Modernity and Its Discontents

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Course Length:
15 weeks
  • Welcome to the second half of the Augustine and Culture Seminar. This semester we will be studying authors and texts from around 1600 to the present, the era known as modernity. What is modernity? How and why did it come into being? Who are its discontents and why are they discontented? These are a few of the major questions of the course.
  • Our more particular theme is freedom and the meaning or meanings it assumes in modern times. As we shall see, freedom comes to occupy a more central place in human affairs than it had for the premodern authors we studied in the fall semester. With St. Augustine and his categories as our guide, we will conduct a critical inquiry into this new priority of freedom, the reasons for it, its justifiability, its consequences, its present actuality and future possibility. We’ll focus on America and the writings of Americans, not only because this will make our inquiry more immediately relevant to our own lives, but also because American thought contains some of the most profound modern reflections on freedom. We’ll study works from a range of fields and genres including philosophy, literature, politics, and law.
  • The works we’ll be studying present a rich variety of perspectives on the nature of freedom and its value for human life. Considered together, they bring to light important conflicts and disagreements with one other as well as with the thinkers and texts we studied in the first semester of ACS. Our aim is to bring to light those disagreements and learn what is at stake in them. The goal of the course is less to find definitive answers than to deepen our understanding of one of the most important aspects of human life, and in doing so, to become acquainted with some outstanding and influential works of the human mind.



Preparation and Participation

  • The course is a seminar, which means that we’ll learn through the exchange of ideas rather than formal lecturing, which will be kept to a minimum. Thus there are two basic expectations on your part: careful reading of assigned texts and active participation in class discussions. The more carefully you read, the better the discussions are likely to go, and the more you are likely to learn and take away from the course. Class participation and preparation—as measured by comments and questions, quizzes, homework assignments, etc.—will count for 15% of your course grade.

The Politics of Freedom Learning Community

  • This course is part of the Politics of Freedom Learning Community, which consists of the Delurey Hall sections of ACS. These sections have a common syllabus, so you’ll be able to discuss texts, authors, topics, classes, etc. with your fellow Delurey residents. The idea behind the learning communities at this university is that some of the most valuable conversations take place outside the classroom, spontaneously, with friends and roommates and hallmates. We faculty think that these conversations were a vital part of our own college experience, and we want to encourage them.
  • During the semester you will be expected to attend several Learning Community events outside of class, including lectures by the Learning Community faculty and guest speakers. Some of the lectures will be in place of regular class meetings. (Dates and time to be announced.) Other Learning Community events—which may include films, trips, campus cultural activities, meals, etc.—will be announced. You are all encouraged to suggest and plan activities on your own—just ask for advice and assistance.
  • In February, this university will host a major conference on the political thought of Abraham Lincoln in honor of the bicentennial of his birth. Lincoln is a regular part of the syllabus, and this semester we’re fortunate to be able to join our studies to a university-wide event. Details about how we’ll be participating will be announced.

Written Assignments

  • The Augustine and Culture Seminar serves as the required introductory writing course at this university. While it is not a formal composition course, a major part of the effort and energy of the course is devoted to developing analytical and interpretive writing skills. You will write four formal essays (approximately 4-6 pages each) during the semester, two before and two after midterm break. Topics and due dates to be announced. Three of the essays will count 15% each toward your course grade; the fourth (the one you do least well on) will count 10%.
  • Please retain all written assignments—formal essays and homework, etc.—in a portfolio (a folder or binder of some kind). I will collect portfolios during the semester in order to survey your work and form an overall impression of your progress. I will need to collect portfolios at the end of the semester in order to evaluate your response papers and informal exercises, so it is imperative that you hold on to them and keep them in good order. The portfolio is also a useful way for you to review the development of your thoughts and ideas.
  • You are encouraged to make use of this university's Writing Center. The Center is staffed by tutors trained to help you with college writing. If you go to them with a rough draft, they can provide valuable advice and assistance. Please consult the Writing Center web page for detailed policies.

Midterm Exam

  • Will be held at class Friday, February 27th. Details to be announced. Counts 15% of course grade.

Cultural Events

  • ACS students are required to attend cultural events outside of class such as lectures, plays, concerts, and films. Please attend at least two such events during the semester and write a brief (1-2 pp.) commentary on or review of each. I’ll call attention to relevant events at class.

Final Project

  • Instead of a traditional final exam, students will complete a group project which they will present to the class at our scheduled final exam time. Details to be announced. Group members will receive a common grade which will count for 15% of the course grade.



Academic Integrity

  • This university’s Academic Integrity Code details your responsibilities and the serious consequences of cheating, plagiarism, and other forms of academic dishonesty. Please read it over. Any instance of cheating will result in an F on the assignment in question and may result in an F for the course, in addition to any other consequences deemed appropriate by the university.

Class Attendance

  • Please refer to this University’s class attendance policy in the student handbook. Attendance is required for freshmen. Unexcused absences will harm your class participation grade, put you behind the other students in mastery of the course material and developments in class, and greatly reduce the intellectual benefits of the course. If for some reason you anticipate being absent, please let me know as soon as possible. This will help me to plan and will signal your consideration for me and your fellow classmates.

Late Work

  • If for any reason you anticipate difficulty turning an assignment in on time, please inform me as soon as possible before the due date. If you must be absent the day a written assignment is due, please arrange to have it delivered to me by class time. Work turned in late without a prior excuse will be penalized in most cases.



  • Please obtain the following books, all of which are available at the campus bookstore. Note: Please be sure to get exactly the editions listed.
  1. Wendell Berry, That Distant Land (Shoemaker & Hoard, 2005). ISBN#159376054X
  2. Albert Camus, Caligula and Three Other Plays (Vintage, 1962). ISBN#0394702077
  3. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan (Penguin, 1982). ISBN#0140431950
  4. John Locke, Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration (Yale, 2003). ISBN#0300100183
  5. John Stuart Mill, On Liberty [purchased last semester]
  6. Molière, Don Juan (Harcourt, 2001). ISBN#015601310x
  7. Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (Harper Perennial, 1970). ISBN#0060806184
  • Other readings (those marked with an asterisk in the schedule below) will be made available either in class or on line.



Part I: Natural Liberty and Political Authority

  • M Jan 12 Course Introduction
  • W 14 Molière, Don Juan, Acts I-II
  • F 16 Don Juan, Acts III-V
  • M 19 Martin Luther King, Jr. Day—NO CLASS
  • W 21 Hobbes, Leviathan, chs. 10-12
  • F 23 Leviathan, chs. 13-15
  • M 26 Leviathan, chs. 17-18, 21
  • W 28 Leviathan cont.’d
  • F 30 Locke, Second Treatise of Government, chs. 1-5
  • M Feb 2 Second Treatise, chs. 9, 18-19
  • W 4 A Letter Concerning Toleration, pp. 211-240
  • F 6 Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration, pp. 240-254

Part II: Foundations of the American Republic

  • M 9 Declaration of Independence*
  • W 11 Declaration; U.S. Constitution*
  • F 13 U.S. Constitution*
  • M 16 Federalist #10*
  • W 18 Federalist #10, #51*
  • F 20 Federalist #51*
  • M 23 Brutus #2*
  • W 25 Benjamin Rush and James Bowdoin on the Bill of Rights*
  • F 27 Midterm Exam

Spring Break—March 2-6 (Please begin Uncle Tom’s Cabin!)

Part III: The Republic in Crisis

  • M Mar 9 Lincoln, Peoria speech*
  • W 11 Lincoln, Peoria speech; Dred Scott speech*
  • F 13 Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, chs. 1-5
  • M 16 Uncle Tom’s Cabin, chs. 6-13
  • W 18 Uncle Tom’s Cabin, chs. 14-20
  • F 20 Uncle Tom’s Cabin, chs. 21-28
  • M 23 Uncle Tom’s Cabin, chs. 29-38
  • W 25 Uncle Tom’s Cabin, chs. 39-45
  • F 27 Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address*

Part IV: Freedom of Speech

  • M 30 1st Amendment; Mill, On Liberty, ch. 2
  • W Apr 1 Court opinions on free speech (TBA)*
  • F 3 Court opinions on free speech (TBA)*

Part V: Freedom in Crisis?

  • M 6 Camus, The Just Assassins, Acts I-II
  • W 8 The Just Assassins, Act III
  • F 10 The Just Assassins, Acts IV-V
  • M 13 Berry, stories from That Distant Land
  • W 15 That Distant Land
  • F 17 That Distant Land
  • M 20 Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi (excerpts)*
  • W 22 Spe Salvi (excerpts)*
  • F 24 Pope Benedict XVI, Regensburg Address*
  • M 27 Wrap-up
  • W 29 Course Conclusion

Final Exam Date and Time TBA