While the recent hurricane raged outdoors, I re-read The Coming of the Third Reich, the first volume in the trilogy on the history of Nazi Germany by Richard J. Evans. As a frequent critic of the civic engagement movement in contemporary education (see here, here, here, and here) I noted the follow passage on page 118:
“People [in the years leading up to the Third Reich] arguably suffered from an excess of political engagement and political commitment. One indication of this could be found in the extremely high turnout rates at elections – no less than 80 percent of the electorate in most contests … There seemed to be no area of society or politics that was immune from politicization.”
As Evans describes the situation of the Weimar Republic, this intense culture of political engagement was accompanied by a commitment to action over thought, a commitment that was especially strong among young people. Clearly, those who maintain that “engagement” is a panacea, and that we can best prepare students for the future by recruiting them to be “change agents” should consider the Weimar example as an illustration of the fact that political and social commitment is not necessarily a good thing. I suggest that one of the most important goals of a liberal arts education is to promote disengagement, to enlarge the sphere of life and thought outside of politicization so that people can step back from their commitments and examine themselves and their world from the widest possible perspective.
The Moral Liberal Sociology Editor, Carl L. Bankston III is Professor of Sociology at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. He is the author and co-author of a number of books and numerous articles published in academic journals. An incomplete list of his books includes: Growing Up American: How Vietnamese Children Adapt to Life in the United States (with Min Zhou, 1998), Blue Collar Bayou: Louisiana Cajuns in the New Economy of Ethnicity (with Jacques Henry, 2002), and A Troubled Dream: The Promise and Failure of School Desegregation in Louisiana (2002), Forced to Fail: The Paradox of School Desegregation (hardback, 2005; paperback, 2007), and Public Education – America’s Civil Religion: A Social History (2009) (all with Stephen J. Caldas). View Professor Carl L. Bankston’s Amazon.com Page here. He blogs at Can These Bones Live?
Copyright © 2012 Carl L. Bankston III.