College Of Arts and Sciences | The Values of Liberty and Democracy in American Political Life
S104 | 4009 | 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
our own 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 questions will be developed through a number of specific Case
studies. Should someone be allowed to make money by writing that
Hitler was a great man who was too kind to Jews? Should "free speech"
on university campuses be regulated to take into account perceived
ethnic, racial, or religious sensibilities? We also will spend time
reviewing the implications of September 11, 2001. To what extent is
it 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, so
there is no one way they are best explored. 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

Finally, the nature of this course structures the assignments. The
bulk of the assignments will consist of short written essays based on
the material read or presented in class. There will also be
opportunities for group work. There will be a "midterm" examination;
there will be no "final examination".

I would be pleased to discuss any aspect of this course. I can be
reached by email ( or by phone (855-9100).