False Consciousness, Psychological Freedom, and Pluralism

Some thoughts relevant to general issues about kids raised on isolated compounds by religious fanatics…
There's nothing wrong with false consciousness explanations, as long as they are actually explanatory. You've just got to specify actual mechanisms. Political freedom loses much of its point in the absence of psychological freedom. Rationality and the capacity for moral agency develop. That's why we do not think children have the same rights and responsibilities as adults: they haven't developed the requisite capacities. But this development can be retarded, creating adults with little more than a child's capacities, reinforcing childlike dependency. If you don't worry about this, then I wonder in what sense you care about human freedom.
It is tyrannical for parents to attempt to reproduce their ideologies and prejudices in their children, especially when this requires social isolation and emotional coercion. Liberals who worry about religious home schooling are not wrong to worry. I defend home schooling not because parents have a moral right to indoctrinate their children. Indeed, parents have a moral obligation not to. They just have a political right to not be stopped, within bounds. Many parents, though they intend the opposite, are in fact guilty of wrongful disregard for the development of their children's psychological freedom. They deserve condemnation and ostracism, not interference from the state. I defend their political right to potentially behave immorally — to harm their children's capacity for the full exercise of their rightful freedom — in part because I appreciate how accommodating pluralism reduces social conflict. But, perhaps more importantly, because I think that full-fledged competitive diversity in education will help erode superstitious thick identities, that it will help fosters a sense of contingency in inherited identities that make it easier to slough them off, or at least easier to wear lightly. But, even then, the scope of liberal pluralism has its limits, and it is neither right nor desirable to avoid the conflict inherent in debating and enforcing those limits.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center

One thought

  1. I didn’t find “rationalizing away inequality” to be particularly disturbing. I could designate someone as “rationalizing away libertarianism” if they fail to be moved by my arguments, and I don’t think it necessarily suggests that they secretly harbor an animus toward classical liberalism. People “rationalize away” many things when they form opinions.

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