(1 unit credit)
This course, which emphasizes the development of reading, writing, and speaking skills, is an introduction to the serious discussion of the most important questions concerning political relations and human well-being. These are controversial issues that in the contemporary world take the form of debates about multiculturalism, diversity, separatism, gender equality, and the like; but, as students will discover here, these are issues rooted in perennial questions about justice.
In the informal atmosphere of the seminar, students get to know one another well and debate often continues outside of class. The course is divided into nine major units.
The first concerns the relationship between human beings as such and as citizens, using the Greek polis as an apposite example. Sophocles’s tragedy Antigone introduces a group of classical readings that investigate the conflict between the claims of the individual and those of the community.
The second unit develops the classical understanding of justice through study of Plato’s Apology and Crito and selections from Aristotle’s Politics.
The third unit examines the solution to the problem of justice found in the American Constitution, starting with the Declaration of Independence, and including readings from the English philosopher John Locke, the Federalist Papers, the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and the writings of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King.
The fourth unit turns to nineteenth-century liberal theory, which begins to raise serious but generally friendly critiques of liberal democracy. The readings are from J.S. Mill and Alexis de Tocqueville as well as Ibsen’s play An Enemy of the People.
The fifth unit, divided into two subunits, explores two fundamental practical issues as they relate to liberal democracy — the production and distribution of wealth, and war and foreign policy. Here we read selections from Adam Smith and Milton Friedman on economics, and Tocqueville once more, along with the ancient Greek historian Thucydides on war and justice.
The second semester begins with the sixth unit of the course, which presents the radical critique of liberal democracy from the left, in the writings of Karl Marx, as well as some more moderate criticisms, in the writings of contemporary social democrats and of George Orwell.
The seventh unit presents the radical challenge to liberal democracy from irrationalist thought (corresponding roughly to a challenge from the right), in the thought of Nietzsche and his heirs.
The eighth unit introduces the perspective of revealed religion, which radically criticizes any and all human attempts to achieve or even understand justice by unaided reason. Students will read excerpts from Genesis and Exodus as well as The Gospel According to St. Matthew.
Finally, the ninth unit of the course allows students to use what they have learned to examine contemporary cultural, political, and theoretical issues. Here we consider the question of whether modern liberal principles should be extended into the private sphere, and we take up issues concerning the extension of liberal democracy throughout the world. Readings include works by Simone de Beauvoir, Susan Okin, Francis Fukuyama, Samuel Huntington, and Benjamin Barber. We also consider the question of cultural relativism, by reading works by Allan Bloom and Richard Rorty.
We close the course with general reflections on the question of justice. Typically included here, a reading of Shakespeare’s The Tempest or Melville’s Billy Budd allows for reflection on the question of human nature and political rule.
Throughout the course, readings are juxtaposed so as to present diverse and sometimes sharply conflicting points of view. So that students may prepare adequately for each class, assignments from the common syllabus tend to be short. The course, an ongoing seminar that explores great issues, is designed to develop analytical skills, especially careful reading and effective discussion. Six to eight brief, analytical papers are assigned and carefully graded (for grammar and style as well as intellectual content). Instructors discuss the papers individually with students. Thus, this is also a“writing course” as well as one devoted to thinking and discussion. The papers typically account for 60 percent of the course grade, with the remainder dependent on class participation and the final examination.
On the first day of class of each term, every student receives a syllabus listing the assignments by date, due dates of the short papers, examination dates, and all other information that will enable the student to know what is expected in the course and when.
(.5 unit credit)
This course explores the guiding principles, major institutions, and national politics of the American political order. The Founders' view of liberal democracy and of the three branches of our government (presented in the Federalist Papers) will provide the basis for consideration of the modern Supreme Court, presidency, bureaucracy, congress, news media, and political parties and elections. The course concludes with Tocqueville's broad overview of American democracy and its efforts to reconcile liberty and equality. The material in the course will be exemplified by references to current political issues, events, and personalities.