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First Book Manuscript Workshop 2019
February 15, 2019 @ 8:00 am - 3:00 pm
Fathers and Sovereigns: Childhood and Authority in Liberal Political Thought
Rita Koganzon is Assistant Professor of Politics (General Faculty) at the University of Virginia, and Associate Director of the Program on Constitutionalism and Democracy. Her research focuses on the themes of education, childhood, authority, and the family in contemporary and historical political thought. She has published on these topics in The History of Education Quarterly, The Review of Politics, and The American Political Science Review. She has also contributed numerous reviews and essays to general-interest journals, including The New Atlantis, National Affairs, The Hedgehog Review, The Point, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. She received her BA in history from the University of Chicago, and her PhD in government from Harvard University.
Authority poses a problem for liberalism for the straightforward reason that it runs counter to its basic tenets – individual right, consent, representation, equality, and liberty. But there is at least one category of people whom this project cannot fully assimilate: children. The immaturity of children disqualifies them from full citizenship and requires education, but education requires the exercise of an authority which cannot easily be squared with the liberal citizenship for which they’re being educated. My book explores the challenge that authority poses to liberalism through the limiting case of children, in order to recover the kind of authority that is necessary and permissible in their education to full citizenship.
I return to liberalism’s beginnings in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to re-examine the relationship between familial and political authority. I demonstrate that this contemporary liberal desire for “congruence” between the structures of authority in the family and the state was illiberal in origin. It was the theorists of absolute sovereignty like Bodin, Filmer, and Hobbes who sought congruence between the authority of fathers and that of sovereigns. By contrast, early liberals like Locke and Rousseau responded to absolutist calls for congruence by rejecting personal authority in government while reinforcing it within the family. They both turned to pedagogy, producing educational treatises arguing that the early exercise of authority over children in the family is an essential pre-requisite for the political liberty of adults. Against the consensus of contemporary liberal theory that authority is the enemy of liberty and should be diminished as much as possible, my book shows how familial and pedagogical authority was originally conceived as a necessary preservative for liberty.