Liberal Education and Liberal Democracy

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Liberal education was meant, and still ought, to be the education of free people, citizens, those who can rule themselves collectively. If, as practiced today, it is not the indoctrination of partisan political liberals, then it tends to be the inculcation of egalitarian values, which may amount to the same thing. One effect of the change on citizenship appears to be a decline in the intuitive understanding of reciprocity as fundamental to free government. Reciprocity is, as Aristotle says, what saves cities, because it creates a common identity among those who are diverse. As such, it is necessarily partly fictional, always fragile, and easily vulnerable to debunking critique. As a result of its decline, an older and simpler model, whereby the self-identified wise impose justice on everyone else, seems more and more the norm both among students and the ruling American elite. However egalitarian the content of what is thought to be wisdom, the mode of this approach is quasi-aristocratic. As such, it threatens liberal democracy. True liberal education distinguishes between problems, which are soluble, and questions, which are perennial and therefore not as such soluble, and it focuses on the latter. In doing so it at once opens up to students a viewpoint beyond politics, one that is genuinely philosophical, and it inclines them to moderation and to the willingness to see the strength of the opponent's case, which are both necessary for common citizenship and the preservation of free government.


Perspectives on Political Science





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