Education, including liberal education and critical thought, is great for a dystopian government.
I’m gonna assume since the name of the country has the word “Fascist” that we’re talking about a totalitarian system and not just a generic dystopian one. I’m also gonna use the word “dictatorship” and totalitarian system interchangeably for convenience, but these are not necessarily the same thing.
Education isn’t just compatible for a totalitarian system. It’s necessary. Furthermore, you’re not just gonna want to stuff everyone in a 20th century-style classroom and lecture them with propaganda until a gritty high school protagonist reveals the Truth About The System. That’s the statecraft equivalent of building a house out of matchsticks. It’s not about indoctrination.
You see, no one ever held on to a dictatorship by oppressing people. That just makes everyone hate your government, which in turn makes it more likely to get overthrown. Maintaining power in a totalitarian system really isn’t all that different from maintaining power in a democratic one — at the end of the day, it’s still about keeping the people who like your government as enthusiastic and motivated as possible, while doing everything you can to demotivate and delegitimize the opposition. Granted, you don’t need a majority in a dictatorship, but you still need a sizeable amount of the population that willingly and enthusiastically supports the government.
Also key is making sure everyone thinks the government is competent. Modern dictatorships live or die by the living standards of their populace.
Dictators survive not because of their use of
force or ideology but because they convince the public—rightly or wrongly—that they are competent.
How Modern Dictators Survive:
An Informational Theory of the New Authoritarianism
This is why, for example, rulers with authoritarian tendencies tend to disparage foreigners and paint lands outside their borders as impoverished lawless hellscapes. It makes them look like they are doing a good job by comparison. People, even educated ones, don’t really care who is in power as long as the trash gets picked up and the trains run on time. Believe it or not, (some) Iraqis have fond memories of ISIS rule because, unlike the secular government, they got things done. Democracy for democracy’s sake hasn’t really been in vogue since the 1820s.
Omar Bilal Younes, a 42-year-old truck driver whose occupation allowed him to crisscross the caliphate, noticed the same improvement. “Garbage collection was No. 1 under ISIS,” he said, flashing a thumbs-up sign.
We see that these factors are really two sides of the same coin. To maintain a dictatorship, you need to:
Tell a narrative (or perhaps a national myth) that gets the pro-government people excited about upholding the system.
Appear competent enough so that the anti-government people won’t bother overthrowing the system.
If you think about it, these goals aren’t really incompatible with the idea of education, or even the broader idea of free access to information and critical thought. China has been doing some very interesting things with gamifying party loyalty — think Duolingo, but for nationalism!
Mass education — including what we think of as “liberal education” attacks both sides of the problem.
1. It creates an elite class that convincingly sees itself as superior.
As history advances, this is a harder and harder thing to accomplish. Old frameworks like racism and religious bigotry aren’t really fashionable anymore.
Saying “I should be in charge because I’m white and you’re not” will get you real odd looks in any part of the world today.
Saying “I should be in charge because I’m muslim and you’re not” will get you real odd looks in most of the world today.
But you know what no one ever disputes?
“I should be in charge because I’m educated and you’re not.”
Mass education also gives you an automatic out-group: the people with lower grades (or who didn’t go to school at all). Those who did well “get it” and we should probably listen to them. Those who didn’t are a bunch of ignorant rubes who ought to be sidelined. The ruling faction will even point to statistics that people with more education are more likely support them as evidence of their legitimacy, a circular but nevertheless accepted form of reasoning.
A liberal education (as opposed to a traditional one) is even more effective because it shuts off the “calculated cruelty” rebuttal. Your educated class considers itself both smarter and more empathetic and humane than the out-group. Since this group is also going to be the group that controls the mass media, and produces your culture’s art and writing, you effectively get to rewrite the values of your society. This will create social pressure, isolating the opposition as hateful, ignorant relics clinging to a long-gone era. Why spend the effort to trick or force your troops to be “evil” when you can redefine “good” instead?
2. It fosters low expectations for public services and living standards.
“I Alone Can Fix It”
— Donald Trump, RNC 2016
One of the rather overlooked effects of education is it teaches people why the things that are sh*t are the way they are. Almost every revolution in history ran on masses of people angry about “the way things are” and demanding someone “fix everything”. The average protester thinks Bad Guys Somewhere are stealing water from honest hardworking folk because They Get Off on making Guys Like Me miserable. (For a more US-centric example, replace ‘Cochabamba’ with ‘Flint’.) An educated person has a more nuanced view of the situation, knows the complexity of the problem, and understands there are no boogeymen or magic solutions, and is thus slower to anger.
Education also requires a significant investment in time, effort, and often money, on the part of the student. In return, the student receives a chance at a better job, and higher social status. This gives your people a stake in the stability of the system. If a revolution occurs and things go south (and they always go south), they will lose all that hard work.