I don’t usually blame schools for their products. If I did I’d have to berate my own alma mater for producing David Irving, the Holocaust denier; although he was there a few years before me, and so couldn’t have been taught by the History masters who inspired me. (In fact I don’t think he did History there at all.)
So it may not be entirely fair to blame Eton College for Boris. Eton of course also ‘produced’ George Orwell; and a handful of leading figures in British history, not all of whom were as awful as BoJo. (See https://www.thefamouspeople.com/eton-college.php.) I’ve personally known several ‘Old Etonians’, and two future headmasters, the second one of whom was a nice guy (a ‘colonial’). So let’s not generalise.
But…. What is it about this school that in modern times has gifted us not only Johnson, and I presume his father, but also David Cameron, Jacob Rees-Mogg, and Alexander Nix, the CEO of the now disgraced Cambridge Analytica whose Machiavellian ‘algorithms’ were (partly) responsible for getting Britain out of the EU? What unites all these characters above all is a certain public amorality that they must have picked up from somewhere; and with all of them having spent their formative years at Eton, obviously the finger of suspicion must first point there.
It really is astonishing that in this day and age Britain should still be recruiting its leaders from the ‘Kynge’s College of Our Ladye of Eton besyde Windesore’ (founded 1440), whose main distinguishing feature is the whacking great fees they charge the parents of its students to go there: over £40,000 a year when I last looked, which is more than I ever earned in a year. Apart from anything else, this must greatly diminish the pool of potential talent from which they select their pupils.
And it’s not as if Eton educates these boys (is it still only boys?) to a higher level of intelligence and ‘leadership’ that will compensate for this. Judging by those we see in public life today very few of them seem to be of better than low-to-middling brainpower. Some – Rees-Mogg, to give the most glaring example, judging from his recent book The Victorians: ‘this clichéd, lazy history that often reads like it was written by a baboon’: that was the Telegraph’s (no less) review of it! – are simply stupid. All they have is a little Latin and Ancient Greek to impress the impressionable with their ‘superior’ upbringing. That doesn’t denote intelligence; only memory. None of these people has any grasp of rational thinking, or of History after the fall of the Roman Empire, and still less of ‘life’ as it is experienced by normal men and (especially) women today. In former times the Public schools were better than this. They were supposed to instil what was called ‘character’ in their pupils: virtù, to use an old Roman word for it; honesty; truthfulness; ‘fair play’: the attributes (apparently) of the ‘Old English Gentleman’. Johnson and Co., however, show no sign of any of these qualities.
What has happened to the Public schools since that great (query) heroic age? I think I know. They’ve been subsumed by capitalism (those huge fees) and its ethic. The British upper classes always were good at adapting themselves and their institutions to the temper of the times. All Eton turns out now are callow young men who play at life like a game, unseriously, encouraged to think that they are entitled to this by the cloistered courts they are surrounded by (actually I don’t know whether Eton has literal ‘cloisters’, but it works as a metaphor), self-obsessed and self-admiring, their juvenile language – those ‘piled-up bodies’ – and jokes learned at their school debating societies and never modified by adulthood.
Eton gives them, not a proper education, but – in the cases mentioned here – an automatic entry into the Conservative Party; which then releases them into wider society, to do their worst. Surely the School deserves some of the blame for this? (And we, of course, for putting up with it.)
Looking back, I see this isn’t my first rant against the Public schools. Here’s an earlier one, with some personal context: https://bernardjporter.com/2019/01/13/the-fcking-public-schools/. There are others. Sorry to be boring. But bloody hell: what a menace they are!