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Politics In Spires Schools

Why is the study of ideologies so important for understanding—and navigating through—the social world of which we are part? And why do we have to cast aside old approaches that regard ideologies as abstract, superimposed by manipulative and power-thirsty individuals and groups, and opposed to the pragmatism of political life? The simple answer is that we always live in a world of ideologies and every one of us has one, whether we are aware of it or not, and whether it is clearly expressed or just a vaguer set of beliefs and perceptions. Although every one of us is unique as a human being, we also display patterns of behaviour we share in common, even if they differ on particulars. Those include patterns of thinking about our society and about other societies. Ideologies are one such pattern, concerning the political arrangements and processes of a political community. Sometimes these are on a grand scale: visions of a rich and harmonious future, or plans for control and domination. At other times they are more modest and specific: designing a fairer constitution, reducing poverty, protecting religious beliefs, or having concerns about immigration. Any society will host a number of ideologies, though some may be more prominent and some may be repressed by the groups that are in power. In democratic systems, certainly, ideologies will compete over the control of public policy. Because that competition is over ideas, beliefs and values it is above all conducted through words, oral or written—in Parliamentary debates, newspaper articles, blogs, pamphlets, manifestos, TV programmes and books. Consequently, whoever controls the public language of a society is in a very strong position to implement its policies.

The question of how to justly distribute assets across society is one which has consumed political thinkers for generations. In 1797 the great democratic thinker and politician Tom Paine argued that every citizen reaching 21 years of age should receive the capital sum of £15. This was to be financed from a tax on the wealth people left at death. Two hundred or so years after Paine wrote, scholars are still addressing this question. In 1999 Bruce Ackerman and Anne Alstott, professors at Yale University, argued that every US citizen should receive an $80,000 grant in early adulthood, financed from a tax on wealth and inheritance. These proposals are fundamentally for a citizens’ inheritance: tax a portion of the wealth that is passed between the generations and use this to finance a capital grant in early adulthood for every citizen. Dr Stuart White examines the question of whether citizens’ inheritance something we should have if we want a just society.

The divide between subjects taught in the school classroom and university-level research is often exaggerated. Someone between 16-18 would be familiar with many themes addressed by Oxford’s Department of Politics and International Relations (DPIR). Still, some content, and especially research methods, would be completely new. Articles published in this series are part of a pilot scheme to bridge this divide. Recently, postgraduates from the DPIR visited schools to discuss its research programme with 16-18 year-old students taking courses in government and politics. The conversation pointed to many similarities. All A-level Politics courses aim to develop critical awareness of the nature of politics and increase understanding of the structures of authority and power. This is also true of University research. These …