Brandeis University, Philosophy Department
Fall 2004
Brandeis University Web Stite

Philosophy 20A

Democracy & Disobedience

Professor Andreas Teuber
Prof. Teuber

A Letter in Philosophy

Drawing on your own sound reasoning and good judgment, write a letter in which you anaswer all six questions on the following pages..

Please feel free to address the letter to anyone, a close relative, a friend, another philosopher, a mother, father, sister or brother. So, too, please feel free to think of the letter as one that you need not send. In other words do not shade your opinions for someone else's sake.

Explain to whomever the letter is addressed why you believe what you do, why you think the way you do. Propose a possible objection or set of objections to your line of thought and explain how you would address that objection or set of objections.

The letter will be graded pass/fail or credit/no credit, although it will be possible to receive a "high pass" and/or "credit plus." In order to receive a "high pass" or "credit plus" which could improve any one of your graded papers in the course by a half grade (thus, for example, a "B+" or a "3.3" would become a "3.8"), give an overview. i.e., a cohesive summary of the main arguments and considerations put forward in Ribert Dahl's ON DEMOCRACY and in Dennis Thompson's JUST ELECTIONS: Creating a Fair Electoral Process in the United States, commenting briefly on the strengths and weaknesses of each.

The letter should total about three to four (3-4) pages if only for credit and about seven to ten (7-10) pages in length, if you elect to "shoot for" a "High Pass" or "Extra Credit." In either case you may write a longer letter without penalty, if you wish. Papers are due on Tuesday, November 9th, in class.


I. The Iraq War

The Iraq War has been no picnic. War never is, but some who prosecuted the war were convinced that it would be, if not a picnic, a quick defeat for the Saddam regime, followed by hugs and kisses from the Iraqi people. This did not happen and we are still "at war" without a clear end in sight.

Some now talk of two wars: the war to oust Saddam and the current war that is being fought to secure the country and put down the insurgency.

I have three questions, one about the past, one about the present and one about the future.

(1) Do you support the war against Iraq, the first war? What, to your mind, justifies having invaded Iraq in the first place? And what, if anything, would you have done differently to prevent a second war?

(2) What is your assessment of the current situation on the ground? Is Iraq headed towards civil war or do you (perhaps) see signs of a "political solution?"

(3) If you were elected President on November 2nd and became our next Commander-in-Chief, where would you take us from here?

II. Health Care

Some believe the current shortage of flu vaccine serves as "a perfect illustration" of the need for "more active government involvement in the provision of essential health care serveices to the public." Contrary to "free market" dogma, some have noted that the market with its built-in profit motive "does not sevre the best interests of our country when the public's health is at stake."

So, too, some eyebrows were raised when the government announced recently that it "is trying to import additional vaccine from Canada," given Bush's concern voiced in the second debate with John Kerry that perhaps "Canadian pharmaceuticals might not be safe."

What role do you think government should play in caring for the health and well-being of its citizens and, specifically, where do you stand on allowing citizens to import drugs from Canada, scientists to engage in stem cell research, and millions of children, their low-income parents and the unemployed who presently lack health insurance to become eligible for Medicaid?

III. Domestic Economic Policy

Twenty-five years ago the Democrats complained Ronald Reagan's economic policy was turning America into "a nation of hamburger flippers." John Kerry could level the same charge today against the Bush policy.

But as Benjamin Friedman, the Harvard economist, has pointed out Bush might defend himself by saying that his goal is not to discourage Americans from work but to encourage and reward Americans to save nd invest by reducing capital gains taxes, with tax-free personal health care savings accounts, the elimination of estate taxes and by personal tax-free savings accounts for social security.

Kerry's proposals are less well formulated but they are clearly designed to strengthen the employer-based system and reinforce government support for those who simply work for a living as well as those who suddenly find themsleves out of work. Thus nothing could be starker: "the fundamental economic issue of this election invloves the respective role of work and saving - labor and capital - in the economy we seek to create."

"Do we value and encourage one, or the other, or both? What do you think of the Bush proposals that reward savings and income earned from savings by making them exempt from taxes and moving toward a system of financing the entire burden of the federal government on income earned from working , on what The New York Times recently called, 'a wage tax.'"

"Should we look to income earned from capital or work or both to pay for what we do as a society, whether that be waging a war in Iraq or providing education and health care here at home? Should we distribute economic rewards and offer incentives to those who are in a position to save and invest or to those who work or to both?"

What would you propose?

IV. Terrorism

On September 7 Vice President Cheney raised the threat of another 9/11: "It's absolutely essential," he said, "that eight weeks from today, on Nov. 2, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again, and we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States, and it will fall back into the pre-9/11 mindset, if you will, that in fact, these terrorist attacks are just criminal acts and that we're not really at war."

Edwards quickly shot back that Cheney had "crossed the line" by implying "that if you go to the polls in November and elect anyone other than us, and another terrorist attack occurs, then it's your fault."

These remarks might be dismissed as mere "campaign rhetoric" but for the fact that most agree that the threat of international terrorism is a real and present danger.

What is to be done?

The 1000-plus page 9/11 Commission Report contains a number of detailed recommendations, including the major overhaul of U.S. intelligence services and the creation of a National Intelligence Director. The Commission report also calls for "better cooperation between the U.S. and its allies in creating a global strategy to battle terror." And, on the domestic front, recommendations were made on a host of items from new port security measures to the enforcement of national criteria for obtaining a driver's licenses. Congress is moving to enact these provisions, but there are competing bills on the floor.

What would you recommend? What in the Report is worthy of implementation and what do you think should be revised or dismissed?

Finally, how would you address the threat of international terrorism beyond our borders? Indeed do you see the "war against terrorism" as a "war" at all? Do you view the War in Iraq as part and parcel of the war against terrorism or is the Iraq War a diversion? If so, where and how is the threat of international terrorism better met?

V. Social Policy

Social issues such as the prohibition of partial birth abortions and the right of same sex couples to obtain a marriage license are unlikely to have a direct effect on the outcome of the national election, but initiatives banning same-sex marriage are on the ballot in eleven states, four of which have been designated as swing states at one point or another in the Presidential race and another four which have close Senate races.

An ad airing in South Dakota attacks Tom Daschle for refusing "to protect marriage," letting "activist judges redefine it." In the last debate Bush repeated his support for a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman.

In February, as you know, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court found in Goodridge that state attorneys had "failed to identify any constitutionally adequate reason to deny [same sex couples] the right [to marry]." Kerry is for civil unions but opposed to same-sex marriage, against a constitutional amendment but for leaving the definition of marriage in the hands of the states.

Some social conservatives believe permitting same-sex marriage will destroy the traditional family. If the state sanctions same-sex marriage, they claim, "the younger generation [people like yourselves] will become confused about sexual identity and quickly lose [your] understanding of lifelong commitments, emotional bonding, sexual purity and the role of children in a family."

What do you think? Should same sex couples have the right to marry. If so, what do you find most disturbing about some of the alternative proposals? If you do not believe same-sex couples have this right, are you in favor of civil unions or some other sort of arrangement entirely?

VI. Homeland Security and Civil Liberties

A little over forty days after 9/11 President Bush signed a 342 page bill into law. Called the United and Strengthening of America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. Its clumsy name, many are convinced, was deliberate, chosen so that its acronym USA PATRIOT ACT "would send the message that to oppose it would be unpatriotic."

Some of the changes in criminal, immigration, banking and intelligence law in the Act were drafted to accommodate the development of new technologies. Thus the Act permits law enforcement, given the increased use of cell phones, to apply for "roving wiretaps" without having to identify a specific phone number.

But there are other, more disturbing features of the act, begining with the definition of "domestic terrorism" which is so loose-grained that it might include activities that can reasonably be expected to fall under "protected free speech." So, too, the Act allows secret searches without probable cause, deportation as the result of one's mere association with a "disfavored organization or group," and unilateral executive detentions.of "material witnesses."

While these measures may set off alarm bells in the heads of many a civil libertarian and raise substantial concerns about respect for basic human rights, we are - after all - in a war against terrorism. Where the national security of the country is at stake security considerations must trump our commitments to international law and the Constitution, no?

Indeed, wouldn't you agree that to bend to civil liberties in these times is to be weak in the face of terrorism?

How is the balance between protecting the nation's security and protecting our civil liberites to be struck?

Do you believe the government is drawing the line in the right place? If not, where do you think the line should be drawn?


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