Order, Corruption and Populism: Political Theory of Democracy

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

Course Description

This course is designed specifically for English Language Learners interested in further developing their English skills in a challenging college-level academic setting.

This course covers a sample of material typically found in the introduction to political theory, framed with reference to current debates about democracy and populism. While some contemporary thinkers see populism as a symptom of democratic decay others see populism as a manifestation of democratic rejuvenation. By entering into this debate, students will explore some of the oldest and most fundamental questions in the history of political theory. What does it really mean to say that in a democracy the people rule themselves? What is the nature of the relationship between the people and their rulers and institutions of government? What prevents democratic rule from becoming the tyranny of majority rule?

We will discover how philosophers have historically answered these questions and consider the relevance of these answers today. Students will practice making the kinds of arguments they encounter in the texts we read through writing and debate in class.

This course will enable students to take part in the most persistent debates in political theory through current themes and concerns. We will begin the course by introducing the students to recent writing taking up the problems of democracy and populism from competing perspectives. After considering this debate from a contemporary point of view, we’ll jump into the canon of political thought, uncovering a continuity between our current concerns and some classic themes of political theory by reading selections from Plato, Machiavelli, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and Douglass.

With Plato, we will discuss the ability or inability of democracy to approximate the truth. Then, turning to Machiavelli we will consider how the people as a democratic force may conflict with established rule in a productive way, conducing to robust institutions of freedom. Rousseau will offer a unique perspective on what it means for the people to govern. When we turn to Tocqueville, students will encounter an anxiety about democratic politics: that it leads to the tyranny of the majority. Finally, we will conclude the course reading Douglass’s “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” which opens a discussion about those excluded from democratic politics and what legal and political recourse is available to them.

Throughout the course, we will give context to these thinkers and readings with daily lectures. We will also continue to connect each day the themes we encounter to the current debate on populism that frames our course. In addition to these readings and lectures, students will engage with the material through short daily writing exercises, discussion, a film viewing, and structured debates. Students will also develop a short persuasive essay of 4-5 pages on the theme of populism applying the classical arguments of our thinkers to contemporary cases.

By the end of the course, students will have a strong command of key political concepts--including sovereignty, freedom, democracy, justice--and they will be able to assess contemporary political developments with reference to these ideas. Students will also become familiar with some of the classic texts of political theory they can expect to encounter in an introductory class. Additionally, they will come away from the course with the ability to go beyond the standard 5-paragraph essay model taught in high school, and will write clear, concise arguments. Both skills will give a foundation for study in the humanities and social sciences.

Prerequisites: Prerequisites: Students will be expected to read, write, and discuss in English at a high school grade level. The course will appeal most to students enthusiastic about politics. No knowledge of the concepts or material covered will be necessary in advance of the course.

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEPS0974
  • Length: 2 weeks

Program Information

[email protected] for English Language Learners

A select group of non-credit courses in the liberal arts and sciences supplemented with English language learning, two weeks long, taught on Brown’s campus. For University-bound English language learners completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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