The Crucible of Consent

The Crucible of Consent: American child rearing and the forging of liberal society

James E. Block
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    The Crucible of Consent
    Book Description:

    Why do free people submit to any rule? How is consent of the governed formed? Block argues that the source is found in the nursery and schoolroom, where the necessary synthesis of self-direction and integrative social conduct —so contradictory in logic yet so functional in practice—are established without provoking reservation or resistance.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06261-0
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction: Is Consent Credible?
    (pp. 1-8)

    Americans have always proclaimed consent to be the first principle of their political theology: free governments derive their just powers from, and individuals preserve their liberty through, the will of the governed. As the first to apply this modern ideal, Americans have needed little convincing that theirs was the first consensual nation.

    American citizens cherish the story of their country’s birth, a stirring account of a land settled by opponents of tyranny who incurred great risks in pursuit of liberty. They have found confirmation of this story in the rise of commoners to make their popular revolution. Hadn’t the Declaration...

  5. 1 The Hidden Dynamic of Childhood Consent
    (pp. 9-38)

    Americans consider themselves free members of a free society, yet over the course of two centuries, they have engaged in a relentless process of social formation, creating the most complex and organized nation in history. Pursuing integration and a common identity, they have created institutions at every level, from village society to the global colossus of our time. In so doing, they have created the dominant political model of the modern era.

    Why has such a diverse and self-regarding populace embraced American social formation as its own? The answer, liberalism asserts, can be found in a single concept: consent. Through...

  6. I The Dream of Revolutionary Erasure
    • 2 The Revolution against Patriarchy and the Crisis of Founding
      (pp. 41-65)

      Thomas Paine’s proclamation at the outset of the revolution that Americans “have it in [their] power to begin the world over again” has resounded throughout his age and down through American history.¹ Colonists arriving from traditional Europe had long imagined they were shedding the oppressive burdens of hierarchy. In the unstructured setting of the New World, their experience of release was palpable. The French immigrant Crèvecoeur in his Letters from an American Farmer spoke for many when he celebrated the “new man.” In America, far from “former servitude and dependence,” one could, through “resurrection,” act upon “new principles . ....

    • 3 Unencumbered Youth and the Postrevolutionary Vacuum of Authority
      (pp. 66-90)

      Liberated from traditional authority, the early republic was celebrated as the true and final “home of man.” Likened to a rising adolescent, this “youthful Genius” was setting forth to chart a new course that would redeem the failings of the past. As a young and growing nation, its goal was perpetual increase, to ascend beyond any nation that had “passed her prime.”¹

      This “country of the Future” had indeed become a country of youths. Its abundant “beginnings, of projects, of designs, and expectations” were generated and shaped by young men and women who were the “nobility of this land.” Where...

    • 4 Divergent Childhoods, Different Republics: The Initial Turn to Socialization
      (pp. 91-116)

      In the glow of revolutionary triumph, praise spread for “the values and blessings of union.” Federalists and Jeffersonians spoke out against “party-spirit,” seeking a national “cement” that would bond individual happiness to collective welfare to “add strength to the foundations” and “beauty to the walls.” Jefferson himself reassured the public, “We are all republicans—we are all federalists” with a common attachment to representative government.¹ Religious rifts produced by the “phrensy of fanaticism” were similarly to be avoided. Americans were cautioned to “listen to no enthusiasts,” for they confound reason with “folly, nonsense, and hypocritical grimace.” The growing sects also...

  7. II Framing Liberal Child Rearing in the Early Republic
    • 5 The Emerging Consensus on Agency Socialization
      (pp. 119-152)

      It is a truism of antebellum American history that the Federalists, sectarians, and Jeffersonians were all losers in the process of cultural formation. Although their ideals were understood to retain lasting influence, their political effectiveness and relevance was presumed to wane as society adopted a spirit of Yankee pragmatism to adjust to commercial development, geographic expansion, population explosion, and institutional growth. The rise of mainstream culture has thus been long shrouded in obscurity, appearing—most emblematically in the work of Louis Hartz—as if a foreordained, timeless, in a sense unfashioned cultural synthesis “bound to be democratic” and “capitalistic.” In...

    • 6 Toward a Child-Centered Family
      (pp. 153-173)

      While in retrospect the shaping of citizens for liberal society seems inevitable, its advocates faced enormous risks at the time. Venerable institutions were being replaced by new and untested ones, and those on the front line—the parents—understood neither the magnitude of their charge nor what it meant to be a parent or child in the new order. They were being asked to loosen the reins of traditional authority on the young in order to facilitate the very independence and mobility that appeared so threatening.

      There was little choice to harnessing and directing one’s own fulfillment of divine and...

    • 7 Winning the Child’s Will
      (pp. 174-193)

      Once the child embraced the goal of developing his full potential, the challenge for liberal socialization was to generate the social expectations required for mature citizenship. The child had to be carefully led onto a path toward self-governance, which in the logic of individualism was framed as preparation to pursue one’s own integration within liberal society. To induce the commitment required, it was crucial to begin the process early on. Reformers set about devising appropriate learning strategies to foster social integration and discipline as part of guided self-development. Adult socializers were instructed in methods for activating the skills and aspirations...

    • 8 Socializing Society: Popular Education and the Diffusion of Agency
      (pp. 194-215)

      The early republic had placed the family at the forefront of social formation. This precedence, however, was to be short-lived. Urbanization and industrialization were eroding the contained nuclear family and weakening parents’ impact on their children. If socialization was to remain the key to that “laborious” effort to “make Republicans,” then the republic itself had to step into the breach.¹ Education had long supplemented the family’s efforts in preparing citizens of the New World. But it had done so primarily to reinforce local community and religious priorities, and these were now regarded as threats to republican solidarity.

      A coordinated educational...

    • 9 Educating the Agent as Liberal Citizen
      (pp. 216-238)

      The greatest challenge for the new educators was to determine what preparation individuals would need to become members of a consenting body politic. They understood their predicament as “pioneers in this work in this country,” pursuing a “radical improvement in the means of education” through an organized process of child shaping that had “scarcely been naturalized,” that is, realized, “among us.”¹

      In his preface to Lectures on School-Keeping Samuel Hall refers to the daunting task as an experiment being undertaken with “no track to guide” the innovator besides “his own judgment and experience.” Because of the great disparity “between [America’s]...

  8. III Consolidating the Postwar Agency Republic
    • 10 The “Self-Made” Citizen and the Erasure of Socialization
      (pp. 241-271)

      The political culture of child rearing after the Civil War reflected a growing split between cultural ideals and social practice. In the latter decades of the nineteenth century, family advice literature encouraged the belief that children and youth created lives of their own choosing and advocated that families nurture this conviction by following the recommended socialization. Similarly, leaders in the movement to modernize education (including those who championed the establishment of high schools), together with radical reformers agitating for a child-centered pedagogy, insisted that schooling emphasize the centrality of the individual in American society.

      At the same time, society was...

    • 11 A Superfluous Socialization? Shaping the Self-Realizing Child
      (pp. 272-288)

      What role could socialization play if the young evolved naturally and, in time, took control of their own nature to shape themselves? Were socializing institutions even necessary? How could adults not be free if they had freely developed from children without external constraints? As the young were trained to will their own integration, socializing institutions became the linchpin of society, the unspoken source of liberal consent. The certainty of a child’s agency development, though a popular assertion in scientific literature, was of little value to socializers. Both parents and educators had to be assisted in producing the inevitable.

      The result...

    • 12 Educating the Voluntary Citizen in an Organizational Age
      (pp. 289-322)

      Sherwood Anderson, writing in his autobiographical A Story Teller’s Story, marveled at the late nineteenth century’s “great flood” of organizations and cities and factories, the “coming of modern industrialism,” with its “prosperity, growth going onward and upward.” As we have seen, few had the heart to examine the impact of these “new gods” that were “cast in iron and steel” on “every street of every town and city.” Preferring the “childish belief” that organizational society would automatically “raise free men who could think for themselves,” they risked producing new generations unprepared for success and institutional integration in the “New Age”....

  9. Coda: From Deweyan Consensus to the Crisis of Consent
    (pp. 323-354)

    In 1926 William Allen White, age fifty-eight, looked back at his own boyhood and at the progress society had made in the nineteenth century. The “miracle of this century,” he noted, was not the “commonplace conquest of the prairies” or the “bottomless cornucopia” of material goods but the “revolutionary” advances in the raising of the young. What struck him was the “conquest of the heart of youth,” its cultivation into a “richer and better maturity” through a “consistent, exemplary, and profitable training” that seemingly in an instant had brought about “deep, fundamental change.”¹

    Americans need no longer worry that their...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 355-420)
  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 421-422)
  12. Index
    (pp. 423-447)