Helga Eng-forelesningen 2016:

Democracy, Education and Patriotism of a Kind: but what kind?

Professor Marianna Papastephanou,University of Cyprus, Department of Education. 

Extended Abstract

To explore possibilities of a kind of patriotism aligned with democratic and cosmopolitan education the lecture begins with a brief sketch of the philosophical background that often frames educational discourses. Late modern education largely endorsed John Dewey’s valorization of democracy both as an everyday school practice and as a ‘nation-state’ distribution of power. Since then, critical adherents to Dewey’s democratic educational ideal have made it more responsive to multicultural societies. For instance, Amy Gutmann has added principles of non-discrimination and non-repression to stave off dangers of exclusion. Nevertheless, democratic education remains focused on the nation-state and, by definition, dependent on the future citizen’s allegiance to the democratic community. This reveals what I see as a tension between conflicting commitments of the western world: on the one hand, democracy is valued; on the other hand, the affective substratum of democracy (the citizen’s love for the democratic community), namely patriotism, has been tarnished due to its unfavorable historical record. It is opposed by an emerging, new commitment to ideals such as cosmopolitanism, aspiring to political configurations broader than the democratic state. Opting for cosmopolitan commitment, Martha Nussbaum has offered ‘arguments for making world citizenship, rather than democratic/national citizenship, education’s central focus’.

Yet, other philosophers, as diverse as David Miller and Richard Rorty, have made pleas to the Left to reconsider its position on patriotism and to endorse a healthy version of it as a precondition of critical democratic citizenship. From a communitarian perspective, Charles Taylor questioned in ‘Why Democracy Needs Patriotism?’ Nussbaum’s suggestions and provided arguments about why democracy requires the motivational benefits of patriotic affectivity. And Jürgen Habermas, far from promoting cosmopolitanism exclusively, has consistently argued in favor of a patriotism that is not inimical to broader universal ideals and can be thought as allegiance to the common political program (constitution) of the state. Interestingly, in her recent writings, Nussbaum moves away from her previous preference for cosmopolitanism and now promotes ‘teaching for a globally sensitive patriotism’.   

Finally, the postmodern perspective is likewise diversified and split regarding patriotism (let us not forget that Rorty is one of the most eminent figures of postmodern philosophy). Unlike Rorty, many postmodern thinkers (especially of the poststructuralist lineage) resist any patriotism, even a revised one, because they reject what they see as the state’s interpellation to be patriotic or fail to imagine a patriotic idiom divorced from obsolete metaphysical concepts such as the ‘soul of the nation’. 

Therefore, in the current intellectual climate that often incriminates patriotism wholesale and promotes cosmopolitanism as the opposite of patriotism, all sorts of tensions between the democratic ideal, obligations and the allegiance to a community, on the one hand, and obligations to humanity, on the other, are being perpetuated. Hence, my question is: can we overcome drastic choices of either a naive, uncritical and pernicious patriotism or a shallow cosmopolitanism, so as to reformulate both ideals as allied aims of a democratic education? And what kind of patriotism is more desirable than the standard, traditional one? Why is it necessary? To illustrate why drastic choices are not compelling I refer to the Norwegian patriotic and romantic poet Henrik Wergeland (1808-1845) and his commitment to national liberation and to ensure that the transition of Norway into a modern democratic state did not entail exclusions of otherness.  He enacted a cosmopolitanism reconciled with a critical patriotism when he struggled for the abolition of the constitutional paragraph that barred Jews from settling down in Norway. 

Indeed, some historical examples show that, often, a democratic patriotism (despite shortcomings and failures) enabled precisely what we now rightly value and honor as educational feat of a national figure whose name defines the national institution hosting this lecture. Helga Eng’s achievements such as being the third woman to receive a doctorate in Norway, and the first to do so in psychology, was, amongst other things, preceded by Gina Krog and others feminists’ struggles on two fronts (of national liberation and of gender-neutral citizenship). The patriotism of the creation of a new democracy interacted with feminist claims to political and educational rights. In 1882, Ida Cecilie Thoresen became the first Norwegian female student; significantly, it was the Storting (the National Parliament) rather than the older and externally controlled institutions that approved the first materialization of women’s right to education in the country. The early synergy of patriotic and feminist concerns led to women being given nation-wide suffrage rights and to Norway becoming the first European sovereign State to grant women full citizenship.

After a critical reading of the above examples, I proceed with my theory of a reformulated patriotic ideal and explain how it differs from alternative ones such as Nussbaum's. I give examples as to the significance of a kind of patriotism today; I point out the difficulties (amongst other things terminological ones related to the patriarchal connotations of the term as such); and I ask the question: what can it mean for a Norwegian to be proud of Helga Eng? What kind of patriotic pride is acceptable? Pride may vary from a perspective of multiple identities, e.g. from that of a woman, of a compatriot of Helga Eng or from the perspective of a non-Norwegian who feels excited learning about Helga Eng through the recognition of Eng’s contribution by her compatriots. In this case, we may have the synergy of feminist pride, patriotic pride and cosmopolitan pride that acknowledges human self-less dedication to commendable and generalizable interests. The institutional character of the patriotic recognition and commemoration of Helga Eng [that is, the fact that ‘The Faculty of Educational Sciences’ in Oslo today resides in the building named after her and that the Lecture is institutionally dedicated to Helga Eng], instead of being an unconscious slippage to nationalism of a country otherwise suspicious of nationalisms and of shallow patriotic pride, is a token of recognition of a citizen’s contribution to the country and to the scientific field. Institutional recognition indicates Eng’s earned ‘right’ to the patriotic pride that she inspires and makes her work endure and known to colleagues coming from other contexts or countries. Thus, I illustrate how cosmopolitanism itself is often assisted by a healthy patriotism that can play an edifying/educational role by bringing the familiar closer to the other.

Bio Note

Marianna Papastephanou (edmari@ucy.ac.cy) has studied and taught at the University of Cardiff, UK. She has also studied and researched in Berlin, Germany. She is currently teaching Philosophy of Education in the Department of Education at the University of Cyprus. Her research interests include political philosophy, the 'modern vs postmodern' divide, utopia, the Frankfurt School and epistemological, linguistic and ethical issues in education. She has written articles on the above topics, she is the editor of K-O Apel: From a Transcendental-Semiotic Point of View (Manchester: MUP, 1997), and the author of: Educated Fear and Educated Hope (Rotterdam, Sense Publishers, 2009); and Thinking Differently About Cosmopolitanism (Boulder, Paradigm, 2012).

Publisert 24. feb. 2016 11:29 - Sist endret 24. feb. 2016 11:31