Rita Koganzon, "Liberal States, Authoritarian Families: Childhood and Education in Early Modern Thought" (Oxford UP, 2021)


Rita Koganzon’s new book, Liberal States, Authoritarian Families: Childhood and Education in Early Modern Thought (Oxford UP, 2021), examines the structure and function of the family within early modern political thought while also teasing out the way that early childhood education may often be at odds with the claims to freedom within liberal states. Koganzon’s book traces the problem of authority in early modern thought in regard to how children need to be managed by those who are responsible for them—and how they are to be taught to be citizens, to be free, to have liberty, and to understand sovereignty. All of these teachings are complicated by the need to impose an authority of knowledge and expertise in the course of a child’s education. When these forms of authority are contextualized within liberal states, the tension is obvious between the idea of individual liberty and freedom, as pursued by adults in society, and the need to educate through this position of the authority of knowledge.

Koganzon’s work traces the approach and theorizing about the family and education through the work of Jean Bodin, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean Jacques Rousseau. But the book starts with Hannah Arendt’s insight about education being an “inherently authoritarian undertaking” and that this is the conundrum for contemporary liberal thinkers. The first sections of the book examine the rise of sovereignty theory, especially in the work of Bodin and Hobbes. This work also brings up the logic of congruence, that the sovereign and the patriarch should be mirrors of each other in terms of their rule within their distinct realms. The thrust of the book, though, is in the exploration of the work by Locke and Rousseau, and their critiques of the sovereignty theory put forward by those who preceded them. Koganzon examines how both Locke’s work and Rousseau’s work also push against the logic of congruence in terms of the form of education. Liberal States, Authoritarian Families delves into the problem, particularly for Locke and Rousseau, of the tyranny of public opinion (the problem of peer pressure is real!), and how anti-authoritarian liberalism, particularly in the contemporary period, has done away with many of the components of authoritarianism within education that helped to limit this tyranny. This is a very clear and lively discussion and will be of interest to a wide range of readers and scholars.

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). Email her comments at lgoren@carrollu.edu or tweet to @gorenlj.

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Lilly Goren

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.

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