Political Education in/as the Practice of Freedom: A Paradoxical Defence from the Perspective of Michael Oakeshott


Correspondence: Stephen M. Engel, Political Science, Yale University, 124 Prospect Street, PO Box 208301, New Haven, CT 06520-8301, USA.
E-mail: stephen.engel@yale.edu


Creating education systems that promote democratic sustainability has been the concern of political thinkers as diverse as J. S. Mill, Dewey, Benjamin Barber and Derek Bok. The classic dichotomisation of democratic theory between deliberative democrats and Schumpeterian democrats suggests that education in the service of democracy can be constructive—that is, provide a student with the skills necessary to elect her leaders without changing her nature—or reconstructive—that is, fundamentally and radically reshape the student to produce a citizen whose goals are transformed to be congruent with society. Michael Oakeshott, who has written extensively both on political regimes and on the purpose of liberal education, offers a third way to assess the connection between government and education. Despite his own dismissal of civic or political education as fundamentally vocational and thus beyond the boundaries of the liberal arts, this paper provides a potentially surprising Oakeshottian defence of political education within the liberal arts with reference to the importance he places on experience as a pedagogic tool. Thus, Oakeshott's educational philosophy has a certain resonance with the recent calls to locate the relevance of liberal arts within the burgeoning development of experiential civic engagement programmes in American universities.