Political Liberalism, Autonomy, and Education

In The Palgrave Handbook of Citizenship and Education (forthcoming)
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Citizens are politically autonomous insofar as they are subject to laws that are (a) justified by reasons acceptable to them and (b) authorized by them via their political institutions. An obstacle to the equal realization of political autonomy is the plurality of religious, moral, and philosophical views endorsed by citizens. Decisions regarding certain fundamental political issues (e.g., abortion) can involve citizens imposing political positions justified in terms of their respective worldviews upon others. Despite citizens’ disagreements over which worldview is correct, ‘political liberalism’ claims that there is a form of political autonomy that is realizable within pluralist societies. (Political liberalism differs from ‘comprehensive liberalism’ by, inter alia, being ‘freestanding’ vis-à-vis citizens’ different worldviews.) Citizens can be politically autonomous if they enjoy equal political power and justify its exercise with ‘public reasons.’ A political liberal education would aim at ensuring that all students can become politically autonomous citizens by teaching them how to exercise their democratic rights effectively and how to engage in public reasoning. Some political and educational theorists, however, argue that teaching students how to be politically autonomous amounts to teaching them how to be ‘comprehensively’ autonomous. If this is so, then the distinction between political liberalism and comprehensive liberalism collapses, at least with respect to education. This chapter outlines the main elements of political liberalism, summarizes the main requirements of a political liberal citizenship education, and surveys three arguments in support of and against the thesis that a political liberal education amounts to an education for comprehensive autonomy.
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