Liberal Arts and Management Program | Individual Rights and Social Responsibility
L416 | 7652 | Norman Furniss


In the seminar we look at the troubled boundary between the value of
individual liberty and the value of living in a democracy. It would
be nice if these values could always be easily reconciled, but often
they cannot. For example, within variously interpreted limits, we
cherish the freedom to do and say what we want, and we usually, not
always, acknowledge the responsibilities associated with these
freedoms. But at the same time, for most of us individual liberty is
not the sole virtue, and we also have loyalties and commitments to
our families, our society, our employer, and our country. These
considerations raise the issue of whether our individually defined
freedoms can flourish only within the framework of a pluralistic
society and a democratic political order. If so, then what are our
responsibilities to our society and our country? What restrictions on
our liberties might be warranted in the name of the public good? On
the other side, what are the dangers that social, economic, or
political forces might overwhelm our personal freedoms?

We will approach these questions from three related directions. We
begin with John Stuart Mill’s famous treatise, On Liberty, and its
reflection in political and social life in the United States. We next
look at the value of democracy in fostering virtues and benefits
beyond those of the particular individuals who comprise the state.
This issue leads us to explore what the legitimate functions of the
democratic state might be. We conclude with an examination of the
relationship between capitalism or “corporations” and the market. As
Charles Lindblom notes in our readings, it is intriguing that except
in times of national peril all democracies are market economies. But
at the same time not all market economies are democracies. Clearly,
there are at least latent tensions between the two, the significance
of which is heightened when we consider not “capitalism” or “the
market” as some abstract entity, but the actual power and behavior of
corporations in America today.