Tag Archives: political philosophy

Continuing Important Conversations

There is a Yiddish word that describes how I feel when former students take discussions started in class and extend and elaborate on them: “kvelling.” The closest English translation is probably “taking extreme pride in something.”

I found myself “kvelling” when Matt Greenwood, a former student, contacted me about a blog he was launching; he calls it “Politicology” (which is, I admit, a mouthful). Why the name?

I named this blog Politicology because it will focus on political theories. Living in a time when trust in journalism is at an all-time low, and when the very language of political discourse has become barriers to civil and fruitful conversations, I feel political theorists have much to contribute.

Matt proposes to address issues of media literacy and the various attempts underway to explain American polarization–as he puts it, to “get to the core ideological differences underlying the controversies of our day.”

As stated in the Politicology mission statement the approach taken in this blog is that of being evidence-driven, non-partisan, and objective. However, it does not make one partisan to comment on how one party breaks democratic norms with greater intent and regularity than another. In fact, it would be irresponsible to disregard truth in the pursuit of balance and false equivalency.

Unlike this blog, which peppers your email in-boxes with daily rants, Matt proposes to post a thoughtful disputation once a month. I encourage you to visit.

Matt was certainly one of my better students, but I have been surprised and gratified by the recent enthusiasm of undergraduate students for political philosophy–and by their engagement with the political system. Our Student Services counselors tell me that the number of graduate students focusing on public policy has also increased substantially.

The apparent reason for these extremely positive changes in student behavior is concern over the democratic institutions of our country–and a recognition of the dangers posed by ignorance and racial and religious animosities.

A few years ago, I developed a class in political philosophy titled “Individual Rights and The Common Good.” It was an exploration of the roots of American constitutionalism, and the inevitable conflict between individual liberty and what the Founders called “popular passions.” It was originally offered every other year, and until last year,  I think the largest enrollment was 15 or so. (It isn’t a required class.)

I’m teaching it again this year, and I have 25 students. Not only that, they are engaged–class discussions are lively, and–importantly–civil; and students “get into” the readings, which begin with Aristotle, and go through Locke, Mill and other Enlightenment figures, and include some pretty dense contemporary writers, including Rawls and his critics, before we consider how that philosophy applies to current constitutional debates.

If we can just keep the ship of state afloat until this generation takes over, I think we’ll be fine.

Go take a look at my former student’s blog!