Educating and Socializing: a proper distinction?

Educating and Socializing: a proper distinction?

Kieran Egan


Distinctions between educating and socializing have been made a number of ways, and the two have also been treated by some people more or less as synonyms. Usually the distinctions hold socialization to be the process of preparing someone to be a competent social agent within a particular society, and education to be something in addition to this, which might include being able to reflect critically on one's particular society or might include a range of more or less refined cultural attainments whose value to the individual might seem clear but whose value to society at large is less clear. Underlying most of the distinctions is an implication -- though it has not perhaps been put so starkly -- that anything which may reasonably be called socializing has implict in it the impulse and tendency to make people more alike, and the contrasting impulse and tendency in education is to make people more distinct. (So we say of those we recognize as most highly educated that they are "distinguished.") Whether one considers the distinction important to make or not seems connected to what one encompasses within one's idea of "society." If one's idea of society is so encompassing that all aspects of all members of society's lives and their meanings are included within it, then education will likely be seen as only a part of a more general socializing process or as a synonym for socialization. If one's idea of society includes mainly a set of economic, industrial, legal, political, commercial transactions and a set of relationships determined by them, yet holds distinct a cultural world of knowledge, understanding, and appreciation that provides particular pleasures which transcend the relationships and transactions of particular societies at particular times, then one will likely want to distinguish initiation into "society" by "socialization" and initiation into the cultural realm by "education." One may say perhaps that the importance or otherwise of the distinction turns on one's response to what has been called the "problem of the culture-boundedness of meaning" (Wilson, l970, pp. viii/ix).

This paper explores why some people consider it important to make the distinction and why others think it unimportant, and why others again think it important not to make it. It also considers whether it is proper to make such a distinction and, if so, what is the proper way to make it.

Durkheim, Dewey, and Socialization

One of the contributions of sociology has been to show the extent to which we become recognizably human by being initiated into a society. As Durkheim puts it, "Man is man, in fact, only because he lives in a society" (Durkheim, l925/56, p.76). Becoming socialized is the process of being fitted into a complex social environment and in this process a certain limited set from the indeterminately large range of human potentialities is evoked and actualized. The limited set are those which are shared by other members of the society into which the child is being initiated: "Society can survive only if there exists among its members a sufficient degree of homogeneity; education perpetuates and reinforces this homogeneity by fixing in the child, from the beginning, the essential similarities that collective life demands" (Durkheim, l925/56, p.70). Social life is not merely concerned with the basic necessities of physical existence and the regulating mores of the group, but also with what we call our culture. "Of what an animal has been able to learn in the course of his individual existence, almost nothing can survive him" but human beings accumulate knowledge, skills, records of many kinds, and "this accumulation is possible only in and through society" (Durkheim, l925/56, pp.77, 78). Nor is it merely crude information that is passed on in socializing, but also how that knowledge and those skills and understandings are to be interpreted: "society frequently finds it necessary that we should see things from a certain angle and feel them in a certain way" (Durkheim, l9l5/65, p.83). The initiation of children by adults into society, in this general sense, is what Durkheim calls education: "education consists of a methodical socialization of the young generation" (Durkheim, l925/56, p.7l).

Durkheim appears, then, not to make any distinction between socializing and educating: they serve as synonyms for him. He seems not to admit of anything that is of human value that is outside of society, and so any initiation into any aspect of human life must be socialization. In stressing the absolute importance of a society to human beings and the role of education in initiating the young into particular societies, he is, incidentally, trying to expose the shallowness of notions of education -- such as James Mill's -- which focus on the cultivation of the individual as though people had free choices about what characteristics they would encourage in the young: "even the qualities which appear at first glance so spontaneously desirable, the individual seeks only when society invites him to, and he seeks them in the fashion that it prescribes for him" (Durkheim, l925/56, p.75).

But this is not to say that society inhibits the development of the individual; society both makes it possible and, given man's social nature, it is only within the collectivity that the individual can develop properly: Whereas we showed society fashioning individuals according to its needs, it could seem, from this fact, that the individuals were submitting to an insupportable tyranny. But in reality they are themselves interested in this submission; for the new being that collective influence, through education, thus builds up in each of us, represents what is best in us" (Durkheim, l925/56, pp.75/76).

Sometimes those who see education as entirely an instrument of social initiation and who thus categorize individual cultivation entirely within a social context, tend towards conclusions about "society's" rights and duties in governing individuals' education that can make others distinctly uncomfortable. Thus "since education is an essentially social function, the state cannot be indifferent to it. On the contrary, everything that pertains to education must in some degree be submitted to its influence" (Durkheim, l925/56, p.80). Even in private schools; "the education given in them must remain under (the State's) control." The alternative to this all pervasive state control of education, according to Durkheim, is disaster: If (the State) were not always there to guarantee that pedagogical influence be exercised in a social way, the latter would necessarily be put to the service of private beliefs, and the whole nation would be divided and would break down into an incoherent multitude of little fragments in conflict with one another (Durkheim, l925/56, p.79).

One way of viewing the history of schooling over the past century and a half in the West is as a generally successful struggle waged by the centralized states against church, family, locality, and class interests for control of the schools. Prominent among the weapons of the State have been the slogan "equality of opportunity" and arguments such as Durkheim's. We might be wary, however, of Durkheim's easy move from his general, normative concept of society to seeing particular centralized nation-states as instantiations of that normative concept. The problem with that move is summed up by Dewey (though not referring especially to Durkheim): "The social aim of education and its national aim were identified, and the result was a marked obscuring of the meaning of a social aim" (Dewey, l9l6/66, p.97).

Some might think that a lot of confusion might be avoided if Durkheim and Dewey used a distinction between education and socialization. The previous quotation might then be written something like this: "Education was confused with socialization and the result was a marked obscuring of the meaning of education." But Dewey no less than Durkheim uses "education" for the process of growth into social life. Those who want to distinguish education from socialization need to define the two terms. But for Dewey the "conception of education as a social process and function has no definite meaning until we define the kind of society we have in mind" (Dewey, l9l6/66, p.97). For the person who wishes to distinguish between education and socialization, Dewey's claim might well be true for socialization, but not for education. Those philosophers of education who labor to clarify their "concept of education" without constant reference to the particular social context in which it is to be embedded are, in Dewey's view, engaged in a futile scholastic exercise. His aim in Democracy and Education was to show that education was not the kind of process that could be defined apart from social experience and to show that if it was allowed to become untied from that experience one was left with "an unduly scholastic and formal notion of education" (Dewey, l9l6/66, p.4).

In this view, then, a society in which a distinction could readily be drawn between educating and socializing is a society in which an lite will be educated and the rest socialized. ("The result is that which we see about us everywhere -- the division into 'cultured' people and 'workers'" (Dewey, l902/56, p.27). Rather, what we have to do is so describe the qualities of a truly democratic society such that socialization to such a society would encompass all that anyone might wish to include in a proper concept of education.

"Not only is social life identical with communication, but all communication (and hence all genuine social life) is educative" (Dewey, l9l6/66, p.5). Given such a vision of a constantly educating social experience, the desire to distinguish socializing from educating threatens to drive apart aspects of social initiation which Dewey was most concerned to hold together. The idea of a distinct process of education involves "the standing danger that the material of formal instruction will be merely the subject matter of the schools, isolated from the subject-matter of life-experience" (Dewey, l9l6/66, p.8). The idea of a distinct process of socialization leads to the danger of a narrowly conceived scheme of vocational education to perpetuate the division between rich and poor (Dewey, l9l6/66, p.3l7). The means of overcoming these dangers was to tie both formal instruction and vocational education to the living reality of present social experience. Thus there follow those pedagogical recommendations for preserving the social character of all learning which became, or were perverted in, the program of progressivism.

In the literature of progressivism, then, we find no form of the traditional distinction between education and socialization because education is seen as having a fundamentally social character. Its role is seen as preparing people to be at home in the social world that is constantly coming into being, in order "to naturalize, to humanize, each new social and technical development" (Goodman, l962, p.40). To ignore that social reality and to try to "educate" children into a dead or dying culture is to guarantee the preservation of ignorance and helplessness for the many and a dehumanized exploitativeness for the few. Similarly the institution which is primarily charged with the more or less formal part of this initiation needs to be closely integrated with society's experience; it is not to be a place apart where students undergo an artificial and difficult initiation to a culture not alive in the society at large. The society must constantly invade the school so that children may grow easily into that social experience by directly doing things which are a part of its reality.

Education as Distinct from Socialization

Above, then, is an attempt to sketch in general terms why some people do not distinguish between educating and socializing. It may be useful here to try to sketch in a similarly general way how and why others do make the distinction.

Socializing and educating have been distinguished in a variety of ways, sometimes quite casually and vaguely. To try to uncover the main grounds for the distinction it may be useful to begin with the strong distinction suggested above: socializing activities are those whose aim is to make people more alike; educating aims to make people more distinct. The first great socializer, then, is learning a language. Those who share a language share a considerable part of their view of the world, which is encoded at a level of presupposition in the terms, distinctions, grammatical structure given in that language. Teaching people to be functionally literate is, in this form of the distinction, to socialize, in that it teaches conventions which are shared by everyone who aims to communicate by writing. Teaching to write with style, talk with eloquence, and read with critical awareness is, then, to educate. Such things stress individual distinctness from the basic conformities which make communication possible; they stress distinctness from the current clichs and conventional forms. A homogeneity in conventional forms of expression serves social utility; there is less complexity, less ambiguity, less likelihood of misunderstandings, and also less richness and diversity. Writing with elegance and reading with discrimination is not a matter of social utility. It is, however, a matter of educational importance. (Eccentricity is a kind of disease of education; it focuses on the formal characteristics of distinctness at the expense of the content which might make one "distinguished").

In schools, then, we might expect all activities to have both socializing and educating aspects -- the degree of which will vary from activity to activity. In woodwork or metalwork, for example, learning to use tools is a matter of socializing. Learning to use them with elegance, with individual style, and seeking therethrough an aesthetic quality in one's work above and beyond what utility requires, is an educational matter. In learning, say, Greek there is a level of learning conventions of letters and basic expression which involve a socialization to that language, but the aim of fluency and subtlety in understanding a different view of life and the world is an educational matter. Usually in schools the distinction can be made more easily and clearly. Those activities which are engaged in so that people can get on more easily in society at large -- can get jobs, can fulfil the basic responsibilities of citizenship, parenthood, and so on -- will tend to be mainly a matter of socialization. Those activities which lead to personal cultivation will tend to be mainly educational. We may also distinguish between educating and socializing activities by the grounds on which we justify their place in the curriculum. Socializing activities are justified on grounds of social utility; eduational activities on the grounds of cultivation of individuals. Both are worthwhile: the former are worthwhile because they are the homogenizing activities which Durkheim pointed out were necessary to keep a society working; the latter are worthwhile for the refined pleasures they provide us individually.

The distinction is important to hold, in the view of those who hold it, because we need to be able to refer to separate criteria in judging whether curriculum time be allowed for any particular socializing or educating activity. Thus, if we face a conflict between some who want to add a course in, say, Consumerism or Driver Training and some who want to add a course in, say, Greek or music appreciation, we need to be clear that we do not decide which to include and which to exclude by reference solely to a socializing criterion. We do not ask which is more relevant to students' ability to get by in the daily adult world. Rather we need to recognize that schools both socialize and educate, and a conflict between Consumerism and Greek cannot sensibly be settled by applying a criterion appropriate to deciding which among various socializing activities should be included. This sharp distinction, then, is seen as a defence of education in schools; a defence sorely needed in light of the erosion of educational activities in schools in favor of increasing socialization.

This erosion has been especially severe, in this view, in North America where the schools were willing instruments in the homogenizing of diverse immigrant populations -- e pluribus unum -- and where the society at large is seen as appropriately demanding that the schools pay increasing attention to socializing concerns. This perspective is expressed most boldly by Michael Oakeshott:

The reason for holding fast to a clear distinction between socializing and educating, as may be seen from Oakeshott's words, is that it is the only way of making clear that human beings may engage a refined culture which transcends the relationships and transactions of any particular society. To use another of Oakeshott's images, this culture is like a conversation: it began long ago in the primeval forests and was elaborated in the earliest towns and in the city-states and empires around the Mediterranean; it has continued to grow and be enriched through the centuries, some parts of it are in poems, plays, music, painting, sculpture, until in the present we have around us this enormously rich cultural conversation continuing, in which we can engage. Education is learning the language of this great civilized and civilizing conversation. We can of course live and die without engaging it, as our cats and dogs do. For a human being to live and die without engaging in this conversation, however, is to miss the best that life has to offer.

In North America there has prevailed a powerful resistance to seeing the schools merely as socializing institutions. A strong statement of this view from the earlier part of this century runs:

Progessive Responses

Everyone recognizes a distinction between learning in a utilitarian fashion to use a tool and learning to use the tool to produce an aesthetically satisfying product. What has been wrong with some parts of the traditional form of education is that this distinction has been complacently accepted and built into practice, such that it is seen as perfectly proper for the masses to be taught in a utilitarian fashion -- if indeed an acceptable proportion can be taught to use tools, read, compute, and so on, adequately for the demands of their job and social role -- and proper for others to be educated. The traditionalist might well say that it would of course be desirable if everybody could learn the more refined uses of tools, more sophisticated literacy, and so on, but, unfortunately, these higher abilities are accessible only to a small proportion of citizens; a proportion often calculated at about l5%. What is wrong with all this from the progressive point of view is the acceptance of the division between utilitarian skill and cultural achievement. The progressive program is designed to prevent precisely that traditional theoretical distinction becoming realized in social life. No-one is to be trained simply to utilitarian skills with no sense of the intrinsic value of their functions; no one is to be allowed to develop a frivolous, effete aesthetic sensitivity with no sense of social functions and utility. The educational vision of Dewey is seen reflected in architecture by "the functionalism of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, that was trying to invent an urbanism and an aesthetic suited to machine-production and yet human" (Goodman, l962, p.4l/42).

There is an apparent ambivalence in progressivist thinking, which will be explored later, about traditional High Culture. There is a strain of progressivism which sees this lite pleasure as properly the inheritance of everyone, and among the complex mix of programs that are identified as progressivism is a set of methodological reforms which will make high culture accessible to everyone. Another strain of progressivism is hostile to high culture, seeing it as mis-education and a sham. Both recognize that a product of high culture is social division; the former consider this a contingent matter, a historical coincidence that can be rectified by proper democratic procedures. In the process, the artificial aesthetic that creates for traditionalists a hierarchy of cultural objects "out there," which have to be internalized in appropriate hierarchies inside, will become purified; the artifical crud, associated with unreflective snobbery, will be wiped away, and the new democratically educated person will be able to see the contents of this high culture afresh and with a purer aesthetic make appropriate genuine responses. So the baroque extravagance and over-sophistication, the diseased aesthetic and its associated rottenness, may be overthrown and the inheritance of high culture may be brought fresh and clean into the American democratic experience. Frank Lloyd Wright did not ignore the traditions of architecture, what he did was see them with a clear eye, one which was alive to the present reality of social experience, and so he could fashion buildings which preserved elegance but forged that elegance in alliance with their new function, sweeping neo-gothic absurdities away. The other strain of progressivism saw high culture and class-based divisions as necessarily connected. The stress on personal cultivation was only possible to a class that had leisure, and the money to support it, and so personal cultivation was simply a means of distinguishing, distancing, oneself from the masses and the society around one. The distance, and the preservation thereby of a sense of real difference, was achieved by the use of leisure and education for initiating one's children into an arbitrarily chosen dead culture. It has been purely a matter of fashion which dead culture is chosen. In the eighteenth century the social division was marked and preserved by artificially resurrecting Roman culture as the differentium; in the nineteenth century the fashion shifted to Greek culture as the distinguishing criterion; in the twentieth century, ironically, it is eighteenth and nineteenth century cultures that are resurrected which, when living cultures, were derided in their time by the predecessors of those who now use them to mark themseles off from the living culture of today. The central characteristic of this culture -- what Oakeshott so inappropriately likens to a conversation -- is that it is entirely passive; its appropriate response is "appreciation." It is dead and gone so one cannot do anything to it, with it, or about it, except "appreciate" it.

What Oakeshott presents as an ideal of education, the progressives see as precisely the social problem. Oakeshott approvingly quotes Ortaga y Gassett's tag: Man does not have a nature, what he has is history. The progressives would rather say: Man does not have a nature, what he has is society (and thereby a future). It is only the upper and middle classes, and the male parts of these, that have a history. The working classes, peasantry, and women are relatively history-less and, in the progressives' view of the traditionalist position on education, thus they are treated as less human. Given Oakeshott's claim that we become human as we are initiated into the fullness of human culture, it is clear that some are much more human than others. The working classes and peasantries, however, have had and have a society no less than the upper classes. And on this criterion are no less human and have no less claim on the future.

The traditionalist acceptance that only l5% of the population can hope to be properly initiated into High Culture leaves the rest to Oakeshott's "alternatives to education," and so they should be carefully socialized in a way that makes them useful to themselves and their fellows and preserves the social and economic conditions which support the leisured class and their personal cultivation. These are among the conditions "which split society into classes, some of which are merely tools for the higher culture of others" (Dewey, l9l6/66, p. 98). So the taxes levied on the working and lower middle classes may go to state support of opera, ballet, orchestras, poets (sometimes through universities -- which are themselves instuments of the divisive process), while should hockey or football or boxing get into financial difficulties there will be no state subsidy for them. So the artificial entertainments of those educated into dead cultural forms are preserved. Those with a Marxist/Freudian bent see this form of culture in terms of a rather nasty psychosis compounded of narcissism and necrophilia.

Conditioning and Determining

It would be possible to give an account of the conflicting positions about the appropriateness or otherwise of a distinction between socializing and educating in historical terms. In such an account the distinction between those who see knowledge, culture, and aesthetic responses as being socially conditioned and those who see them as being socially determined would come only recently into the story with any sharpness. The conflict is prefigured in Dewey, of course, in that he seems to hold both positions, each at different points. But the arguments are all contemporary, the traditionalists have not gone away nor have the progressives conceded defeat with "back to basics." What is more significant of late is the harder progressive position sketched above -- the position which, to put it starkly, holds that High Culture is a political commitment, and that any institution which seeks to preserve it is necessarily reactionary and hostile to the interests and proper education of the working class. It is a necessary connection because knowledge, culture, and aesthetic responses are socially determined.

Pursuing what in other, connected, arguments is called a synchronic rather than a diachronic approach, we may lay out a continuum with two apparent discontinuities along its length. On the right is the desire to distinguish sharply between educating and socializing, because in the distinction lies a defence of High Culture, civilization, and what makes life most worth living. In the middle is a weak form of progressivism which tends to recognize some kind of distinction between cultural initiation and utilitarian training in job skills, and whose adherents believe that High Culture can be incorporated into present social life and provide its pleasures to the working classes, as long as schools are careful in tying it always to present experience. There is some discomfort about all this, however, and there is no commitment to initiate children into High Culture, only the vague sense that working class, and other, children should be "exposed" to it, and if it takes so much the better, and if not, it doesn't much matter. On the left, there is the belief that the distinction between socializing and educating is a political tool to preserve an unequal, divisive, and exploitative social system. It would be useful to consider this left position in more detail. Perhaps we might usefully call this group radical as distinct from progressive -- though their position has been now and then articulated within what has traditionally been called progressivism.

The radicals believe, most radically, that "Every society has its specific way of defining and perceiving reality" (Berger and Kellner, l979, p.5l). There is no such thing as an objective reality; objectivity and reality are created by each society and they are what they are believed to be by each social group. This perspective allows its user to see why the progressives were ineffectual in changing in any serious way the traditional educational system and the class-based social system which it supported: the progressives failed to see that knowledge and objectivity and reality were not simply conditioned by social experience but were indeed created in it and determined by it. In accepting the traditional epistemology with its assumptions about scientific method establishing an objective view of the world, about how one can secure certain "facts," about the very tenets of rationality, the progressives lost the ability to do anything but reform and so strengthen the social system they worked to reconstruct. The more radical perception that social life determines what counts as a fact, as objectivity, as rationality, leaves the way open for rejecting the grounds on which the traditionalists have so far preserved the dominance of their social view. So: "It is necessary that ... criticism should be extended even to such apparently neutural, common ground as the concepts of science, fact, objectivity and rationality" (Arblaster, l972, p.6). By accepting the "bourgeois forms of these concepts" the socialist position is undermined.

Thus one may also see, from this position, why the traditionalists were able to continue their control of education and extend their view of reality under the slogan "equality of opportunity." This did nothing towards breaking down class-based society, but became simply an instrument for co-opting cleverer children from the working class into the traditional view of reality through initiation into its culture. Equality of educational opportunity, while seen by many socialists as a tool in their kit, became a more effective way of preserving the social status quo. The radical challenge is to deny all the grounds which have been accepted as common by traditionalists and progressives: the belief in the "accepted" (by whom and for what purpose?) canons of rationality, what counts as a fact and how is it established, the ideal of objectivity, and so on. Similarly, the radicals have serious doubts about whether one can hope to use the schools to transform our sense of social reality, because the public schools are at heart middle-class institutions. They have only been good for the middle-classes and their interests; they have always been hopeless institutions for the working classes. Thus the radicals are driven towards a program of deschooling and finding new ways of bringing children to be at home in a better social reality.

In debate with traditionalists the radical responds: "While agreeing that our educational dilemmas are about culture and meanings, these are not separable from the political and economic struggles of which such meanings are an expression" (Young, l977, p.8). That means that for the radical "the curriculum is a social construction" (Young, l977, p.9), with all that "social" implies in the radical lexicon. Thus traditional philosophers of education who have uncomplicatedly pursued the task of clarifying and elaborating their conceptions of education find themselves engaged by what seem entirely irrelevant questions about their political motives, their ideological commitments, their very way of life in which their relationships with wife and children, the kind of car they like to drive, and so on and voraciously on, are inserted into what they thought was to be a traditional academic debate conducted by the old ground rules which the progressives, to their cost, accepted. A typical response of traditionalists at this point is to throw up the hands. This is fine by most radicals as they see their job not to argue with traditionalists -- they know all those arguments -- but to elaborate their newly perceived social reality and destroy the institutions which preserve the unjust and inhumane traditional social reality.

A Traditionalist Response

There are two main connected lines of traditionalist response. One may start with an appropriately Latin slogan, from Terence: nihil humanum alienum mihi puto (I consider nothing human to be alien to me). If human nature is plastic and shaped so greatly by experience, goes the argument, meanings can be shared, and translated and interpreted, only if there is an objective world out there which is unaffected by our culture and social experience. Also we must have a common set of human characteristics which also at some level are unaffected by cultural conditioning. Of course we cannot translate the meanings of one society with absolute precision and clarity into those of another, but that does not mean that we absolutely cannot do it. We can recognize greater and lesser degrees of "ethnocentrism."

The lesser degrees are due to our more truly translating the meanings of one culture into those of another than those who absolutely reduce the meanings of one to another. If all meanings were socially determined, we would only be able to absolutely reduce the meanings of one culture into another, and we would not be able to distinguish degrees of ethnocentrism. So the scholarly tradition that increasingly uncovers for us the meanings of, say, Homer, is not merely an illusion. Of course we cannot absolutely recover Homer's meanings, and we can see how in previous generations there was a very large reduction of his meanings to those of the society at the time. Success at reducing the reduction is a success at expanding the meanings of our culture. The argument for High Culture in the Western tradition is that it is the greatest expansion of meanings. One of its latter-day tools is scientific method, which may fail in absolute objectivity but is not thereby absolutely relative. The use of scientific methods in exploring other cultures has been a proof that there are degrees of reductionism and objectivity, and this fact of clearly perceptible degrees is evidence that societies certainly condition but do not determine what can count as knowledge. That nihil humanum is alien means that at some level we may find psychological analogs to the behaviors, the myths, the literatures, the conversations of others and so find something of their meaning and bring that meaning into our culture. The absolute separation of cultures suggested by the image of each society creating its own reality is contradicted by these observations. The connected attack concerns the status of the radical's own arguments. It is the old "and relativity to you!" response. If knowledge is socially determined, then the radicals' claim that knowledge is socially determined, becomes undermined by itself. What kind of claim on truth can this claim that knowledge is socially determined make if its purpose is to undermine the notion that such knowledge can be true? The excellent line of attack represented by the relativist position is disastrous to any attempt to construct something in the place of what has been attacked, and it also serves to undermine the attack as well.

A further part of the traditionalist response is that the radicals systematically confuse contingent associations with necessary connections. Thus the traditionalist would accept as fairly obvious that the contents of high culture, let us say Schubert's piano trios, were produced at certain times in a certain kind of society and tend to be enjoyed now by people who have had a certain kind of education which is associated with a certain social class. To the traditionalist, the connections among the social, economic, and political conditions of Schubert's time and between the social class and forms of education that make Schubert's trios accessible to people today are all contingent relationships. Yes, of course, a certain economic system was necessary to create the leisure which shaped the developing forms of the musical tradition in which Schubert's trios figure, and, of course, certain social forms conditioned the conventions of this tradition, and, of course, a certain kind of education seems necessary today in order to make this music accessible. The form and content of Schubert's trios are clearly causally connected to particular economic, social, and educational systems. All these systems, however, do not explain Schubert's trios; nor do they affect what is most culturally significant about them. Explanations derived from such sources can only explain equally all the trios produced at that time in that tradition. We do not, however, prize "piano trios": the category, which is subject to explanation, is not what provides the content of high culture. It is particular trios that are prized--and the variability of taste over time and among any social group does not demonstrate some absolute relativity of taste. That there is not absolute agreement in matters of taste does not mean that there is absolutely no agreement: this indicates the logical flaw with the radical position in general: They assume if not absolutely x, then absolutely not x.

We may note that during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries people walked on two legs. It is clear that this bipedalism was a necessary condition of the development of advanced capitalism and its high culture. It would obviously be absurd to suggest that the best route to destroying capitalism would be to prevent bipedalism. Certainly, if it were possible, it would have the desired effect. But while bipedalism is indeed causally related to capitalism, the fact that person x walks with a slow shuffle and person y walks with a rolling gait cannot be seen as causes of capitalism.

The traditionalist would defend this case as analogous with that of high culture's relationship to capitalism. High culture is, by analogy, the residue of styles of walking, not walking as a generic condition. Particular styles are only contingently associated with economic and social conditions. (The Monty Python Ministry of Funny Walks would appear to cater largely to middle-class clients.)

Goering, Goebbels, and sometimes Bismark, are claimed to have observed "When I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun." The former two likely did use it, quoting apparently Hanns Hohst's Schlageter, but it was not so much the particular cultural forms (or "Jewish physics") that concerned them but the social, political, ideological, and racial ideas associated with them that they disliked. The radical makes a doctrine of not recognizing a distinction between cultural forms and associated political and ideological claims and conditions. The traditionalist position, however, is to reassert the principle that where we can make distinctions we should. The traditionalist thus favors Yeats' response to the radical claim that in future social reality will have to be viewed in political terms. He found that this perspective was inadequate as a means of making sense of much of his social reality. However he might consider the political perspective on things he would sometimes see a girl standing there and his totally non-political response was simply "Oh that I was young again and held her in my arms."

But, for the radical, such a response is not non-political. At its simplest, the aesthetic response to particular forms of beauty is socially learned -- whether determined or conditioned is at the crux of the dispute. Had Yeats been an old Greek in an older time the response would likely have been to a young man, not a young woman. So there is not even here an escape from the more evident socially determined thinking seen in his overt political statements.

The traditionalist, acknowledging the obvious conditioning influence of social experience, will want to argue that there is below this social conditioning a level of basic human realities not open to determining. The passionate response Yeats makes towards that girl standing there could not equally well have been evoked by another wrinkled old man. Indeed, the traditionalist concedes, our notions of beauty and appropriate objects of sexual desire are socially conditioned; we can, however, only claim that they are socially determined if we can show that the conditions affecting what objects are found desirable are relative only to existing social forms. If we can show that there are aspects of human thinking and feeling that are more resistant to finding some objects rather than others desirable then we must acknowledge that such things are socially conditioned, not socially determined. We may disagree about the extent to which they may be conditioned, but that returns us to the argument between traditionalists and progressives, and undermines the ground on which the radicals stand.


In general, the traditionalists' response to the radicals is not altogether satisfactory. It is not enough to show the radicals hoist by their own relativist petard; the traditionalists must show that they are not also hoist by it. The challenge of relativism, and the degree to which social conditioning affects what counts as knowledge, seems to me underestimated by traditionalists, who too complacently seem to adopt remnants of nineteenth century positivist epistemology.

The next moves for this paper would be to outline the traditionalist response to the progressivists and then the radical response to the above traditional's arguments. The former argument is on-going and its constraints are spelled out above; the radicals' responses to the above points are not spelled out here, however sketchily, because I don't know what they are. One does not find responses to such arguments in the radical literature, merely repetitions of the basic set of assertions and a refusal to accept the terms in whcih the arguments have traditionally been conducted.

Should we distinguish between educating and socializing, and, if so, how? Yes; carefully. Yes, because no one will gain if we sacrifice civilization to justice; and carefully, because civilization will be rotten if we sacrifice justice to culture.


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