Honors | Enacting Democracy
H204 | 8382 | John Lucaites

MW 1:00-2:15pm
HU 217

A persistent concern among contemporary political theorists and
popular pundits is the claim that democracy is in crisis or “on
trial.”  The reasons for this anxiety vary from writer to writer but
include the concern that U.S. public culture is increasingly
fragmented, mass mediated, ethnically and culturally diverse, and
subject to the demands of increasing globalization (including the
impulse to imperialism).  There are other worries as well, but the
bottom line is a concern that we have lost the capacity to enact a
productive democratic culture.  Anxieties about the problems and
possibilities about democracy are as old as western civilization.
In this class we will seek to understand some of the contemporary
anxieties about democracy by examining two important historical
antecedents:  the invention of a radical democracy in 4th century
BCE Athens, and the articulation of  a more republican form of
democratic governance with the appeal for universal human rights
that emerged in the context of the 18th century French Revolution.

Although the class will include some lectures and discussions, the
primary format for the class will draw upon a method of teaching
called “reacting to the past.”  According to this approach students
will participate in role simulations in which we recreate the
political environment and debates concerning the formation of
democratic forms of governance at different moments in time.  During
the first half of the semester the class will be converted into the
Athenian Pynx (the site of public debates and legislation in ancient
Athens) as we consider issues like who should make key decisions for
the Athenian society: randomly selected citizens? Oligarchs?
Philosopher Kings?  Will leaders continue to be chosen by random lot
(a mode of radical equality) or should there be a standard that
focuses on some measure of merit (e.g., wealth)?  Will citizenship
be broadened to include slaves who fought for democracy in the
recent wars?  Foreigners and immigrants?  Women?  Will Athens
rebuild its long walls and warships and extract tribute from
surrounding city-states?  Will public education be made universal
and free?  Who will decide what it should consist of? Will Socrates
be put on trial?   And if so, what should be his punishment. During
the second half of the class we will convert the classroom into the
French Estates-General as we address equally difficult issues and
concerns that emerged in the debates that led to the overthrow of
the French monarchy and the development of a revolutionary
democratic government.

The role simulations are open-ended, which means that there is no
guarantee that their outcome will be the same as their historical
counterparts.  Put differently, we will operate with the notion that
history is contingent and that historical outcomes are not
necessary.  In each case we will examine the implications of the
simulation as it works its way out in class  as a resource for
imagining how we might address and engage contemporary anxieties
about crafting a productive democratic public culture.

Primary readings for the class will include Plato, The Republic;
Jean Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, and Edmund Burke,
Reflections on the Revolution in France.  Additional readings will
draw upon histories of democracy in classical Athens and the events
of the French Revolution.  Students will write four short essays (3-
5 pp.) in the context of the two role simulations and a final essay
(7-10) reflecting on the implications of the simulations for
contemporary democratic public culture.

For more specific information contact Professor Lucaites