Children or Citizens: Civic Education in Liberal Political Thought
My contention in this dissertation is that the history of liberal political thought contains two incompatible models of children's political status, which in turn produce two incompatible answers to the question "Is liberalism compatible with civic education?" The first model, which I describe as "the apolitical child", emerges out of the social contract tradition in liberal political thought dominant during the 17th and 18th centuries. This radical departure from previous conceptions of children's place within political communities served to weaken the authority of absolutist monarchs over subjects born within their territories. In making political obligations voluntary, this tradition justified either exclusive parental authority over children's education or a program of education concerned with preserving children's capacity to voluntarily choose their political obligations upon coming of age. The second model, which I describe as "the child as citizen", develops out of a later liberal tradition concerned with preserving then existing liberal regimes against the growing threats of illiberal populism, religious fanaticism and political violence. As the political power of the working classes grew during the 19th century, the risk of public support for illiberal policies became increasingly salient to liberal political thinkers. In abandoning consent as the ground of political obligations, these liberals also abandoned the model of the apolitical child. Instead, they saw children as citizens whose attachment to liberal political institutions would be decisive in whether those liberal institutions would survive.
Jean Jacques Rousseau
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