Labour is to abolish private schools. There will be howls of anguish from conservatives and even some liberals. But the policy is merely the logical next step in Labour’s social justice agenda. All forms of privilege, discrimination and inequality must be eliminated. And what is private education but an obscene form of privilege?

Besides, the current Conservative government has blazed the way by instituting quotas for ethnic minorities, women and the transgendered. According to social justice theory, to which Conservative politicians apparently now subscribe, any form of inequality of outcomes constitutes prima facie evidence of discrimination and is deemed ‘unacceptable’. That the seven per cent of privately educated pupils take half of Oxbridge places speaks for itself.

Talk of state schools raising their standards to match those of private schools is hogwash. Rich parents buy private education because resources are lavished on their offspring, whose places at Russell Group universities (the ones that offer real degrees) and subsequent career prospects are thereby guaranteed. The less rich but still privileged make do with grammar schools, free schools and church schools in leafy middle-class areas. Though less extravagantly resourced, these schools nevertheless manage to attain high academic standards by excluding the socially, behaviourally and intellectually challenged kids of poor parents who can’t afford to live in these neighbourhoods, can’t afford the private tuition which guarantees 11+ entry, and aren’t hypocritical enough to feign religious beliefs. Poor kids make do with sink comprehensives.

However, those of us who believe the pursuit of social justice is a sentimental fantasy, inequality and privilege are the price we pay for liberty. People are radically different in their genetic endowments, their intelligence, their personalities, their talents and aptitudes. Genes are inherited. The interrelationships between genes and environment are complex but mostly serve only to reinforce initial genetic differences. Social and class stratification is inevitable. Assortative mating – the propensity to mate by cognitive ability – makes matters even worse. Forget meritocracy. It is inevitable that, as Herrnstein and Murray argued in The Bell Curve, a cognitive elite will emerge, and that this elite will reproduce itself.

Admittedly, this is not a very attractive picture for those weaned on sentimental fantasies of social justice. But once it is recognised that equality has no virtue in itself, that morality resides in such personal qualities as generosity, kindness and compassion, and that individual liberty – our freedom to make our own choices and determine our own lives – is the absolute precondition for any life that is worth living, then the fog clears.

We should work to improve state schools. We should scrap the pretence (another egalitarian fantasy) that all pupils can benefit from an academic education. But the abolition of private schools is nothing less than an assault on the liberty of the individual, the thin end of the wedge of those who would institute a totalitarian state.

The picture shows Stanberry Window (1923) in Hereford Cathedral, showing Bishop John Stanberry advising King Henry VI on the founding of Eton College.

Author: Alistair Miller

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