neighboring aquarium, where the slow antics

 of the crab in his tank so graphically mimic our public life. The attention of the lads could be directed by their master to the alternate furtive movements of two crabs. They will observe how the first pursues the second sideways across the tank and makes a clutch with his claw, how the second eludes this and in his turn chases his opponent off. "This grotesque manuvre, my dear boys," the Pastor will declaim, "may remain in your minds as an example of what later you will be called upon to do if you are called to serve your country in Parliament."


The youngsters will soon forget all about it as is the fashion of boys with their lessons; but something, I think, will remain in the mind,, though half obscured by time. And when they come to the vast affairs of which Westminster is the theatre, the object lesson of the two crabs. will not be without service to them.


Bribery, I take it, should not be taught except in the point of degree, for it comes naturally enough to all men both to give and to take bribes, and all that you need fix in the young mind is the double importance of avoiding avarice upon the one side and lavishness upon the other. For the taking of a bribe no art or training whatsoever is required, but in the giving of bribes it is of some importance not to give too much, and of absolutely vital importance not to offer too little. It is upon this last point that many a noble career, has made shipwreck.


I have in mind one poor fellow whose father had left him a few millions. He was perpetually gutting down, with all manner of hesitation, sums just insufficient to purchase the object of his desires. In the long run he had disbursed what should easily have commanded a high administrative position in the Cabinet, a Viceroyalty or a first class Embassy. Yet he had nothing to show for it all but one private secretaryship, two chairmanships of committee, and a baronetcy: and this last only because he was childless.