Front Page Titles (by Subject) Moral Education through Politics? - Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1980, vol. 3, No. 3
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Moral Education through Politics? - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1980, vol. 3, No. 3 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Moral Education through Politics?
“On Improving Mankind by Political Means.” Paper delivered at the Liberty Fund-Reason Foundation sponsored Symposium on Virtue and Political Liberty; Santa Barbara, California, April 24–27, 1980.
Should legal sanctions be used not merely to restrain our vices, but to increase our virtue as well? According to Aristotle, the legislator can be a moral educator in the sense of promoting virtue. But Aristotle's position has been challenged by thinkers as diverse as John Milton and Albert J. Nock, and his position becomes even more questionable once we distinguish between “substantive rules” (authority-sponsored rules of distributive justice) and “ceremonial rules” (spontaneously generated rules that embody respect for persons).
Nock's argument against substantive rules (rules that carry penalties) was that forced virtue is no real virtue; i.e., that the demand behind such a practice of “moral education” contains a contradiction. A man forced to give away his property is hardly virtuous when he does so.
But neither of these thinkers gave much attention to how “ceremonial rules” might be capable of teaching respect and therefore, virtue. Ceremonial rules include such practices as asking for permission to use something that another is using, saying “please” and “thank you” and generally respecting others as free and rational beings. The key to these rules in the process of teaching virtue is that their rationale is capable of being understood by the people expected to follow them. Even a child can understand that asking permission to use something is a way of discovering what belongs to him and what does not. But a child who is only given substantive distributive rules (with their attached penalty) cannot truly understand he is being asked to give up something that he wants. If he obeys the rule, then it can only be because he experiences it as a command to which penalties are attached for noncompliance. This type of “moral education” might be better compared to the type of training that a soldier gets in wartime. The resulting actions may be “efficient,” but they are performed mechanically and without understanding. Only a moral education that increases both understanding and an appreciation for others is the education that can teach virtue. And these ceremonial rules are not the type of rules that legislators seek to impart by the use of “the political (coercive) means”—i.e., by commands and penalties.