Ancient and modern

In defence of discrimination

The ancients – unlike our Prime Minister — recognised it as a vital quality

6 February 2016

9:00 AM

6 February 2016

9:00 AM

David Cameron has accused universities of being xenophobic, racist and prejudiced against the poor. He is too much of a coward actually to say that, of course: instead, he said they ‘discriminated’. That is a weasel word these days, and it is worth tiptoeing gingerly on to Mrs Wordsworth’s territory to see what Cameron is missing.

‘Discriminate’ derives from the Latin discerno, ‘I separate or divide off spatially; I distinguish mentally or practically’. The noun discrimen could mean anything from ‘a parting in the hair’ and ‘a point in which things differ’ to ‘the act or power of distinguishing; a process for deciding a disputed question’.


The educationist Quintilian saw the point with his usual perspicuity. He was speculating about how an orator could improve his performance, and said copying someone else was not the answer: if you just followed in someone’s footsteps, you would always come second. In fact (he went on), it was easier to go that bit further ‘because nothing is more difficult to produce than an exact likeness. Nature has failed dramatically in this respect: for there is always some discrimen which enables us to distinguish even the things that appear most similar and most equal to each other’.

And that is what university admissions tutors do with their applicants every day. They do not discriminate against them: they discriminate between them, in order to get the best. Why settle for less? In the process, someone has by definition to lose out. Further, Cameron’s ‘solution’ to the problem — telling universities to reveal entry statistics — is almost Corbynesque in its stupidity. It implies that universities should control entry by some means other than judgment. Or would Cameron prefer tutors to act (in Cicero’s words) ‘like the mob, without deliberation, reason or discrimen?

A prime minister really ought to be a little bit more discerning about our universities than this. Good word, that. Derives from discerno

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  • Frank

    You misunderstand, this little fuss was just distraction politics – to avoid us looking too deeply into his marvellous “deal” with the EU.

    • Tom M

      I understand why you said that but I see it more as adding to the lengthening list which includes the marvellous “deal” with the EU.

  • David is talking utter rubbish. Britain is NOT Racist. Young Black men and poor White boys don’t go to university because they are probably not academically inclined. Why should everyone go to university or pursue higher education? Many young White boys like to join the army, or take up jobs that require manual skills rather than college degrees. What is wrong with that? Blacks want to do whatever they want to do. Just let people live, and be free to choose their future. Stop the DICTATORSHIP! And people have the right to discriminate, without being called ‘Racists’. Don’t voters discriminate during the elections? Vote for this one, don’t like that one, select him, don’t select her. can’t stand this party, hate that party, like this politician, dislike that politician. Picking and choosing is just freedom of choice – it is within our ‘Human Rights’ to be free to choose.

  • James

    David Cameron is arguably the most dishonest and deceitful PM in our history. Put simply, DC is a pathological liar and someone who thrives on the art of spin – nothing he says is believable.

  • Martin Jennerson

    As Dave would never tell you, the (impartial) FACTS show that white males (particularly working-class) are sinking to the bottom – totally predictable, given the moronic (‘diversity’) anti-white male system of discrimination promoted at Westminster, in universities and all the other gross PC sinkholes in this country.

  • whereami

    Even without Cameron’s meddling in our universities a huge problem still exists. He may well compound the problem but it could be said that Major, allowing polys to become universities, coupled to Blair’s 50% rule started the slide to mediocrity. This slide has been accelerated by the unemployable (in any real sense) SJW with time on their hands. Their version of discrimination is to yell “patriarchy”, “Rhodes must fall”, “safe spaces”, “no platforming”, “rape apologist” before gaining, not an education, but a piece of paper that gets them a cushy number in the Guardian/Charity sector/Quango world.

  • Damaris Tighe

    Discrimination (aka discernment) has become a dirty word. The days when a comment such as ‘s/he’s discriminating’ was a compliment are long gone. Lack of discernment has been elevated to a core value in our western civilisations. It will be our downfall.

    When we fail to make rational discrimination between who & who shouldn’t enter our universities, obtain a job, or enter our countries, then we’re finished – because our decision making is based on ideological & emotional criteria rather than relevant facts. An army will lose a battle if it takes anything less than relevant facts into consideration. The same applies to a civilisation.

    • Scott Drury

      Winning is such a imperialist term. We are all equal losers.

    • whereami

      A very succinct post.

      • Damaris Tighe

        Thank you Sir.

  • The PrangWizard of England

    Cameron is beyond the pale, and will go the same way as his hero Blair, and be universally despised. We’ve have indeed to get the proper meaning of ‘to discriminate’ back, and we should risk correcting our friends so they know the difference between ‘against’ and ‘between’. If that fails, will saying ‘choose’ suffice instead? Let’s hope the cultural Marxists don’t try hijack that next for redefinition.

  • marvin

    So typical of Politicians – they lay the blame for discrimination on everyone else, and then do the same but to a greater extent!

  • Roger Sutherland

    Yes, all laws against discrimination (of any kind, no matter how arbitrary one deems it) should be abolished.

  • Morbidly

    Most racism is actually nepotism, working against the white and black working classes, who stand out with their names, addresses and where they went to school. It is not popular to say this, however.

    • Ron Todd

      When I was a kid in Scotland many years ago a big local company would always give preference to school leavers from the Catholic school. One day a lot of serious looking people from the American parent company turned up and soon after people from the state school started getting interviews .

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