A democratic government requires the consent of its citizens. But how is that consent formed? Why should free people submit to any rule? Pursuing this question to its source for the first time, The Crucible of Consent argues that the explanation is to be found in the nursery and the schoolroom. Only in the receptive and less visible realms of childhood and youth could the necessary synthesis of self-direction and integrative social conduct—so contradictory in logic yet so functional in practice—be established without provoking reservation or resistance.
From the early postrevolutionary republic, two liberal child-rearing institutions—the family and schooling—took on a responsibility crucial to the growing nation: to produce the willing and seemingly self-initiated conformability on which the society’s claim of freedom and demand for order depended. Developing the institutional mechanisms for generating early consent required the constant transformation of child-rearing theory and practice over the course of the nineteenth century. By exploring the systematic reframing of relations between generations that resulted, this book offers new insight into the consenting citizenry at the foundation of liberal society, the novel domestic and educational structures that made it possible, and the unprecedented role created for the young in the modern world.
No one understands the struggle with authority at the heart of American liberalism better than James Block, and no one conveys more vividly its vitality and inner tension. Following up his arresting depiction of America as A Nation of Agents, Block now considers the cultivation of liberal citizens, of men and women who would internalize cultural expectations and obligations without losing their innate spontaneity, creativity, and love of freedom. Recovering a preoccupation with this problem in the nineteenth-century literature on child rearing, The Crucible of Consent reminds us of the best in our national character and of the complications that have come to impede its latter-day expression.
A fresh and richly illuminating work, based on profound scholarship and written with verve, passion, and occasional eloquence. The Crucible of Consent is an agenda-setting work that we will be reckoning with for a long time.
A major reinterpretation of the history of American childhood and child rearing, with a powerful and persuasive central thesis. The sweep of the narrative is breathtaking and the degree of erudition remarkable.
- 464 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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