Monday: Politics, Morality, and Human Nature
Is a happy, moral city really possible or even desirable? In her short story, Le Guin challenges readers to imagine the perfect city and consider the role that suffering plays in politics and art. In Machiavelli’s advice-book for Renaissance princes, a book that was banned and condemned for centuries after he wrote it, he asks, is it possible for political leaders to be both effective and moral in politics? How do we define the common good and what responsibilities follow from it?
- Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”
- Niccoló Machiavelli, The Prince, selections
Tuesday: Consent, Freedom and Equality
How can it be just for free individuals to come under the authority of a government? Locke famously proposed a standard of consent. His argument was then invoked by the authors of the Declaration of Independence. What assumptions about human nature and about political life lie beneath this argument? Have you consented to be governed by the government of the United States today?
- John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, selections
- The Declaration of Independence
Wednesday: The Legacy of the Declaration
The Declaration’s demand that governments respect individual rights did not apply to everyone at first. As a corrective, in 1848 for the Women’s Rights Convention, Elizabeth Cady Stanton penned, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal…” What is the impact of these words on a reader today? Frederick Douglass’s Independence Day speech illuminates both the hypocrisy and promise of the ideas professed in America’s founding documents. How does Douglass use rhetoric to make his critique?
With a much shorter speech, Abraham Lincoln made the Declaration the centerpiece of the American experiment. Why do you think he emphasized the Declaration instead of the Constitution?
- Elizabeth Cady Stanton, “Declaration of Sentiments”
- Frederick Douglass, “What to the Slave is the 4th of July?”
- Abraham Lincoln, “The Gettysburg Address”
Thursday: Self-governance, Exclusion, and Education
What kind of education do democratic citizens require? Is there a differnece between education and schooling? Should there be qualifications for self-governance, or is it a basic right? W.E.B. Du Bois, Audre Lorde, and James Baldwin offer differing perspectives on the role of education in an unjust and unequal society. These thinkers challenge us to consider the purpose and meaning of education.
- W.E.B. Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk, selections
- Audre Lorde, “Poet as Teacher—Human as Poet—Teacher as Human”, “Poetry Makes Something Happen”
- James Baldwin, “A Talk to Teachers”
Friday: Democracy and City Life
Who is the little man behind the stove? Ralph Ellison’s essay “The Little Man at Chehaw Station” invites us to examine the American artist and his audience. Is there such a thing as an American identity? How does democracy shape our ideas about hierarchy, diversity, and artistic taste?
How can words best capture the promise and the challenges of city life? How does Thoreau’s mocking of gossipy social life compare with Whitman’s reverential treatment of diversity and possibility? What truths does Brooks capture that the others miss?
- Ralph Ellison, “The Little Man at Chehaw Station” Henry David Thoreau, Walden, “The Village”
- Henry David Thoreau, Walden, “The Village”
- Walt Whitman, “Broadway,” “Democratic Vistas,” and “Mannahatta”
- Gwendolyn Brooks, “Kitchenette Building”