Debating Democracy: Threats and Prospects

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This course is under review for 2021. Course registration will open to accepted students once courses are confirmed.

Course Description

We often hear that democracy is under threat. What does that mean? In this course we explore
and debate this question, considering both the major threats to democracy today and prospects
for strengthening our democratic institutions. After steeping ourselves in some classic works of
political theory, we explore specific threats to democracy, in each case asking how to address it
both in theory and in practice. Through our readings and in-class activities, students lay a strong foundation for future work in the humanities and social sciences.

In the first week, we begin by considering what it means to think politically and explore some ways of defining democracy. We consider how John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau
develop the idea of a social contract, we debate the American and French Revolutions through the works of Thomas Paine and Edmund Burke, we survey Alexis de Tocqueville’s account of the social effects of democracy in the early United States, and we read works by Frederick Douglass and Mother Jones to explore early, influential efforts to secure the rights of all citizens.

In the second week, we move straight into the contemporary moment and consider four specific threats to democracy today: the curtailment of voting rights; extreme economic inequality, social media and disinformation; and the recent victories of radical populism in Europe, the UK, and the US. We conclude with a reading of Timothy Snyder’s book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century and assess its prescriptions for preserving our democratic

Prerequisites: None

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEPS0942
  • Length: 2 weeks

Program Information

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Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences, offering over 200 non-credit courses, one- to four-weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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