Monday, March 31, 2008

Political Philosophy during the US Election

I know not many of you have seen posts or comments from me for a while, but I haven't disappeared completely. I've just been very busy teaching in London and "lurking". I hope to be back to full strength soon, but in the mean time, I was wondering about thoughts and insights people have on the following:

I have the (good?) fortune to be able to teach an introduction to political philosophy this fall during the 2008 US elections. Normally, I teach the class as a history of pre-liberal and liberal political philosophy with reactions/challenges to liberalism and a little bit of justice near the end. In the fall, I'd like to be a little more topical and concentrate the course on democratic theory. But I'll primarily be teaching to non-majors and those without much political theory/science background. And it's not exactly my specialty in political philosophy, so I'll be learning a lot over the summer. So does anyone have ideas for more easily accessible introductory texts on democratic theory that stress its connections to political philosophy? What about fun articles that present problems with and within democratic theory? Any other experiences about what worked well when teaching political philosophy during elections?


  1. Adam -

    A terrific opportunity. I was teaching political philosophy in the spring of 2004, prior to the presidential election, and one topic that students really latched onto was whether there's a duty to vote. Most of my students are instinctual small-d democrats, so they're strong defenders of the right to vote. But whether there's a duty to vote forced them to think about civic obligation in a democracy, and many of them had difficulty squaring their belief in the duty to vote with their indifference to voting and/or their rejection of a duty to vote. Some ended up being attracted to surprisingly un-democratic ideas (like licensing voters!). I used an article by Lomasky, and students really seemed engaged by this question.

  2. I recently made use of a short piece by Peter Singer on compulsory voting that might generate good discussion in the course you describe:

  3. To push the "voting" theme a bit, I think it would be very interesting to look at the ethics of "selling" your vote. Literally -- would it be ethically permissible to put your vote up for sale to interested parties? It's one of those "wha?" topics that gets students interested. Unfortunately, I don't know of any pieces on it.

  4. Adam - It seems to me you could also investigate equality via elections by talking about things like the costs of campaigns, media access, lobbying, etc. This might help students raise questions about exactly what equality means in a democratic societies.


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