Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Civic Education Arising from the Overarching Values of "Civilization": Beyond the Particularities of Specific Polities

Presented at German-American Conference by Dr Will Harris

What is the nature of the problem of incorporating newcomers into host country?

Without resolving this issue, this paper will attempt to move beyond the initial focus on the concrete constitutional system of a host country that is typically the primary source of content for civic education. The point of this paper is to argue that civic education should articulate precepts at a level broad enough to capture the values common to all or most countries that bear the marks of a politically evolved civilization. There is a more strategic motive here: Instead of an enlightened country first concentrating on articulating the mandated content of a civic education program it wants to inculcate in the minds and practices of new arrivals, it would raise its own content standards to a higher level of generality. Thus it might at least tentatively encompass the larger political commitments that the new arrivals already have — or should be expected to have as a condition of their staying in their new country after they have arrived — so that the process of civic education is not exclusively one of imposing precepts that might be peculiar to the new country of attachment. A virtue of this approach would then be, potentially, an assimilation not just of the newcomers but to them — all in an educational project to advance the unity and diversity of the social compact undergirding the Constitution.

In the course of the paper the following points are addressed (a) the basis for these observations about the importance of this external zone of constitutionalism and civilization from the viewpoint of the American constitutional founding; (b) the implications for a more advanced strategy for civic education which would focus not only on a country's own constitutional regime but on the broader theory of constitutionalism as the form of order that civilization takes; and (c) the possible consequences that this understanding of the architectonic relationship between the inside and the outside may have for constitutionally characterizing citizens and immigrants.


The director of the Institute/Academy is Professor Will Harris of the University of Pennsylvania. Professor Harris is also the Director of the Center for the Constitution, James Madison's Montpelier. Professor Harris writes and teaches in the field of constitutional studies and democratic theory.

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