Paper Topics

Well, it’s that time of the semester. Time to write your super excellent fun essays about democratic theory! So please read the instructions below:

Select ONE of the following paper topics. Papers are to be 5-7 pages long (1250-1750 words), in 12 point, Times New Roman or Garamond font, with one inch margins. Papers are due MONDAY, OCTOBER 3, at the beginning of class. Whenever appropriate, make sure you support your arguments and claims with textual evidence. Don’t over-quote, however; it is often enough to refer to the relevant passage with a parenthetical reference (Rousseau, p. 45) or a footnote. Please note that for the purposes of this essay, the professor’s lectures are public domain; you don’t need to cite them. If you have an edition of any book different from the ones listed on the syllabus, make sure you indicate this in a bibliography or a footnote.

1. Hannah More’s pamphlet, “Village Politics,” was extremely popular and widely read.  That makes it a good example of the kind of “democratic” political dialogue Rousseau might be seen to advocate.  On the other hand, More’s argument explicitly argues against democracy.  In this essay, draw upon More’s essay to discuss whether popular literature that rejects democratic values can contribute to democracy. What, if anything, is good about More’s piece as a contribution in a democratic dialogue? What, if anything, is bad or problematic about it? Why? If you think it is bad, what would be better?

2. Write a Rousseauian response to Madison’s conception of a good polity. You may address either Madison’s conception of human nature or simply his plan for institutional design (or both if you think you have the room). Make sure you are clear on both Rousseau’s and Madison’s views.

3. One of the common criticisms of Rousseau’s conception of legitimacy is that it doesn’t adequately protect the rights of the minority.  Is this an accurate criticism?  Does Rousseau’s general will provide an adequate protection for the rights of the minority (or of the individual)?  Why or why not?

4. In different ways, both Mill and Rousseau adopt the position that a good political system must, at least some of the time, use force to prepare the people to exercise their freedom properly. Rousseau does so in his discussion of the need for a legislator (Book II, chapter 7); Mill does so implicitly when he asserts that “backward civilizations” or “barbarians” must be forcibly taught how to be civilized in order to use their freedom responsibly. Our question is this: is this logic an essential part of a democratic polity? That is, is it possible to imagine a free or democratic society that didn’t, in some way or other, exercise unjustified power to prepare its people for freedom?

5) One of Mill’s concerns is that, partly because of the growth of democratic culture, European civilization in the 19th century (including the U.S.) was losing diversity and becoming more uniform. This tendency, he argues, leads to a loss of progress and the rise of mediocrity. Rousseau, by contrast, would seem to approve of the growth of more homogeneity, suggesting that this might make it easier for a political society to be guided by its general will and thus to be free. In this essay stake out a position vis-à-vis these two arguments. Drawing on Mill and Rousseau’s arguments, assess whether democracy tends to lead to uniformity. If so, is this a bad thing?


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