The Spirit of our Seminar:
The excitement of seminars, and I have been teaching them for many, many years, is that they are a chance for you to learn from each other, to try out your own analyses and comparisons of authors, and to hear your own voices in intellectual conversation with each other. Penn students are wonderfully bright and interesting, and seminars are an opportunity for you all to be colleagues in an historical inquiry.
Our seminar meetings will be organized around discussion. Your grade will be determined by discussion (50%) and by your term-paper (50%), rounded in favor of discussion. Your individual comments will not be graded (that would be awful), but, rather, you'll be graded on the basis of informed, ongoing, responsive participation in discussion. By "informed," I mean informed by a close reading of our texts. By "ongoing," I mean both sustained throughout each meeting and sustained throughout the semester. By "responsive," I mean responsive to each other, taking each other seriously enough to respond to each other's observations and analyses. It works. (At risk of pride, I invite you to check out the ratings of my seminars in the Penn Course Review, which reflect less my own skills than the electricity that occurs when a group of Penn students truly engage each other.) I know full well that for some of you, talking in class is as easy as breathing, but that, for others, it is a hurdle to overcome. If talking in class is difficult for you, but the course interests you, please take it and come identify yourself in an early office hour. In all my years of teaching, I have learned all the ways (and tricks) of making it easy to participate. I can give you my word on that.
We are a history seminar, doing intellectual history, not a seminar on philosophy or political theory. That is to say, our goal will not be to judge or to argue the merits and demerits of our authors (you always can choose to do that on your own, apart from our seminar), but to understand how the world looks to different minds. The focus of our discussion will be analytic and comparative. We'll be interested in what views an author holds of human nature and possibility, of society, of ethics, of history, and so on. We get to ask questions about an author's beliefs that an author may not ask himself or herself (for example, implicit views of human nature or of ethics). It may be that two of you who agree about what an author believes or not might hold two different views of the author's rightness or wrongness. Our subject will be the former (analyzing an author), not the latter (judging an author). We're a class in history.
Imagine, for the sake of argument, that we were studying Tibetan Buddhism or Medieval political theory. To summon those thinkers to judgment by our own contemporary or personal views of the world would be to study ourselves, not other minds or schools of thought. Our task is to understand other minds and other ways of thinking.
"Classical Liberal Thought" is, in briefest form, a belief in minimal government and maximal individual rights and choice, consistent with peace and order. Looked at from afar, any movement of thought might seem all of one piece. Studied up close, however, what seemed uniform at first becomes complex and diverse. As one studies such things as Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Marxism, or feminism, for example, the more that one reads, analyzes, and compares, the more internal debates and differences one sees in each, whatever the agreements. Our "classical liberals" disagree, often in ways that make them mutually incompatible, about rights, benefits, ethical criteria, safety nets, human nature, and human history. The function of our discussion will be to analyze individual thinkers, and, as we read past our first, to compare our thinkers, looking both for agreements and, above all, disagreements.
What judgment you make privately of our authors is neither my goal nor my business. My classroom is never a pulpit. My sole interest here is your analytic and comparative reading and discussion (from which I always learn new things). I give you my word on that.
Each week, I'll send out questions for discussion, which will be our starting point. I'll ask you each to choose ONE of our questions and, in a go-around at the start of class, to sketch out a brief answer (three minutes or so.... you can read it from a written-out statement, or an outline, or extemporize). After that go-around, we'll take a twenty-minute break, and then reconvene for discussion, beginning with disagreements you might have with each other, and then proceeding where the discussion takes us. To encourage both fairness and spontaneity, I'll create a queue (the British term sounds fancier than a line or list) in the order of hands raised, with the understanding that if you truly need to make a brief interjection about someone's comment or to ask a brief question of someone, you can cut in by signaling for such a comment. Trust me... it will work.
4000 to 6000 words, due by or before Friday, December 18, 5 PM
(Please leave hard copy only, in my History Department mailbox.)
In order to show that you can internalize, for purposes solely of understanding them, the perspectives of our diverse authors, choose three authors from our syllabus, and, using their actual arguments to confront the actual arguments of Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged, write their separate intellectual reviews of Atlas Shrugged. You should not retell the story of Atlas Shrugged at all. Rather, focus onpremises, principles, assumptions, values, and conclusions, avoiding ad hominem, stylistic, and rhetorical criticisms (and avoiding jokes or even deep comments about the reviewers being dead). Look above all for areas of disagreement.
Each reviewer should state his or her main argument clearly and concisely in a first paragraph, and then articulate and defend it at length. Avoid excessive use of direct quotation; a paraphrase is much better. You may provide footnotes, or endnotes, or parenthetical references, but let me know on what parts of the texts you are relying. All citations or paraphrases must be documented. Provide author, work, and page numbers for the first reference of a text, and then short title and page numbers after that.
FORM: Provide a cover (title) page and number your pages. You must write with proper syntax, grammar, punctuation, and spelling. When in doubt, consult reference works (such as Kate Turabian, A Manual for Writers…; Bryan Garner, A Dictionary of Modern American Usage; or, the sacred text of editors, Words into Type). Avoid direct quotation: paraphrase and explain the authors. Please give yourself time to proofread, revise, and rewrite. Back up your work, and keep an extra hard copy for yourself. I am available throughout the semester if you want help with framing your papers or improving your prose. Rough drafts will receive an F.
POLICIES: Leave enough time to deal with any contingencies relating to computers and printers. I do not give incompletes except for medical or personal emergencies attested to by your School (e.g., the College or Wharton). Contact the School and have the School contact all of your professors. Do not take the class if that condition is unacceptable to you.
09/22: John Stuart Mill, On Liberty & Other Writings, “On Liberty,” 1-93
09/29: Frederic Bastiat, Selected Essays on Political Economy, 1-96
10/06: Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State, 1-177
10/13: Ludwig von Mises, Liberalism in the Classical Tradition, “Preface,” and 1-104
10/20: F. A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, xxvii-xlvi, 1-182, 221-239, 261-262
10/27: P. T. (Peter) Bauer, Reality and Rhetoric, 1-105.
11/03: F. A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit, 1-119
11/10: Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom (entire)
11/17: Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, ix-xiv, 88-119, 149-275, 297-334
11/24: Wendy McElroy, Liberty for Women, 5-44, 71-87, 131-end.
12/01: Johan Norberg, In Defense of Global Capitalism, 7-155, 191-238, 267-29
12/08: Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (entire); it’s long—read all semester
Grading and Fairness:
This is a discussion and writing seminar. Half of your grade will be determined by your ongoing, responsive, informed participation in class discussions; half by your term paper (see separate sheet). You all face the same deadlines, so plan your schedules accordingly. I do not give incompletes except for medical or personal emergencies attested to by your School (College, Wharton, and so on) in an email to all of your professors; if that is unacceptable to you, you should not take the course.