College Of Arts and Sciences | Liberty and its Enemies
E104 | 2502 | Furniss, N.
In this seminar we will discuss and evaluate some of the theoretical
and practical tensions between the value of individual rights and the
value of living in a democracy. Tensions occur on two levels. On the
level of public policy, individual liberty is difficult to maintain
outside a supporting social and political structure. But what if the
political or social order itself makes demands that seem to restrict
our liberties? On a personal level, we all face the tension between
self-interest and a concern for the well being of others. The problem
is put nicely by Hillel—“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
But if I am only for myself, then what am I?”
These issues will be developed through a number of case studies.
Should someone be allowed to make money by writing that Hitler was a
great man? Should “free speech” on university campuses be regulated
to take account of ethnic, racial, or religious differences? In the
course of these discussions we will spend a good deal of time
reviewing our government’s reaction to the terrorist attacks of
September 11, 2001. To what extent should it be permissible to
restrict individual liberties in order to try to ensure public
security? What, if any, limits should be placed on the “war on
terrorism” and why?
Just as there is no obviously “correct” answer to these questions,
there also is no inherently superior way to explore their
implications. In this seminar we will use a variety of materials and
arguments—from classic works in political thought to current
political commentary, from court cases to movies. All will be
directed toward the basic aim of developing an understanding of the
relationship between individual rights and social and political