Monday, November 28, 2005

Final Exam: preliminary post

Logistics: We'll meet on Tuesday of finals week: (December 13) at the regular time, 8:45. I'll write an exam that I expect will take the average student about 90 minutes, so most slower writers won't have a significant disadvantage--you're welcome to use 125 minutes. The exam will be essay questions, so bring an exam book. The exam will be comprehensive. It will be structured in a way that requires you to write about either Mills Racial Contract or Steger's Globalism (amongst, of course, other things). I will either ask you to write one long essay and a few short ones of two longer essays (and maybe something really short as well).

As for information, study guides, etc.

Here are two options.

Option 1: I post several "sample questions" that are similar in structure and content to the ones I will ask, but are not, in fact, the questions that will appear on the exam. On the exam itself, there will be a non-trivial amount of choice about what ideology and what theorists you write about, sometimes within a question (example: compare one liberal and one conservative or Strong D. thinker on issue X), or between more specific questions.

Option 2: I give you a list of questions that I'll choose from for the longer essay questions. You'll have some of those essays to answer on the exam, but you'll have no choices--you'll have to answer the ones I choose. Also, once I post the exam questions, I'll offer only the most general help in formulating answers--they'll be posted after a review session, and you'll be more or less on your own in formulating answers. I'll probably post 6 or 7 questions, and you'll write on two. (I might also put a short answer on this exam that you won't know about in advance, but that'll be worth no more than 10% of the exam). Given that you have the precise questions in advance, my expectations would be modestly (but not significantly) higher.

I'm willing to go with a democratic decision here, and I'll tell you that the distribution of grades will probably be similar no matter which way you choose. We won't have much class time to devote to Rousseau/Barber style deliberation about this decision, so we'll have to go with a more liberal version of democracy--voting, taking the majority preference. Rousseau is too hard to please anyway.

I'd recommend option 1, personally--option 2 leads to unnecessary overpreparation and the questions I do ask will deal with major course themes and won't contain any sneaky tricks or questions that highlight minor details. Anyone who has been doing the readings, attending class, and spending some time just thinking about this stuff should do fine with a bit of review.

Feel free to use this discussion thread for two things. 1) Making the case for option 1 or 2 (we'll vote in class on Thursday), or 2) Asking me any further questions about what to expect on the exam.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

paper topics, second analytic essay

Same as before: 4-5 pages double-spaced, thesis-driven analytic essay.

Option 1:
Can Marxism be reconciled with a version of liberalism? Be sure to include and discuss arguments on both sides of this debate--your paper should discuss and consider strong arguments that conflict with your position and why they fall short.

Option 2:
Is Michael Walzer correct that "industrial democracy" is just as implied by the principle of democracy as political democracy? Why or why not? (as with option 1, do consider and evaluate strong arguments against your position).

Option 3:
Your own topic! Related to major themes in the course. The question must be submitted to me via email--or as a comment in this thread by class next Tuesday (11/29). I will either a) approve it, b) reject it, or c) modify it slightly and approve it. (c) is the most likely outcome.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Walzer on workplace democracy

Erin sent me a link to a very nice piece that rethinks Walzer's commitment to workplace democracy. It's a pretty sophisticated argument, and on a quick reading, I find several sections of it partially persuasive (yes, I'm refusing to commit one way or the other. I'll need to think about this). The article discusses how Walzer's commitment to workplace democracy relates to his larger theory of "complex equality" which you didn't read about but I did discuss briefly, but the author does an excellent job of summarizing these issues. If this you need some serious political theory to get through Thanksgiving, check it out here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Grade conversions

For the paper, and both future papers:

A 4.0
A- 3.75
A-/B+ 3.5
B+ 3.25
B 3.0
B- 2.75
B-/c+ 2.5
C+ 2.25
C 2.0
C- 1.75
C-/D+ 1.5
D+ 1.25
D 1.0
D- .75
F 0

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Thurs readings

Thursday's reading assignment is on e-reserve. Remember, the password is "halfmoon"

Please note that there are two different selections from Ben Barber. The first is about five pages, and that should be read very carefully. The second is a long chapter (close to 50 pages) and you'd be well advised to skim a bit when you're working through some of the details. In this chapter, he discusses about ten ideas for strong democratic reforms in the US. Read carefully about the ones that interest you, but don't worry about learning all the details for all of them. Do read the final section of this chapter, where he sums up his position, with some care.

Short paper

Here are the instructions for the short paper due 11/22:

1) Search for a recent (as in, from 2005) newspaper editorial, or op-ed. Major local papers are fine, as are large national papers (The New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, USA Today, Boston Globe, for example). Some have free searchable archives, others don't, but you can always search through the library's lexis-nexis database.

2) Print the column, and write a two page paper examining the political ideology of the column. Is the author showing liberal, conservative, or strong democratic tendencies (or, although this is very unlikely, Marxist tendencies)? In about two pages double-spaced, explain what ideology you think is at work in this editorial, and how it's influencing the author. Don't rely simply on the outcome or position that the author is arguing for--remember, ideology is about the process, not the outcome. As I mentioned the other day, David Brooks at the NY Times wrote a conservative column in defence of same sex marriage a couple of years ago.

I'll add to this post in answer to any questions you have about this assignment. Post your questions in this thread. If you find an op-ed column and you're having a hard time figuring it out, I'd advise you to move on. There are plenty of op-ed columns out there that should make this pretty easy.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Rousseau, book 2

Link to book two in post below.

ch 1-5

These chapters are further explorations of the nature of sovereignty, the general will, and it's relation to the individuals who compose it. A few questions to think about:

-why is sovereignty indivisible? Why can the sovereign 'not be represented'?
-the general will isn't fallible--what does this mean? Does this mean political decisions are never in error under a social contract?
-What are the limits on sovereign power?

ch. 6-7

Getting down to brass tacks. Chapter 6 addresses the question of law--how we get from the abstract level of legitimacy to the actual, written law. How does he define law, and why must it always be 'general and not particular'?

Chapter 7 returns us to the question of what happens at the founding of a political society. We've already seen the formula for the social contract oath all citizens must give (1:6), but here we get into a little more detail. Apparently, it's not as egalitarian as he made is sound. Very smart, powerful clever men (this translation calls them legislators, but the French term is often translated as "lawgiver") who create the legal codes for a people--and 'give' them their laws. Historical examples, Rousseau tells us, include Moses, Lycurgus, and Mohammed.

-what is the task of the legislator? What role, if any, does the legislator play in the state itself? Finally, what advice does Rousseau give to would-be lawgivers at the end of the chapter?

ch. 8-10

These chapters are titled "The people". They all describe what sort of preexisting societies can be "given laws" and become a legitimate social-contract based political society? Why do you think he selects these conditions? Would any society meet this conditions today?

Note that at the end of ch. 10 he reveals where, in Europe, the potential for a social contract exists.

ch. 11-12.

You've worked hard enough at this point. The final two chapters aren't required. This is plenty of Rousseau to try to digest in a weekend.

Feel free to use this discussion thread, and the one below, to begin to think about any of my questions, pose your own, or generally comment on Rousseau.

Next Week's readings, and a reading guide to Rousseau, Book I

We'll begin the next political ideology, which I call "Strong Democracy." Rousseau's Social Contract serves as a founding and basis for this theory in the same way Burke is the 'father' of classical conservatism. Rousseau's is a challenging and contradictory work, however, and the reading for Tuesday will be difficult.

Here is chapter ONE and chapter TWO.

(Thursday's readings--by John Dewey and Ben Barber--on on UWB e-reserve. Remember, the password is 'halfmoon')

As to Rousseau, a bit of background. In previous work (especially, the Discourse on the Origins of Inequality) Rousseau had expressed skepticism about the value and wisdom of human social/economic/technological progress--in other words, he was dissenting from the enthusiastic embrace of the enlightenment. This might make you think his sympathies lie with conservatives like Burke, and you'd be wrong. In This book, The Social Contract, he seeks to explain how a political society might be just. As you read along, you'll see him being skeptical about nations actually being in a position to be "given" a social contract, so some semblence of pessimism remains. But, the upshot here is that society can be legitimate and worthwhile, but only if and when it is radically democratic.

What does this mean? Too soon to say. Instead, let's begin with a look at how Rousseau begins.

Book I

--chapter 1

The first paragraph is worth quoting here:

MAN is born free; and everywhere he is in chains. One thinks himself the master of others, and still remains a greater slave than they. How did this change come about? I do not know. What can make it legitimate? That question I think I can answer.

Our freedom is lost in society because we've become dependent on each other. Like liberals, Rousseau assumes that individual autonomy is central to freedom. Unlike liberals, Rousseau thinks this is entirely impossible in a modern society.

So, he's signalling here that even though we'll likely remain "in chains" that this situation can still, potentially, be legitimate.

--chapter 2-4

The discussion that's most relevant here is his critique of those (like several defenders of slavery) "derive right from fact"--that is, they base their theory of what ought to be based on what is, or has been. Several defenders of slavery employed this tactic. The right of the strongest and slaver are two variants of this approach, and Rousseau skewers them nicely. (reading question: What, according to Rousseau, is wrong with these approaches?)

--ch. 5

We must, Rousseau says, return to a 'first convention' if we're to figure out what sort of government is legitimate. In other words, Rousseau is announcing himself to be a social contract theorist, as you probably gathered from the title (like Locke, but unlike Mill and Burke).

--ch. 6

What kind of social contract should we have? What conditions must it meet? Rousseau says here:

"The problem is to find a form of association which will defend and protect with the whole common force the person and goods of each associate, and in which each, while uniting himself with all, may still obey himself alone, and remain as free as before." This is the fundamental problem of which the Social Contract provides the solution.

You should find this puzzling. If it sounds to you like Rousseau wants to have his cake and eat it too, well, I wouldn't blame you. Can he pull it off? Read on to...

"Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will, and, in our corporate capacity, we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole."

Read carefully. Read the following paragraph, the last of the chapter, carefully. I don't necessarily expect this to be clear to you, but try to figure out what's going on here, or your best guess.

ch. 7

"The Sovereign" is the body politic--the thing we just created, and placed all our power in, in the previous chapter. What does it feel like to live as part of/under the power of the sovereign? What role do we have in it?

Also--this chapter contains one of the most infamous and seemingly contradictory statements you'll see this quarter. Identify it and tell me what you think Rousseau means by it. (hint: it's about freedom)

ch. 8-9

Rousseau discusses the changes in the nature of morality (8) and property (9) as we enter into a social contract and a civil society.

At the end of chapter one, you should be a bit baffled by Rousseau's repeated use of the phrase "general will". What, precisely, is this strange thing? Read on, dear readers, to chapter two.