Schools Are For War

The main reason we had rules to force kids to attend primary school was to make obedient soldier citizens to support their nation in time of war. This effect was even stronger for democracies:

Using data from the last 150 years in a small set of countries, and from the postwar period in a large set of countries, we show that large investments in state primary education systems tend to occur when countries face military rivals or threats from their neighbors. By contrast, we find that democratic transitions are negatively associated with education investments, while the presence of democratic political institutions magnifies the positive effect of military rivalries. …

We study historical panel data on education spending and enrollment – for Europe since the 19th century and a larger set of countries in the postwar period – to assess the correlation between military rivalry (or war risk) and primary education enrollment (or the occurrence of educational reforms). … [Our models] show a positive and significant effect of rivalry on primary enrollment, a negative direct effect of democracy, and a positive and significant interaction term between the two. Overall, our empirical results indicate a causal relationship from rivalry to primary educational enrollment. …

An economic literature … finds robust correlations between past wars and current state capacity in international panel data. … [A study] shows that military rivalry raises fiscal capacity in postcolonial developing states. … [Others] find that democracy does seem to have a systematic influence on top rates of estate taxation, whereas wars with mass mobilizations do significantly raise those rates. …

[Prussia pushed schools] to arouse a moral, religious, and patriotic spirit in the nation, to instill into it again courage, confidence, readiness for every sacrifice. …

[France pushed schools to] teach Frenchmen to be confident of their nation’s superiority … It should … eliminate disruptive conflicts and promote the unity of the classes. … The new teaching program … was … designed to teach the child that it was his duty to defend the fatherland, to shed his blood or die for the commonwealth, to obey the government, to perform military service, to work, learn, pay taxes, and so on.

In Prussia, France and Japan … military defeats and/or perceived military threats appear to have prompted an otherwise reluctant ruling class to invest in mass primary education. …In most countries of the sample a war preceded the educational reform, while a democratic transition rarely occurs before the education rise … Most often, the democratic transition instead takes place *after the education reform period. (more)

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  • http://aretae.blogspot.com aretae

    Robin,

    We militant homeschoolers have been saying this these past 20+ years, with J.T. Gatto being the loudest of those, but no one else seemed to be doing independent work analyzing that. Where’s this from?

    • http://www.gwern.net gwern

      Had you googled the quotes, you would have found Hanson had forgotten to link to http://www.nber.org/papers/w18049.pdf

      Googling the paper title in Google Scholar, you could then download a version from http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb.topic1029951.files/Philippes%20Revised%20Paper.pdf

      • http://suitdummy.blogspot.com Ely

        You seem to consistently harp on people who ask for links to materials. You recently seemed annoyed at my own asking on lesswrong. I do not understand this. We are all aware of what we can search for on Google, but often prefer to conduct the search in a conversational manner, letting someone else get back to us when / if they have the time for it.

        A lot of the interest in such things is in affiliating with other people whose thoughts we like anyway. I’d rather read an OB post and ask for a link or reference and then forget about the topic entirely, coming back to it only if someone supplies the requested link. It’s less interesting, though still somewhat interesting, to simply search for the materials on my own. It’s less of a conversation. If no one responds, that’s OK, and maybe then we’ll Google it for ourselves. And since my request can be ignored with virtually no cost, I fail to see any harm in it.

        I just don’t think the addition of the unneeded stuff, such as “Had you googled the quotes, you would have found…” is beneficial in any way. It’s redundant to say what one would find if one had googled it for his or herself. If they preferred to obtain the sources that way, they would have already just done that. And choosing this way of delivering the links comes with a very condescending tone that, whether intended or not, does nothing but obfuscate things.

        It’s my view that it would be more productive to just ignore link requests like this if you think they are time-wasters, or else to answer them by supplying the requested links with absolutely no judgmental remarks about someone else’s choice to put up a nearly-zero-cost request (that can be easily ignored).

      • http://www.nancybuttons.com Nancy Lebovitz

        Isn’t it more efficient for the writer of an article to include the obvious links (the writer already has the links handy) rather than for a number of readers to need to search for the links?

      • http://suitdummy.blogspot.com Ely

        Yes, of course. But conditional on the original author forgetting, I think it’s acceptable for commenters to just ask, rather than being expected to track it down themselves. It’s not because it is hard to track down (though it often is); even if it is easy to track down, one may wish to discuss the sources as a means for affiliating and interacting with the others who read/write a post.

      • Grobstein

        Robin has since updated his post to include a link to the paper. This is a good thing that might not have happened if commenters didn’t ask about it.

  • Adrian Ratnapala

    I think it is important to separate 19th century Europe from the rest of the dataset.

    One pretty common view of history holds that French and German public education in large part about training boys for future wars between France and Germany. It is also fairly clear that that processes has stopped; yet both countries still have public education.

  • FredR

    War and the threat of war seems to spur a lot of innovation.

    • NK

      … which pales in comparison since overall it destroys value…

      • Michael Vassar

        It isn’t really obvious what counterfactual to ‘war and threat of war’ is being entertained here.

      • FredR

        I don’t understand Michael Vasser’s comment (is the answer “peace”?) but I didn’t mean to suggest we should think more highly of war. I meant rather that we might associate this linkage between primary school enrollment and war with other war-linked innovations (radar, nuclear power, etc.) that are already accepted as having provided peacetime benefits.

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  • MattC

    This gives an interesting perspective on the Cold War emphasis on education. Yes, the government wanted to turn a few kids into scientists who could beat the Russians to the moon, but mostly it wanted to turn all their friends into obedient soldiers and munitions workers.

  • http://jayquantified.blogspot.com/ Jayson Virissimo

    In the [Nazi] party the largest single occupational group were the elementary school teachers, a group well known in Europe for its inclination toward authoritarianism and its intellectual curiosity sadly combined with a lack of scholarly preparation.

    -[Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erik_von_Kuehnelt-Leddihn)

    • http://jayquantified.blogspot.com/ Jayson Virissimo

      Sorry, I messed up the link. It should point here.

  • azz

    paging mencius moldbug

  • V

    It’s me or Hanson is lending towards an anti-intellectualist stance?

    Academia is just status, religion is good for you, and now public education is military indoctrination.
    Yes, he cites statistics, but correlation is not causation, and by cherry picking you could find studies that “prove” pretty much everything you want.

    • Kenny

      Did you read your own comment? Are you saying that citing research is irrelevant because “you could find studies that ‘prove’ pretty much everything you want”. Isn’t that anti-intellectual?

      But to respond to your criticism more directly, criticizing academia, claiming that religion is (sometimes) positive, or criticizing the origins of public education are not the same as criticizing intellectualism. Personally, I’ve certainly managed to learn a lot outside of academia or public schooling. I think you’re disparaging others by implying that the same isn’t true for them as well.

      So, maybe it’s not just you that thinks Robin is leaning towards anti-intellectualism, but I think you and anyone else that agrees with that sentiment is mistaken.

      • Dave

        Hanson is brilliant because he is able to force everything through a few orifices. Near-far, Forager-farmer,Signaling that we care, etc.
        He is not so good at expanding those orifices. So he kind is like a priest or rabbi.
        Whoops, I may be mixing up too many metaphors.

      • V

        He is not so good at expanding those orifices. So he kind is like a priest or rabbi.

        [very politically uncorrect and possibly offensive joke suppressed... :) ]

      • V

        Are you saying that citing research is irrelevant because “you could find studies that ‘prove’ pretty much everything you want”. Isn’t that anti-intellectual?

        I’m saying that citing a few studies that show statistical correlation between certain variables out of a larger body of literature in order to support an overarching ideological point is probably not very scientifically appropriate.

        For instance, in the post about the good effects of religion, he cited studies which, IIUC, refer to the US and East European countries, while neglecting to mention other studies that show a positive correlation between atheism and high standard of living at country-level, and individual-level negative correlation between atheism and imprisonment.

        But to respond to your criticism more directly, criticizing academia, claiming that religion is (sometimes) positive, or criticizing the origins of public education are not the same as criticizing intellectualism.

        Not necessarily, but I’m starting to see a pattern.

        Personally, I’ve certainly managed to learn a lot outside of academia or public schooling. I think you’re disparaging others by implying that the same isn’t true for them as well.

        I don’t doubt that, but how much of the knowledge you gained was created by people who were not academics, or were not educated in public schools and universities?

  • Becky Hargrove

    There is nothing anti-intellectual about asking that education become something we are drawn to in real life instead of by rows in classrooms. The main reason so many bookstores disappeared in the South was the fact that people already felt forced to read segments of books in the schools of which too many people had already fought over the contents. Plus, organization can happen for education at community levels, in ways far more spontaneous than – as I remember one first grader telling my mother, I’m at the head of the class. Your daughter is at the tail of the class.

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  • arch1

    Re: “Overall, our empirical results indicate a causal relationship from rivalry to primary educational enrollment. …”

    Can someone who has read the paper please summarize the authors’ reasons for asserting that the empirical results do in fact indicate the causal relationship they describe?

  • http://www.nancybuttons.com Nancy Lebovitz

    So, does universal/compulsary education tend to make people into more tractable and/or effective soldiers?

    It would be amusing if preparing for war wasn’t about war.

  • Dave

    No, in Europe no longer existent nations such as Latvia –Poland and Austria –Hungary had powerful interests such as the church and aristocracies, which inhibited universal education and the development of nationalism and capitalism. Education was run by the church and anti-business aristocrats opposed a unified central state which would reduce its powers. Successful states used capitalists to pay for its armies and wanted workers to think of themselves as members of the nation. Capitalists and educated workers could be taxed to support a strong military.

    So it was not a choice between “We don’t want no thought control” and being made educated robot soldiers. Those who didn’t participate in nation building became the satellites and slaves of the ones who did. Being a flower child was not an option.
    I don’t agree with the tenor of the statement that:
    “The main reason we had rules to force kids to attend primary school was to make obedient soldier citizens to support their nation in time of war. This effect was even stronger for democracies”

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  • Michael Wengler

    Surprisingly, societies which glorified their own survival are the ones we see surviving. Or do I mean not surprisingly?

    Education is supported by governments and required to instill the values of the government. Another great surprise, societies which make a point of propagating their values in to their citizens are the ones we see surviving.

    I don’t mean to diminish Robin’s post as much as the reaction of some readers that somehow seeing schools supporting the military success of a society is some scandalous discovery, as opposed to most likely the minimum you would expect in a society that survives in a competitive world. The reality is… reality. There are no surviving institutions that do not practice a glorification of their own values and glorification of those who give their lives for the insititutions.

    • Robert Ellis

      “military success” does not equal societal success. On paper the Roman empire still had the most dominant military the world had ever seen when it fell. They overspent on that conquest machine & on opulence at home until there was no more money to pay the soldiers & the whole thing started falling apart.

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