ABSTRACTAs neo-Aristotelian character education approaches have become more popular, the list of objections has increased too. This paper focuses on the objection that while character education proponents claim to be ‘progressive’ and ‘reformative’ they seem to maintain the educational status quo. This paper examines what happens to neo-Aristotelian character education approaches when they are implemented in schools. First, a range of authors is consulted that has critically followed character education approaches, in particular the one advocated by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues. Second, the Bildung tradition is discussed, which was also intended as a progressive and cosmopolitan project, but was used by German governments in the 19th century to fashion the nation state. Finally, a comparison between the two approaches is made, raising the question whether it is possible for states to run an education system that does not distort ideals of what it means to be human.