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DEPOLITICISING CITIZENSHIP
Elizabeth Frazer
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New College, Oxford
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British Journal of Educational Studies, ISSN

0007-1005

DOI

number: 10.1111/j.1467-8527.2007.00378.x

Vol.

55

, No.

3

, September

2007

, pp

249–263
249

© 2007 The Author
Journal compilation © 2007 SES. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford
OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.

Blackwell Publishing Ltd Oxford, UK BJES British Journal of Educational Studies 0007-1005 © Blackwell Publishing Ltd. and SES 2007 XXX

ORIGINAL ARTICLES

DEPOLITICISING CITIZENSHIP DEPOLITICISING CITIZENSHIP

DEPOLITICISING CITIZENSHIP

by



Elizabeth



Frazer

,

New College, Oxford
ABSTRACT: One problem faced by teachers of citizenship is that ‘politics’
is negatively valued. The concept is actually ambiguous in value. The
paper sets out a neutral, a negative, and a positive meaning of the term.
It then goes on to explore the way that even on the positive construction
there can seem to be ethical problems with politics. This explains both
aspects of numerous projects to ‘depoliticise’ society and government,
and to depoliticise citizenship education. But, the alternatives mean
that we lose important political values.
Keywords: citizenship, politics, education

The project of citizenship education in schools raises a fundamental
and very difficult question: How can educators teach young people
about politics? For most of us ‘politics’, whatever country, whatever
institution, whatever setting it is in, is an overwhelmingly dispiriting
spectacle.

1

Public debates about policy and laws too often seem hardly worthy
of the name ‘debate’. The party system – whether it is two parties or
a multiplicity, whether governments are formed by some form of re-
presentation of parties proportional to the votes cast for them, or by
a winner takes all system – polarises deliberations and enquiries.
Discussion seems to have little to do with the merits of the case, and a
good deal to do with rival party members attacking one another.
Partisan control means governments whose overwhelming preoccupa-
tion is staying in power rather than developing wise public policy or
administering public resources prudentially.
This kind of negative perception of politics is pervasive, and is
reflected in expressed scepticism, at best, and cynicism, at worst,
about the motives and performance of elected representatives and
ministers. The problem of scepticism and cynicism is sometimes seen
as a problem of attitudes and understanding, to which citizenship
education, among other measures, is one possible response. For
example, the proposal for statutory provision of citizenship education
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in schools in England and Wales made reference to ‘worrying levels
of apathy, ignorance and cynicism about public life’ (Advisory Group
on Citizenship, 1998). New forms of consultation and public deci-
sion making are also proposed as public policy responses to apathy
and cynicism. James Fishkin, for example, makes an argument for a
constitutionalised role for citizens’ juries (Fishkin, 1991). Tony Blair,
as Prime Minister of the UK, recently argued about a ‘citizens’ policy
review seminar’ held at 10 Downing Street: ‘as for the general cyni-
cism about policy, the important thing about a dialogue with people,
and getting them to sit in the decision-maker’s chair, is that people
then understand that politics isn’t about a whole lot of very bad peo-
ple who somehow have found their way to positions of public respon-
sibility, doing their own thing, saying no to people for completely
perverse reasons, just trying to make a hash of things for the sake of
it’ (http://www.pm.gov.uk/output/Page11148.asp; 3.iii.07).
It seems to me, however, that the pervasive negative perception of
politics is underlain by some deep problems and paradoxes in the
very idea of politics itself. I believe, as I go on to argue, that these
could be addressed in public policy including education. But unless
we explicitly address them, there is a danger that citizenship educa-
tion, and public consultation exercises, will fail to get to the heart of
the problem of democratic participation.
To begin with, let us note an equivocation in the concept ‘poli-
tics’. It can be used quite value neutrally, to signify all those processes
pertaining to the power to govern – getting it, keeping it, opposing
it, subverting it, squandering it and so on. This is how it tends to be
used by social scientists and historians. For example, in his study of

Politics in the Ancient World

, Moses Finley characterises politics in this
restricted sense: ‘the ways, informal as much as formal, in which
government is conducted and governmental decisions are arrived at,
and of accompanying ideology’ (Finley, 1983, p. vii).
However, more often than not in ordinary discourse, ‘politics’ has
negative associations and connotations. Political conduct is associ-
ated with strategic manouevring, cunning, a certain kind of ruthless-
ness, mendacity, in connection with the pursuit of power; and to act
politically is to act disreputably. Machiavelli is often referred to in
connection with this meaning. ‘Machiavellian’ is often used as a
modifier, but equally often it is used as a synonym, for politics. This
association between Machiavelli and disreputable political conduct is
both very old and unfair. Machiavelli’s views scandalised Renaissance
England, and ‘machiavellian’ is a commonplace for cultural com-
mentators such as Shakespeare. Iago in

Othello

is a ‘machiavellian’
operator; Machiavelli is invoked in

Henry VI part III

by the future
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Richard III, and in the

Jew of Malta

by Christopher Marlowe. This
interpretation of

The Prince

is contentious, it must be said. The book
can, for instance, be read as satire. There is good reason to take
seriously Machiavelli’s republicanism as articulated in

The Discourses

(Bock

et al.

, 1990). One plausible reading is that the Prince is what
people will get if republican politics fails, and is itself a justification
of republicanism by way of warning of the alternatives. Be that as it
may, there is no doubt that for many people politics is ‘machiavelli-
anism’ in the disreputable sense.
To these neutral and negatively valued meanings we can add a
contrasting third. Politics is a particular kind of process of ‘govern-
ment’, one which is based on conciliation. The resulting stability and
order are reasonable (Crick, 1992, p. 21). It is ‘the art of reaching
decisions by public discussion and then of obeying those decisions as
a necessary condition of civilised social existence’ (Finley, 1985,
pp. 13–14).
Political cultures vary, of course, but the negative connotations of
politics strikingly seem to outweigh the positive in the anglophone
and the European settings that I am familiar with; and in these and
others ‘politics’ as such is often associated with opportunities for
and patterns of financial and other kinds of corruption. And yet,
the positive view is never completely expunged. It recurs in political
thinking and philosophy (Arendt, 1958; Crick, 1992; Stoker, 2006;
Williams, 2005). ‘The political way’ is an alternative, articulated as
such, to the way of war, or uses of other kind of violence. We know
that politics is the only real solution to the problems of Iraqi state
and society, or to the Palestine–Israel conflict.
Now, obviously, this suggests a project. We should point out how
much we depend on politics in its good sense. We should expound
politics’ virtues and its advantages over alternatives like violence. In
this paper I am going to do just that. But I first want to point out
some deeper paradoxes in politics. Let’s take it in its good sense,
meaning roughly a public process of the conciliation of all relevant
and rival interests and views about an issue so that an authoritative
and legitimate decision can be reached with relevant officials
empowered to dispose of the necessary resources in order to execute
the decision. Note, in passing, that on this characterisation of a political
process the decision can be that regarding who should be authorised
to govern; or it can be one regarding the passing of a law making
something illegal or legal; or it can be one regarding the propulsion
of some issue, like the sexual division of labour, or the social stand-
ing of a minority group, onto the public agenda, with the aim of
a cultural or social change. Even when we take politics in its good
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sense, though, we are going to see reasons why people might still
view it with suspicion or distaste, or find it morally dubious.
First, if you want your point to be persuasive it’s often best not to
say what you really think or feel. Rhetorical care will be effective
where blunt truth is not. Political action always involves coalitions –
making alliances with people with whom you disagree in some matters
or to some degree. In order to make these alliances, it is necessary to
act strategically, perhaps suppressing some immediate goals or prin-
ciples in favour of longer term or more important ones. Strategic
action smacks horribly of game playing, and moral persons believe
that games should not be played around peace and war and poverty
and education and health. That is, politics seems to be necessarily
associated with dissimulation. It can seem to involve a compromise
with truth (Arendt, 1968; Bok, 1999; Nagel, 1998; Williams, 2005).
Second, politics is associated with ‘talk talk talk’. Reasonable,
practical people can often see straightforward ways to tackle pro-
blems like poverty and injustice. What we need is ‘action, action,
action’. The political process strikes many practical people as a
waste of energy. Politicians look like an effete and vacillating lot,
with their procrastination and endless deliberation, and executive
deficits. Ethically, it can look criminally immoral to sit around talk-
ing and negotiating and trying to agree on a form of words for
some useless document or other, when we could just go straight out
and feed hungry people, or build roads, or get nurses to work in
hospitals.
Third, politics stands in a difficult relationship with violence.
Governments wield sovereign power, and political effort is, in part,
the effort to win the offices that control sovereign power. Sovereign
power is the power of life and death – the power to make war, to
direct police forces, to punish criminals. For this reason, pacifically
minded individuals can seriously argue that ethical persons should
not have anything to do with state power (Tolstoy, 1987). But you
don’t have to be a thoroughgoing pacifist to be troubled by the
disciplinary and punitive power of legislation and administration.
Politics is associated with violence other than the violence of the
state, too. Many individuals are repelled by the hints of violence and
aggression in political events such as demonstrations and even the
exercise of free speech. Partisan debate about policy decisions can
strike many as uncomfortably antagonistic. The political process
involves competition for office; it involves disagreement and argu-
ment. Obviously, these antagonisms can be conducted within the
constraints of different cultural norms of politeness and face-saving.
But practices of civility do not wholly disguise the competition that
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underlies political life. And from the point of view of many critics
this antagonism is uncomfortably close to hostility.
We have a problem. Politics poses a problem for education because,
it seems, to educate people politically is to educate them out of ethics.
Politics is uncomfortably close to lying, to procrastination and evasion,
and to antagonism and aggression. In response we find a series of ideas
of how to do government and organisation without politics. These projects
parallel a series of ways in which citizenship, in education, is depolit-
icised. What could human social life be like, if it were depoliticised?
An obvious alternative is some kind of reversion to nature. From
time to time ‘sociobiology’ becomes quite influential. The idea is
that we can’t buck nature; we have to recognise our group and bio-
logically competitive nature. From the point of view of organisation
this would mean leaving the dominant to decide and to lead. Who
actually is dominant could be determined in the time honoured way
by success in reproduction and by fighting; by male bonding and the
exclusion of the female and the weak (Tiger, 1969; Tiger and Fox,
1971). Although sociobiology of this form is now very dated and
aspects of the theory have been displaced, as I understand it, by
recent breakthroughs in the understanding of human genetics, it is
worth including it here both because the idea of ‘natural’ non-political
alternatives recur in popular thinking, and also because the idea
that structures of political power are underpinned by competition
between men for dominance and for the control of females is impor-
tant in the history of political thought (Pateman, 1989).
More peaceably, markets can be the mechanism that determines
who gets what and how. Again, proponents of market solutions often
argue that market exchange is, in some sense, natural, and trying to
control exchange or evade market outcomes is impossible in any
case. This view is associated most notably with the work of F.A.
Hayek, a reading of whose liberalism was influential with ‘new right’
governments and projects to substitute market mechanisms for
authoritative governmental decisions and distributions. Hayek
argued that market formations are an example of ‘spontaneous
order’ to be compared favourably with distorting and in the end
unsustainable state coercion. However, it must be said that many
libertarian readings of Hayek dwell on this aspect of the theory and
overlook his distinctive theory of law (Hayek, 1960, 1982). The idea
that as much of people’s lives as possible should be depoliticised,
and should be free from law and regulation, allowed to be ordered
by market mechanisms, is notably proposed by Nozick (1974).
A third alternative is to suggest that people have the capacity
for cooperative self-organisation in communities. Providing the scale is
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right, people who share values and ways of life could organise and
govern themselves. Communitarianism recurs again and again in the
history of ethics and social theory. The idea of the self-governing
community of course is implicit in Marx’s vision of depoliticised life
when economic exploitation has ended (‘Individuals, class and com-
munity’ in Marx and Engels, 1970). Recent political communitarian-
ism attempts to spell out a way that rejects both the state with its
coercion and its bureaucracy, and the market with its commodific-
ation and its inequitable distributive outcomes, giving distributive
power to communities, relying on shared norms (Etzioni, 1993).
These three solutions to rule all focus on the idea that there are
natural, spontaneous, or truly human modes of organisation and order.
A problem with politics is that it is artificial and non-natural. The
ethical problems associated with it, by implication, are to do with this
forced quality. A similar motivation and rationale can lie behind the
idea that society, state and government are structured like a kinship
group or household. Schools and other similar institutions often,
of course, proclaim themselves as families. At least head teachers
frequently aspire to have their school members conduct themselves
like family members, with themselves as respected parents.
We can also look at alternatives to the political way by focusing on
the kind of power that is deemed to be effective and legitimate.
There are numerous claims for uses of spiritual or religious power.
As a matter of fact, of course, we often find that those who have the power
to offer salvation or its equivalent actually can take hold of the
power to govern. Theocrats also find this quite proper – religious
power gives a rightful claim to rule. Furthermore, it is argued, a society
organised according to religious prescription will be a harmonious
one. Significant, and successful, claims are also made by those who
control military power. Compared to politicians, who are an effete,
vacillating lot, the military claim uprightness and the right kind of
masculinity; military power can keep order where political power,
allegedly, brings disorder and corruption.
There are other claims. In connection with market policies it is
often thought that officers of the state should be managers and
entrepreneurs, or other experts whose decisions and actions would
be authoritative by virtue of their efficiency and special knowledge,
not by virtue of their capacity to conciliate rival views. It is sometimes
thought that in a society governed by the rule of law, judges are and
should be the real rulers. Politics is thought by critics to be ineffi-
cient and unprincipled. These projects set out to displace it, correct
it with something else – something more rational, or less artificial,
or more efficient, less frictional. It’s actually very useful to dwell on
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what the world would be like if any of these alternatives wholly
displaced political processes. Of course, they never could really.
Actually existing societies we know about consist of combinations in
different quantities of all these mechanisms and forms of power. But
nevertheless, it’s the shortcomings of the political way that prompt
these and other such projects. And they invite us to think, as many
of us have over the last thirty years, what lives would be like if all
goods were allocated by market mechanisms; or if all life were sub-
ject to military order or managerial capability; if religious authority
could order society. What would happen really if traditional commu-
nity power structured authority and made critical decisions? Con-
ducting these thought experiments can bring sharply into view what
we would lose if we eliminated politics from life.
Let’s turn to some answers to these questions. Politics is a public
(visible and audible) process and onlookers are entitled to ask
participants, in whatever role, to account publicly for what they do.
When I’m out shopping there is no norm that demands that I answer
a passer-by or fellow shopper who asks me what I’m up to; when I’m
on a demonstration, there is; as a representative, or a civil servant I
expect to be held formally to account for my actions in that role. A
good deal of military action takes place publicly, as a spectacle; but
the norms of accountability are by no means the same. One of the
points of expertise is that it is justified independently of any public
process of accounting. This takes us to another feature of politics. If
a group with power is going to decide on a course of action which is
opposed by another group, the opposition and its grounds must be
taken into account. That is, deliberation must be conciliatory. This
does not mean the opposition gets its way, or that it is satisfied; but
nevertheless political process itself fully acknowledges opposition,
and a number of features of political decision making (deliberation
itself, decisiveness) embody this acknowledgement. By contrast, if I
lose out in a market transaction nobody need acknowledge my loss.
One meaning of ‘politicisation’ is the process of drawing attention
to, and taking full account of, the consequences of mechanisms such
as markets, or the exertion of power by people over others.
Office is another key characteristic of politics. A political process
works through agreed upon or established procedures, and those
procedures are conducted, overseen and administered by officers,
who by virtue of their office, have duties. This is partly a matter of
the accountability mentioned earlier. But most importantly offices
are agreed – perhaps the most important aspect of political power is
power to decide how we are going to decide. (Contrast this with the
natural order of prides of lions and packs of monkeys and uses of
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physical domination; or with the single simple market mechanism of
price.) The reasoning political actors engage in must be prudential.
This is because a political process is decisive, and binding on all, so
the consequences of it are grave. (Compare this with market mech-
anisms, where there is no collective prudence; or religious law as
presented by Moses.)
All of these principles add up to something very distinct about
politics – it is inevitably an open-ended process. Notwithstanding
what I said about the bindingness and finality of political decisions,
they are always revisitable and always will be revisited. This is another
source of frustration for politics’ critics. Whereas some critics dislike
politics because it involves decisive use of power, and therefore implies
authority and closure, other critics dislike it because it is never-
ending. Decisions aren’t quite made, forms of words are agreed so that
disagreement can be glossed over – and we have to come back, time
and again, to the original dispute which is never, really, finally, settled.
This open-endedness would be a loss, indeed, from those designs
for society that seek to minimise or eliminate it. Think about the
alternatives. The disadvantages of leaving social organisation to ‘natural’
power, or to local or small scale community life, or to the market, or
military violence, or the authority of religious salvation are numerous.
In each case we are likely to worry about exclusion – to turn to the
political value of conciliation in order to at the very least acknowl-
edge loss or disadvantage. We can’t be silent about loss and disadvan-
tage – to acknowledge them publicly is to politicise them. In politics,
account has to be made. Situations of loss or disadvantage are never
closed, never finalised. Even if an authoritative institution manages
effectively to conceal or disguise loss the fact of politics means that
it is not immune from notice, not immune from agitation, not
immune from publicity.
I want now to return to the pedagogical problem. I began by ask-
ing how we can teach young people about politics. First, there is the
problem of ethics. It seems difficult to hold political processes up as
models for the young. Second, politics is competitive. It is about rival
claims in public policy, or rival claims to govern. Understanding it
and discussion of it involves getting to grips with controversial issues.
These can be to do with profound moral disagreements that mean
that public policy cannot please everyone, or with rival claims to
goods, or with disputes about what kinds of action and strategy are
permissible in political pursuit of a group’s claims. Third, the open-
ness of politics poses its own pedagogical problem. Openness, which
I present as a virtue of politics, can from another value viewpoint be
seen as a weakness of political way. Politics doesn’t settle things. It is
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associated with havering and wavering. What do we say about this?
Do we tell young people that adults can’t solve pressing problems?
In many curriculum areas we take it for granted that truth has to
be compromised for pedagogical reasons. For instance, when teachers
teach physical sciences, or history, they take it for granted that every
year you have to tell young people that what they learned last year
wasn’t right – that it was a simplification, or it was partial. But it
seems worse – even unacceptable – to go in for this kind of pedagog-
ical misrepresentation when it comes to talking and teaching about
political issues. Thoughtful people have difficulty with the idea of
varnishing the political truth – pretending, for instance, that issues
are settled politically when they’re not. The openness and never-
endingness of political process gives the political story the opposite
of the structure of the fairy tale. Rather than lying, it seems preferable
to leave politics for the grown ups.
It has become something of a standard complaint by educational-
ists and political theorists that citizenship education is consistently
depoliticised. When we take into account this analysis of politics – no
wonder. In response, partly, to this, so-called multidimensional
models of citizenship have been embraced by educators. Such models
emphasise that citizenship has a cultural dimension – it is about life
and participation in a given society. It has an economic dimension –
preparing young people to participate in the processes by which
goods are produced and consumed, and households support them-
selves. It has a legal aspect – which will vary from state to state. Its eth-
ical aspect puts constraints on character and conduct. And so on.
The problem with the way such multidimensional models have come
to dominate the citizenship education scene is that the political
aspect of citizenship is relatively downgraded, if not eclipsed altogether.
Most often, it is eclipsed.
‘Citizenship’ is, properly speaking, a political relationship. Origi-
nally the term designates membership of a state, nowadays of a fed-
eral or nation state usually; but it also designates the political aspects
of our local relationships in town, county or commune, and other
organisations. Now, I am aware that there are many analyses and
definitions of citizenship that elide this. Citizenship is defined as
‘membership of a community’. Marshall (1950, p. xx) gives this
definition and it is rather often repeated by later theorists who, arguably,
then contribute to a tradition of depoliticising citizenship. Marshall
cannot, surely, have meant that any member of any community
whatsoever – for instance, a religious community, or a community of
interest – is a citizen. But this looseness in definition has, indeed,
contributed to a discursive context in which ‘citizen’ has a very vague
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reference. To be sure with this kind of very general definition we can
speak of ‘a good citizen’ as any one who, in any community whatso-
ever, pulls their weight with regards to the common good, upholds
the organisation and its values, takes responsibility and so on. And
we do talk this way. But if we consistently think of citizenship without
any reference to political power, we are omitting something crucial.
To speak of ourselves as ‘citizens’ is to claim a particular kind of
dignity, to proclaim a particular kind of relationship with our fellows,
a particular set of responsibilities and privileges, and a particular
kind of relationship with those who hold office, and rule, whether
locally or at the national state level. In particular, as citizens of a
democracy we might be those rulers – we might run for office. And
as citizens in any kind of polity we have an interest in decisions that
are made – whether these are about very local matters like play-
grounds or very big matters like invasions and immigration policy. As
adult consumers we might say that playground provision is of no
interest to us; as citizens, if we are acting as citizens, we must be inter-
ested in public and merit goods that are provided by the political
authority. This interest we have in such matters, though, has as an
inevitable corollary conflict – we will find ourselves in conflict with
others who take a different view, or have a different style of argument.
Citizenship in this sense is inescapably competitive. It is conflictual
as politics is conflictual. But, given what I’ve said about politics, this
aspect of citizenship can be unwelcome and unattractive.
Is it any wonder, then, that in the implementation of the citizen-
ship curriculum in England and Wales schools have overwhelmingly
concentrated on life skills instead of political literacy, on community
instead of civic skills? Of course citizenship involves skills and com-
petences; but it also involves relationships in the polity. Of course, it
involves membership of a community – but it is also premissed on
membership of a state or its equivalent. Of course, to be a citizen
requires civility; but it also involves friction and rivalry.
I want to draw attention to two things. First, politics can’t be elim-
inated. It can certainly go badly which is to say that its negative mean-
ing can dominate. It can be scorned and treated with contempt.
Actors can attempt to evade it or displace it with community or
violence or religion or something else. In human societies there is
conflict, oppression and exploitation. Where these are, people will –
probably – act politically. They will get together, and cooperate, and
decide, and act up publicly, and attempt to hold the powerful to
account for power and injustice. Second, we need politics, because
in human societies as such there is conflict. Conflict is why magic, or
religious power, or markets, won’t do. Such forms of rule will be, and
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should be, resisted by those who are disadvantaged by them. Conflict,
both in the form of disagreement, and in the form of oppression,
exploitation and exclusion, is a necessary condition for politics. And
political process, with its procedural values of publicity, deliberation,
office, and prudence is the best way to conduct conflict.
Now, here I have not talked of democracy, or justice. This analysis
says nothing specific about theories of sovereignty. It is consistent
with a certain kind of monarchy, and a certain kind of democracy. It
is neutral in itself between ideologies and constitutional approaches
such as liberalism or conservatism. However, I hasten to say, this does
not mean it is neutral as between all possible ideologies. Some are
quite inconsistent with political values and conduct.
My argument is that liberal democratic political cultures have lost
sight of the foundational political power that underpins them. The
concepts laid out here are relatively unfamiliar to most citizens.
I connect this to the conduct of political theory and philosophy in
recent decades. An emphasis there has tended to be on the policy
goals and ethical ends on which we should fix. Less attention has
been paid to the political process by which those ends must be
reached, and the virtues or characteristics of actors that are needed
for that process to go well. The point is that where politics is rela-
tively disvalued or positively disliked, then there is a temptation to
conclude that if a magician could magic us into a just state, or a phi-
losopher king could somehow impose on us a constitution for jus-
tice, then that should be our choice. John Rawl’s theory, for instance,
certainly was read this way, as fixed on the desirable end state with
the implication that the philosopher king both should pronounce
on what that end state is, even if that is counterintuitive for some
members of the society, and should govern so as to bring about that
endstate regardless of the motivations of citizens (Rawls, 1971).
There are two problems with this idea of a just society. First, it is
a model of a just society without just citizens. That is to say, without
citizens who themselves engage in the pursuit of justice. Second,
then, the justice that resulted would either be held in place by mas-
sive authoritarian power; or it would be very fragile. Philosophical
truth may be a necessary but it is not a sufficient foundation. That
is, justice must be built on the foundations of true political power.
(Rawls’ later work is much more focused on processes of public
deliberation, although some critics argue that it is still insufficiently
responsive to the real conflicts of pluralistic societies (Rawls, 1993).)
By political power, let us remind ourselves, we mean the cooper-
ative power to get together publicly and decide how to decide, to
decide, to have methods of making the decision stick, and methods
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of implementation. Politics as a process connected with the power to
govern must rest on this more fundamental political power. Just as
the power to govern can be lost, subverted or squandered, so we
collectively can lose, or lose consciousness of, the underlying political
power. Political power truly is a property of people; although it is not
a property that all people everywhere can effectively deploy.
There are strands in the field of political theory which take this
constitutive political power, and the virtues of politics, much more
seriously. Some work directly addresses the issue of political virtue in
the sense I have set it out here, inspired by the work of Hannah
Arendt (Arendt 1958, 1968). More familiar is the work of delibera-
tive democrats with their explicit focus on processes of deliberation
(Dryzek 1990, 2000).
Schools, colleges and universities are great places in which
people – teachers, staff and students – can familiarise themselves
with the political way. The analogy between school and polity is of
course not perfect. But it’s as close as we get – compare the school
with the workplaces most of us enter later, or the commercial spaces
of the leisure economy. In education institutions people (this can
be from their earliest days) have responsibilities for tasks. They can
be introduced to the principle of accountability and the constraints
of office.
Sadly, though, participation in decision making in school is often
patchy and ineffective. Children and students are frequently frus-
trated by consultative committees and the like, and oppressed by
head teachers and other authorities’ decisiveness. So school, with
its playground and its classroom representatives and its citizenship
days, can be an object lesson in how awful and petty and useless
politics is.
Schools in many settings also model religious hierarchy; or they
model productive firms for which the young people are inputs to
be turned into outputs of young people with educational creden-
tials. Understandably perhaps, given the pressure that schools
face in containing the social stresses that result from deprivation,
not really good enough parenting, and the pressures of the market,
as well as the pressure to produce results, headteachers produce
authoritarian styles of leadership or management, and teachers
demand this, at least where maintaining social order among the
students is concerned.
In these kinds of contexts the demands for citizenship education
are most easily deflected, even in schools that take the project
seriously, into fundraising for charity, or, to a lesser extent because
it’s harder to organise, into volunteering in the local area, and into
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some developments of the programmes of social, personal and
health education that are very common in UK schools.
What is missing? What’s missing is systematic discourse of political
power of the sort I have been outlining and recommending in this
paper. I mean a self-conscious understanding of political virtues by
teachers, self-conscious and developed standards of procedural
justice so that decision making and conflict resolution in school,
classroom and playground can be systematically related to the best
standards of politics in the state and between states. In formal class-
room work I think this should mean sustained attention to states,
inter- and supra-state institutions and organisations, their constitu-
tions, the values that are articulated in their constitutions, and the
way these values have or have not been, are or are not, realised in
political events.
But this of course presents us with a problem. It means that
teachers need a developed sense of specifically political power,
political procedures, and political virtue. As I have said, our liberal
democratic societies have to a large extent suppressed this sense.
There are clear historical reasons why liberals have emphasised
the foundational status of market relations; why in many places the
cultural or religious underpinnings of the national culture have tra-
ditionally been central to common understandings. And there are
clear historical reasons why progressive, radical and liberal persons
communicate to the young a pervasive disenchantment with, or
cynicism about, political institutions, political procedures and,
especially, politicians. But these historical reasons have too often, in
too many places, driven out any positive appreciation of the values
of politics.
If teachers are to develop a sense of the special nature of political
power (as opposed to its rivals), a sense of the particular legitimacy
of political decision making (as opposed to the other ways that human
societies also use), then they and the rest of us need to practise facing
up to the difficulty of political conflict, and facing in a non-fatalistic
fashion the dissatisfactions of the political way. This means that
we must develop, for ourselves and for young people, a clear and
articulated commitment, which we attempt to make part of our polit-
ical cultures, of the virtues and the wonders of the political way.

Note

1

This paper is an amended version of a speech given at the International Con-
ference on Citizenship and Teacher Education, Oriel College, Oxford, July
2006.
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Correspondence


Dr Elizabeth Frazer
New College
Oxford
OX1 3BN
E-mail: elizabeth.frazer@new.ox.ac.uk
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