Post Format

Fighting Back for Europe Requires a Powerful Weapon, like 200 Years ago

Oh I just read a fantastic paper. By Harvard’s Aghion (one of Hollandes’ advisors, I believe), Persson and Rouzet.

It speaks to my heart, a bit bleeding for my poor country, fretting between a glorious even recent past and an inglorious present. A dim future. Which one is my poor country? Is it the Italy that my parents fought for leaving me full of hope? Is it the Europe I wish to leave to my children for they should be full of hope? I don’t know.

Like many voters in my country these days, I am angry. Angry like someone who wants to fight and sees no clear battlefield where to take revenge at the enemy. Because we feel beaten. We have lost, we are losing.

How does a country feel when beaten or close to be beaten? How does Italy feel today? How does the Europe that I wanted feel today?

Well Aghion et al. have an answer. They do. They look at the past. To the past of those countries, those great nations too,  that had been defeated. That were humiliated, close to defeat.

And that fought back.

Take defeated Prussia in the early 800s. Where “the chief idea was to arouse a moral, religious and patriotic spirit in the nation, to instill into it again courage, confidence, readiness for every sacrifice in behalf of independence from foreigners and for the national honor, and to seize the first favorable opportunity to begin the bloody and hazardous struggle”.

Take defeated France in 1870:  a highly disintegrated population, largely illiterate, speaking a multiplicity of dialects, and with no sense of nationhood, (that) was to be transformed into a unified people sharing the same patriotic values, a spoken and written language, a set of moral principles, and a motivation and ability to defend France in future conflicts.

Take close to be invaded Japan, where “in 1872, government leaders were haunted by a crisis of international proportions. Powerful western nations were expanding trading posts throughout the world. European colonial empires had spread into the Far East, threatening the very existence of Japan as a sovereign state…The rise of western capitalism and international colonialism posed a pervasive threat to Japan, as perceived by the new leaders. They were determined to use any means necessary to transform their country into a modern state in order to preserve the political order and the national sovereignty.

And exactly what means did they use to regain their status? How did they fight back? What weapon did they use?

“The resounding defeat by Prussia tipped the scales in favor of the education reformers. Enrollments and expenditures accelerated across the 1870s, with local taxation leading the way. The real victory of universal tax-based education came with Jules Ferry’s Laic Laws of the 1880s, especially the 1881 law abolishing all fees and tuitions charges in public elementary schools….While national politics could not deliver a centralized victory for universal schooling before the military defeat of 1870….after 1881 centralization performed the mopping up role…” In Japan “to rise up to the challenges posed by the West, in 1872, a new education system was instituted which declared four years of compulsory elementary education for all children. As explained by Burnett and Wada (2007), “in just a one-year period following the Gakusei of 1872, 12,500 primary schools were established. Within the next five years the number of schools doubled to a figure not surpassed until the 1960s.” The move to mass education was completed by a national training system for  teachers. The first teacher’s college was created in Tokyo in July 1872, based on American principles of elementary-school instruction.”

Yes, that’s right. Mass education. That was the weapon. With massive investment in education. Take French reform in the late 800s.

Jules Ferry was appointed the new Minister of Education in February 1879. In 1881, he abolished all tuitions fees in public elementary schools; in 1882, he made school enrollment compulsory from age six to thirteen; in 1883, it became compulsory for every village with more than twenty children at school age to host a public elementary school; in 1885, subsidies were devoted to the building and maintenance of schools and to paying teachers; and in 1886, an elementary teaching program was established, together with monitoring provisions. These are the so-called “Laic Laws”, which still characterize the French educational system today. At the same time, a whole infrastructure program — the Freycinet plan — was initiated to facilitate children’s access to schools. Millions of francs were spent on building roads to match the large amounts spent on schools: 17,320 new schools had to be built, 5,428 schools were enlarged, 8,381 schools were repaired.9As a result, enrollment as well as attendance in primary education steadily increased. The reforms not only generalized the access to schooling, but also transformed the content of elementary education: new programs emphasized geography, history, and dictation. The new teaching programs in history and geography aimed at conveying patriotic values to new generations. As for dictations, they were useful to teach people the French language but, beyond that “the exercise was a sort of catechism 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”. From their very first day at school, children were taught that their first duty was to defend the fatherland. Even gymnastics were meant “to develop in the child the idea of discipline, and prepare him [. . . ] to be a good soldier and a good Frenchman.”

Enough for quotations. A good soldier. I think of Asia today, of China, and I know that this is their true weapon. It is a good weapon, thank God. But Europe must build its army too if it wants to stop its slow and unstoppable decline.

We must, we must make of this century the one of massification of the University system, just like the XIX° century was the century of primary school and the XX° century the one of secondary high school.

We have a plan. It is called Europe 2020 that calls for countries to reach by that year 40% as the share of 30-35 years old population with an undergraduate degree. It is tough to reach for many countries.

But we must do even more. Europe is about a common culture of diversity, of peace and brotherhood. It is about mutual understanding and a joint architecture. It is about a joint poetry and about building bridges. Bridges bridges bridges.

We Europeans need to transform a highly disintegrated population, largely illiterate, speaking a multiplicity of dialects, and with no sense of nationhood, into a unified people sharing the same patriotic values, a spoken and written language, a set of moral principles, and a motivation and ability to defend Europe in the future challenges it may face.

The only way to do this is build a new huge army of young educated people. The alternative is a decline that I am not ready to leave for my children, be they Italian or German.


  1. Ah ! I so much share your feelings. You know I disagree entirely on where we need to go. Nonetheless, I can see now you agree with me (at least so I understand) on how to bring about change: FIGHT.

    And that is the other big problem in Italy, which I touched upon in other comments: we don’t fight. We face scandal after scandal, a political and adminstrative system more corrupt than Afghnastan, yet, we don’t fight, we don’t get mad. Finche’ c’e’ lo spaghetto, chissene frega !!!

    Yes, we get “italian mad”, bla bla bla bla bla….we don’t fight. That is in our history as well after all. Or we put up this pathetic demonstration for the TAV (I think that’s what they call it, the tunnel project). Laughable.

    Lets fight for our country !!!

    Take the Kalashnikov and go clean up the senate and the parlament, just to start.

    • Vede caro windwaves, io questo commento l’ho pubblicato. E l’ho pubblicato per commentarlo ma di simili non ne pubblicherò più. Perché a parlare di kalashnikov in questo periodo per scherzo (come so che lo intende lei) si fa un terribile disservizio all’umanità. Forse lei non lo sa ma alcune persone hanno seguito letteralmente il suo consiglio in questi giorni, ferendo persone, rischiando di ucciderle, solo perché erano molto arrabbiate o prendendo come giustificazione l’arrabbiatura di altri. Ci siamo già passati. Gli idioti che hanno ucciso Ezio Tarantelli, erano idioti superbi e ancor più superbi idioti. Ezio e tanti altri non tornano più, purtroppo, uno spreco incredibile di bellezza intellettuale. Chi li ha uccisi si è sentito legittimato da un clima che usava le parole come armi. Qualcuno alla fine le armi le ha prese.
      Le parole son la cosa più importante che abbiamo, che ci distingue dagli animali, curiamole con il rispetto per gli altri e usiamole per ragionare.


Lascia un Commento

Required fields are marked *.