Frederick the Great, an eighteenth century Prussian king known for his tyrannical rule, once stated, “An educated people can be easily governed. ” When taken in the context in which he spoke, that of a ruler who demanded complete domination over his subjects, one would take his quote with only one meaning, that more intelligent people can be easily governed. Ignoring the speaker and his reputation, however, this quote then becomes open for discussion.
One could read these words and believe that “easily governed” referred to a people who tend to be more law abiding and can therefore be more easily controlled through a system of punishments. This could also be applied in a way to state that those individuals would be less likely to rise up against their government for fear of consequences. An exploration is called for of the various meanings in order to reach an opinion on what this truly means. For this exploration certain variables need to be considered.
First, you would have to view each society differently as educated may mean different things to different societies. Second, you would have to consider the phrase easily governed. Could easily governed mean a peaceful law abiding society that debates issues among each other or does it mean an easily manipulated society that will not speak publicly to bring government to its knees over corruption and rights violations? Consider analyzing Frederick the Great’s quote in a context of law abiding versus non law abiding citizens and the relation between this adherence to the law and their educational level.
In the United States the majority of people who commit crimes are of lower socioeconomic status who, stereotypically tend to be less educated than their higher socioeconomic counterparts who commit a lower number of crimes. Those who have achieved a minimal education tend to hold low paying, low skilled jobs with many applicants that can fill the position. In other words the individual is replaceable by the employer and likewise the individual can replace their position with that employer by finding another similarly suited position at another company.
For example, a twenty-year old male with very limited education works as a cashier at Wal-Mart. That young man goes out and commits a crime. Before his employer, Wal-Mart, finds out, he quits his job. The case proceeds and he receives a disposition of an ACOD or Acquittal Upon Contemplation of Dismissal. He can then, quite easily, locate another cashier position at another retailer, such as Target or Kmart. Take that same twenty year old male. Now suppose Wal-Mart finds out about his arrest.
Walmart fires him because they can very easily replace him. Young people with limited education willing to work retail, especially in the current economic climate, are a dime a dozen. Following the logic that committing a crime may or may not cost the twenty year old his job and if it does that he may be able to find another cashier’s position at another retailer, this individual (the twenty year old male) will take the risk and commit the crime because there is little on the line to lose.
On the other hand, individuals of a higher socioeconomic class tend to be well-educated and most have completed a higher education of some level of college degree. These higher socioeconomic individuals tend to hold career positions that require a high skill set. These positions are not easily replaceable. If an individual in this class were to commit a crime, this individual would have much more at stake to lose. Following this logic to a rational conclusion, it would make sense that an “educated people” would be more “easily governed” because they are more law abiding.
Historically, governments have made decisions both popular and unpopular. What makes a population “easily governed” amidst these unpopular decisions. Drawing from the quote by Frederick the Great, one would draw the conclusion that the society will be “easily governed” in times of poor governmental administration if they are well educated. An educated society will, instead debate the issues with friends and family, speaking loudly to voice their opinions when asked and strongly stand up for what they believe in.
These well-educated individuals will watch the newscasts, read the articles on governmental action or inaction, and listen to the radio hosts who speak on the issues and seem to support their way of thinking. They will argue with friends, family or co-workers and utter phrases like “I can’t believe (insert politician name here) did that” or “we really need to fix . . . ” or “We need to do something about . . . because they can’t get away with it. Tying in the previous argument that well-educated individuals have more to lose and are therefore, more law-abiding, these individuals will do little more than debate. These individuals value their socioeconomic status too much to risk it by protesting in the streets demanding for the resignations of corrupt politicians or politicians who act against the Constitution. This makes for a more easily governed society because they will not rise up against the government. Nothing negative could be said about a law abiding society.
Society would operate much more smoothly without the existence of crime. An interpretation of the quote above leads one to believe that if only society were well educated, its members would think before engaging in criminal behavior and logically, there would be an end to crime. Is that really the case though? Based on the events that helped to bring down the United State economy, the answer clearly is no. Well-educated, gainfully employed individuals with a lot on the line to lose follow the same illogical pattern of instant gratification that leads to the commission of crime.
One needs to look no further than the high profile case involving Bernie Madoff who, after orchestrating complicated Ponzi schemes, stole millions from his clients. Taking the higher socioeconomic class as a whole, it can be argued that professional athletes, a classification of individuals that have not necessarily well-educated, still commit crime. Further expounding on the argument that socioeconomic class and education do not predict crime, there are uneducated members of lower socioeconomic classes who are law abiding and well-educated members of higher socioeconomic classes that do commit crimes.
Following this logic, one could therefore state that Frederick the Great was wrong when he said that an “educated people” would be “easily governed” due to the fact that an individual’s education cannot predict their willingness to live by society’s rules. In light of recent events around the world, in nations such as Libya and Egypt, and around the nation, such as Wisconsin and the Tea Party rallies, it could be argued that even an educated people are not “easily governed. ” Tea Party gatherings have grown in force since Obama took office and passed controversial legislation, such as healthcare reform, commonly referred to as Obama-Care.
The recent historic upheaval in Egypt was initiated by a well-educated man, Google Executive Wael Ghonim, who worked through social media to unite the people of Egypt in Tahir Square to rise up against their government ultimately forcing President Mubarak to step down after over thirty years in office and move toward democracy. In our own country, the educated in Wisconsin have risen up against the governor’s proposed end of collective bargaining with unions representing public employees. While this event is not as dramatic s the events in Egypt, the parallel is drawn that in Egypt and in Wisconsin the protestors are educated. These examples disprove the earlier assertion that an “educated people” can be “easily governed. ” In summation, there is no clear-cut conclusive answer to the interpretation of Frederick the Great’s quote, despite its perceived simplicity. I cannot, with conviction, advocate either side, but instead leave it up to you, my reader, to draw your own conclusions. I would assert that it is not simply an equation of educated people equals an easily governed society.
Throughout history, we have seen educated and uneducated people commit crimes against people and property, lending to the assertion that education does not matter in the commission of crime. Furthermore, throughout history, we have seen educated people rise up against authority and government, such as in the case of our own nation’s founding fathers, to force change. There is no simple answer. I propose that the power of “group-think” is more powerful a motivator to facilitate a society that is either “easily governed” or chaotic.