Reading questions on More, Burke, and Madison

For Tuesday, we are reading Burke and More. The discussion of Madison will occur on Thursday. However, this post will cover both readings.

First, a little bit of background. Hannah More (1745-1833) was a British writer and philanthropist. Throughout much of her writing career, her primary goal was to defend traditional religious beliefs against what she saw as radical and atheistic political beliefs. The pamphlet we’re reading was written during the French Revolution, and it was clearly aimed at convincing the masses to reject the core revolutionary principles being espoused at the time. Specifically, it took aim at Thomas Paine’s famous text, The Right of Man. Just as he was of the American Revolution, Paine was an enthusiastic supporter of the uprising in France (indeed, he went to France early in the Revolution and was elected to the French national legislature). His ideas were quite similar to those of the American revolutionaries—the idea that we are all equal, that we have inalienable rights, and that government must be selected by the governed. So, he proposed things like banning the aristocracy and the monarchy, progressive taxation, national education, and so forth. He was also an atheist, and his radicalism proved widely popular among certain aspects of the British commoners. So More’s pamphlet aims to counter his position; she aims to develop an equally popular treatise that defends the existing order. As you’re reading her text, think about the following questions:

(1) The text is in the form of a dialogue between Tom and Jack. It purports to be a debate, but is it? Does Tom, the defender of Paine, have anything interesting or intelligent to say? What is More trying to do when she has Tom’s position appear to be nothing more than a bunch of poorly thought out slogans and cliches?

(2)One of the primary targets of More’s critique is the idea of equality. What are some of the criticisms of equality that she develops in her text?

(3) According to More, what is the only valid source of political knowledge (or knowledge about how we should organize our society)?

(4) More accuses the ideas of democracy and the rights of man of being “atheistic.” Do you agree? Why might someone think that these ideas are ultimately anti-Christian?

(5) Though More’s critique is targeted primarily at Thomas Paine, do you think it also would apply to Rousseau? Why or why not?

Questions regarding Burke:

(1) In his critique of representation, Rousseau says that someone elected by the people is at best a deputy or agent of the people; he cannot possibly be their “representative.” Do you think Burke agrees?

(2) Burke says that it is true that the member of Parliament should subordinate himself to the interests of his constituents, but he also insists that the representative is the best judge of the constituents’ interests. What do you suppose he means?

(3) What is Burke’s opinion of the idea of “campaigning,” or of going among the voters to ask for their votes?

(4) Burke insists that Parliament is not a “congress” or collection of competing interests, but a deliberative body that aims to legislate in a way that produces the common good for the whole nation. What is the difference between a “congress of competing interests” and a “deliberative body”?

Finally, some questions regarding Madison’s Federalist 10 and 51

(1) How does Madison define a faction? How and why do they form?

(2) What problems do factions produce in a political system? What are some of the means by which a political system can deal with factions?

(3) As we discussed earlier, Rousseau seems to think that we have a better chance to maintain a free and republican government in a small society. Madison, by contrast, reverses this: he argues that a larger republic, in which a large number of voters choose a fairly small number of representatives, creates a much better chance to maintain freedom and to counter the pernicious effects of factions. Why does he think this? Do you think he’s right?

(4) In Federalist 51, Madison outlines the core problem of maintaining a free society. We need government to preserve our liberties vis-a-vis one another, but at the same time, government can also interfere with our liberties. What is Madison’s basic solution to this problem?

(5) Notice that in this text Madison discusses the idea of “checks and balances” but not the notion of a “separation of powers.” What is the difference between these two ideas?

(6) Broadly speaking, Rousseau seems to suggest that a good political system fundamentally depends on having a good and properly organized people in it. Does Madison agree? How does he think that we should try to achieve a good political system?

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