Monday, October 24, 2005

Thursday's reading

The first reading for conservatism is a one-act play. Hanah More's Village Politics. Read it here. Even if you don't have a chance to read it before Thursday's class, print it out and bring it. We'll go over it in class.

On (positive) liberty

There are a lot of interesting blogs with good political theory content. I'll point out posts of potential interest to what we're studying. Here's a blog post by a philosopher on what "liberty" means, and why "liberalism" is a term we shouldn't give up on. It makes, I think, a good point, and might be of some interest for those of you working on the second paper topic--whether you agree with her or not, it might spark some thought.

Here's the money quote:

The whole aim of liberalism is to see it that people have options--that no one is stuck doing the drudge work I did permanently because they don't come from rich families. The market won't make that happen--that is simply an empirical fact.

She illustrates this point with a personal example.

Of course, if you reference her specific arguments in her paper, you'll need to cite them.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Next Tuesday's reading

This was originally and incorrectly titled "thursday's readings." These readings are for Tuesday, the 25th. Tomorrow. Sorry for any confusion....

Harriet McBryde Johnson, "Unspeakable Conversations" is here.

For Michael Cummings, "Children's Right to Vote" follow the following steps.

Follow this link,

Click on "electronic reserves and reserve pages"

Search for my course, either by changing the search term to instructor and searching for "watkins" or by number (362)

At this point, you'll be asked for a password. Type in "halfmoon"

Then you'll have a list of links to the Reserve readings. Cummings is listed 4th. Click it for a PDF file of the reading. It's five pages long. If you're printing, save time and paper by printing pages 3-7, as pages 1 and 2 are front cover material.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Paper topic and instructions

Your first analytic essay, due 10/27. Here is a paper topic for you:

1) "Locke and Mill both provide a foundation for a set of liberal individual rights. However, they use entirely different methods for establishing the foundations of those rights. In this paper, compare and contrast the foundations for liberal individual rights of Locke and Mill. Which foundation provides the most compelling justification? Why? In the course of giving your answer, address the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches."

Here's another one:

2) Liberal political philosophy, at its outset, had a strong connection to capitalism as a practice and a social system. As we entered the 20th century, however, the connections between the principles of liberal theory have capitalism in practice have seen increased tensions. Capitalism and liberal philosophy must now be understood as uneasy allies, at best,

Do you agree or disagree with that statement? Why or why not? Your paper should be a defense, criticism, or reformulation of the above statement, drawing on your analysis of the liberal philosophical texts discussed in this class.

Now, for the rules.

1) Choose one. Don't do both.

2) You should have a clear thesis statement, somewhere in the introductory paragraph, that indicates specifically what your argument is, and how you go about demonstrating it.

3) One of the silly rules students are sometimes taught is that you are not allowed to use the word "I" in your writing at all. I don't buy it. However, you don't need to constantly preface sentences with "I think." It's implied. Furthermore, I'm not terribly interested in what you think (in this paper) unless what you think is a) relevent to the argument you are making, and b) you can demonstrate you have good reasons for thinking it. I want your arguments, not your opinions.

4) As a policy, I don't read and give feedback on drafts. I do, however, read and give feedbacks on thesis statements, introductory paragraphs, outlines, plans for the paper, or any combination thereof.

5) This paper should be about 4 pages. Double spaced, normal margins, 10-12 point fonts. I know all the lengthening and shortening tricks, and besides it's the content that matters. Going over is OK, as long as you're not too wordy, going under might be OK if you have a very high content to word ratio.

6) Grammar and spelling count; organization and content count more. Do your best to write a clear, well organized paper, and proofread. That last word is not synonymous with spellcheck.

7) I'll gladly answer your questions as best I can. Just ask. Office hours are immediately following class. If you can't make it, the best alternative time would be at 8:00 AM or shortly thereafter. If you're unable to meet that early, or allergic to getting up that early, I might be able to meet with you after an 11-1:05 class, but do try and arrange a later meeting in advance if that is your wish. I may not be able to make that meeting if you suggest it that day.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

More readings

Next Tuesday, 10/18, read:

Chapter three of Mill's On Liberty (here)
and Chapter one of Mill's On the Subjection of Women (here)

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

JS Mill (1806-1873)

John Stuart Mill is, along with Locke and Kant, one of the philosophers most associated with the liberal worldview. On Liberty, his most famous work of political philosophy, offers his take on that most liberal of questions, the proper limits of government activity. At what point has government gone too far--what should government, no matter how democratic and well-intentioned--never mess with? How do we figure out what those limits are?

Locke looked to the laws of God and nature to answer this question. Americans tend to look to the constitution and the bill of rights first. Mill doesn't do that--he doesn't assume an unimpeachable list of rights, be they from God of Nature or the smart guys who founded our country, exist. He sets out to defend freedom of speech (ch. 2) and lifestyle (ch. 3) on entirely different grounds.

Here's a list of discussion questions on Mill. Note that the final three refer to material in chapter 3, so we won't address them until next week.

If you'd like to get a discussion started on any of these, please do. Be sure to include the number of the question you are discussing. Alternatively, feel free to introduce your own Mill related topics and questions.

1) What do Locke and Mill have in common? Is Mill’s harm principle similar to Locke’s concept of natural law? Is it different?

2) What kind of reasons does Mill give for supporting freedom of expression and speech? How does this differ from Locke?

3) How (according to Mill) can we tell if an opinion is true or not?

4) Mill gives separate reasons for the importance for freedom of expression and ideas for a) ideas that are correct and true, b) ideas that are incorrect and possibly morally repugnant, and c) ideas that are partially true and partially false. What are his reasons for supporting each of these freedoms of expression?

5) Based on this text, how do you think Mill feels about democracy? Why?

6) What point is Mill making with his discussions of Marcus Aurelius and Plato?

7) Mill is clear that the government should not repress speech or make it illegal, but that is not the only potential source of repression. What does he think about the dangers of social limitations on ideas and expressions?

8) Why (according to Mill) should freedom of expression be extended to freedom of lifestyle and activity?

9) Describe Mill’s theory of human progress. How does progress take place, according to Mill? How does this differ from Marx’s view of progress? Why is Marx more certain human societies will progress than Mill is?

10) Not everyone is included among those Mill deems “suitable for liberty”. Who is excluded? Does this change your impression of Mill?

And one last big one:

11) Who provides a stronger foundation for liberal rights, Mill or Locke?

Monday, October 10, 2005

General advice on reading

I like to think I've kept the reading load at a moderate level for much of this course, given the difficulty of the material. Of course, there will be days with a lot more reading assigned, and I'm sure you all have other classes with lots and lots of reading. If keeping up with reading is keeping you down, let me make a suggestion: This primer to "how to read in College" is really smart and helpful, and I wish someone had told me this when I was an undergraduate. It's written by Timothy Burke, a history professor at Swathmore and a really smart guy.

There's lots of good advice here, especially for those classes (you will probably encounter them eventually, even if you missed them so far) where hundreds of pages per week are assigned. I think he's particularly correct about highlighting/underlining. I use these techniques sometime when I'm reading for a specific point; for example, I'm currently working on a paper on the relationship between judicial review and democracy. So when I read boring legal theory as research, I highlight only those things relevant to a consideration of democracy, not that which is central to the argument the person is making. Becuase I'm reading for specific research purposes, and I'm not terribly interested in the central argument being made in this writing.

As a student, your assigned class reading is rarely that targeted; you're generally reading for general comprehension and analysis provided by the reading. If you do underline/highlight, you'll soon forget *why* you highlighted that point, as you have multiple and general reading goals. I suggest you always make a point of jotting down in the margins your reasons for highlighting a particular passage, rather than simply highlighting and wondering later what you thought was important.

Feel free to use this comment thread to ask any general questions about the course, how to study and read and understand political theory, and so on. I've tried to re-enable anonymous commenting, so if you'd rather not identify yourself you don't have to.

Class tomorrow

Catching up tomorrow. The first hour will be devoted to the advances in liberal theory and practice associated with the American revolution. The second hour will be devoted to the theoretical advances in liberal political philosophy on the other side of the Atlantic around the same time; specifically those associated with the theory of free market capitalism (Smith) and free and functioning minds associated with "enlightenment" (Kant). Kant's hope that liberal and republican ideas, in practice, could lead to a more peaceful world go hand in hand with Smith's hope that a liberal economic order will lead to a more productive and wealthy world. Late 18th century is characterized by a sort of cautious optimism about the future. A few questions:

Is Madison (author of Federalist 10 and 51) best characterized as an optimist or a pessimist about human affairs? Why?

What powers does Hamilton (78) wish to give the federal courts, and why? Why might liberal political philosophy be particularly interested in a strong version of judicial review?

How does Kant define "enlightenment"? Can you think of examples of "enlightened" or "unenlightened" behavior common in our modern lives?

Why, for Kant, is it important that we be free in our private exercise of reason but not our public exercise of it?

What, according to Adam Smith, is the essence of human nature? How does this inform his political theory?

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Next Thursday's reading

The reading assignment for Thursday is the first two chapters of On Liberty by John Stuart Mill. Be warned, this is a bit larger than most reading assignments, so plan accordingly (in an ordinary book, chapter one is about 15 pages; chapter 2 is about 35). If you don't already have a copy, here you go:

Chapter 1
Chapter 2


For Tuesday, you should read, in addition to the Kant and Smith chapters in Ball and Dagger, Kant's essay "Perpetual Peace." If you haven't already found a copy, there's a nice one here.

You need a number

You need a number. If you were in class Thursday, you have one. If you were not, you'll need to contact me and get a number. I'll explain later.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005


"Locke is convinced that the legislative branch ought to remain under some sort of democratic control, but not so the executive branch."

Assuming this statement is true (and it is, trust me), why?

Post your best theory below. We'll discuss Thurs.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Thursday's online readings

In addition to a few pages from Ball and Dagger, I'd like you to read The Federalist Papers (#10, 51 and 78) for Thursday's class.

Here they are:


For those of you planning your week, these are each essays of about five pages in length, but they're pretty dense. For those who don't know the background, these are from a series of essays written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay in 1787 and 1788, in an effort to win over public opinion for the new proposed constitution that would be adopted in 1789. They were published anonymously at the time under the moniker "Publius." Historians are pretty sure 10 and 51 were Madison's and 78 was Hamilton's.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Hobbes, Locke, and the origins of liberalism

First, a practical matter--I've been informed that the bookstore ran out of Ball and Dagger's Ideals and Ideologies. I've been assured that they've got a couple dozen more books on order. The guy at the bookstore suggested I "go easy" on you since some of you won't have the book in time, but that's no fun at all! So here's where you can get the reading for Tuesday.

Hobbes. We're reading Leviathan (1651), slightly shortened versions of chapters 13 and 14. Here's an alternate version of those chapters. Here's a link to chapters 13-18; just read the first two chapters.

Locke. We're reading selections from "A Letter Concerning Toleration" (1689) and "Second Treatise on Government" (1690). Don't worry too much about tracking down and reading the selections from the LCT, but do try to read the relevant sections of the 2nd Treatise. Here's a link to the second treatise. Read chapter 2 (except paragraph 5), chapter 5 (all) and chapter 19 (paragraph 222-225 only).

So that's that.

This Tuesday, you're reading some excerpts from two theorists who are often associated with the beginnings of classical liberalism as a political ideology. This can be confusing, because Hobbes was most definitely not a liberal in his political views (he was a liberal, or at least a quasi-liberal, in his views on the nature of individuals, and the individual/society relationship.

Hobbes and Locke both use a theoretical device in the readings you'll be doing called "The State of Nature (SoN)". The SoN is what the theorist imagines life and the social world would be like if we were to remove all political power and authority.

Discussion question: What do Hobbes and Locke's visions of the SoN look like? How are they similar? How are they different? Why do they disagree?

Hobbes and Locke look to the SoN to determine what sort of government might be legitimate (that is, might have a rightful moral claim on our obedience). The presumption here is that legitimacy isn't just a given. Power isn't just to be accepted. "Might makes right" might occasionally be correct as a practical slogan, but alone it doesn't a moral point. Furthermore, both Hobbes and Locke use the state of nature to demonstrate that political power isn't legitimate without the consent of the people. While it's important to remember this doesn't lead to democracy, necessarily (not at all for Hobbes, to a very limited extent for Locke), this is a core liberal concept. Our rights, our liberty, begin with us. This starting point, oddly, doesn't prevent Hobbes from reaching positive conclusions about authoritarianism.

Discussion question: Does it make sense to say legitimate political authority relies on the consent of the people? Does consent need to be explicit, or can it be tacit? In your view, have you consented to be governed? Why or why not?

A couple more topics of discussion revolving around the readings from Locke.

In parts of this text we don't read, Locke suggests that the executive branch of government (King, President) needn't be democratically elected, but the legislative branch (Congress, Parliament) should and must be. Based on what you did read from Locke, can you figure out why he would reach that conclusion?

Locke's theory of property is among the most famous defenses of private property from a liberal perspective. It's surprisingly complicated; a good exercise would be to try to chart the steps in the argument. We'll go over some of them in class.

Discussion questions: Why does Locke conclude private property is legitimate, even though "God Gave the earth to men in common" (26)? What limits does Locke place on property acquisition? Why does the invention of currency (37) change those limits?

A student once said to me (regarding Locke's theory of property) "this is the theory of capitalism in a nutshell!" Do you agree? Why or why not?