Liberal Democracy and Liberal Education

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By Daniel E. Cullen

cover image of Liberal Democracy and Liberal Education

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The essays in this book reflect on the paradoxical relationship of liberal education and liberal democracy. Liberal education emphasizes knowledge for its own sake, detached from all instrumental purposes. It also aims at liberation from the manifold sources of unfreedom, including political sources. In this sense, liberal education is negative, questioning any and all constraints on the activity of mind. Liberal democracy, devoted to securing individual natural rights, purports to be the regime of liberty par excellence. Since both liberal education and liberal democracy aim to set individuals free, they would seem to be harmonious and mutually reinforcing. But there are reasons to doubt that liberal education can be the civic education liberal democracy needs. If liberal education is in tension with all instrumental purposes, how does it stand toward the goal of preparing the kind of citizens liberal democracy needs? The book's contributors are critical of the way higher education typically interprets its responsibility for educating citizens, and they link those failures to academia's neglect of certain founding principles of the American political tradition and of the traditional liberal arts ideal.

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Liberal Democracy and Liberal Education