Democracy & Disobedience
Course DescriptionWhat makes us good citizens? Are we the citizens we want to be or can we do better?
If we can do better, what qualities and attitudes do citizens need to have or need to acquire to guarantee the vitality of a modern polity?
Many Americans are pulled in two different directions. On the one hand, many want to be "left alone" to pursue their own life plans; yet, on the other, some of the very same folks yearn to participate in a more meaningful public life in pursuit of goals that reflect a common purpose.
Citizenship to most Americans tends to be seen largely as a matter of rights rather than as a set of responsibilities, as a defensive strategy against tyrannical governors. But have we become too private, too focused on rights, too individual to sustain a vital democracy in the new millennium?
The course will focus on the relation of the individual to the state and, in
particular, on the role of the citizen in democratic society. It is divided into four parts:
(1) An opening section in which the examples of Socrates, Antigone, Thoreau, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King will be discussed in light of their activities as citizens in their respective political communities and as part of a larger effort to develop a political philosophy of the rights and responsibilities of citizens in a democracy.Each section is devoted to the examination of the push and pull of competing ways of thinking about the role of the citizen and the nature of democracy, to an examination of the tension created, for example, by thinking of cizenship solely as a legal status as opposed to thinking of it as an activity, or by thinking of democracy solely as a method or procedure for selecting one's governors, as a mere means, as opposed to thinking of it in more substantive ways as the embodiment and cultivation of certain values and beliefs.
Topics to be discussed will include the grounds for the legitimacy of democratic states, the nature and significance of consent, electoral reform, democracy and inequality, campaign finance reform, the nature of a constituency, the nature of representation in a democracy, the idea of the vote, democratizing the workplace, the role and limits of dissent in a democracy, democracy and the "war on terror,"the majoritarian principle, constitutional democracy, cosmopolitan citizenship, deliberative democracy, toleration and and diversity.
Among the questions the course will address will be "What Does It Mean to be an American Citizen?" "Do the New Technologies Strengthen Democracy?" and "Is Globalization Good for Democracy?"
In its aim and format the course is more an exploration of a new way of thinking about democracy in the global era than a settled view of the way things are. Students will be encouraged to imagine alternative possibilities to a set of common and unreflectively held beliefs about the role to be played by citizens in a democracy.
In addition, you will have the option of meeting in smaller discussion sections each week. The section times will be posted. Sections will not be required, but will be available for any- and everyone who wishes to seize the opportunity to explore in greater depth some of the matters to which we shall put our minds in this course.
The COURSE REQUIREMENTS are also posted.
Also on the HANDOUTS page are GUIDES TO READING AND WRITING PHILOSOPHY as well as a section with links to PHILOSOPHY TEXTS ONLINE where there is a link to a page with links to CLASSICS OF WESTERN PHILOSOPHY that you may, just may, discover to be of some use.
The Reading for the course, broken down day by day, will be posted online on four different occasions with links to author biographies where appropriate as well as philosophy texts that are available on the Web and through the Brandeis Library Systems.