The Separation of State from Religion, Science, and Education (Part 8 of 10)

by | Aug 18, 2021

The system of public education could be abolished over the course of a generation, in a way that need not impose financial hardship on the parents of any child alive at the time of the abolition's commencement.

This article is excerpted from chapter 20 “Toward The Establishment of Laissez-Faire Capitalism” from George Reisman’s Capitalism: A Treatise On Economics (1996). See the author’s page for additional titles by Dr. Reisman.

Finally, it is necessary to turn to the subject of separation of state from education, science, and religion.

Abolition of Public Education

The system of public education could be abolished over the course of a generation, in a way that need not impose financial hardship on the parents of any child alive at the time of the abolition’s commencement. The method would be the enactment of state laws declaring that as of the end of the seventh school year following the enactment of the law, that state and its localities will no longer be responsible for the financing of the first-grade education of any student; that a year after that, they will no longer be responsible for the financing of the second-grade education of any student; and so on, through all the elementary, secondary, and college grades. This procedure would enable the parents of children alive at the time of the enactment of the phase-out legislation to go on using the public education system if they wished; it would give prospective new parents a year’s notice that they would be responsible for the cost of their children’s education.

The abolition of public education should be preceded by the recognition of the right of parents to educate their own children and by the abolition of educational licensing requirements. It would also be proper if the public schools were to be made to begin charging tuition fees to those who could afford them, which would be progressively increased, until they reflected the public school system’s costs. The fee system would permit steadily increasing competition and growth on the part of private schools, which would then be in a position easily and totally to displace the public schools.

One of the most immediate points to fight for in connection with the abolition of public education is the abolition of the federal Department of Education and all federal aid to education. These measures would create an immediate improvement in education by eliminating a major layer of bureaucracy and by forcing the elimination of unnecessary courses and unsound educational methods that are fostered, if not mandated, by the availability of federal funds. They would thus bring about a renewed concentration on the three R’s and other serious subjects.

In the struggle against public education, an important principle to stress is that the public education system is inherently unsuited to teach any subject about which there is controversy. This is because teaching such a subject necessarily entails forcing at least some taxpayers to violate their convictions, by providing funds for the dissemination of ideas which they consider to be false and possibly vicious. On the basis of this principle, the public schools should be barred from teaching not only religion, but also history, economics, civics, and biology. In the nature of things, only private schools, for whose services people have the choice of paying or not paying, can teach these subjects without violating the freedom of conscience. The fact that barring the public schools from teaching these subjects would leave them with very little to teach, and place them in a position in which they may as well not exist, simply confirms the fact that public education should be abolished.

Separation of Government and Science

The above principle concerning the government’s violation of the freedom of conscience in supporting the promulgation of controversial ideas also constitutes an argument for the abolition of practically all government support of the arts and sciences. There is great controversy concerning the artistic merit of various schools of literature, painting, and sculpture. There is significant and growing controversy even over the various theories of natural science, such as the controversy between the supporters of the “Big-Bang” theory of the origin of the universe and the supporters of the steady-state theory of the universe, which holds that the universe did not have an origin. For the government to finance any artistic or scientific activity means to compel taxpayers who hold the activity to be artistically or scientifically worthless, and perhaps immoral as well, to finance it nonetheless.

More fundamentally, our opposition to government involvement in art and science–and in education–is based on Ayn Rand’s principle that force and mind are opposites. Matters of truth and value can be determined only by the voluntary assent of the human mind. Yet government is essentially a policeman with a gun and club. It settles matters by means of force. This is directly contrary to the nature of knowledge. It has no place in the laboratory, the lecture hall, or the art gallery. The determination of what is true or false, or possessing or lacking in value, simply cannot properly be decided by government officials. Nor can it properly be decided by majorities in voting booths. Such a thing is further contrary to the nature of knowledge, which always begins as the discovery of just one mind, and which is as yet totally unknown to the entire rest of the human race. Governments and majorities must not be allowed to crush the isolated individual, who is the source of all new knowledge and improvement. Yet precisely this is the outcome of government support of science and art, which scoops up the limited funds available for the support of such activities and arbitrarily dictates how they are to be spent.

As to the tactics to be used to remove the government from these areas, the most important is the continuous demonstration of the contrary nature of government force, on the one side, and knowledge and value freely assented to, on the other.

* * *

An important step in reducing and ultimately eliminating government interference in science would be to require that all alleged scientific studies financed in any way by any government agency or department prominently state that fact. This might be required in the form of an amendment to the Freedom of Information Act. The requirement should extend to all press releases and public announcements made by the government or any of its employees concerning the study. In this way, the study could be easily identified as coming from the government or associated with the government. The requirement would serve, in effect, as a warning label. In addition, all information relevant to the study’s being undertaken, including the initial application for a government grant, and all correspondence and internal government documents pertaining to the study, should be identified in an appendix to the study, and copies made readily available to any member of the public wishing to see them. The study should also be required to include an appendix providing an intelligible explanation of the methodology on which it was based. These requirements would make it possible to scrutinize and judge the scientific seriousness of such studies far more easily than is possible today, and thus to enable people much more readily to distinguish government propaganda from science.

An important first step in the eventual abolition of such agencies as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would be a law severely limiting their powers to ban drugs and chemical substances. The law would nullify the power of the agency’s adverse ruling in any case in which similar agencies in, say, two or more modern foreign countries, such as Canada, Switzerland, and Great Britain, have found no reason to ban a substance. In other words, it would subject these agencies to a form of liberalizing “peer review.” In such cases, in order to ban a substance, the FDA and EPA would have to prove their case before a court of law. The principle that the FDA and EPA and their staffs are not endowed with any form of divine guidance could be progressively extended–to the point where any one private individual was free to act on his contrary opinion. (After all, why should the opinions of American citizens be viewed as inferior to those of foreign bureaucrats?)

Perhaps the best way ultimately to abolish the FDA and the EPA would be to demand their conversion to private agencies, having no powers of compulsion and supported exclusively by private funds. They would then operate as advisory agencies, in competition with other such private advisory agencies, free to pronounce whatever opinions they wished about any subject, but not free to have force used to back their opinions–except when they could go before a court of law, as any other private citizen, and prove the existence of a danger to the lives or property of parties not willing to take the risk of such danger.

Separation of State and Church

Our opposition to government involvement in religion is based on the same foundation as our opposition to government involvement in education and science. Indeed, government-sponsored religion represents the most naked kind of use of force against the mind. Religion is based on faith. The use of force to impose it or its values is always the use of force in order to compel acceptance of what cannot be proved or denial of what can be proved.

The supporters of capitalism must take the lead in the battle against the current incursions of religion into politics and government. Nothing could be more vital to progress toward the establishment of a capitalist society. The old stereotypes of the advocates of socialism as enlightened liberals and the advocates of capitalism as religious conservatives need to be decisively broken. From now on, in accordance with the actual facts, the advocates of capitalism must be viewed as the representatives of enlightenment, and the socialists as the representatives of irrationalism and the Dark Ages.

In the 1930s and 1940s, to be sure, the seemingly enlightened Left was able to depict its opponents as virtual Ma and Pa Kettles, living on a farm somewhere, totally cut off from modern civilization, and projecting utter ignorance and contempt for science and technology. Exactly that image is what the New Left has chosen to wrap itself in, ever since it joined the ecology movement. We should be sure that the public eventually understands this fact and that it is with the New Left that those who place faith above reason belong.

Previous discussion in this book and in Ayn Rand’s The New Left: The Anti-Industrial Revolution provide the essential basis for the transformation of the view of which side wears the mantle of Reason. They clearly show how the ecology movement, which is the last gasp of the Left, is thoroughly riddled with irrationalism and hostility to science and technology. Furthermore, the whole of this book and all of the writings of von Mises, of the other Austrian and classical economists, and of Ayn Rand, show beyond a shadow of a doubt that capitalism in no sense whatever depends on the acceptance of any form of faith or denial of reason. The case for capitalism is thoroughly rational.

In view of the fact that socialism has demonstrated its failure and that as a result its advocates have largely given up the banner of reason, means that the success of a rational, capitalist political program should be all the more rapid. By the admission of both sides, capitalism is the only system to which advocates of reason can turn.

Furthermore, the projection of a rational, capitalist political program, actually capable of solving major national and world problems, will stand as a major philosophic affirmation of the power of the human mind. Thus, it can be an important source of gaining recruits for all aspects of a rational philosophy. As previously shown in connection with the ecology movement, the cultural surge in blatant irrationality that has taken place in recent decades is due in no small measure to the demonstrated failure of socialism as a politico-economic system. Socialism is what most intellectuals have regarded as the system called for by logic and reason. As a result, its failure has served to shake their confidence in reason, and thus to open the floodgates to irrationalism. By the same token, a resurrection of respect for the potential of reason in the politico-economic realm will promote the case for reason everywhere.

* * *

The advocates of capitalism should take the lead in the defense of the freedoms of press and speech. At the same time that we seek to protect it for purveyors of “prurient” literature, we should seek to protect it for the writers of financial newsletters, whom the SEC wants to censor; for corporations, whom the Congress and the Federal Elections Commission want to censor by denying them the right to support political candidates of their choice; for unpopular speakers whom student thugs want to censor by denying them the ability to be heard by their audience; for ordinary citizens whom the Department of Housing and Urban Development wants to censor for speaking out against government-sponsored projects in their neighborhoods. We should demand the freedoms of speech and press for all advertisers, including cigarette advertisers.

We should place the establishment of full freedom of the press and of the more recent forms of communication, such as movies, radio, and television, in the forefront of our fight for a capitalist society. Long before the establishment of a fully capitalist society, we should seek the establishment of a fully free press and media as the pattern for all other industries later to follow. We should demand their exemption from all government regulation immediately–that is, we should demand that these industries, because of the intellectual nature of their products and services, be freed at once from the income tax, the antitrust laws, the labor laws, and every other form of government regulation and interference, so that they may advance their ideas totally without fear of punitive action of any kind being taken against them.


Copyright 1996 George Reisman. All rights reserved. The encyclopedic Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics is a required reference for every Capitalist’s library. Reisman’s treatise is now available in two volumes: Volume I (focuses on microeconomic issues) and Volume II (focuses on macroeconomic issues).

Articles in this Series

George Reisman, Ph.D., is Pepperdine University Professor Emeritus of Economics and the author of Capitalism: A Treatise on Economics. See his author's page for additional titles by him. Visit his website and his blog Watch his YouTube videos and follow @GGReisman on Twitter.

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