Master Slave Questions
Here are some starter questions that few teachers are willing to ask in serious ways.
These questions rise from the Critique of Tyranny. This critique has been applied to every society, ever since the first food surpluses made inequality possible, and it became possible to make an argument that separation from others might be a good thing--in contrast to early societies where those who behaved the most collectively survived longest and best. The critique was the interrogation of domination that, in ideas, forged the US revolution. It is absent from most social studies textbooks.
The Critique of Tyranny leads to a question that can be asked of any society, to judge it: How does this society treat the majority of its citizens, invariably the workers, or slaves, i.e., the common citizens, over time? This reasonable question sweeps aside the notion that poisons conservative forms of postmodernism, which insist that there really is no rational way to judge any society, that one society or social movement or idea might be as good as the next, that all is mere viewpoint and, at the end of the day, maybe Mussolini was not such a bad guy after all.
Are teachers willing to ask these questions to students in their classrooms, not of abstract distant societies, but of their condition inside school? My experience is that most teachers are not willing to seriously pose the issue, in fear of lack of control.
Psychiatrist Robert Kaye says students in the world's classrooms are not free, using a metaphor that suggests that compulsory attendance laws make them "incarcerated." This would be a good place to start. Are we here because we want to be here?
Indeed, many teachers will insist that they live in a free society. But they will also agree that they cannot probe the question of freedom in school, or really speak their minds. The Bill of Rights, for example, stops at the door of most work places.
Here are some questions that students can work out themselves to, perhaps, better understand the foundation of most societies throughout history: The Master-Slave Metaphor.In A Master-Slave Relationship:
On Tyranny, by Leo Strauss (the classic in the field)
History and Science for Boys and Girls, by William Montgomery Brown (early success of friendly connections, written in 1931)
Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond
Phenomenology of the Spirit, Hegel
Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, Marx (and all of the rest of Marx's work)
Alienation by Bertell Ollman (why we are estranged from one another and how we might reason our way out).
The Politics of Obedience, the Discourse of Voluntary Servitude, Etienne De La Boetie
On Mussolini as a Kinder, Gentler, Fascist, see the New York Times, 9/28/02 A17