Political Science | Making Democracy Work
Y212 | 28469 | Isaac

Making Democracy Work
Professor Jeffrey C. Isaac

Democracy is one of the most powerful terms in the political
vocabulary of the late modern world. What sociologist Roberto Michels
wrote almost one hundred years ago remains true today—in our time
almost everyone, liberator and tyrant alike, describes themselves as a
“democrat.” Is this a good or a bad thing? That is one of the
animating questions of this course. The other is an even broader
question: What are the meanings that attach to the concept of
“democracy,” and how is it that a term that originally had such
negative connotations for so many writers has come to be so widely

The purpose of this course is to unpack the meanings of “democracy,”
to consider the distinctive logic of the particular form of
democracy—liberal democracy—under which we live, and to consider
whether the idea of democracy continues to have any critical or
subversive potential as we look to the future of the 21st century.

The questions we will pose to “democracy” do not arise in a vacuum. We
live at a time when many commentators are raising questions about
whether democracy continues to “work” well and how it might be made to
“work” better. Our discussions of democracy are intended to help us
all, as citizens of the US and of the world, to better understand how
democracy works, why it works the way it does, whether its workings
can be improved, and whether the metaphor of “working” is the best way
to think about democratic politics.

The Professor, Jeffrey Isaac, has long written and taught about
democracy and democratization. The course will be taught through a
mixture of engaging lectures, directed class discussion, and free
class discussion.  The primary texts for the course will be essays,
speeches, and other writings on democracy from famous historical
figures (Plato, Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Jr.), lesser
known political activists, and political scientists. These texts will
be available online. The main assignments for the class will be a
short essay and take home midterm and final exams with a strong essay
component. Every aspect of the class logistics will be explained on
the syllabus on the first day of class.