The Personalist Project

Last night we went to a wonderful Hildebrand Project book launch in New York. I'll have more to say about it in the days ahead. For now, I want to highlight something Michael Novak said in his remarks that jumped out at me (no doubt because I've been thinking so much about John Paul II's emphasis on freedom.) To show the unique dignity of the person, Novak said (I'm paraphrasing from memory), "Raising children isn't like raising dogs. We don't want them to behave; we want them to take responsibility."

I thought it captures admirably the contrast between a personalist approach to moral formation and the more conventional, externalist approach (which, alas, is prevalent in conservative circles) where parents and teachers make it their aim to "keep them in line" or "do as they're told." 

Moral education that practically reduces to a demand for obedience to the law and to authority figures is not the solution to the problem of moral relativism and licentiousness, but rather one of its causes.

Alice Miller called it a "poisonous pedagogy" and saw it as leading directly to the atrocities of Nazi Germany. I think it's also responsible for the errors and excesses of feminism and the sexual revolution. Look at this great quote from Joseph Ratzinger:

Toward the end of the nineteenth century, French psychiatrists coined the phrase “maladie catholique”, by which they meant that special neurosis that is the product of a warped pedagogy so exclusively concentrated on the fourth and sixth commandments that the resultant complex with regard to authority and purity renders the individual so incapable of free self-development that his selflessness degenerates into a loss of self and a denial of love, and his faith leads, not to freedom, but to rigidity and an absence of freedom.

The temptation for those who recognize the objectivity of truth and value is to want impose it on others. The terrible irony and misery is that the moment we do that, we betray love, which is to say, the essence of the moral law.

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