Fundamentals of Law and Politics

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Medium:
Syllabus
Course Length:
15 weeks
Credits:
3
Tags:

Course Objectives:

  • This course aims to provide the student with the opportunity to begin to cultivate a liberal education, that is, an education that will enable the student to think independently and seriously about questions of enduring human significance, questions that are of interest to all human beings at all times. Here, of course, we will concern ourselves with political questions, specifically questions about the role of the rule of law in a good society.
  • We will thus explore the following questions (among others): What is Law? What are the advantages of the rule of law? What are the grounds of our obligation to obey the law? What is the role of the rule of law in a constitutional democracy? Can certain circumstances justify departure from or disobedience to the law? Is there a right to revolution?

 

Required Readings:

  • We will study these questions concerning the rule of law by reading and discussing the works of prominent political thinkers and political leaders. You should obtain the following text from the bookstore.
  1. Four Texts on Socrates, translated and edited by Thomas West and Grace Starry West.
  • The rest of the readings for this class are available through Blackboard on the internet.
  • The readings are in a folder named “Course Readings.” They are listed numerically in the order in which we will cover them in class. (The “Course Readings” folder can be brought up by clicking on the “Course Documents” button on the left.) Many of the readings are Word documents, many are links to other webpages, and some are in PDF format, which means you will need the Adobe Acrobat Reader for your computer to read them. The first item under the Course Documents button is a link to a site from which the Adobe Acrobat Reader can be downloaded.
  • As readings are assigned by the instructor, students should print them, read them carefully, and bring them to class on the day they will be discussed. You will get more from these difficult works by reading them and taking notes in the margins than you will by merely passively reading them on the computer screen. Also, because we will organize our discussion around the readings, frequent reference will be made to specific passages in them. Therefore, lectures will be much easier to follow, your notes will be more complete, and preparation for exams more effective if you have the readings with you in class.
  • Additional readings may be assigned at the instructor’s discretion.

 

Grading:

Each student’s final grade will be based on the following assignments, worth a total of 400 points: a midterm exam (worth 100 points), a final exam (worth 100 points), and two papers (worth 100 points each). Participation and attendance will also be taken into account.

  1. Tests: The midterm will be held in class on Thursday, March 6. The final will be held on Tuesday, May 6 from 10AM to Noon. Any changes in the exam dates will be announced in class and students will be responsible for knowing about them.
  2. Papers: Paper topics will be assigned by the instructor. The first paper will be assigned on Thursday, February 7 and will be due on Thursday, February 14. The second paper will be assigned on Thursday, April 10 and will be due on Thursday, April 17. Further guidelines for the papers will be provided when the paper topics are assigned. Papers that are handed in late (without what is, in the instructor’s judgment, a reasonable excuse) may be docked points. Any changes in the paper dates will be announced in class and students will be responsible for knowing about them.
  3. Participation and Attendance: The instructor reserves the right to raise the final letter grade of any student who has, at the end of the semester, an exemplary record of contributing to the class through faithful attendance or consistent and thoughtful class participation. Whether or not to take such action is at the sole discretion of the instructor. Absences will be considered “excused” for which the student presents the instructor with what is, in the instructor’s judgment, a reasonable justification. Students seeking to have an absence counted as excused may be required to provide documentation in support of their justification for missing class. Students who come to class after the roll has been called should expect (again, absent some justification that the instructor can regard as legitimate) to be counted as absent and to incur an unexcused absence.
  • The course grade will be assigned according to the following scale:
A+ 400-388
A 387-372
A- 371-360
B+ 359-348
B 347-332
B- 331-320
C+ 319-308
C 307-292
C- 291-280
D+ 279-268
D 267-252
D- 251-240
F 239 and fewer points

 

Course Outline:

  • We will progress through the following outline during the course of the semester. Readings will be assigned by the instructor in class on a regular basis. Any readings or topics to be omitted from or added to the list will be announced by the instructor in class. Students will be responsible for knowing about the change.
  1. Fundamental Philosophical Considerations
    1. What is Law?
      1. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, Pt. I-II, Question 91, Article 1: “Whether There Is an Eternal Law?”
      2. Summa Theologica, Pt. I-II, Question 91, Article 2: “Whether There Is in Us a Natural Law?”
      3. Summa Theologica, Pt. I-II, Question 91, Article 3: “Whether There is a Human Law?”
      4. Selections from Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan: Chapters 6, 13, and 14.
    2. The Advantages of the Rule of Law
      1. Summa Theologica, Pt. I-II, Question 95, Article 1: “Whether it was Useful for Laws to be Framed by Men?”
      2. Summa Theologica, Pt. I-II, Question 97, Article 2: “Whether Human Law Should Always Be Changed, Whenever Something Better Occurs?”
    3. The Duty to Obey the Law
      1. Plato’s Crito (from Four Texts on Socrates)
  2. The Rule of Law and the American Regime
    1. Abraham Lincoln on Rule of Law, Freedom, and Republicanism
      1. Abraham Lincoln’s “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions.”
    2. Alexis de Tocqueville on the Rule of Law in America
      1. Alexis de Tocqueville: “Public Spirit in the United States.”
      2. Tocqueville: “Respect for Law in the United States.”
      3. Tocqueville: “Tyranny of the Majority.”
      4. Tocqueville: “The Temper of the Legal Profession in the United States and How it Serves as a Counterpoise to Democracy.”
  3. Constitutionalism, the Rule of Law, and the Supreme Court
    1. Marbury v. Madison
    2. Stephen Douglas and Abraham Lincoln on the Supreme Court
    3. Cooper v. Aaron
    4. Calder v. Bull
    5. William Brennan: Speech at Georgetown University
    6. Edwin Meese: Speech to the Federalist Society
  4. The Limits of Law: Unusual Circumstances
    1. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, Question 96, Article 6: “Whether He Who is Under a Law May Act Beside the Letter of the Law?”
    2. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, Question 97, Article 4: “Whether the Rulers of the People Can Dispense from Human Laws?”
    3. James Madison, Federalist 40.
    4. John Locke’s Second Treatise Of Civil Government, Chapter 14: “Of Prerogative.”
    5. Ex Parte Merryman
    6. Abraham Lincoln: Message to Congress in Special Session
    7. Abraham Lincoln: Handout on Habeas Corpus, the admission of West Virginia to the Union, and Emancipation
    8. In Re Neagle
    9. Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company v. Sawyer
  5. The Limits of Law: Unjust Laws
    1. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, Question 95, Article 2: “Whether Every Human Law is Derived from the Natural Law?”
    2. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, Question 96, Article 4: “Whether Human Laws Bind a Man in Conscience.”
    3. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, Part II-II, Question 104, Article 5: “Whether Subjects are Bound to Obey Their Superiors in All Things?”
    4. Selection from Hobbes’s Leviathan, Chapter 29: “Of Those Things that Weaken or Tend to the Dissolution of a Commonwealth.”
    5. Plato’s Apology of Socrates (Four Texts on Socrates)
    6. Statement by Alabama Clergymen
    7. Martin Luther King, Jr.: Letter from a Birmingham Jail.
  6. The Limits of Law: Revolution
    1. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, Part II-II, Question 42, Article 2: “Whether Sedition is Always a Mortal Sin?”
    2. Selection from Hobbes’s Leviathan, Chapter 18: “Of the Rights of the Sovereign by Institution.”
    3. John Locke’s Second Treatise Of Civil Government, Chapter 18: “Of Tyranny.”
    4. The Declaration of Independence.
    5. From Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France.

 

Cheating:

Students who try to present the work of others as their own or who cheat in any other way will be subject to severe penalties, ranging from being assigned a zero for the assignment in question to being referred to the administration for dismissal from the university.

 

Other Policies:

All students are expected to conduct themselves in class in a civil and mature manner. Anyone who fails to do so will be warned by the instructor and, if subsequent infractions occur, subject to penalties ranging from a lowered grade to referral to the University for formal disciplinary action.