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Education as Socialisation into a Political Order

Beyond expressing a particular culture and reproducing certain power hierarchies, compulsory schools affect individual political attitudes. Easton argues that the survival of democratic political systems depends ‘upon the success of a society in producing children most of whom acquire positive feelings about it’.125 He finds that, in the USA, children come to ‘idealise’ or ‘hostilise’ the political system by becoming aware of an external authority superior to the family and by personalising key institutions. He refrains from drawing direct connections between adult political attitudes and children’s feelings, but he proposes that by age 11, children have generally developed marked support or hostility towards the US political system.126

Success in conveying diffused support for the political system depends first upon the stability of the political system. Second, it depends on the triangular relationship between the state, the ‘gatekeepers who could regulate the flow of support to the authorities’, and the citizens.127 In a deeply divided society, such as Lebanon, Northern Ireland or Macedonia, the elites and institutions associated with local religious, ethnic and national communities act as gatekeepers, mediating the interactions between the state and its citizens. The state’s ability to bypass gatekeepers and nurture diffused support for the political system depends on its relationship with gatekeepers and on the cohesiveness of communities: the more cohesive the community, the harder it is for the state to bypass it.

In this respect, Easton offers an important contribution to analysis of the constraints to political socialisation in deeply divided societies. Chapter 3 substantiates Easton’s findings and shows that the success of states in imposing a myth-symbol complex, and furthering positive feelings about the political system, depend on their relationship with the local ethnic communities. When local communities are not cohesive or when states have a positive relationship with communal elites (or gatekeepers), states can succeed in conveying a culture and widespread support for the political system. In contrast, when states have an antagonistic relationship with some local cohesive communities (such as during violent identity-based conflicts), states will attempt to shape ‘good loyal citizens’ and face the resistance of some communities, which attempt to form ‘good disloyal citizens’.128 The process of political socialisation into hostility or support for the political system also occurs through formal education.

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