Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Walter E. Weyl on Social Justice

A few years ago there was a public discussion about the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education's (NCATE's) requirement that education schools provide "social justice" training. Several students have been expelled from education and social work schools because they lack "social justice dispositions". NCATE eliminated its social justice disposition requirement in response to pressure from Steve Balch and the National Association of Scholars, but many education schools still require that students demonstrate "social justice dispositions". However, such a requirement is illegal if it involves ideological indoctrination. Last fall, as I was reading Herbert Croly's Progressive Democracy, I realized that the concept of "social justice disposition" is directly taken from the ideology of the Progressives, to include Croly and likely John Dewey. Walter Weyl in his Progressive classic New Democracy writes about social rights in his chapter entitled "The New Social Spirit". Note that the concept of "social rights" is fundamental to Weyl's ideology and he links it directly to socialism and opposes it to individualism. "Progressive education" has a long history and is intimately linked to John Dewey's philosophy. Dewey, like all thinkers of the early twentieth century, was well aware of Weyl's and Croly's work (pp.161-5):

"The inner soul of our new democracy is not the unalienable rights, negatively and individualistically interpreted, but those same rights, 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,' extended and given a social interpretation.

"It is this social interpretation of rights which characterizes the democracy coming into being, and makes it different in kind from the so-called individualistic democracy of Jefferson and Jackson. It is this social concept which is the common feature of many widely divergent democratic policies...

"To-day, no democracy is possible in America except a socialized democracy, which conceives of society as a whole and not as a more or less adventitious assemblage of myriads of individuals. The old individualistic system pictured the individual freely bargaining with the state...The individualist point of view halts social development at every point...'Government should rest upon the consent of the governed' is a great political truth, if by the 'governed' is meant the whole people or an effective majority of the people; but if each individual governed retains the right at all times to withhold his consent, government and social union itself become impossible...

"...the engine of taxation, like all other social engines, will be used to accomplish great social ends, among which will be the more equal distribution of wealth and income...The government of the nation, in the hands of the people will establish its unquestioned sovereignty over the industry of the nation..."

"In the future we shall enormously increase the extent of regulation. Not only can we pursue an active social policy by means of the regulation of industry, but we can also so direct and restrain and guide the strong economic impulses of society as to make the product of industry not only larger, but more widely and more fairly distributed."

In the chapter "The Social Problem of the Democracy" Weyl adds:

"Our future education must exalt social obligations above mere competitive egoisms....It must be an education which will aid society in the conservation of the life and the health of the citizen and in their progressive development."

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