Some thoughts on Jason Stanley’s How Fascism Works

Jason Stanley’s How Fascism Works starts with a plausible and succinct definition of fascism—“ultranationalism of some variety…with the nation represented in the person of an authoritarian leader who speaks on its behalf.” It then identifies the features of “fascist politics”, or “fascist tactics as a mechanism to achieve power.” These “strategies” are “the mythic past, propaganda, anti-intellectualism, unreality, hierarchy, victimhood, law and order, sexual anxiety, appeals to the heartland, and a dismantling of public welfare and unity.” Fascists deploy these tactics, Stanley suggests, to exploit existing or manufactured insecurities about or fears of parts of a country’s population in order to justify oppressive policies targeting political opponents and troublesome political minorities so that they can take control. Each of these is the focus of a chapter, followed by a brief Epilogue. Keep reading…

Thoughts on Hand and Kohlberg Part 2

It is an interesting exercise to try to locate Hand’s approach on Kohlberg’s taxonomy, particularly in light of what I think is an irresolvable tension in Kohlberg’s approach.

Kohlberg’s stages are entirely formal—higher levels of moral reasoning are identified not in terms of the actual beliefs or judgments endorsed but the principles by which agents defend their judgments. Accordingly, Kohlberg’s version of moral education focuses on improving the routes by which students arrive at whatever judgments they settle on, but it does not allow him to identify anything in particular that they should judge to be right or wrong. While it was clear that the politically minded and liberal Kohlberg had his own opinions about the right position on any number of controversial subjects, he could only hope that students would arrive at those conclusions themselves. Towards the end of his life this inability to identify, from within his theory, specific beliefs students should be taught directly was a growing concern for Kohlberg. Continue reading

Thoughts on Hand and Kohlberg Part I

Michael Hand’s A Theory of Moral Education is a good book, and his theory a powerful and plausible one. The book is curious in one respect, however, which I want to poke at here. Hand presents the challenge of moral education in contemporary liberal democracies in the form of two questions: 1) what should children be taught by way of moral education? and 2) is it possible for moral education to be more than indoctrination? Hand spends a little time exploring why these two question seem most pressing, and the answer seems clear. The first arises when we acknowledge the pluralism of moral beliefs in modern liberal democracies, and the second when we acknowledge the paramount importance of respecting children’s autonomy either, as some would have it, while they are children but at least as future adults. In short, we don’t want to sanction state enforcement of some controversial beliefs and values over others, and we don’t want to foist upon children beliefs they cannot have chosen for themselves on some rational basis. Hand aims to outline an approach to moral education that respects both these constraints in the face fo doubts that it can be done. So far so good. Keep reading…

Gone Girl: A sort of brief review

Kate Manne’s Gone Girl has a lot to recommend it. Among its merits is a direct and accessible style and Manne’s original and insightful takes on a number of topics, including some we might have thought were pretty shopworn by now. Manne is also an insightful reader of fiction and a writer who moves between literature, philosophy, and politics with agility. Overall though, the book is an uneven work in my view, and frequently frustrating...Keep reading.

12 Rules for Life: A brief review.

The world probably doesn’t need much more said about Jordan Peterson for a while, but having read his 12 Rules of Life: An Antidote to Chaos from lobster to pen of light I feel a bit entitled. So here’s a brief review. 

It is a truly weird book. Enough so that evaluating it is a little hard—it’s not obvious what kind of book it is trying to be, and so it’s hard to find a basis for judgment. It attempts—maybe—to synthesize an astonishing range of material, and kinds of material. Much of what Peterson draws on is interesting and he often explains his sources well. But it is fair to wonder if it’s really possible to reconcile the empirically grounded psychology he appeals to with the rather more, let’s say speculative, depth psychology he is also fond of. Never mind the dragons and chaos and biblical stories and fairy tales. Peterson is awful on feminism but good on embodied cognition. His child rearing advice is sensible and his accounts of his daughter’s struggle with rheumatoid arthritis moving, but one has to wonder how much Heidegger he’s actually read and he understands little of Daoism. On the other hand, his biblical exegesis is suggestive and insightful and his accounts of treating patients in his clinical practice fascinating. And so it goes for 300 or so meandering pages. 

In the end it has to be recognized that many readers find something of great personal importance in this book, and it’s worth considering why. In this respect Peterson reminds me of another rigorously trained practitioner of the healing arts who dabbles in a personally charted intersection of science, philosophy, and religion. Substitute Hinduism for Jungian psychoanalysis and subtract the politics and you get…Deepak Chopra. 

The War Against Parents II


Historically religious liberty has been at the core of liberalism, reflecting its birth amidst protracted religious conflict. This helps explain why concerns about religious upbringings and education dominate recent philosophical discussions about the limits of parental authority. If we assume children’s moral equality, and add to that a desire to treat children in accordance with the same liberal values that we wish to see governing relations between adults, it seems right to suppose children should enjoy the same kinds of religious freedoms. The United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child asserts as much. It seems a short step from here to the conclusion that coercing children’s religious beliefs and practices is as objectionable as coercing the religious beliefs and practices of adults. Keep reading…

The War on Parents

There is no war on parents, though if the work of a growing number of philosophers becomes known to certain kinds of political commentators we may very well begin hearing there is. Careful and creative philosophical work on parenting is increasing, which is wonderful, but it is striking how quickly a range of radical positions is becoming orthodoxy. These include claims such as:

  1. parents have no moral right to impart their religious beliefs to their children;
  2. parents should not have a legal right to have their children privately educated;
  3. parents should not have a legal right to homeschool their children;
  4. families where two biological parents raise their own children should not be favored over those in which any of a number of different constellations of adults are raising children;
  5. the moral and perhaps legal standards of minimally decent parenting requires that children not be taught certain things, such as that homosexuality is immoral, or that traditional gender roles are justified by natural differences between men and women.

To be clear, one would be hard pressed to find a philosopher who endorses all these things, but it is easy now to find many thinkers actively arguing any combination of them. Keep Reading…


Against “Indoctrination”

Like a lot of areas of philosophy, philosophy of education is frequently a locus for skirmishes in larger political battles. A common tactic is to accuse one’s political opponents of not really believing in education as shown by their lamentable views on school funding, school choice, sex education, evolution, or whatever. A variant of this tactic is to suggest our sides supports education—that is real, or genuine education—while the others practice indoctrination, is an ugly imposter that resembles education at first glance but which is actually something else entirely. That the word “indoctrination” is mostly doing rhetorical work in these debates is strongly suggested by how readily both sides of political divides use it against their opponents, how similarly they characterize it, and the mutual lack of charity both sides display in trying to make the charge stick.

I think it’s time to retire the word “indoctrination” in serious discussions in philosophy of education. Keep reading…