Stephen Law: The War for Children's Minds

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Law, Stephen. The War for Children's Minds: Liberal Values and Why We Should Defend Them (New York: Routledge, 2006)

Another pro-liberal, pro-rationality book--after Dan Hind's The Threat to Reason--is Stephen Law's The War for Children's Minds. As if the title weren't obvious enough, Law states his position clearly:

This book is about the ongoing debate between these two opposing traditions [authoritarian and liberal]. [...] This book defends an increasingly unfashionable position. It argues that we should be very liberal indeed in our approach to moral education. It makes a case for a particular kind of liberal moral education, an education rooted in philosophy, not authority. (p. 3)

This book is, in effect, a defense of Kant's Enlightenment vision of a society of morally autonomous individuals who dare to apply their own intelligence rather than more-or-less uncritically accept the pronouncements of authority. (p. 7)

Law describes the tension between the conflicting traditions of authoritarianism and liberalism, and disentangles liberalism from its (conservative-manufactured) mythical association with relativism:

This book has two key conclusions. The first conclusion is that there are powerful arguments for embracing a highly Liberal approach to moral and religious education--an approach that emphasizes the importance of encouraging independent critical thought and judgement rather than more-or-less uncritical deference to Authority. [...] The second conclusion is that the case against the Liberal approach is remarkably feeble. There really is no good argument for moving back in the direction of Authority-based moral and religious education. (pp. 164-5)

Law does an excellent job explaining the Liberal position and addressing any potential objections; this book is the kind of solid, sound argumentation that most authors--myself included--dream of writing. He also deflates the "liberal+atheist=authoritarian" myth, one of the Right's favorite bogeymen:

From the Holy Inquisition to Auschwitz to the Gulag to Mao's Cultural Revolution to Cambodia's Killing Fields, the state-sponsored mass-murder of their own citizens is a speciality of Authoritarian societies, not Liberal ones. If we want to avoid such catastrophes in the future, we should realize that religion, of the lack of it, is largely a red herring. (p. 54)

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This page contains a single entry by cognitivedissident published on September 21, 2008 7:41 PM.

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