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Reflections on Eva Brann's Paradoxes of Education in a Republic--The General Problem, Part One
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By John von Heyking, July 19, 2010 in Pedagogy and Teaching, What is Education?

A few weeks back I suggested that Eva Brann’s Paradoxes of Education in a Republic is one of the top five books on liberal education written in the past 35 years.  In this and the next few posts, I shall revisit this marvelous book to consider how well it speaks to the current situation in higher education.  Brann is tutor and former dean of St. John’s College, the great-texts college in Annapolis, Maryland. 

She first published her book in 1979, before the political correctness of the 1980s hit hard in American universities, and before the “research ideal” (1) drove up the costs of higher education and (2) created a system of incentives that require scholars to become so specialized to render them ill-equipped to think seriously about the nature of liberal education (to say nothing of teaching in this mode).  By returning to Brann’s concise book, one gains clarity on why these recent (and related) developments in the academy are permutations of paradoxes found within the very nature of education in a modern republic.

One of the virtues of Brann’s book is the extent to which she ties together the nature of education with the nature of the republic.  To modify her argument concerning the college that “education should be temporally cosmopolitan and spatially parochial,” her book considers the tension between the cultivation of the good citizen and of the good human being, and reflects upon the paradoxes of this tension as it takes place within the American republic. 

The meaning of republic itself is paradoxical because the “public thing” (the literal meaning of res publica) assigns a dual position to a citizen as one who, qua member of society, is a part of that society, and qua person, is a dignity that transcends it.  So far, this formulation suggests a close affinity between education in a modern republic with that of Aristotle, who provided the classic statement that the good citizen is not the same as the good human being.

(Part 2 is here)

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1 Comment
Lee Trepanier on Jul 21, 2010 at 10:37 am

I haven't heard of this book before, so thanks for bringing it to our attention! I will definitely take a look at it!

about the author

John von Heyking
John von Heyking

I teach political philosophy at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, as well as religion and politics. I received my Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame in 1999.

My publications include Augustine and Politics as Longing in the World (Missouri, 2001), Civil Religion in Political Thought:  Its Perennial Questions and Enduring Relevance in North America (coeditor; published by CUA Press, 2010), Friendship and Politics: Essays in Political Thought (coeditor, published with U. of Notre Dame Press, 2008), two edited volumes of The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin (Missouri, 2003), as well as articles on Aristotle and friendship, political representation, citizenship, republicanism, just war, Islamic politics, politics and prophecy, leadership, the place of America in contemporary political thought, religious liberty under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the political philosophy of rodeo. I am also at work on a book-length study on the relationship between friendship and political order. My editorials have appeared in the Globe and Mail (Toronto), Calgary Herald, C2C: Canada’s Journal of Ideas, and the Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs. I am currently Associate Editor for History, Theory, and Law of the journal, Politics and Religion, published by Cambridge University Press. His work has been translated into Italian, German, and Chinese. I have delivered invited lectures to audiences throughout Canada and the United States, as well as in Germany, France, Switzerland, and Russia.