Roman Zinigrad, « Between Autonomous Choice and “Correct” Outcomes: How Policy Makers Abuse the Former to Achieve the Latter »

Les doctorants de l’École de droit sont heureux de vous convier au séminaire des doctorants pour une discussion informelle avec :

Sciences Po Law School Doctoral Students are pleased to invite you to their student-run seminar for a discussion with:

Roman Zinigrad

JSD Candidate, Yale University; Visiting Student, Sciences Po Law School

Between Autonomous Choice and “Correct” Outcomes:
How Policy Makers Abuse the Former to Achieve the Latter

To the surreptitious dismay of many, religious (and other) fundamentalists, too, make children, and what is more, desire to raise them in their image, in their likeness. One of the most distinct tenets of religious education is aversion to autonomous thought and choice, and most liberal theories find it most difficult to accept. Indeed, autonomy (i.e., independent rational reflection) is invoked by all branches of government in liberal democracies when ruling against restricting features of religious education. The State then usually stresses the necessity to develop autonomy in children, so that when they become adults, they are able to choose a “good life” that suits them.

But is the autonomy-development argument in fact used by policy-makers and judges to facilitate autonomous choice? To my opinion, at least in Israel, France and the US, the answer is often in the negative. To this effect I will argue that the theory employed by educational policies is often incongruent to the outcomes they reach. I demonstrate this argument on two distinct types of cases: The first type includes instances of using liberal rhetoric to justify a-liberal, and at times even illiberal, State interests. Thus, schools are required to expose children to alternative world-views only when those alternatives are aligned with democratic-majoritarian needs, such as increasing employment (Israel, France, US), supporting nationalist goals (Israel, France) or establishing a de facto State-religion (Israel). The best example of this practice is obliging to teach “core studies” in Israeli Ultra-Orthodox religious schools, while abstaining, in any substantive way, from exposing secular children to religion.

The incongruence of the second type derives from two possible understandings of autonomy – as being of intrinsic or merely instrumental value. The first option implies that choice itself, regardless to results, makes life worth living, and thus requires ongoing rational reflection; the second suggests that autonomy is simply a way to compare different ways of life and choose any desired outcome, including to stop the process of reflection. I will claim that in some cases State officials internalize the first but – not being able to do so openly, as this option implies that non-autonomous life is inherently inferior – formally state only the second. Such method allows to prohibit religious practices under the disguise of “political liberalism” while in fact promoting a comprehensive liberal theory. This fallacy is manifested, for instance, in the French “hijab law” banning religious attire in public schools. The law’s declared intent is allowing students to decide freely whether to follow their parents’ convictions but essentially, it aims to lead children to the rational, secularist choice.

Le Jeudi 26 mars 2015 de 12h30 à 14h30 dans la salle de réunion de l’École de droit, 410T, 13 rue de l’Université, 4ème étage, Paris.

Thursday March 26th 2015, from 12.30pm to 2.30pm in the Law School’s meeting room, room 410T, 13 rue de l’Université, 4th Floor, Paris.


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